Category Archives: Life As It Happens

Why it’s Not About the Work-Out

It’s stormy out.

Rain and wind are pummeling the west coast. In my community, branches and leaves scatter the streets, drumming up deep, rich smells of pine, earth and Christmas. Our power was out for eight hours last week. More warnings came over the last few days. Tie down the deck chairs, folks, and have your flashlights ready. Mother nature is taking the stage.

And big, ugly political storms brew in the U.S. Well, they are actually in full gale force. Trump’s house is dislodged and being pummeled in the funnel cloud. I stand riveted in the thought of it-can’t-happen. I also stand in deep revelation and reverence of what I, as a women, hope to witness next month. The fury of the storm always clears a path.

A few mornings ago, mid-storm, I got in a workout before my family woke. Typical for me, this morning ritual is driven by a deep need to come awake. To shake off layers. To ignite something. I’m still not sure what to call it, this why of mine.

Post-workout, a hot sweaty mess, I got to the headlines. I took in the torrent of articles about Trump, the emerging accusations of sexual predation, and reaction to Michelle Obama’s powerful and devastating speech.

And I was reminded of something.

We need to be well and keep strong because we’ve got big work to do. All of us. In our own corners and arenas. The world needs us at our best. Strong and powerful. With endurance and stamina and capacity. We need to be ready to step in. To serve. To stand firm in the midst of a storm.

What I know is this. It’s not about the work-out; it’s about the work it’s preparing me for.

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Castles and Illusions

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“Who is that?” asks a 10-year old girl in the grocery store line up. She points at a magazine cover featuring an unnamed model.

I’m not sure. Some nice lady. 

“What’s she doing?”

Standing in front of a camera.

“Why is she standing like that?”

I’m not sure. She might be trying to make herself look different than she is. 

“Why would she do that?”

I’m not sure. Good question. 

“That’s weird.”

I know. [Silence.] It’s kinda weird.  

Because I’d hazard a guess that nice lady doesn’t look or stand like that most of the time. For what it’s worth, I’ve never seen women at a business meeting, or women at the gym, or women in the school yard, or women at the beach stand like that. Someone else did that nice lady’s hair and makeup so she looked quite different from what she looked like when she got up that morning. After other people with big cameras were done taking photos of her with special lights, that lady probably washed her face, put on comfy pants, and went for a sandwich. Then later maybe she hung out with some friends or her family. Maybe walked her dog. Did some pottery, played volleyball or something. I bet she’s super cool and smart.

It’s just that things and people sometimes get depicted like they are not. Sometimes it’s art. Sometimes it’s trickery. Sometimes it’s commerce. Or entertainment.

Sometimes it’s fear.

And a lot of times it doesn’t feel quite right.

Like when we get our family portraits done. It’s awkward sitting there with hands on each others’ shoulders. With hair combed just right. All that smiling when nothing’s funny. Your face starts to twitch, and your eyes get desperate when you stare at a camera and hold a fake smile for too long.

Or like keeping the house clean when you’re trying to sell it. You make the house look like it  never looks. And you run around every morning shoving things in closets and putting out fake place-settings. And you cannot wait for it to be over so you can get back to how you actually live.

Or the recipe pictures. The shimmering green smoothie on a white marble counter in front of the vase of yellow tulips. If you pan out a couple of feet, there’s a pile of slimy, black banana peels. And spatters of spinach and almond milk on the stove top. And probably stray ice cubes melting on the floor. The smoothie still tastes sweet and rich and glorious.

There’s a furious attempt to build castles and illusions, my dear. And I’m still not sure why. I can’t see all the way through it just yet.

The work comes in the un-layering, in finding what is real to you. Because the discomfort in the pose is real. The toil and story behind every image is real. The desire to flee the illusion is real.

As is the homecoming.

 

 

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Perfectly, Exquisitely Still

It’s still.

The house is still. And silent. Everyone else is asleep. The fridge is humming and the coffee pot churning. But other than that, nothing.

Outside the curve of the family room window, the leaves are still. They hang just so. Quiet, dormant.

In the vista beyond the leaves, the ocean is still. Sleek and steely blue. No touches of white, the tell-tale signs of wind and chop.

In the gray early morning light, I see the bank of clouds. And they are still. Oh, wait. No. They are moving north ever so slowly. Beneath the stillness, or amongst it, there is movement. I guess there always is.

My mind is still. I can’t find what brought me to wakefulness so early. Not work. Not writing. Not reading. Not exercise. I search and search, layers down. Then I realize there’s nothing to do. Except take this time. To be still.

Because soon there will be wind and chop. And rustle. And noise. And inspiration. And work. And movement. And all that joyfully comes with that.

But for now, it’s perfectly, exquisitely still.

What if

What if…?

Someone asked me today to think about “what if…”.

What’s my big “what if…”? The biggest or most important “what ifs…” ever. The ones that run circles around me. Dance and pop in my heart. That come back to me time and time again.

And I can’t think of one.

My brain won’t go there. It can’t translate he question.

And I’m trying to think of why.

“What if…” puts me in a place of longing. Of want. Of imagining. Of hoping.

And I don’t live there anymore.

I live here. In my amazing present.

At this kitchen table. With this creamy hot coffee. With my sleeping little family. In this house on the hill with a view of the ocean. With the complex work on my desk for the day, and the desire for to innovate and serve my clients today. With my fingers on this keyboard writing words. With the ideas and inspiration emerging today, today. In this moment.

“What if…”, it turns out, isn’t my business. It’s not my place.

Except to say, what if we dropped the question?

What if we dropped the longing for some future point in time? For outcomes we don’t fully control? Outcomes that will emerge when they are ready and all the other players we can’t see are aligned.That will take a different shape and path than we could ever have imagined.

What if we trusted that? And did the best work possible for the day. With all our energy focused on task. With a sense of faith and belief, while staying in tune with the doors opening and closing around us.

What if we trusted we are on the right track?

 

Run The Other Way

Out on the sidewalk, fresh out of bed, I made a split-second decision to run the other way.

I decided to run west, away from the promise of the rising sun.

I hadn’t run west yet on that road. I’d driven it over the course of our short tenure in the rental house. I knew up over the hill, as the residential street ended, there was a 4-way stop. If I turned right I’d go down a similar residential street, past the ball diamonds, and hit the village. But if I went straight through, I’d slip into wheat-coloured farmland, pass the fairground and the high school, and from there I wasn’t sure. Ultimately, I suppose, I’d run right into the inlet.

So I wondered if I could run to the sea. It didn’t seem that far.

I started out along the damp sidewalk. The air was cool but edged with warm, as if choosing moment to moment which way to go on an early September morning. I hopped over fir branches scattered on the sidewalk. Had it been windy last night?

Through the 4-way stop, I passed the lentil and wheat farm, with the old-fashioned combine on display out front. And the house that sells brightly-coloured flowers in bunches at the end of the driveway. Somewhere in the distance a rooster crowed. A V of birds passed over head, against the slate sky. I passed an open field, edged with a white fence intertwined with blackberry bushes. Mist hung low just above the grass. Just in the field. Weird.

Eventually the sun emerged behind me. The backs of my bare legs felt its warmth. My shadow cast on the sidewalk ahead of me. Everything was illuminated. Everything glistened. Everything was framed in light.

I stopped for a minute. Breath heavy, hands on hips, taking in the sun-touched rural picture.

I didn’t need to see the sun to know it was there.

We Live Here Now

I woke to a silent, dark and unfamiliar house. I couldn’t find an alarm clock the night before, so I lay there for a while trying the feel the time. Eventually, I rummaged across the top of the bedside table and found my iPhone. 5:38 a.m. As good a time as any to start the day.

Out of the cocoon of warm sheets, the air in the house felt cool. I grabbed a sweater and tip-toed out into the hallway. Three steps in, a floor-board creaked loudly. In the kitchen I flipped on the pot lights above the sink, grateful for a touch of light. The tile was cold on my bare feet. Boxes sat everywhere. Alarm clock be damned, but I’d been sure to find the coffee-maker and some mugs the night before. The Keurig screeched and gurgled into action after months of sitting in a storage container. Well done Keurig.

I found and adjusted the thermostat and curled up on a couch-with-only-one-cushion-and-no-legs that had been plunked in the kitchen. Cradling the hot coffee mug, I looked out the window into the black dark. I couldn’t make out the tree tops that I know are there. A few stars twinkled. A light blinked from land on the other side of channel.

I started my lap top. No internet to distract me, I started working on something that had to go out on Monday. It required focus that I hadn’t mustered in the busy-ness of the last few days. As it turned out, focus came quickly at 5:45 on a Saturday morning sitting in the dark with no wi-fi. That is, until I started writing this.

6:39. The subtle orange glow of morning started to bleed into the edges of the horizon, pushing the rest of the night sky deep indigo, as if in wave. The tops of the fir trees were now etched black against a narrow peach canvas. The mountains further east emerged in a gray rolling line.

A bird started chirping. The refrigerator clicked and then started humming. The porcelain of the coffee mug now felt cold.

Twenty minutes later, the sky turned a palate of cloudless slate blue. In the weak promise of daylight, details of the trees emerged. Raindrops – or dewdrops perhaps – hung from the big flat leaves immediately outside the window. They caught the light, glistening. A flock of birds flew through my viewscape, as if skimming the tops of the distant hills.

It’s October 2015. We live here now.

The Return to the Sea

We arrived in early August, on a blustery ferry from the mainland.

We drove down the island highway to the sunny rural village where we’d be staying for the first few months. Pulling up at the rental house half an hour earlier than predicted, we ran right into the owner. He was trimming the bushes and mowing the lawn and such before we arrived. Bless him.

We’d rented the house sight-unseen from the internet; it was the only one we could find that was the right size, looked nice and was available short-term during these late summer months when the island still pulsed with tourists. Stepping into it, the house  felt immediately welcoming and comfortable – with a faint scent of sea….the kind that gets trapped in the floorboards after decades of children bringing it back on sandy feet and wet towels after an afternoon of beach romping. It had original wood cupboards and floors in the kitchen, along with a plastic wrap around bench and Formica table – reminiscent of a 50’s diner. There were wood-paneled walls and a vinyl-side wet bar in the basement rec room. The white leather couches in the main-level living room looked comfortable and well-kept.

While it was uncluttered, there were signs of life. Coffee tables and various room corners displayed wooden African-looking artifacts. There was a grandchild’s toy box and a shelf of board games. A framed picture above the kitchen sink read “So This Isn’t Home Sweet Home. Adjust”.  Signs of whole, deep life. Plus the house had its own fully equipped home gym, with a treadmill, bike and free weights, benches…like no 1970s rental house ever has. Perfect for me, knowing I’ll be on my own with the girls at times, and sneaking out of the house for early morning runs won’t be an option.

While nothing about living here would be ours, I knew immediately this house was where we’re supposed to be. This is where we start our transition and dip our toes into the adventure ahead.

We trundled around that day. We unpacked the few boxes of essentials we’d kept out of storage and crammed into the van. We claimed our bedrooms and flopped on beds. We turned on faucets and poked around in cupboards and drawers. We had lunch at a local diner. I stocked up at the village grocery store. After dinner, we took a walk around residential streets and the farmer’s fields intertwined with them, noticing types of trees we’d never seen before and wild blackberry bushes.

And in the back yard, we picked up and examined apples. Like real, live, edible apples. All these years living in a more northern, hostile climate, I’d forgotten to remember that apples grow on trees. And that an apple tree can exist in my back yard. I remember one of our houses as a child when we lived in England having “27 apple trees”. So my blueprint remembers the feeling of knowing that apples grow on trees in people’s gardens. But my brain had filed that away in the archives, like a set of back taxes. But one bite from one apple in the new yard brought back to life my knowing that food grows from the ground. That it doesn’t emerge, as if by magic, in 3-pound bagged bundles in the produce aisle in Safeway.

I made room for that sense of knowing and let it settle in.

We Live(d) Here

Our house never looked like this before. Like ever.

All the clutter was put away, save a few items.

Like the small artist’s sketch of Heart Mountain, where we got engaged, done in rough strokes of blues and browns.

The bronzey mirrored-glass vase that reflects the afternoon sun into shafts of light on the vaulted ceiling. Twinkling like stars.

I wondered why we don’t live this way all the time. Pared down. Simple. Uncluttered. Yeah, we’ll live like this next time. Next time, for sure.

The house will look great in the pictures, I thought. Weeks of work for 10 minutes of realtor pictures. Pictures of space and light. Just enough to give someone a  sense of whether their life could slip in here.  Someone will love this house. For all the reasons we have. It will be the perfect container for someone else’s gloriously perfect mess.

I sat in the silence and looked around the living room.

I noticed the Sand Fossil paint on the walls. It had been the perfect colour after all. We were right to insist it be re-painted after the painters got the shade slightly off 10 years ago. I didn’t think it would matter (isn’t tan tan?). But in a never-to-be-repeated flash of design prowess I thought it was too “hints of celery” when we wanted “warm sand”.

I saw the crisp white edging of the window trim and baseboards, that my husband installed himself.

And through the big picture window, the leaves of the tall aspen trees in the neighbour’s yard on the other side of the green belt danced in the breeze. It’s a perfect window. Utterly perfect.

I walked around main floor.

I touched the narrow wall leading into the kitchen. Nine years of kids’ heights written in smudged pencil, now painted over.

I scanned the smattering of little dents in the kitchen cherry hardwood. Especially the area where the high-chair used to sit. Messy, imperfect, plate-dropping life is in those dents. Beautiful little dents.

I wandered upstairs into the girls’ rooms. They were weirdly clean, the dirty laundry and stuffed animals hidden in their closets. I stared at those walls too. All the  stickers and scribbling now scrubbed off and touched up.

I recalled the endless hours in the middle of many nights sitting in these rooms staring at these walls, with a nursing or sleeping baby on my lap. That was way before any scribbles or stickers. I would sit in the big brown Lazy-Boy in the glow of the night light, hour upon hour…night after night. Noticing the window trim. The popcorn texture on the ceiling. The way the curtains hang just so. The edging of a photo frame.  The curl of her wee fingers and the curve of her cheek. Listening to her gentle breathing. And the click-click-whirr of the furnace going on and off.

On and off.

On and off.

God, I’ve loved this house.

I love this house.

We lived here.

We really lived here.

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When Running Isn’t About Running

Recently, I went for a Saturday run while Isabelle was at her swimming lesson. With limited time, the plan was to run out and back from the pool along the city trails. I was making time for fitness on a busy Saturday morning; I felt organized and in control.

It was a cool and grey April morning. The pathways were busy. People were walking, running, pushing strollers. There were kids on colourful bikes, dinging their bells.

I’d been running about 20 minutes when I found myself on a narrow stretch of path that was bordered by tall, dense, green bush. It created a sense of containment and quiet. This stretch was empty except for two people running ahead of me.

At some point, I noticed the two runners ahead of me had stopped. They were standing in the middle of the path, facing each other.

At next glance, I saw they were hugging. Maybe a quick, friendly, goodbye hug before they went their separate ways. But they continued to stand – unmoving – in the middle of the trail, in a full embrace. It felt like something else.

I kept running toward them.

I could feel myself getting closer to their zone. I sensed I was getting closer to something deeply personal, not meant for any witness.  I instinctively slowed down. I wanted to create more time for them.

About 10 feet away from them, I noticed more detail. I could see his arms gently moving over her bright pink running jacket, over her lower back and shoulder blades.  She was on her tip-toes, her white cap lowered over her eyes and arms gripped around his neck. Each of their faces was buried in the other’s shoulder. Silent. Hanging on.

Eventually I jogged by them, squeezing myself as quietly and respectfully as possible around the edges of their moment.

As I passed, I stole one last glance. They were still embracing. Still silent. Still hanging on. I’m sorry. I love you. It’s over. Never let me go.

Once past them, I picked up my pace. The emotional density of the air was somehow cleared. It was back to trail, bushes, random thoughts…and distant sounds of the city.

But the moment I witnessed between those two runners created a moment for me.

They reminded me that life is bigger than the run. Or the work-out. Or the Project. Or our various acts of busy-ness. The big life moments pop up in unexpected places. When the energy and air pressure is just right, they arrive.  Sometimes we are stopped in our tracks.

And maybe, just maybe, the running…the movement of the body…helps create a little more space for certain moments. In the physical shake up of the body, things fall away. And other things settle in. Layers are removed, and insights pop and stir. Then one day, little cracks open up. And what you need – and perhaps didn’t know you needed – has just enough room to step in.

So keep running. Keep moving. Have your goals and competitions and lists, if that’s your thing. But sometimes, just run and let things shake out. And watch what happens.

See what moments and insights arrive.

Because when they do, our job is to recognize them. And stop.

To turn toward them.

Embrace them.

And hang on.

 

Written on the Body

In one fell swoop I let it go. The driving sense that my body should be different than it is.

I also let go of any notion of “fitness”. I don’t even know what that word means. There’s a fitness narrative out there that doesn’t make sense to me. I got really caught up in it for a while: the food rules, the workout “programs”, the results. Like it’s a thing. It’s not a real thing. It’s a construct. If you’re not careful, it can leave you perpetually feeling like you should do more. Be more. Or be less. It took me a while to see it, but I was chasing myself in circles.

So in a breath, not so long ago, I stepped out of it. I thanked it for the experience. I took a few good lessons and bits of information. And I quietly moved on.

Here’s what I know.

I love to move and sweat. Each day, I don’t feel quite right unless I make it happen. Perhaps in another life I was a Spartan runner. Or a tribal warrior tasked with running through the night to get food. Dunno. But the act of moving and sweating creates a state of being which allows me to come home. It forces me to the present. In creating the physical sensation of work in my body, I create a meditative space to feel and be. It is an end in itself.

It also creates an enormous opening for gratitude.

My God, look at my body. Look at yours.

Look at me walking, and running, and lifting things. Moving the pedals. Breathing. Stretching. Waving my arms about. Walking up stairs. Lifting myself out of bed every morning. Touching people’s shoulders and backs. Wrapping my arms around my family.

This body has been serving this soul for 45 years. As I get older – and my knees crackle and pop a little more and I get twangs of this and that – I stand in amazement of it all. I declare the whole thing a miracle.

The fair, Irish skin, reminding me of my windswept ancestry.

The lines settling in around my eyes and mouth, born of a thousand careful-or-I-might-pee-my-pants laughs and my fair share of tears. The shadows that tell stories of the restless and relentless work of parenting. And many late nights working at my craft.

The hips, which allowed me to carry and fairly easily birth our two little miracles six and nine years ago.

The scars that are the marks of life…of childhood falls, adolescent growth spirts, and surgical incisions of adulthood and that one particular harrowing night.

And never mind the inside stuff. The bits and pieces that magically keep working. Like the remaining ovary that gave us the possibility of Sophie. The lungs that push air in and out. The blood that keeps circulating, circulating, circulating. The brain that keeps directing traffic. And the heart. Oh, my alive and beating heart.

The idea of it all is staggering. It’s all written on the body. Our experiences. How we move. What we eat. The stories, choices, ancestry, work, and the love. My body is my warrior canvas. As is yours for you. It’s a goddamn miracle.

So I move, sweat, and jump and run because I’m wired to. It’s my archetype. I now relax into it and let it show up on the body. No other reason is required.

This is the narrative where my sports and movement live.

The other stuff is gone.