The Space Between Thoughts

Perspective

Above Camp

Pika Glacier, Alaska Range – Italy’s Boot Icefall

“You cannot stay on the summit forever; you have to come down again. So why bother in the first place? Just this: What is above knows what is below, but what is below does not know what is above. One climbs, one sees. One descends, one sees no longer, but one has seen. There is an art of conducting oneself in the lower regions by the memory of what one saw higher up. When one can no longer see, one can at least still know.”
― René Daumal

Ice Fall

Italy’s Boot icefall

 

I climb for perspective, for a better view. Not necessarily the view from the mountain or the summit, but the perspective gained by endeavor, exertion, intentional movement.

It’s the same reason I return again and again to lifting heavy weights. In exerting myself, in choosing to fuel wisely for endeavors, in living mindfully, I find perspective. Hard-earned, hard-won, understanding arrives on the heels of ‘doing the work’.

It will change you. It will outsource your smallness, your invisibility, your heartbreak, your broken pieces, your inadequacy- it will require your full attention. It takes everything and it gives everything. The reciprocity of exertion is unparalleled. Move your body, free your mind.

Icefall

Italy’s Boot- in the icefall

 

Italy's Boot

Italy’s Boot – view from my tent at day’s end

 

Pay the price for the attitude you want.

 

“I am dead because I lack desire,
I lack desire because I think I possess.

I think I possess because I do not try to give.
In trying to give, you see that you have nothing;

Seeing that you have nothing, you try to give of yourself;
Trying to give of yourself, you see that you are nothing:

Seeing that you are nothing, you desire to become;
In desiring to become, you begin to live.”
René Daumal

 

 

* * *

 

Rise Up

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Doesn’t have to feel good to BE good.

I turn forty this year, in the fall of 2016. I started training for this decades ago. Laying groundwork, running trails, lifting heavy things, moving my body when all it wanted to do was slow down and fall apart like an old grasshopper in autumn.

Unafraid of chronological change, I am actually looking forward to this next decade. A lot. I decided to celebrate in advance by competing in a Spartan Race with all of my siblings. I’m the oldest of five and uniquely qualified to lead the way toward a better birthday bash, in general.

Cake and icecream? Bah. Party streamers? Pooh. Balloons? Pop.

The music of the Spartan fife calls me in real time, not just for the momentary fun of challenging obstacles and playing in mud and barbed wire- but as a measuring stick. A reminder that we are only as good as the time and training and consistency we apply to each and every day of our lives.

When the race rolled around, I had every reason in the world to sit out. To tap out. To cancel, defer, explain myself away completely. I was utterly spent before even boarding the red-eye flight to travel 1,500 miles to Washington State. I had trained hard, worked hard for months (years, actually) to be at the point where I could participate in a challenge like this one, with my family, and be an asset to the team. The wheels came off the wagon in February. Sick with pleurisy and pericarditis, I was exhausted to the point of near-incapacity. Unable to take the time off work to actually recover and heal, I was staggering toward exhaustion every waking minute. Immune system compromised, I succumbed to bronchitis and a nasty sinus infection shortly thereafter.

Our bodies have this way of having the last word. Lack of quality sleep, profound stress driven by an ongoing family emergency, long-term overwhelm at work and an increased caseload that just wouldn’t end… and down I went.

When the week of the race arrived, I hadn’t been able to actually train for about three weeks. Lung capacity compromised, I was ready to call it off. After talking to my sisters, I realized two things: one, we are a team and this is a team endeavor. Two, if they were willing to take the chance on me- move at my pace, pick up the pieces I couldn’t- then who was I to determine that I was inadequate?

I raced.

It was pretty grim. My joints were in bad shape from the extended illness. My blood sugar and insulin were out of balance, continually. I was spiking and depleting and crashing and burning, hard. And yet? I ran. Easy. Opened up the throttle and just relaxed into my trail running stride, between obstacles. When it was time to climb walls and ropes and crawl through mud and carry heavy things, I found that some things were easy and some things were difficult, just like the rest of life. The biggest mountain we will ever climb is the one in each of our heads. The one that says, “What if I look ridiculous?”

I did. Look ridiculous. I’ve seen the pictures. It’s okay. I’m not a super hero. I’m just a woman who won’t quit. It isn’t pretty, especially when conditions are suboptimal. In fact, it’s kind of ugly. Messy. Chaotic. Ridiculous.

My family had my back. Literally. When both of my calves cramped up as I clamped my legs around the rope for a Tyrolean traverse, my sister and brother-in-law were right there to grab my toes and pull them back and release the tension that I couldn’t. They shared my burpees with me when I failed obstacle after obstacle. They walked with me when I couldn’t run. They know. As embarrassed as I was, as dark as the places were in my mind in those moments, I learned something far more valuable than words can express. I learned, again, that vulnerability is the gateway to strength. That strength is perfected in weakness. That family and friendship is stronger than any obstacle and that even at my worst, on my worst race day EVER, I am enough. Not because of what I can do (because that was fairly limited), but because of who I AM.

I am not afraid of failing. Of being the slowest, the weakest link. There was a good enough reason, and that’s all I needed. In life, we don’t often get to feel amazing. Great. Fantastic. Heroic. In fact, if we do… we should look around carefully to see what we aren’t fully comprehending.

I didn’t race on April 23rd so I could prove anything. In fact, if that had been my goal- I would have never climbed the wall at the starting line. I would have stayed on the course as a spectator, with every good reason in the book to back me up. I knew better. I have made a commitment in life to bring all of my pieces to Life’s starting line, every single day. I bring my 100%. It’s not always pretty. In fact, it’s rarely even a little bit adorable.

I ran those trails, crawled through mud pits full of cow manure, climbed walls and slid down rocky hills… because family matters more to me than how fast I run, how cleanly I climb or how horribly I fail at the margins of my experience.

I raced for my best friend, my Anam Cara- whose entire life is dedicated to his family, his children. I raced for his children. For their future. For all the uncertainty that lies ahead.

I raced to remind myself that my best is good enough. That life is meant for living. In the now. I raced to give myself hope for today and for tomorrow- that even in my own frailty, I can do my part. Can be a valuable part of something greater.

As I ran the course, I passed a man with no legs. Amputated so completely that he is literally without a lower half of his body, this man was navigating the obstacle course with his torso and arms. He was completing every single obstacle, just as I was, and he had no team. He was doing it alone. As I slowed to acknowledge him, to look him in the eyes, he said aloud, “No matter what life gives you, no matter how bad it gets, you have got to RISE UP.”

He locked eyes with me and I stopped. Knelt down. Cried. Kneeling next to a man who knows what it means to rise up, I found what I came for that day.

I brought everything I had to that race course, just as I do with my everyday life. He did the same.

I’m leaving this thought here today, with you. For your todays and your tomorrows, for all that you are and all that you can be: rise up. To do that, you have to start where you are.

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Make a damned choice. Mark Twight nails me to the wall, again, with this one:

“The hardest thing to do is one thing at a time.”

You likely won’t get to feel amazing and look like a hero and collect a special medal for doing that one thing today that will make a difference for your tomorrows.

You know what that one thing is. Go do that. I guarantee you, you’ll find me out there doing the same.

 

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Life won’t wait.

Let The Dark

Water Fall

 

“I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. As, in a theatre,
The lights are extinguished, for the scene to be changed
With a hollow rumble of wings, with a movement of darkness on darkness,
And we know that the hills and the trees, the distant panorama
And the bold imposing facade are all being rolled away–
Or as, when an underground train, in the tube, stops too long between stations
And the conversation rises and slowly fades into silence
And you see behind every face the mental emptiness deepen
Leaving only the growing terror of nothing to think about;
Or when, under ether, the mind is conscious but conscious of nothing–
I said to my soul, be still, and wait without hope
For hope would be hope for the wrong thing; wait without love,
For love would be love of the wrong thing; there is yet faith
But the faith and the love and the hope are all in the waiting.
Wait without thought, for you are not ready for thought:
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.”

-T.S. Eliot, The Four Quartets

Bulletproofing

Strong

Krav Maga Instructor Course, 03.08.2013

 

I struggled awake in the middle of the night, groggy and caught between dreamland and the sound of a splashdown. My dog had vomited a pile on the floor of my bedroom. Somewhere between the sloppy clean up and my alarm going off at 0500, I must have slept again- because I woke up feeling like I’d licked the inside of a garbage can. Repeatedly.

It’s test week, where I’m training. We’re wrapping up a twelve week training cycle and evaluating performance measures and our progress. No part of me wanted to participate in any part of that, this morning.

As I dug through my gear bag, I knew I was missing my running shoes for the suicide sprints. I was missing a towel for the shower and any feeling of awesomeness. Excellent. So this would be “bulletproofing”. Stress training. Reserve training.

When we are exhausted, run-out, mentally and physically, emotionally and spiritually depleted- that is occasionally an excellent time to undergo a true evaluation: when your 100% is pathetic, your reserves are shot in the ass, your sleep and fueling are sideways, you’re slightly dehydrated and mentally off your game… (wait, doesn’t that sound like any given day out in the middle of a glacier on a climbing expedition? ) the question is, can you still perform? Can you move your feet? Can you bring the pieces you DO have to the table, and let it be what it is?

I brought myself today. Exactly as I am. I failed repeatedly to meet any type of measure of performance. I moved from one stipulated movement to the next, acknowledging the absence of strength and endurance and acknowledging the fortitude of mental capacity that simply says, “Get up.”

I’ve been knocked down many times in life. I’ve been hauled off the mat, out of the ring, off to the bench, to the locker room- both literally and figuratively, more times than I can count. I’ve failed more times than most people have ever tried. The secret of my strength is vulnerability. The choice to show up for my own life every day- regardless of how chaotic, messy, disorganized, fail-whale, ridiculous or pathetic it feels or appears- is the renewable resource that is my titanium core.

When we refuse to sit it out, when we engage fully regardless of our perceived capacity, when we are willing to go to failure, to push the limits of endurance and strength and agility and power on the most DIFFICULT of days- we are “bulletproofing”. If I’m only willing to train when things are optimal, I limit the scope of my growth.

Adaptation is predicated on overload.

~

Today, I was reminded again and again that I am profoundly human. The sky came down and gravitational pull of the cement floor was powerful. The iron did not betray me- it always tells the truth. It weighs the same, regardless of whether or not I’ve slept or fueled or hydrated. My relationship to iron varies, depending on how well I’ve prepared.

Years of dedicated practice to the art of writing practically BEG me to wrap this up with a tidy little bow of a final paragraph that makes both you and me feel better. Not today. For each of us, today, there is only “mining the darkness and seeing by the path we leave behind”. Write your own beginning, today. Write your own chapter in your own blood, sweat and tears.

Get up.

* * *

Life is Now

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Mazama Glacier, Mt. Adams 07.12.2015

(I wrote this on 08.18.15  – I never posted it, never shared it, until now)

 

I reached deep into my bag of excuses. Each one had the potential to define me in a way that made me shudder. Too lazy. Too fat. Too slow. Too late. Too little time. Too little sleep. Too much food. Too little food. Too busy. Too tired. Excuses are interesting little fellows. They offer insight into the bullshit we choose to believe instead of taking action.
Stop wishing. Start doing.

Each excuse is tied to a wish. If only I were (lighter, stronger, faster, better trained, more disciplined)… and my least favorite expression of ALL TIME: “Oh, how I wish…” When I hear or see this phrase, I get stabby. Seriously stabby.

Today, I’m adding a “k” to all my “too-s” and making it this: TOOK lazy, TOOK fat, TOOK all the damn things… harnessed them… and got on my bike. Took myself to work.

Today, I’m taking all of it. I’m taking it as it is. Taking the good with the bad and simply DOING.

Wishing gets in the way of getting things done. You don’t have to believe everything you think. With every excuse you decide to override, a replacement occurs. Strength shows up in the bag. A sense of humor overrides the need for perfection. Endurance replaces laziness. Planning replaces a whole rack of silliness (not enough sleep, not enough food, not enough time). Before you know it, you’ve replaced rotten habits with sustainable ones.

 

Get after it. Life won’t wait.

 

* * *

Since writing this seven months ago- I’ve shredded off fifty pounds of body fat. I’ve increased strength and performance in every way. I lived my own words. I took the ‘backpack’ off.

Today, I’m sharing these words with you.

Ride Happy

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Tanana River  03.21.16

I hit the ‘wall’, yesterday. Too much time spent indoors, too much time spent recovering from pleurisy and an infection in the pericardium (sac around my heart). It’s been four weeks since I’ve been able to lift heavy, run, breathe without significant pain, or just move through the everyday motions of life without feeling utterly exhausted.

As evening unfolded, I loaded my fat bike into my car and headed for the wide open spaces of the still-frozen highway that is the Tanana River in spring. The sun offered some heat today, for the first time since September. Even at 7:00 PM, it was shining brightly from behind cirrostratus clouds and soaking my aching shoulders with light and warmth.

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It felt deeply good to engage my quads, hamstrings and just open up the internal throttle and ride happy. For me, cultivating the wide open spaces in the outdoors allows my own wild places to breathe easy. I can’t live indoors perpetually.

In these past few weeks, I’ve lived a crucible of unending work stress, travel, deadlines and a heavy caseload that has repeatedly challenged my best efforts to manage it. I return again and again to the wisdom of the wild places, to the space between thoughts, to giving all that I have and all that I am to the business of living out loud.

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There is no such thing as work-life balance. There is only balance and imbalance, a perpetual state of realignment, of acknowledgement, of tempering and of accelerating, of leaning and bending and holding each precious moment in the palm of my hand.

Moving through transition, I let myself melt. I soften. I absorb. Pain has arrived, unbidden, and I lean into the sharp points. Make friends with it.

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I paused for a few moments last night, in the ride, to capture the Present, to put time in a bottle and to send it down the river of life with a message for future-me… storms will rage, shadows will cloud the sun, sky will darken and winds will blow- and still, I rise. Some days, to find ‘level’, I have to crawl. Hit the deck. Pause in place, kneel in the snow. Break.

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Other days, I lift my bike high in the air and I salute the return of Spring. The return of light. The promise of season’s change.

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Spring Returns!

Love after Love

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03.20.16 Spring Equinox Fire

Love after Love

~

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

~
– Derek Walcott

 

At different times in our lives, we arrive at a crossroad where the concept of home as we have always known it is burned to the ground. We stand in shock, staring at the still-smoking timbers of the life we curated, built, created.

It’s a turning point. It’s where life directs us to turn inward, to welcome the stranger in ourselves… home.

Too often, we flail about- frantically looking for a life raft. Security. Comfort. Anything to ease the horror of the reality.

When the plywood palace of hopes and dreams, of castles-in-the-air, is lit on fire, three things remain: faith, hope and love.

When we make the choice to slow down, to acknowledge, to reflect, to absorb all that the Present offers- we are in a position to welcome that stranger (one’s self) again and again. We can choose to act out of fear or to act out of love. Fear is an excellent passenger (superb conversationalist), but a horrible driver if there ever was one.

~

Listen for the voice in the wind, the echo of the resonance in your own soul…

It is the sound of change.

 

Vernal Equinox

  
 
Setting fire to that which no longer serves you,

Planting seeds of intention in the space between thoughts,

Acknowledging return of all that is light and growth and change and new,

Welcome the unfolding, the opening, the beginning of your own Vernal Equinox. 

* * *

Who is an Athlete?

 

The word itself is derived directly from the Latin word “athleta” (generally used to designate wrestlers, combatants in public games). The Greek language also carries the word in nearly the same form: āthlētḗs, equivalent to āthlē- (variant stem of āthleîn to contend for a prize, derivative of âthlos- a contest).

In my experience, an athlete is one who has wrestled with himself/herself. An individual who has gone to the mat of their own existence and sourced their own strength in those dark places. A person who has attended to the matters of the soul while training in any number of physical disciplines or venues.

When each of us is faced with reality, we have three fundamental choices: fix it, live with it, leave it.

A person who chooses to rise when they fall, a person who quietly and persistently laces up their shoes and takes the first step (and then the next) in everyday life, a person who makes the choice to give their 100% to their own self-maintenance (mind, body, soul, spirit) on a daily basis… this person is a contender for a prize far greater than a medal at any podium.

No mention is made here by reference or by implication that size, weight, conditioning, physical appearance or perceived aptitude of any person can dictate who and what they are.

It is true that the choices we make are reflected and mirrored in our health, in our bodies and minds, in our words and our actions and our capability. Each day that we give to our own Becoming is echoed in everything that we are. Each day that we choose to sit out is etched in our skin. Judging another human by the skin they are in is as futile and foolish and hollow as the mind that allows such things.

It happens. We look down. We look up. We measure ourselves by others because our own yardsticks (or meter sticks) are broken. When we forget our own feet, we look to others for inspiration, for leadership, for acceptance, for value judgment. It’s not wrong, it just IS. In the end, you are who you are. You are the sum of all your experiences, the roads you’ve taken and the roads untraveled.

Sporting a visible eight-pack doesn’t make a human intrinsically more or less capable of any given thing. It only speaks to one person’s choice in what type of fuel ingested and when, focused attention to a specific task.

What we do with the body and mind and heart and soul and spirit we’ve been gifted in this lifetime IS the composite of who we are. Becoming an athlete is not an achievable performance goal- it’s a side effect of choosing to train with focus and consistency, to fuel for performance and to dedicate time and energy to a task or series of tasks.

The better question is this: what brings YOU to life? What allows you to feel alive, fulfilled, passionate, connected and determined? Figure that out, do more of that.

Contend for the prize of knowing yourself. Contend for the podium of life lived out loud. Argue your limitations. Embrace all that makes you who you are. Take the next tiny step. And the next. Self-doubt is your competition, fear is your nemesis and your friend, inadequacy is what’s for breakfast and only you can serve it up piping hot and use it to fuel the spark of your own existence.

What are you waiting for?

There is no neutral ground. We either improve and grow or we lose ground and destabilize.

There are three fundamental pillars in any decision matrix:

Fix it, live with it, leave it.

 

Life is Now. Choose wisely.

Andante

 

 

sky heavy, spring snowflakes drift listlessly

from the darkened edges of a too-early morning.

every joint a rusty hinge,

every muscle a torn quilt piece-

every step of the spiral staircase

an exercise in suspended disbelief

 ~

a day worn sideways

its shirtsleeves knotted

holding working arms trapped,

movement limited, function denied

a pi day without pie

 ~

“no good deed goes unpunished”

blusters winter’s last hurrah

and my Blizzaks sing through it all

and my car drives to work on its own

while an unexpected sunrise breaks

from under the blanket of gloom

 ~

the edges of morning peel back

a pillar of sunlight shoots straight up through it all

clouds illuminate in brilliant pink and lavender and orange

a glow so powerful that half the sky pulses with color

i slow to a crawl, and with me a whole line of traffic

for a moment, there is nothing else

~

just humans in our metal bubbles, peering through glass

straining to see the horizon, letting sunrise in

to a tired morning, an unsettled monday

worker bees all, we find our accelerators and drift

some toward light and others

toward listless snowflakes.

~

03.14.16

 

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