For a month, we have been doing some on and off running, but mostly hiking the dirt roads from our yurt.
But today, on a chilly spring morning with the clouds hanging low over the mountains, we ran! Yes, still hiking up most of the hills (we do live above 8,000ft), but running everything else.
At the halfway point, I was reminded of how I officially started my healing journey 6 months earlier at the labyrinth of the hospital where I was getting the PRP injection into my Achilles heel, where I gazed out at the Indian Peaks. Yesterday, Pacer and I paused at the labyrinth at Joyful Journeys Hot Springs, where I had just soaked in the mineral rich and sacred waters with friends, this time looking out at the Sangre de Cristo mountains. I knew that I was looking out at the mountains with a new perspective, a true, more whole version of me.
Realizing this, I started to cry. Actually, let’s be real. I don’t cry. I sob. So I stopped on the dirt tracks, let the joy-tears come, and kissed Pacer on her snout.
We did it. We made it through the pain. And now, it is time to fly again.
The day Dad shared the news, I believe, started off as an ordinary day. My sisters and I went to school, came home, maybe ate dinner. That evening, before the announcement, he first took me, Sandi, and Amanda to Brookpark Fun & Games, which maybe I thought was a little odd, being a school night and all. I won a small stuffed animal. I don’t remember what it was, or how I won it. I just remember I had it when he sat us all down on Grandma’s couch.
I think he was standing, we were sitting, Grandma in the other room. He and Mom, he said, were getting a divorce.
At first I didn’t understand it. I think I was only 6 or 7. My only timeline is that my uncle, Dad’s youngest brother, passed away from Leukemia the year before. My sister tells me this is the first time she remembered seeing him cry, the second being just a few years ago when Amanda passed. Soon after the news, Dad had a heart attack, age 40, cause: a broken heart. I remember helping him put on his socks as he recovered that winter. I faintly remember mine and Sandi’s (my twin) kindergarten, 1st grade, and 2nd grade teachers feeling bad for us.
As I was sitting on Grandma’s couch, I remember picturing me and my sisters floating away in boxes in the ocean. Separated. It sounds silly, but I was so little, still partially dependent on my parents for shaping my understanding and view of the world. I must have cried. I just don’t remember. I don’t remember what happened next, when we saw Mom at home.
I think this is the day I first learned how to dissociate. My body partially shutting down and my imagination floating somewhere else, to protect me from my emotions, the emotions that my little body couldn’t yet process on its own.
I needed to my parents. I needed them to comfort me. To tell me that they loved me and that everything would be okay.
But they were in their own pain. They had learned themselves as children to shut down their emotions from their parents. A survival technique most likely used for generations to get through the hardships of life. And so, I was left alone, inside my own inner world.
For much of my life, I tried to dismiss my parent’s divorce as having any affect on my. After all, I figured, lots of kids experience the divorce of their parents. Of course, some of the wounds started to creep up in relationships as I entered my late 20s. Then, I recently learned that divorce, especially when kids have no voice in the matter, affects the part of the brain that associated with self-worth. [To be more specific, the frontostratial pathway, which links the medial prefrontal cortex (self-knowledge) with the ventral striatum (motivation and reward). Thank you Dr. Bruce Perry for sharing this research in What Happened to You? and https://www.huffpost.com/entry/self-esteem-brain_n_5500501]. I don’t think I felt that the divorce was my fault, but I didn’t feel like I had control of anything happening and I certainly had no one to comfort me, save for my stuffed animals Big Abu and Little Abu.
My brain, at the time, must have associated this with not being enough. A belief that I’ve only semi-consciously carried with me for the last 25+ years.
As a kid, self-soothing came in the form of eating, until I heard the “chunky” comments, and then I numbed my way to anorexia. Then there were sports. Sports, of course, aren’t bad. Except exercises fed my anorexia. Basketball, thinness, and grades all become closely associated with my self-worth.
Eventually, I became ruled by the belief, the fear, that I wasn’t enough. My body was too anxious to play basketball well. My shooting wrist would lock up. I’d have panic attacks, simply playing against boyfriends. In running, I was determined to leave the pressure, the past, behind me. I just wanted to bask in the freeness of running outside.
But you can’t escape the shadows that you don’t know are there. (Aka, the unconscious.)
I loved running.
Yet I got caught in the traps of a culture that said “do more” over and over and over again.
My body had enough. The left hip developed a “hitch”. On flat ground, I felt like I couldn’t control the leg’s swing. I developed calf strains. Running, limping, fainting 100 miles through the first one. And finally, an Achilles tendon injury that stubbornly wouldn’t heal.
I was frustrated for so long. Now I am simply grateful. I believe my Achilles was telling me “I’m not going to let you run until both you unconscious on conscious believes that you are enough. You don’t always have to do things to feel that way. You don’t have to work so hard to be loved. Only then will you know what it’s like to run embodied with freedom and joy. “
Joy and freedom have always been what I’ve strived for. And I have felt that way in the mountains, yet never without that little voice in the back of my mind too, coaxing me like the serpent of Eden, “You a have enough time. Do that mountain too.”
Now, there are times that I do want to extend the day outside. It’s the pressure in my body that feels awful, unloving, persisting even after I call out my ego and choose to stop. The should haves on the drive home actually driving me further away from myself, the home inside my body.
Striving, I realize, is not the right word for what I want to obtain. For striving for love is not love. It’s actually a returning. A returning to my 6 year old self, reminding her that she is loved. That she has nothing to prove, no need to claim her worthiness. A returning to that core truth, so when the world around her spins in a way she can’t control, only that truth exists. That love, joy, and freedom are always present, if not outside then within. The heart that exist outside of protections, ego, and human form.
A few years ago, on a cold and snowy night in Northeast Ohio, I picked up a pen and my journal and words spilled from my hands. As I wrote, I thought I was writing my story, the story of how I lost my wings as a young girl and found them once again in my 20s. What I realized later on was the I was writing the story, in poem format, of most women I know. A year later, my sister and her boyfriend turned my poem into a video that has now been viewed by thousands and seen at The Trail Running Film Festival. My poem has now become the story of women rising.
She Wanted to Fly. . .So She Flew
Once there was a little girl. She wanted to fly… So she flew.
She flew over rooftops, And skimmed the tops of trees. She flew so high that she soared with the birds. She flew even higher than the clouds, She flew among the stars.
Her wings took her anywhere she wanted to go. Her wings were only visible to her, And that is how the problem occurred. She told others of the her magical flights, And how her wings rose with the wind, Taking her higher than the mountain tops. But those who couldn’t see her wings told her this wasn’t true. They said her imagination was playing tricks on her, She had no wings, She couldn’t fly.
At first she didn’t believe them, and she continued to fly. But they grew more persistent. They told her she needed to start growing up, That it was best to keep such silly dreams to herself. Then one day, a few years down the road, She tried to fly, But never left the ground.
She remembered those voices who told her she couldn’t And figured they were right. She couldn’t really fly. Still, she worked hard in school and got good grades. She dreamed about her future And about what she wanted to be when she grew up. However, when she told others of her dreams They told her she was foolish. Some said she was not pretty enough, Others said she was not smart or creative enough. They said she should be practical And to keep such silly dreams to herself. So, she believed those voices too. Her world became gray, Rain fell every day.
But then, on a seemingly un-extraordinary day, A soft breeze blew at her back. At first she ignored it, But then it grew stronger. It lifted her feet right off the ground!
Suddenly she remembered all the times she used to fly. “Yes!” she remembered, “I flew so very high up in the sky!” As a young girl, she had flown over rooftops, Skimmed the tops of trees, And soared with the birds. Without any doubt, She knew her memories were real. Her dreams could come true, If she just believed.
And with that thought, Her broken wings were healed. Suddenly, she was flying above the clouds, Higher than the mountaintops, And found herself among the stars.
Once there was a little girl. She wanted to fly… So she flew.
“I’m sure there is someone out there thinking “But comparison is a motivator, it makes you want to get better.” And maybe it does. My issue with comparison in running is the “beat the other guy/woman” piece. The ego steps in. I’m not enlightened enough to say that comparison and ego are always bad, but at least from what I’ve witnessed, ego and comparison might help get you ahead for a bit, but it doesn’t last…”
If I were to add to this now, I’d include that this is a more painful way to compete and live. Each win or loss proves how one “measures up” to others on some arbitrary scale of self-worth.
I thought about what I wrote in my previous blog long after I wrote the words. I knew my bias and what I wanted the answer to be, and I figured that because I did not compete on an elite level, I might not have the answer. Scott Jurek almost turned my bias in his new book, North: Finding My Way on the Appalachian Trail. In one chapter (and as I researched this I found out he has said this before) he mentions that when he feels his drive is coming back, his want to push through the pain, is when he felt his ego coming back. I was hoping he would come back to this at the end of the book, after he broke down and became a shell of his former self, 19lbs lighter and barely cohesive. Vulnerable. But he doesn’t mention it again. What he does mention are the times he wanted to quit, but his friends urged him on. He had made a commitment to his wife Jenny, and he wanted to reach Katahdin with her. Did ego push him through? It didn’t seem like it, it felt like something deeper, but I can’t say for sure. If I run into him in Boulder one day, I’ll have to ask.*
Then, I was listening to the Run this World podcast, where Nicole DeBoom interviewed confidence coach, Christen Shefchunas. At one point during the conversation they start talking about ego and Christen says “The bigger the ego, the more there is to hide.” Bam. Let that one sink in. There’s probably a few ways to look at that statement, but the direction I’m inspecting is the fear part. What is it that one is trying to hide and why? In competition, that answer I’ve heard most commonly from those willing to be open is a fear of not being good enough. Or, put in another way, the ego finds a way to get bigger, identifying most with which one has been prove successful at, because of a fear of lack.
In a bit of a sidetrack, I also want to state the obvious: I have a blog. Doesn’t that seem a bit egotistical?
Maybe. But there are two parts. When I started this blog a little over a year ago, my primary reasons included a want for a creative outlet, catharsis in sharing, and hope that I could use my words to help others. The last part could also be looked at in another way, that in my “special-ness” I had something important and worthwhile to say that people should read. Honestly, that part is still in me. I can feel its leaden weight in my chest as I write this. But when I re-read the words I laugh at them, it seems silly. There is a sense of detachment. Awareness of the ego is often the first step in overcoming it.
So then the question turns to “Can a full-filled person, a person secure in oneself, race fiercely? Or, out of the race scene, be competitive and succeed in other areas of life?”
In her book, On the Wings of Mercury, Olympian Lorraine Moller tells a story of how she “threw love bombs” at her fellow competitors. Now these love bombs were obviously imaginary, but essentially she was wishing the best to her competitors while racing as hard as she could.
And with Moller’s example in mind, I propose a better way.
I call this better way, a way in which racing and achieving is not grounded in ego or comparison, compassionate competing. No, not revolutionary, but let me break the words down for you, which I hope will set off a little spark.
As my sister Sandi and I have both mentioned before in previous blogs, the Latin meaning of the word compete is actually to seek together. What I recently discovered is the Latin meaning of the word compassion is to suffer with (by observing another’s pain). So when we put the words together to form compassionate competing, we get to suffer with while seeking together. In my own interpretation of this, what I have come to conclude is that when we see another runner working hard, suffering as she pushes her own limits, we are inspired to push ourselves harder. And together, we push past barriers that take us beyond our perceived limits and onto the possibilities of our true potential.
On our grander level, we can compete compassionately in the same way. When we bring in our own true selves and personal fierceness to our everyday lives and the communities in which we live, we are no longer fighting against each other but a world that has become too complacent. We can have the strength to look honestly at another’s pain, recognize any injustice, take action, and transcend beyond the (hateful and negative) perceived limits of the world we live in.
In my first draft of this blog post, I wrote that I still didn’t have the answer to whether or not ego played a necessary role in competing and winning. Then I realized that wasn’t true. The idea that I couldn’t have an answer because I am currently not competing was also my own, scared-of-not-being-good-enough-ego planting false thoughts in my head. Intuitively, and I having an flipping strong intuition when I’m courageous enough to trust it, I always knew the answer. Ego and comparison do not enhance but limit our best performances, our best selves. They create pressure, fear, and take away our energy. Heart, and a desire to explore the spectacularness of the human spirit (in the midst of group), is the answer.
(Supergirl and I climbing together, reaching new heights, and discovering places of beauty not always found in the flat land of complacency.)
* Scott on my rollerblades on the Boulder Creek Path while he was running and pushing one of his little ones. Totally missed my opportunity!