On Textures, Trails, & Timing

The river trails lured me when I first looked out the window yesterday morning. Everything was covered in dew drops and shimmered as we moved toward the rays of the sun. The dewy blanket revealed the textures of each flower gone to seed, the velvety puffs and cushions of wildflowers, the spiky anchors of grasses, the spinning parachutes of weeds…

The sun rose over the hillside and illumined the spider webs that now looked vacant after a busy night under the full moon. The webs covered the grasses, flowers, weeds, and almost everything in the field, as if the spiders had cast nets to catch the frost.

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I’m a slow runner. I plod along for a half marathon; Monday’s average pace was 12:45 a mile. Of course, that included bathroom breaks, videos of deer, photos of deer a few times, tying my shoes, and trudging up some big hills over and over and over again (total elevation gain of just over 6,000ft). Still, I’m slow at running, and I know it. I take my time and enjoy the space. I notice a million tiny things that I want to stoop and admire, photograph from different angles, try to capture the textures and shifting light. I have to lure myself forward with the promise of even more tiny delights coming out of the earth. The fossils paint stories and each footfall finds another one, images to gobble into my imagination, so I trudge still onward, quite content with the pace and space…

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The trails on the hills offer different sights and sensations than the river trails. Beside the river, I am sometimes 3 min. a mile faster on my average running time. That’s quite a difference, and the terrain and climate create an alternative momentum. The fields meet the forest by the river in a low circular formation. Sounds reverberate off the limestone bluffs and muddy edges that create the river bank. Mossy trails offer soft cushions for my feet, and squishy mud through the small forest is equally inviting for quick progress.

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Landscapes and their textures remind me of human bodies. Or, vice versa. Form and texture create layers for both movement and the imprint of previous motion. Taking time to pause and express a form with my own body, my motion suspends for a moment—the running stalls, breath softens, body lengthens, bends, relaxes. My favorite mat has always been the earth, and my yoga mat is so dirty from practicing outside that taking it into a studio seems hilarious when placed next to the pristine and often expensive yoga mats of other practitioners. The leafy or mossy ground is a great cushion for arm balances. The drishti of tree branches, leaves, and flowers forever blooms into new gazes, new focus, and the change of nature is the meditation, staying there patterns the breath, loosens the love, even as I move again.
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Pausing to practice, to center in meditation again as I stretch, I catch glimpses of the red-shouldered hawks, a great blue heron, a cardinal, the wren making a fuss about my presence, the singing of crickets in a loud chorus that I hadn’t previously noticed, the splash of a big fish in the river, a turtle sliding into the water’s edge and the cloudy silt fluttering up to the surface for the moment and settling again.

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How Dare You Unplug… Most Everything

“You can’t just turn off the phone. You’re paying $800, or actually more, for it,” this logical friend said. “You can ‘unplug’ without being so extreme.” I knew the air quotation marks were used, or the insinuation of them was there.

“You think it’s extreme either way?” I ask.

Pause. “A little,” Pausing. He continued, “This is the way of social interaction to some extent. You need it to communicate with people.”

Questions tumble through my head, pushing one another forward and out. Does anyone truly unplug anymore, or do most people just say that when they don’t want to answer a text? What does it mean to unplug to most people anyway? Are there levels of disengagement? And if so, how forgiving are those who function with the plug in at all times? I often have many questions about the simple act of choosing not to use technology in various ways for a period of time.

Unplugging is something I fully enjoy. I roll around in all of that space that’s created by turning off my social media. I listen deeply to myself and turn everything way down when the time arises in my life. Often, I don’t have a set time for how long I’ll remain unplugged. That time has grown longer and longer over the years.

“Shhhh, I’m watching this,” is not a phrase that my children often hear from me. I don’t shush them so that I can stare at a screen or communicate via a virtual world. I want to be present for them, especially since I first made the decision to unplug at random times in my life because I was a person who woke up and grabbed my phone, checked my social media, told my family to wait while I…, but that look of hurt bothered me, and it especially felt bad when I directed them to a screen to buy myself more screen time. Don’t get me wrong, we all need to work at times, and often that involves technology for me and many others, but we have become readily available with little timers that even tell everyone else how quickly we are likely to respond. Response times?! What about the ones in the present, in our immediate physical surroundings? I watch as people sit in their cars on their phones and stall traffic. They are delayed in response times in the actual moment.

I stopped watching television in grad school and have rarely watched anything in twelve years. At first, I still watched some children’s shows and a cooking show or two with my daughters, but now, I have no frame of reference when people discuss popular t.v. programs or current events that are media-related. I really don’t know. Many people have claimed to me that they don’t watch t.v. either, but actually they do. They have favorite programs that they record and watch. They “catch” the news, etc. When I say that I don’t watch it, I mean that I don’t watch it. The radio is even disconnected in my car (which was a malfunction at first, but I don’t want it fixed) so unless I play music through a portable speaker using my phone’s Bluetooth, my drives are silent or filled with conversation if someone is with me.

My unplug conditions might be considered extreme by many people. Sometimes, unplugging includes changing the settings of my social media profiles before I unplug. I change the public accounts to private, restrict the notifications completely, and switch the privacy settings to “Only Me” on everything possible. This allows me to remain focused and autonomous.

“What do you do?” People have asked me.

Everything except plug up when I am unplugged. I play, listen, dance, write, read, talk, trail run, hike, draw, write letters, cook, yoga, meditate, and so much more. All of this doesn’t mean that I don’t use my phone, my computer, the radio, etc. I do, just not all of the time. I still enjoy the “old ways” of being surprised about where I’m going and not looking up everything about the place on the internet, of choosing places to go spontaneously without reading online reviews, and of being in the moment with only my experiences as the influence.

One of the greatest benefits of this style of unplugging for me is the distance from celebrity culture that I have gained. I’m so far distanced from celebrity world that I don’t even know who they are most of the time when someone mentions a celebrity from the past decade. I might recognize a name because people talk about celebrities more than the politics that shape our lives, and often more than their own personal lives, but I don’t know celebrity faces and stories.

Another great benefit from unplugging is that I am not agitated by styles, having it all, being a “baller” or pretending that I am, ignoring accumulated debt by the focus on social status, media hype, and more. I am actually free to develop my own conclusions. One of those is what I have witnessed from others. In all of the plugging in, I actually witness a disconnect from the reality of truth with many people. I notice that people get anxiety when they don’t have their phones, if they can’t log in to something, and if they aren’t in close proximity to a screen. Most people have screens in every room of their home, even the bathrooms sometimes. I have two screens in my home–the computer and the living room t.v. I don’t even have cable t.v. or a version of it (satellite, etc).

My reasoning behind the unplugging and the limitations of technology and media influence are because I was once too influenced and controlled by it—-I have been the person who stalls traffic because I was on the phone, the person who sent simple text answers while driving, attached to t.v. programs and ballgames while forsaking activities with people in my life, constantly refreshing the status online, posting to social media and noticing the patterns of other people on social media, etc etc.

My analysis truly began after a social media bullying incident by a former friend to me. It grew to involve more than the two of us, and it devastated me. People who didn’t even know me beyond acquaintances messaged me to ask why this friend no longer “liked” my posts on social media. It takes some effort to notice who likes what on someone else’s feed, but people actually use their time to find out.

I was also one of these people who took the time to notice who liked someone else’s posts (but not because I ever used what I noticed). When it happened to me and people I don’t really even know began to smack-talk about it, I could see (as I was already feeling) the possibilities of toxicity from social media in our psyches and emotional life. It has taken me years to process what happened to me regarding online bullying and cruelty.

So, the best gain of all for me has been freedom. I don’t have the attachment to all of that confining me into a specific way of life. I find much more time to be and do…
(I have so much more to say about this, and I will continue…)

Yoga Trails among the Trees

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Yoga grabs at me in mid run. I cut across a field, kick off my shoes, and stand in eagle pose for as long as I want. At first, I teeter when trying to focus on a leaf in the river. I blame the river for flowing. For moving. How can I become still in a posture if I can’t focus on an inert wall in a house or yoga studio? I focus on the tree, and the leaves rustle, so I topple over.
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Everything is moving, trembling under the surface, even if it holds a stagnant appearance. Tiny vibrations and changes are happening all the time. I plant my foot in the soil and feel the slight tremble. I don’t tell my foot to be still. I work with my body’s subtle, natural movements. My toes anchor to the soil, and I slightly, oh so slightly, waver constantly in the pose and breathe and forget I am moving and the river is flowing and the trees shake. I realize that there’s no way to stop the motion that’s constantly inside of living things, myself included. Sitting still most certainly feels bad to many people. Cells rattle.

I notice the turkey tracks in the dirt around me. The deer imprints her motion in the mud. She brings her babies, and I see the hoof prints all around me as I sun salutation and balance in half moon pose. I look up–the tree is growing and changing all the time, shifting, adjusting to the sun and soil and water. We only think the trees are still, but they aren’t. Life is moving in them, through them, not just around them, all the time.

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I began a new practice with old habits in order to free myself. Trail running has been part of my routine for almost seven years. Yoga has been in my life, on the side, since I was in eighth grade. I would pick it up enough to learn a little more each time and then toss it aside without complete devotion. I didn’t stick it out, but it has never gone away, and I know more than the basics to the practice and way of life. Until last year, there were days when my practice was only a sun salutation. Most days, I tried crow until I popped my nose on the floor. I learned new ways to stand in tree pose. I became brave with a headstand and handstands against a wall.

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Yoga and trail running give me glimpses of nature I would otherwise miss. Both of them allow me to enjoy movement and change. Not sticking with a specific program but truly flowing through my daily life offers the most creative freedom.

"Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them." --Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

“Grown-ups never understand anything for themselves, and it is tiresome for children to be always and forever explaining things to them.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery, from The Little Prince

Going into the forest, into nature, has been fun for my family, especially my children. I learn more about stretching, meditating, breathing, laughing, and being from the children, when I follow along with their natural play, which includes all of those things. They choose their own places in the forest that seem even more enchanted once we finish. We look for shapes in the trees, the shadows, the filtering sunlight, the riverbank, and we try to imitate those forms with our yoga poses. My husband takes our photos on the trails he clears. Sometimes, the results are beautiful.

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Other times, we simply have fun and fall over and laugh and enjoy being together.

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Our changes opened a new way–like the trails we have been blazing this summer.

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Some days, I see the turkey stretch and know it’s time for me to bend and flex. In the afternoons, the young deer race one another out of the trail heads and sprint across the fields. We share.

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I go out every day to imprint the paths and pack down the new ones. At first, my line was soft and barely noticeable, but my daily devotion to the trails and my practice reveals the deep meaning of my intention. One step at a time. Back in the spring, my oldest daughter took the first steps by planting some seeds about a young adult book centered on nature and yoga. I’ll be sharing more details with you soon about the new projects evolving out of our new practice.

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In my observations, the turkey have taught me a lot about yoga, too:

"Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile." --Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard--they stretch & sun salutation too.

“Why they always make serious face in yoga? You make serious face like this, you scare away good energy. To meditate, only you must smile. Smile with face, smile with mind, and good energy will come to you and clean away dirty energy. Even smile in your liver. Practice tonight in hotel. Not to hurry, not to try too hard. Too serious, you make you sick. You can calling the good energy with a smile.” –Ketut Liyer, Balinese healer from Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert. Smiling when I practice close to the wild turkeys in my backyard–they stretch & sun salutation too.

Reverse warrior

Reverse warrior

Don’t be Afraid–No one is Chasing You: You are Free to Run

Almost Springtime. Everyone who used to be a runner, wants to be a runner again or from a fresh start, and/or who made a resolution to do the couch to 5K or more is out trying to run. Some of you are on the trails. You are getting beat up. I hear you say, “I hate the trails,” to your friends who agreed to help you run again or to run anew. I heard one friend respond, “Just pretend like someone is chasing you. That will help you keep running.”

Ah! As a person who has suffered from various anxiety issues since the age of 13 (panic attacks, hyperventilating, vomiting in stressful social situations–all PTSD-related reactions), I definitely do not need to imagine someone chasing me through the forest. I’ve worked relentlessly to overcome my anxiety, but it never completely goes away (so I run). And as a person who feels at home in the forest, I want others to love the trails as much as I do. I want new runners to continue running the trails. I’ve been on them for 6 years. I lost 70+ pounds after my first child was born. I completely changed my diet. Running trails freed me, but I needed the correct thoughts to guide me.

Running is peaceful to me–alleviating all my stresses. I practice mantras while running and put myself in a meditative state so that I can run up to 25K on the trails if I feel like it. I learn from nature’s never ending classroom.

My best friend suggested I record videos about the meditations and mantras I use when I run. She also wanted to hear the sounds of the birds, the snow crunching under my feet in the winter, my breath, the creaking of the trees–all the sounds I describe to her (obviously, I don’t listen to music when I run). Even though Christy is a yogi, and she doesn’t run trails, she wanted to know what that meditative state could be like–she wanted to see and hear as if she were running with me. She also thought these could be helpful to others who want to run and need good thoughts to guide them.

These are the first videos I recorded for her and for my husband. I needed a specific audience to begin. Hopefully, you’ll enjoy.

These are the first good thoughts you should tell yourself when you run:
I am safe. I am free to run.