I can only try to dance better than myself
On the plane to Atlanta last month, I started reading Ariana Huffington's book, Thrive.
I'm not an avid HuffPost person, I knew very little about her and had the idea that it would be another snotty memoir on how easy it was to climb the ladder, and I was delighted to be wrong. One of the first big sections of the book talks about meditation. And I will freely admit, I don't have a meditation practice. The poet does, he reminds me all the time that if you don't have time to meditate for twenty minutes a day, you should meditate for an hour. I always reply, swimming and biking and running, that is how I meditate and I believe in that, most particularly when I'm in the water. It is a place of zen for me, I can escape from the world, I can disappear in the water, I just bought a dorky Michael Phelps sweatshirt that says so but it's the truth.
But in the book, she addresses exactly that, the people that say, X is my meditation and asks, can you create that state of mind at will without having to put on your running shoes? and that stumped me. It gave me pause, because I don't know. Can I train my mind to be still, fully present and connected with myself without climbing in the ridiculous swimsuit? Can I really? Reading onwards, she mentions very briefly in passing that a peer of hers meditates every night and does a "digital detox" every Sunday, and that's where I put the book down and started thinking about my own life.
I am lassoed to my digital devices, and I'm not going to flagellate myself for it, but I am. I like to be connected with the world, with my friends, I like to be as responsive as possible with my athletes, I like to be learning, reading articles and books and blog posts and watching TED talks and doing all the things that the digital world has made available while my ass is deep in the couch cushions. But at some point, somewhere, I crossed over into a place where it's not healthy. When talking some of this through with the poet, he pointed out that the first thing I do in the morning is reach for my phone and start responding to emails, and the last thing I do before turning out the light is to hit the mail button one more time. And in all the hours between those two things, I'm check check checking, every hour, every minute, trying to stay on top of the deluge, seeking and sharing information (and more importantly, selfies), I have tied myself down.
So when I came home from Atlanta, I gave the digital detox a try. It wasn't a complete success. I picked a Tuesday because that seemed like a day where I could take a "weekend." I gave myself thirty minutes of email in the morning and thirty minutes at night. I decided that phone calls and texts were okay (the poet called this person to person contact) but otherwise, I was staying off the internet for the day.
My thirty minutes of morning email were successful, I found myself mentally sorting emails by importance instead of date and responding in kind. I had a relaxed breakfast, I sat out on the porch with my puppies and let my mind wander. I learned that I usually check my email in the garage before driving to the pool and then in the parking lot and locker room when I arrive. I learned that when I finish my swim, I'm in the habit of reaching for my phone before I even shower, and then again before driving out of the parking lot. When I came home from the grocery store, I sat down with a book made from actual pages and read without interruption for over an hour, and I learned that even when I'm reading, I still wanted to reach for the phone and hit the email button, or the Facebook button. I cooked dinner and that's when I cracked, I opened my email just to see how many there were but I only read one and then put it back down. When I went to bed that night, I slept more soundly than I had in weeks. Some of my anxiety had sloughed off, I could focus more easily, I wasn't living in a fit of distraction at the mercy of the numbers in the tiny red circles. It carried through the next few days, I was able to step away from the constant refresh, I felt a stronger sense of calm, and I can only hope that it made me a better friend, coach, athlete, wife, doggie mama, just from that tiny bit of detox. And when I shared my experience over the next few days with a couple of friends, what I repeated over and over was, I need to do this more often.
Pretty quickly after that I had some athletes coming into town for training camp and I put together a big weekend for them. I love when athletes come out to train, I love watching them work, watching them process, learning how they talk to themselves, how they manage themselves especially when they are tired or frustrated. Being able to witness the process is so valuable to me because I learn so much from it, I am still learning, I hope to always be learning from the people that invite me along on their unique and bumpy ride. It was a fantastic weekend of hard work, I was thrilled to have them all here, they all did a long and beautiful tour of Colorado on their bicycles, they all swam in the gorgeous pool that I'm lucky to call home, they ran the Bolder Boulder, they went up and down and up and down in the foothills, they worked their butts off and I know that they all were packed off back home tired but strong.
I noticed, however, that as the days passed, how much anxiety I was carrying, worrying, I'm a worrywart, is everyone happy, is everyone doing the right work, is everyone able to do their own work, does everyone have enough calories and hydration and know how to change a flat and will the person off the front be mad circling back and will the person off the back not talk nice to herself about where she is and will anyone get lost or die on a descent or flip into a ditch (spoiler) and I carried all of that around with me all weekend and into the next week. I did a poor job of managing myself through those days, I can see that now, and right along with that, I got sucked back into the leash that runs between me and the digital world. While I was running the 10K, I realized that it felt like the first 50 minutes I had been alone with my thoughts in days. And when I added that stress onto my own training stress and my own life stress, well, no matter how much fun I was having with everyone and camp and training and girl talk and eating almond butter by the barrel, a crack was coming.
Last Saturday Ashley and I were riding up 36, heading out for 100 miles, someone passed us out of the saddle at 800 watts and I moved to the right to let him go around. And my mind was....drifting, I was in the middle of some heavy training days myself, I was tired (we're all tired!) and my focus wasn't there. I wasn't fussing with water bottles or eating or putting things in my pocket, we had just crested a little rise so I wasn't even in aero, I was simply riding along and then I wasn't. I'm not sure if my rear wheel slipped on a little bit of gravel or just wobbled, maybe there was a puff of wind, but I was too close to the lip of the road and my reflexes were slow and I knew that I was going down in the split-second before I did. My rear wheel went over the lip of the road and dropped 8 inches into the gravel, my bike threw me to the ground at speed and then (telling this part of the story delights me to no end) Ashley rode straight over me on her own trajectory to the pavement. (Me to her several minutes later: obviously we're going to take a selfie in the ditch.)
I processed the crash the way you process it, first you want to climb on the bike and keep riding (I'm fine!) and then you notice that you are bleeding so you think about riding to the gas station to clean up and then you notice that you can't turn your head to the right and then you notice that your helmet has at least one gigantic crack in it and your ears are ringing and one of your eyes can't quite focus and you aren't going anywhere but home. I called a good friend and she rescued us, we got cleaned up and I dropped my bike off at the mechanic and bought a new helmet and we drank root beers floats and ate cheeseburgers (fighting inflammation with inflammation obviously the best way to deal with these types of situations) and then I spent the rest of the afternoon on the couch, quietly, trying to figure out where to go next. Because I do believe that when stuff like this happens it is the universe throwing bricks at you to get your attention because you ignored the soft subtle messages it tried first. And the universe has killer aim; when it is trying to get your attention, the universe does not fucking miss.
A good friend of mine shipped herself off to France earlier this spring simply in the name of adventure. So many times since she's been gone, I've thought to myself, man I wish I could just pick up and go like that but then I start worrying about ironman training and work and abandoning my family at home to survive on microwaved chicken breasts and baby carrots and a plane ticket is so expensive and I would talk myself out of it, over and over. But at the end of my life, I don't want to look back and say, wow, look how much I trained for ironman in 2014, I want to say, wow, look at how much fun I had. And I think the wake up call delivered directly to me via a close encounter with the asphalt at high speed was a reminder to get back to chasing the fun, because over the past several weeks I've misplaced the chase. Sunday morning I booked a ticket to Switzerland for the first week of July and I did not give even one tiny thought to how it might affect the big long race I have in August (other than to wonder if my coach might want to strangle me which thankfully she does not). This is what my heart needs, and it needs it right now, and I know that I am lucky to have the kind of life where I can drop everything and go chase it down. I train hard, I love training, I train all the time, but if I put off all the non-triathlon fun in my life until I finally crack the nut of ironman there is a good chance I will die a miserable saddle-sore'd bitch with a permanent Headsweats tan line. So I will ride a mountain bike all over everywhere and hike and eat and read books and drink wine and probably fail miserably at dredging up all the French I learned from the age of eleven to seventeen which so far consists only of bonjour and wistiti! And when I get back and my body gets used to the clocks here in Colorado again, I'll have pockets full of mojo and joy and ironman will come and go but my soul, it will be fat and heavy and full, a little sumo wrestler of a soul.
I got back on the bike this morning.
But as the miles unrolled, I felt my mind growing still. It hasn't been still these past few days, sitting on the couch resting while my brain picks up everything that fell off its shelves when I hit the ground and puts it all back in the right order (where does the frontal lobe go again?) is not how I meditate. So maybe it's not a true meditation practice, maybe someday I will figure out how to force myself to sit in a candlelit room with my legs creased like a pretzel and gently escort my mind back to the present moment but that's not where I am today. I'm acknowledging that I am a work in progress. Right now, I need my body in motion for my mind to be still, I need the creak of my crank and the lap of the water to bring deeper awareness into my everyday life. Wounds heal. Bruises fade. I'll dust myself off and try again, I will try to learn from my mistakes and then release them so I am not haunted. Because when I think about the kind of life I want to have, it is better (as usual) to reach for words from someone else's mouth rather than try to arrange them on the page myself. I do not try to dance better than anyone else. I can only try to dance better than myself. (Mikhail Baryshnikov)