Sidelined or Putting Process First?

The running part of my motion practice was seriously moving along — pun intended — and I was increasing speed and distance steadily; and then I got sidelined, not just once, but twice.  First, I broke my butt (aka piriformis syndrome if we want to be technical) running in the hills (more like mountains as far as I’m concerned) of an apple orchard for the Hard Cider Run 5K.  Despite my best efforts at stretching afterward and driving the 2+ hours home with the seat heat on full blast, I could barely drag myself out of the car after I parked in the driveway.  I did a lot of stretching that night and the next day, then went to my running training group the next night figuring I could just push through the discomfort.  Three days later, I was on the massage therapist’s table for a seriously not relaxing  working over that ended with an admonishment to not run until I had a pain-free butt.  So, I took a week off to focus on stretching and foam rolling (ugh – these are so not my favorite activities).  Walking the dogs was the only cardio-like activity I was able to do.  Talk about unsatisfying.

A week later, my butt was so much better that I achieved my best pace ever with my running training group.  The rest of that week went well, but ended with a 3.5 mile run that caused a major flare of posterior tibial tendinitis pain in not one, but BOTH feet. I couldn’t even manage walking slowly without serious pain.  I spent a day wallowing in self-pity and frustration with my traitorous body. I was worried I had a stress fracture, I worried  I was gaining weight and losing muscle tone every second of my involuntary sidelining, and I spiraled into a hopeless feeling my running days — maybe even my walking days (sorry dogs!) — were coming to an end and I would be relegated to unexciting, no swag fitness pursuits like yoga.

Fast forward to the next day; I learned a dear friend has been dealing with significant rehabilitation challenges following a surgery we all thought would have minimal to no side effects.  Just thinking about how hard it would be to relearn basic skills like walking, talking, and using your hands drove home I needed to reconsider my perspective that being sidelined from running was equivalent to a death sentence.  And wasn’t I supposed to be focusing on process and not product?  I’d gradually forgotten about the process in the excitement of the product (in this case increased mileage on my Milestone Pod, 5K medals and swag, increased pace), to my detriment.  I’d like to keep running.  My body isn’t physiologically or anatomically predisposed to running so I’m going to have to  be willing to do some extra work so that I can keep running.  I’m (probably) not going to be an ultra-marathoner, but if I’m willing to do the work I will probably be able to run again.  And if I’m not, it’s not the end of the world.


I Am a Runner … Yes, Really

I’ve always believed exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety.  I also know no matter how strong that belief is, I still have a heck of a time motivating myself to get up, go out, and just do it.  So, my preferred workout is one requiring only the barest minimum of prep and little to no travel.  In my late teens and twenties, that activity was running.  All I needed was a good pair of shoes, shorts/sweats, and a top.  Back in the day, I wasn’t running 5Ks or marathons or even on the cross-country team in high school or college; I just liked to get outside, run til my mind cleared and calmed, and come home relaxed, happy, and sweaty. In my thirties, though, my body started rebelling against the running that had previously come so easily.  Hip pain developed that defied diagnosis (turns out it was/is tensor fascia latae issues), knee pain, ankle pain, and foot pain soon followed.   I tried step aerobics with a girlfriend, tried Jazzercise, did some yoga classes, joined the Y and used the elliptical, treadmill, and weights; but none of these endured and all had the drawback of requiring me to get in the car to get to them (and kind of look decent).

A few years ago, at a high stress time of my life, I knew it was either figure out a way to work it out through exercise or start drinking a lot of martinis.  Drinking martinis didn’t seem like a mature approach to the situation, so I started walking … a lot.  Over time, as my mileage increased,  I lost weight, gained fitness, and drastically decreased my overall levels of anxiety and stress.  I’d found a good solution to my workout needs and gained that elusive peace of mind in the process.  I thought I’d put all thoughts of running behind me at last.  Then, last November my husband and I walked a Turkey Trot 5K.  For those not conversant with the lingo, a Turkey Trot is one of many cutesy names given to Thanksgiving Day 5K running events.  These events usually have equally cutesy logos and shirts associated with them as well — I made sure to choose a Turkey Trot that was convenient AND had a cool race shirt because let’s be honest — swag is important to me.  As I watched the runners rushing by, though, I started feeling nostalgic for the days when I, too, was a runner.  It started me thinking that perhaps I’d too hastily shelved running.  I wondered if perhaps there were a way I could try again.

After the holidays, I confided my Turkey Day 5K wistful wish to a friend (who also happens to be a runner and a running coach) and also shared my concerns about sustaining injuries and being sidelined.  She immediately responded, “You should do interval training.”  Huh?  Interval training?  She explained that interval training was simply running and walking.  It sounded reasonable, but also kind of lame. “But I wouldn’t really be a runner then,” I blurted. This incredibly fit woman who was my running icon and was preparing to leave for Florida for the “Dopey 50 Mile Challenge” just smiled and said, “Well, I’m a runner and that I run all the time, even marathons.  I kept getting sidelined too and realized this was a way to run without injury.”  I was gobsmacked. Real runners actually WALKED sometimes during their runs?  And it was considered legitimate and not lame?  Wow.

At her suggestion, I downloaded a free interval timer app, set it up for 3 minutes walking/1 minute running, laced up my shoes, bundled up the rest of me, and hit the track.  At first, I wasn’t sure about this.  I kept remembering how I used to be able to just knock out five miles without even thinking about it.  I was certainly having to think about it on that first dark, cold run around the elementary school track.  Then it happened – I forgot about how I used to run and started just feeling good that I was running.  About ten minutes in, I started smiling and I kept on smiling for the next fifty.  I didn’t run fast.  I didn’t run pretty.  I didn’t even run the whole time.  In the end, none of that mattered — I was running again.  After an hour, I stood panting at the side of the track and had a moment of perfect clarity and happiness.  I was truly ME.  And if that isn’t living big and sparkling, then I don’t know what is.

Since that first night, I’ve built up my mileage and speed slowly; I’ve been kind to myself and when I overdo I give myself and my body a break.  Since that first run around the track, I’ve completed four 5K runs and have gotten over my sense of somehow being less than other runners.  I’m not the fastest, I’m not the slowest, and each event is a mini-celebration of my ability to move past old assumptions and beliefs.  I continue to set new goals, which gives me a sense of accomplishment, and best of all I’ve added that deeper sense of calm and peace I’ve always connected with running.  Happiness?  Check.  Well-Being?  Check.  Creatively working past challenges, seeking new perspectives, coming up with new options?  You betcha.


I am Curious About … Judgment

I admit it, I am a “Judge-y McJudge-ster” (hope I spelled that right).  It’s not a characteristic of myself that I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about.  And the few times I have thought about it, I’ve not considered it a necessarily bad part of my personality because I believe I judge myself as much or more than I judge others.  I’m not the crazy person publicly calling people out on their bad behavior nor am I the virtual arsonist instigating flame wars on social media, but inside I often find myself shaking my head and thinking, “Wow, [that person or group of people], really need to get themselves together.”  Or I’m thinking something along those lines with more specifics and  sometimes with bad words.  Sometimes I might share those thoughts with other friends and often we’ll all shake our heads and wonder at how people can do what they do.  With that said, though, I do play by the rules and withhold judgment when I’m supposed to — like in brainstorming sessions or when I’m listening to others’ troubles; I mean I’m not an animal.  I didn’t know that this habit of judging was actually limiting my perspective and also cutting into my ability to connect with others until my curiosity led me to a whole new way of looking at it.

One of the ways I’ve been indulging my curiosity has been exploring Brene Brown’s work around shame and vulnerability as a student in her “Living Brave Semester” program.  As part of the program, we were given the assignments to read Brene’s books Daring Greatly and Rising Strong.  Ordinarily, I read relatively quickly and have been known to devour entire books in one sitting (I have also been known to devour entire sleeves of Oreo thins in one sitting, but that’s a whole other topic).  With both of these books, however, I’ve had to read them more slowly than usual because with each one I’ve need to take frequent reading breaks to either think deeply on what I’ve just read or to cry because what I’d read had resonated so strongly with me.  Yeah, to say her books have had a strong impact on me is an understatement.

In Rising Strong, Brene details a frustrating situation and her difficulties dealing with it both in the moment and afterward — and judgment was a part of this.  In fact, Brene characterized those she was judging as “sewer rats and scofflaws.”  And as I read, I was totally cheering her on and thinking, “Damn straight, who does he/she think he/she is?!?!”  Or at least that’s what I was thinking all the way up until she shared an alternate perspective offered by her therapist:  What if those we’re labeling “sewer rats and scofflaws” are really doing the very best that they can do?  That they are not acting under a conscious effort to behave badly, but that they are simply doing the best they can do within their own abilities.  Whoa.  Yep, I had to stop reading so I could spend some dedicated time considering how my judgmental tendencies might be in opposition to my goal of living big.

By judging and labeling others, regardless of how quietly or internally I’ve done so, I’ve been creating my own limited circles.  By judging and labeling others, I have been easily dismissing and putting some people outside of my circles.  It’s not an attractive realization to make.  If I choose to stop that judgement process, however,  and instead approach situations from a default mindset of believing that most people are doing the very best that they can do I am invoking compassion, not judgment.  By halting judgment, I’m leaving open the possibility of connection and not further insulating myself into a known and unambiguous environment.  Being angry and self-righteous comes easily to me, but I find that compassion is complicated and if I’m truly being compassionate and believe others are doing the best that they can do, I can’t just shrink-wrap, label them, and stick them outside my circle of concern. How can I say I’m living “big” when I’m knowingly creating constraints and smallness with my habit of judging?

I didn’t expect a simple exploration of my curiosity to bring with it a breakthrough and whole new way of thinking, but it did.  Indulging in curiosity opens us up to new ways of looking at things, can inspire new ideas and creativity, and in general keeps those neurons creating new connections in our brains by forcing us to think in ways that are different from our defaults.  Curiosity expands us and isn’t that what living big is all about?


Ditching Plans, Being Present = Mindfulness

When I started this Masters Project, I approached it the way I approach any new project– I built a plan.  And while a plan is one of the necessary components of a Masters Project, at least per my syllabus, I realized within a few weeks that I was going to need a much more flexible approach to this personal development effort than the strict and rigid schedules I use for my professional work.

About four weeks in, I noticed that I was starting to feel irritated at having to taking time to “make marks” in my Thoughtlog each night before I went to sleep.  I also recognized that filling out a daily log evaluating each and every mindfulness, motion, and curiosity activity was seriously sucking the joy out of the process.  Typically, I would shove those emotions aside and just push my way through whatever was irritating me.  And I was well on my way to doing exactly that, when it finally it dawned on me THIS was an opportunity for learning: “live big and sparkle” is not a way of being that I can achieve by rigid scheduling and programming.  By doing so I was falling into the same old traps that have been limiting my ability to be truly present and enjoy life.  Managing (aka controlling) activities (aka everything)  is my way of dealing with uncertainty.  Or perhaps avoiding having to deal with uncertainty.  Not really a good way to be present and in the moment if what I’m being present in is actually a carefully orchestrated performance.  Collecting data is still an obligatory element of this Masters Project and collect data I will.  It was clear, though, my  original regimented method for doing this conflicted with living a truly mindful life.

The reality of all of the above was driven home when I traveled to Buffalo, NY last week to attend SUNY’s “Launching Mindfulness” academic conference. It ended up being a big growth and learning experience for me, particularly in those areas of being flexible, staying open, and being okay with ambiguity/uncertainty — and not just because of the conference!  Here’s what happened:

I was traveling with one of my besties and we’d decided to forego renting a car since the conference was within walking distance of the hotel.  Being the planner I am, I’d checked my MapQuest and Google Maps to ascertain the conference location (University at Buffalo) was indeed within walking distance.  I’d also scoped out the distance from the hotel to some of my fave spots in Elmwood Village (near MY campus, Buffalo State) and planned for us to taxi in for a late lunch and shopping after we landed.

The cab ride to Elmwood Village ended up being I don’t know how many miles more than what I’d researched and cost almost $45.00.  I could feel the annoyance rising as the fare on the meter continued to tick up, but I worked to keep my focus on the moment at hand.  We chatted with the driver about different types of yoga as he wended his way through Buffalo, I pointed out sights to my bestie, and realized when we arrived at our destination the annoyance was gone and I was just happy to be there – regardless of it taking quite a bit longer than I’d anticipated for us to get there.  Nothing would have been gained by becoming frustrated or berating the driver, but by recognizing what really mattered in the moment I was able to make the additional time enjoyable and interesting.

I’d also carefully planned my wardrobe for this trip and had worn a very practical outfit of leggings, boots, sweater dress so that I would have no issues transitioning from flight to cab to walking in town.  Except I had somehow grabbed a pair of what must have been ancient leggings.  After lunch in Elmwood village, before we had walked even a block, my leggings were halfway down my butt — and for the record, these were Spanx leggings, which I love and they NEVER behave this way!  Not only was this happening on a busy street, it was happening underneath a sweater dress and a down coat.  I ended up having to forego my polished appearance  and hike up my bulky coat and haul my leggings up — several times.  And you know what?  We laughed like lunatics about it,  indulged in a little shopping, marveled at a passing snow flurry, and had a blast.

The ultimate blow to my supreme organization and planning came the next morning when we headed off to the conference. It was cold — I was prepared for that.  It was icy — I was prepared for that.  And due to our less than stellar Google map reading skills we were heading in exactly the wrong direction to reach the conference.  We returned to the hotel to get the RIGHT directions and set out again, only to find that while University at Buffalo was indeed within walking distance, we were kinda sorta walking on a pretty busy four-lane highway that didn’t have any shoulder.  We happened across a blue University at Buffalo bus that had “EVENTS” emblazoned on it, explained our plight to the driver, and hitched a ride.  Another entirely unexpected foul-up in our best-laid plans, but instead of an annoyance or something to agonize over, we made it an adventure and reached the conference in high spirits.

Ordinarily, this much havoc wreaked upon my plans and schedules would have sent me into a tailspin.  Instead, by relaxing into the unknown and uncertainty, by being okay with staying open and being flexible, the trip ended up being an incredibly rewarding and fun experience for me and for my friend.  The conference was wonderful and I learned a lot,  but the biggest and most powerful leaning that took place for me was in experiencing the joy and happiness that comes from just letting life happen and being there for it.




Masters Project or … Being my own Beta Test

So, I had this really great idea:  Develop a workshop for women who are at midlife (and/or menopause) to give them tools, tips, techniques, motivation, and support for building extraordinary lives — enabling them to live BIG and sparkle.  Great kind of “save the world” idea and I fell in love with it.  And then I realized, “Hey, wait a minute — I’m not really living BIG and sparkling yet.  How am I going to share what I’ve learned through my research if I haven’t put it all to the test first?”   Taking that thought, I put together a proposal for a Masters Project (it got approved –woohoo!) and I was going to capture my experiences and reflections longhand, but realized a blog would be even better.  1) Typing is WAY faster and easier than writing longhand.  2) Saves me a lot of time transposing from longhand to online for my workshop.  3) I can use my experiences, as captured in this blog, as experiential information for other women who want to try some of the exercises and activities I did.  It’s a win all the way around.

Last semester I did a lot of research about perimenopause, menopause, women and midlife, women and creativity, creativity and aging, creativity in general, creativity and self-actualization, etc., etc.  It was fun, but I got into a little bit of a research rathole; there’s a lot to learn and plenty of resources to learn from!  I was seeking key concepts that would allow me to connect to creativity and, in turn; increase my happiness, wellness, and opportunities to realize self-actualization — living my best and most optimized life.  I wanted to figure out how I could Live Big and Sparkle.  Out of all that research, three key concepts surfaced:  Mindfulness, Motion, and Curiosity.  For my Masters Project, I am exploring practices in each of these areas for six weeks and I’m going to share the results of those experiences here.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What did I like?  What did I really hate?  And most importantly, how have the experiences impacted me.  Am I living big?  Am I sparkling?  Am I ready to be an example and lead others to big, sparkly lives??

Instead of only putting my ideas, experiences, and results in a Masters Project (that you will be able to read online via “Digital Commons”), I thought it would be kind of genius for me to capture everything in this blog.  When I’m ready to launch my LBAS workshops, I’ll already have this reference ready to share.  I might even consider this somewhat of a marketing tool!  🙂  My adventures and explorations into Mindfulness, Motion, and Curiosity will all be here and will include the good, the not so good, and (if necessary) the downright ugly.  Looking forward to sharing my discoveries and breakthroughs!



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