This morning, in the middle of my run, I did my slow, meditative walk around the duck pond once again. About ten feet from where I walked, a tree let go of a large dead branch, and the branch came crashing to the ground. It startled me. I walked over the tree and stood there gazing up at it, wondering why it had chosen that particular moment on a non-windy day to let go of its dead branch.

And then I realized, whether the tree picked that timing for my benefit or not, there was a lesson in it that I needed to pay attention to.

“Let go of your own dead branch,” the tree whispered to me. “It is not serving you anymore. Let it go, and let it rot into the ground so that it can one day serve as compost for new things to grow.”

“Let it go so that you can stand tall, no longer bent under the weight of that deadness. Let go of the responsibility for carrying something that can no longer absorb light, no longer grow leaves, and no longer transform carbon dioxide into oxygen for others to breathe.”

Sometimes letting go of a dead branch is the very best thing you can do to usher in new life.

Advertisements

I can never run past the duck pond.

At that point in my morning run, I always feel the need to slow to a walk, and even, sometimes, stop to sit on a bench. It just feels like – especially in the Spring – I need to be present with the geese and ducks returning to their Northern home. I need to be mindful. I need to breathe with them.

This morning, I stopped to stare into the eyes of a magnificent Canada goose who stood only a few feet from me and unflinchingly stared back, deep into my eyes. It felt like a sacred moment. It felt like conversation.

When I turned away to continue my journey, I noticed a woman watching me stare at the goose.

“Just wait ’til Fall,” she said.

I gave her a confused look.

“Just wait ’til Fall. They poop all over this path, those geese – it’s disgusting.”

I had no idea how to respond to her. I just carried on.

And then, as I walked away, I thought… REALLY? Just wait ’til FALL?

You can’t enjoy the magnificence of this Springtime moment because you’re dreading a poop-filled path in the Fall?

You can’t stare into the eyes of a goose because you resent it for pooping on your path some time in the distant future?

You can’t enjoy this park because those darned geese are infringing on YOUR space?

You can’t find space in your heart to share this beautiful park with the geese and just step over the poop?

What a limited, resentful, caged life she must lead!

And then suddenly I had a flashback to some of those moments when I do the same – forget the Spring and just dread the Fall. Resent people for hurting me in the future or in the past when what they’re doing right now is genuinely lovely. Forget to be mindful of the beauty all around me because I’m worried about what tomorrow will bring.

“Lady,” I would say, to her AND to me, if I could go back to that moment, “Don’t wait for Fall. Just be present in THIS moment and stare into the eyes of a goose.”

I had all kinds of resistance against running this morning. “I’m too tired. It’s been a stressful week – I deserve a quiet non-running morning. I have too much work to do. If I run, it’ll end up wasting most of my morning. There’s chocolate in the house! I should just sit here and eat it instead of run. I can always run another day. I just don’t feel like it!”

And yet… that still small voice inside said “You know you need this run. You know you’ll feel horrible if you eat that chocolate and it will just make tomorrow’s run that much harder. Just think about how much a run will help with some of that stress that’s been piling up this week. It will help clear your head and you’ll be even more productive this afternoon.”

Good sense won out over chocolate, and I ran. About five and a half miles. And of course, it was good. And I feel better now.

Take THAT resistance! I am SO done with you!

I’ve added a new element to my running practice. I listen to podcasts that inspire me – mostly of the spiritual variety. If you’re interested, here are some great sources for inspirational podcasts:

Sacred Awakening Series – my favourites so far are Wendy Palmer (whom I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and doing some aikido practice with), Alice Walker (of The Color Purple fame), and Leonard Jacobson.

CBC Tapestry – on public radio in Canada on Sunday afternoons

This morning I was listening to Leonard Jacobson (whom I’d never heard of before) while I ran. While I listened, my mind was on some of the things I was worried about this morning and a whole bunch of old stories that were replaying on the video screen in my mind. I was having a hard time focusing. And then, while I approached the duck pond, I heard him say something about the importance of presence.

“The ego doesn’t want you to be present,” he said (a paraphrase). “The ego wants to keep you in the past or in the future. The ego wants to be in control and when you are in the present, the ego no longer has control.”

Oh yeah. Right. Be present. Stop letting all those old stories control me. Stop worrying about stuff in the future that hasn’t even happened yet.

And so I spent the next few minutes intentionally present in the moment. I felt the sun on my face, I listened to the cacophony of geese gathered at the pond, and I stood in front of a magnificent tree. (Jacobson also said “The next time you’re thinking ‘Am I worthy? Am I good enough?’ go ask a tree. A tree will tell you that those questions are irrelevent – you just are what you’re created to be.”)

As I stood there soaking in the beauty I was surrounded by, I realized he was right – the ego had to let go of control and the worries and old stories just didn’t carry as much weight any more.

I ran the rest of the way home, trying to stay present. And then his final words hit me with a resounding thud. “God is in everything, even the pain. If we avoid the pain, we avoid God.” Wow. Heavy stuff. Even when life is painful, I have to stay present instead of letting ego carry me away into past or future?

Rather ironically, shortly after hearing his final words, I slipped on a patch of black ice and pulled something in my groin. It hurt. I was miles from home and my first thought was “oh my gosh – how am I going to get home? What if I’m late for the event I’m supposed to photograph this afternoon? What if I can’t even limp the half mile to the road to try to flag down a ride or catch a bus?” Oh yeah – some lessons take awhile to sink into this stubborn brain, even moments after I’ve learned them. In no time flat, I was worried about the future.

And then I remembered – be present, even in the pain. And so I was. I let myself feel it. I let go of the question about how I’d get home, I stretched those muscles that felt damaged, and I really felt the pain.

And then, just like that, it went away.

Perhaps it was just meant as a momentary (much needed) lesson in presence. I managed to run all the way home without any pain.

This morning I ran and ran – as far as my legs would carry me. All the way to the duck pond at the park, where I overheard this conversation between the two Spring-returning geese standing on the ice in the middle of the pond looking puzzled:

“What’s the deal, Madge? I thought this pond was supposed to be thawed out by now?”

“That’s what the travel brochure said. ‘Lovely pond in a park setting away from traffic and close to the river. Move in condition. Late March.'”

“Well this ain’t no ‘move in condition!’ Do you think we should ask for our money back?”

“Money back? Ha! From WHOM! You made us come the cheap way, remember? On our own two wings instead of that tour bus like I suggested.”

“Well maybe we should go back then. To the south. What do you think?”

“What kind of crazy fool are you? Go BACK?! After you pushed me SO hard to get here before everyone else arrived so we could get prime nesting location?! I’m not moving another inch!”

“Aw, it wasn’t so bad, Madge. Just think about how all that extra exercise got you all toned and looking terrific for your birthing season. You’ll feel great sitting on those eggs knowing you don’t have to lose any of that baby fat afterwards. And you’re lookin’ HOT I might add. Since there’s nobody else here yet, maybe we should sneak off into the woods and… you know. Wink.”

“I’ll sneak off into the woods alright, but what you’ll get won’t be what you’re hoping for. I’ll be even more toned and terrific once I catch you and KICK YOUR ASS!”

“Oh Madge, you don’t really mean that, do you?”

And that’s when I left the duck pond and headed for home. On the way home, I saw a line of geese heading south – I think they changed their mind.

p.s. I ran seven miles. SEVEN!

Earlier this week, I ran outside for the first time in several weeks. Winter has walloped us pretty hard this year, and every time I wanted to run outside it seemed there was either too much fresh snow on the ground, too many slippery patches on the sidewalk, or it was just too darn cold. Plus my daughter was eager to go to the gym with me (she’s also planning to run the half marathon) so we went to the gym.

But now I’m feeling restless and I don’t want to run inside any more. I want fresh air. I want trees. I want to be present in my surroundings. I want to watch the sun wake up.

And so, weather permitting, I’m attempting to take it outside once again.

On Tuesday I ran, and ran, out of my neighbourhood, across the river, and to the very streets I’ll be running down when I run my first half marathon in June. I ran, and breathed, and blessed the earth for holding me.

Soon, the banks of that river will overflow with the Spring flood that is coming our way. As I ran across the bridge I was reminded of why I like to run outside. When I am outside, I remember that, like it or not, we are intricately connected to the earth. Though we may dig ditches to divert water when the floods come, and build gyms with treadmills to keep us safe from the elements, we remain at the mercy of whatever the climate brings. As we’re seeing in Japan, nothing can stop Mother Nature from having her way.

A little piece I wrote in the book I’m working on:

As I pick up my pace, I notice an interesting reverse correlation between my pace and my breath. The faster I run, the deeper and slower my breath becomes. I need those deep long breaths to fill my body’s increased need for oxygen.

Overlay “breath” with “Spirit” and a profound truth emerges. The faster the body moves, the more I need deep intakes of Spirit.

The more the pace of life increases, the more I need to invest in quiet spiritual time with the God of my understanding to fill my body with strength.

I’ve been especially fragile this weekend, feeling like a strong gust of wind or the wrong insult could shatter me like glass into a thousand tiny pieces. Some of it was what I mentioned in my last post, and some of it has to do with a series of horrible dreams full of so much death and ugliness that I woke up more than once feeling exhausted and shaky, not sure if the gasping, body-shuddering tears were real or part of the dream.

I was in such a bad place that even my husband knew that I needed to run. “Go,” he said. “Work it out of your system.”

And run I did – six miles of sweat. At the gym again because the streets and sidewalks, with their hidden icy patches, still scare this newbie runner.

Usually I run with my iPod, with music or podcasts that make the miles go faster, but today I knew I needed silence. My mind was noisy enough on its own and I needed to create some empty space for God to show up.

Staring at the black TV screen on the treadmill, the reflection of my face stared back at me. It looked haggard, closed, and even a little bit frightened.

Suddenly, the face staring back at me was not my own face, but the face of the young hooded person in The Wilderness Downtown, running through the streets of my hometown. Running, running, running. Past the school where I was sometimes tempted to hide my brains because nobody flirted with the nerdy churchy girl like they did with the one who knew how to flip her hair just so. Past the church where I longed to fit in with the youth group but always felt like an oddball. Past the park where the team bully sent me home from a baseball game crying when I fumbled the ball. Past the grain elevator where construction workers whistled at junior high girls passing by, but I was always convinced they must be whistling at my friends and not me.

Past all of those old stories that cling to me like glue. Running, running, running. Sometimes circling back and passing the same stories again and again, but always running.

And then… the exhale. The body refusing to let me hold my breath. Refusing to let me hang onto those old stories. The desperate craving for oxygen that forces the exhale.

I started to imagine all of those old stories – and a hundred others that came after them – leaving me one by one with each exhale. “I am no longer defined by the failures of my youth.” Exhale. “I’m not the fat kid or the nerdy kid or the awkward kid.” Exhale. “I’m not a failure or a bad friend or an absent-minded dreamer.” Exhale. “I have not been rejected just because someone disagrees with me.” Exhale.

And then the inhale. New stories to replace the old. “I am loved.” Inhale. “I am worthy.” Inhale. “I am good enough.” Inhale. “I am strong and can handle rejection and failure.” Inhale. “God loves me.” Inhale. “God loves me.” Inhale.

The face looking back at me in the TV screen changed. Now she was softer, more open, and glistening with sweat. The hint of a smile tickled at the edges of her mouth. The reluctant sun peeked through the window and touched her hair with light.

Maybe the ugly dreams were about the old versions of myself that still need to die. Maybe it’s about surrendering – getting rid of the old breath – so that new things can grow, just like the trees sprouting all over the streets of my hometown at the end of The Wilderness Downtown.

::::::

p.s. If you want to see the streets that hold my old stories, enter “Arden, Manitoba, ROJ OBO” into the box at The Wilderness Downtown. If you want to be reminded of the old stories you need to exhale, enter your own home town.

Not long after I woke up, the ball of anxiety started forming in my stomach. I was restless and stressed out. My kids needed cheques for school fees, and it was just another reminder that the money is not flowing into that account as quickly as it needs to be to cover the school fees, the soccer fees, the grocery bills – you name it.

Of course, the money stress started the gremlins dancing. “Self-employment? Pfft! You thought you could make money at this, but why is it just trickling in so far? You’re not a business person. You’re just busy doing a bunch of writing stuff that’s not going to make you any money, and meeting with a bunch of people dreaming up big ideas that will probably mostly fall flat. You need a job.”

And then the ultimate gremlin assault. “You are worthless. Your daughters need a better mother.” Oh yeah, I went there – in a very short trip from writing a cheque to dumping all over myself.

I needed a run. Badly. I needed to pump my legs, to feel the pavement beneath me, to feel my heart begin to race, to sweat out all of those ugly gremlins. It wasn’t the meditation I needed this time around, it was the punishment.

“But we need a break today,” my aching knees whispered. “You’re pushing a little too hard. Keep this up and we’ll fail on you.”

“I don’t CARE if you need a break. Breaks are for sissies. The pain will make the punishment feel that much more gratifying. I need to SUFFER this morning.”

I argued back and forth, but in the end, it was the fear of not being able to do anything for weeks – maybe months – on end while my knees repaired themselves that convinced me today wasn’t a day for running.

I pulled out my yoga mat, feeling resentful and unsettled. Yoga doesn’t come easily for me. I’m usually glad I did it after the fact, but I have a hard time convincing myself it’s worth it. It feels too slow, too pedantic – especially when I’m as restless as I was this morning. And yet, something told me that yoga was where I needed to go.

Sure enough, halfway through my hour-long yoga dvd, something clicked and I knew that the mat was where I needed to be. More than the punishment of running pain, I needed the quietness of yoga to calm my mind, make space for Spirit, and put me back on track for the day.

It was in the middle of the warrior pose that I had an a-ha moment. “I’m not breathing. I’m stopping my breath at the end of an inhale – almost as though I want to deny my body the opportunity to exhale. Almost as though I want to hang onto the old breath and not make space for the new.”

It was a revelation for me. It’s not just breath I’m hanging onto. It’s old stories, old gremlins, old limitations. It’s the old idea that I don’t have a business brain, therefore I’ll always end up spinning my wheels and never making any money. The old thought that my writing is just a hobby and not worth spending time on when there are important things to do like making money. It’s so much old baggage around what makes me worthy and what makes me a failure.

It’s time to let that go. It’s time to exhale.

A blessed two hours of no-obligations-free-time on a Sunday afternoon. That doesn’t happen very often in the life of a busy mom with three daughters.

So many options… I could read, nap, paint, write, find a friend to go for chai with… whatever my heart desired. And what did my heart desire? Running. I wanted nothing more than to go for a run. And so I did. Just over six miles.

Ummm… if I give up all of that for a run, I think I must be addicted.

But that’s a good thing, right?

Sepia

Heather Plett, runner

At the age of 44, much to my surprise, I became a runner.

I've always been overweight and out of shape, and yet one day, after life-changing breast reduction surgery, I started to run. And then a surprising thing happened - I didn't want to stop.

For me, running is much more than just exercise. It's my primary spiritual practice - prayer, meditation, and a connection with the earth all rolled into one.

Archives