A Dog and Her Girl: A Love Story

IMG_20200715_113605404_HDR

At least once a week, I’ll cry over Pacer.  The tears are from the purest Love I know.   They symbolize both my deepest gratitude for being blessed to have the best companion I could ever want, and an even deeper grief knowing one day she will most likely leave this Earth before me. (I’ve cried every time I have thought of, written, and edited that line.) The funny thing is that I know she loves me just the same.  She just doesn’t seem to share my sorrow.  It’s like she knows, or at least more truly believes, something I don’t.  Sometimes I swear I can see the Universe through her eyes.  

Pacer close up

One of my only hopes when I leave this world is that I can fully encompass so much Love.  

God is Love.  Dog is Love.  

I am by no means an expert in the history of language, but I can with almost 100% certainty say that it is no coincidence that God spelled backwards is Dog.  If only the religions of the world recognized that, there would be no shortage of compassion.

A little more on our Love story: 

When my then boyfriend and I (we adopted her together) went to pick up Pacer (in Asheboro, NC), I was just about as nervous as I was excited—pretty much how I am going on any mountain adventure.

That little squirt was such a beautiful little determined sass-ball from the start.  She tripped my boyfriend walking up to the car, puked in my lap on the drive home, and had us chasing her around the yard from the start.  

When me and that first boyfriend split (I guess we can call him her Dad), it was never a question of whom she’d go with.  I would’ve stayed in that relationship if I had to, even though we had exhausted all options of working things out.  I’m pretty sure he and I both cried when I left.  Pacer probably licked my tears.  But did she know that we were leaving for good?

Pacer has been with me through several other relationships after that, like the one boy I fell in love with, hard and fast, but between The Pill* that left me with panic attacks, navigating a transition back to being a student, and a whole lot of insecurities, we couldn’t make it work.  I’m not sure how much I cried on mine and Pacer’s trip to Cloud Peak Wilderness in Wyoming (I may have still been in denial), but she remained my constant companion through the very literal highs and lows.  

*I am by no means against The Pill or any other method of birth control.  For me they just didn’t work.  And for any guy reading this, go you for wearing a condom and taking part of the responsibility off your partner. 

Then there was the relationship that ended with a boyfriend coming home drunk and angry, her body under mine in hopes that I could protect her from some of the yelling.  She never judged me for not leaving sooner and instead gave comfort by simply laying next to me (plus some incessant pawing and licking) not as I cried from heartbreak but the absurdity of it all.  Then off to the mountains we went again, seeking healing in the San Juans, her never leaving my side even when not happy with my route decisions.  (She has, however, learned to demand rest days.)

The last boyfriend, whom we both adored, maybe loved, but only Pacer could ever say.  Except my internal warning system has never been able to turn off of high alert from the last one.  I can’t tell you if the system was accurate or faulty, only that when I felt my throat constrict and the weight in my chest that I was already trapped in a mix of fight and flight.  All my body could tell me was enough.  Even on those lonely nights hoping for a text or a “like” on Facebook, Pacer just curled up beside me on the couch (unless she got bored with me ignoring her for the computer, and put herself to bed.) 

True Love is unconditional.  We’ve never needed words because we could always attune to the other’s presence.  Or maybe spirit?  Pacer is my ultimate Love story.  

I laugh because that certainly isn’t to stay our story has been perfect or easy.  I still can’t say I’ve totally forgave myself for some of the training tools (ex. e-collar) I used on her as a puppy (instructed by professionals) or some of the mountains I’ve taken her up when she was clearly not happy with me by the end.  And I can still see her little body running through our old house with the veggie burgers I made for dinner locked in her jaw.  Even more so, Pacer has made my life more challenging.  I can’t be away from home for more than 8 hours (maybe 9, but then I feel guilty), I can’t travel unless Sandi can watch her or I can afford to put her in boarding with a trainer who is used to working with reactive dogs, and I carefully consider each trail we can go on safely.  Then there’s the constant worry.  Like right now, her first few steps on her hind leg are tentative, and then she’s fine.  Should we do an easy hike tomorrow, or should we abandon ship (or rather, our camping trip) and head home?  Nevertheless, all of that is second.  Effortlessly, she slid into my life as my number one priority.  I never regret anything I haven’t been able to do because of her.  Because her laying next to me is worth so much more than anything else.

I probably should add…it’s not to say I don’t love some of the humans in my life to the Nth degree.  It’s just that we humans often come with conditions and stories of what Love should be, which makes it harder.  Pacer just is Love. (At least to those who know her.  For those of who don’t—well my friend told me that Pacer has the bite that I don’t always have when I should.)  Together we just ARE. 

Maybe Pacer, and all dogs, have been put into this world to teach humans what Love is.

In many ways, Pacer and I are wild, stubborn or determined (depending on your perspective), and tamed only in the sense that I am Hers and She is mine.

Love,

A Dog and Her Girl

IMG_20200715_110752334

Growing Up (in the) Church

Preface:  These thoughts come to me in the midst of a new, budding relationship.  Yes, there is a “new Boy” who’s been nothing but kind and thoughtful.  Still, it’s been a hesitation of mine from the start that he “identifies” as Catholic.  I know identifies is a funny thing to say in defining someone’s religious choice, but for me he’s not the Catholic I grew up with—he’s more of the John Pavlovitz type—to the point where there are times that I want to say to him, “You’re not really Catholic then.”  In my mind, to at least help me make sense of it all for now, I’ve divided it up to the Catholic Church as a business, and Catholic the religious practice.  But to back track a bit, he’s seems (and has stated) that he genuinely does not care that I identify as spiritual.  Which makes me question if I am hypocritical in my own spirituality that I do question the sustainability of our relationship because of our beliefs.  I won’t let myself completely off the hook with that thought, as I do want to make sure that I don’t deny others of the religious and spiritual freedom that I was denied growing up.  However, I do want to acknowledge the weight and heaviness of the religion classes and lectures I sat through as a kid.  I thought I had processed it all before this relationship, but it seems that the Universe is offering me a new challenge.  As a brief example (with the rest being in metaphor below)…I’ve felt the need to bring up things that I normally would not want to do so early in a relationship so the new Boy has a clear idea of what he is getting himself into.   After much stumbling on my words, I told him I had no plans to ever get married (leaving out that if I ever change my mind, I want to get married outside the confines of four walls and by a woman).  I can’t blame all of that on the Catholic Church…part of it has to do with my parents’ divorce, my young and married uncle dying before turning 30, and the narrative I created in childhood around that.  But there is the religion class where we were told that the obligation in marriage was to procreate…and while I love kids I’ve never wanted them for myself (plus, Pacer is the best little girl I could ask for!).  And the whole “two become one” thing always seemed skewed in the man’s favor.  Finally, there’s the whole patriarchal and oppression thing that surrounds most religions…but that’s been written about more eloquently by others, so I’ll end this very long preface now.

**********************

I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe

I try to cry

But I am drowning

Cleansed, I hear them say

But from a made up sin I did not commit

My clothes are white

But then my body grows, and its back to black

I run down the street on wobbly legs

I’m screaming:

Hear me

See me

Acknowledge me

All heads turn the other way.

I am but a ghost.  A Ghost?

No, for I am a woman.

I trip and fall.

I am but a ghost with bloody knees

Is this my cross to bear?

I choose to wear only bones

To be more like a Man or further hidden,

I no longer know.

Still, without this chest

Without my life-giving blood flow

There’s less force to do the things that I am told

Like my body is only for him

And the children to come after

For that is what is required for me to become seen

If I am good

Am I good?

It is only years later that I inhabit my body again

That I realize it wants to sing, to dance

To come forth as only the feminine spirit can

So I choose to run

And run

And run

Miles, valley, rivers, and mountains later

I break free of the chains, my cross

Finally, I have found my Heaven within.

DSCN0022

 

********************

The evening after writing this, I cam across this amazing video: Be a Lady They Said

 

 

A Better Way: Competing without Comparison

 

(A few old racing pics from my early running years)

In one of my previous blog posts, The Thief of Joyous Running, I questioned whether comparison and ego improved running performance:

“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.)

With Compassion,

Ray

* Scott on my rollerblades on the Boulder Creek Path while he was running and pushing one of his little ones.  Totally missed my opportunity!

 

 

The Thief of Joyous Running

While this blog strays away a bit from my usual posts for this site as it is running related, I chose to write this anyway after 1) my sister suggested I write this and 2) running is often a microcosm and metaphor for life.  So even if you’re not a runner, I trust that you will find some meaning in my words.

“Hey Sandi…?”  Followed by a slightly awkward glance as the runner passes in the opposite direction.  In the brief moment our paths cross, I usually give a nod or small smile.  Should I say “hi”, tell him I’m not Sandi, or not say anything? By the time I think this over, I usually end up with the third option and just let the runner go by.

Usually, when someone calls me Sandi on the trail, I take this as a compliment.  You see, my twin sister is badass.  I mean, she is fast.  And strong.  Like about to represent the USA in the World Mountain Championships in Poland next month strong and fast.  And sometimes I just leave it at that.  Other times, I let my joy of trail running be stolen.  Who’s the thief you ask?  Myself and my habit of comparison.

2018 Salida half (2)
Me, Sandi, and her partner Sage after her win at the Run through Time Half Marathon in Salida.

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, said: “Comparison is the thief of joy.” *

Those words have held true for my most of my life.

Here’s a look at my thought process and downward spiral:

“I must not be that slow if they thought I was Sandi.”

“And maybe I’m not that much heavier.”

“Or maybe they think Sandi got slow and gained weight.”

“Why can’t I be as fast and skinny as Sandi?  We have the same genes!”

And so it goes.  Ugly right?  Makes one feel kinda crappy.

Why does this make me and, probably you, feel crappy?  Well one, my guess (or at least my hope so I don’t feel totally alone in this habit) is that you’ve had similar thoughts.  Second, when we compare or judge, it is usually a reflection of ourselves.  It has to do with our own lack of self-worth, feelings of not being good enough.  (So please, give yourself some compassion here!  You mostly have a wound from a past trauma or situation that made you feel like this.  Comparison and judgement are often the ego’s idea of self-protection.  It’s of course a false form of protection, but it helps to know this so we can learn and change the habit.)

I can’t tell you how many times comparison has been a dark cloud in my life.  I’ve compared myself to my classmates in grad school ‘They’re so smart! How did I get in?”, relationships “He’s so intelligent, handsome, and skinnier than me.  Why is he with me?” (that lead me to unconsciously act like a jerk that lead to the breakup), and even to all of the pro-athletes in Boulder that work out for hours each day and have bodies of gods and goddesses.

The funny thing is, when I truly reflect on where I am in life right now, I’m happy with where I am and with who I am.  I’m about to enter my 3rd year of graduate school in Naropa’s Transpersonal Wilderness Therapy program and work for SAGE Running part-time.  I don’t have time or energy to work out for hours and have 6-pack abs.  Which is totally fine! I rather be working to become an awesome therapist! I also have a wonderful partner who loves me and will call me out when I start to become “Judgey, McJudgey” (his words, not mine). My body is still exhausted from the extreme exercise and dieting in my younger years, but now I can still run for a few hour in the mountains with my dog.  That is happiness for me.  Life is truly amazing!

salida 2018
All smiles (and tongue) running with my best friend in Salida.

So recently, when I went on a 3-day solo as part of my Rites of Passage journey for my Transitions class (I know, I know- I did that for school! Again, totally awesome.) In addition to going into my 3-day solo with two intentions I wanted to honor for myself, I also considered the piece of me that I wanted to let go of.  I decided the piece of me that I wanted to let go of was my comparing self.  It may have served me in some ways over the years, tried to protect me, but I was ready to say “thank you, but I never want to see you again.”  I can’t say what went on during my 3 day solo, as I feel it is a bit too sacred to write in a blog, but what I can say is I focused on loving and honoring myself.  I found my beauty, deep within in me and in my body-including my curves and touching thighs.  Part of what I found was love for myself, which pushed out any need to compare myself to others.

Of course, that doesn’t mean that my comparing mind is gone for good.  It likes to sneak back in here and there.  But I’m on the lookout and ready to call it out when it rears it’s ugly head.  Like today, when I was beginning a run with my pup at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.  We were headed up a rocky trail that had a lot more vertical than I expected, and I was hiking.   There was an instant where I thought “I’m sure a lot of other runners could run up this.”  Then, the magic came.  I said to myself “Who cares?  Let’s just enjoy this time in nature with your best friend.  If you end up hiking a lot, then you just get to spend more time outside!  And I did hike a lot.  And I smiled a lot.  Which I actually think helped me save some energy to run at the end, in between my pup’s creek baths.  It was a beautiful, joyous morning.

0518180956
Pacer, distracted by another dog, while I try to take picture at Golden Gate Canyon State Park.

I’m sure there is someone our 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.  In looking at elite runners, the ones who continue to win are the ones who have an internal motivator, the ones who continue to find joy in what they do.  Looking at all runners, the ones who are often able to run for years are the ones who can do so with less comparison and with more focus on the process.  They have an inner drive, a gratitude for their own ability, and a sense of play whenever they get outside.

With that being said, I’m definitely not perfect.  But when those clouds of comparison begin block out my light, I’m learning to see the thoughts for what they are and bust my rays right through them.   Then I get back to playing with my dog.

With Joy,

 

Ray

 

*Okay, maybe comparison isn’t always bad: https://medium.com/thrive-global/roosevelt-was-wrong-comparison-is-not-the-thief-of-joy-9e490cd6225