Time, Loss, & My Whole Heart

After my husband’s brother passed away last week after a tough fight with cancer, the burden of grief surrounds us. Ben’s the closest person I’ve ever lost, and he’s not even my own brother. But the loss has been profound. Even though I watch my husband every day ride the waves of grief, I still can’t truly imagine what he’s going through & what my in-laws trudge through each day. When I have those three second videos I’ve imprinted to memory of his laugh or still shots of summer memories on the Cape, my face starts to flush and my eyes well. It’s still hard to believe he’s gone, especially when memories feel so close. In those moments of quiet when I think of my husband losing his only brother, I ache with his pain.

But then there’s clarity, distraction, and life. From the weeks leading up to Ben’s death and the days since, a lot has become more clear. Life has never felt more fragile. The unimportant has never felt so trivial, and what and whom I love has never felt more urgent. I’m overwhelmed thinking that it’s taken the death of a loved one to come to this with such depth and clarity. But maybe that’s what it takes.

As I’ve been enveloped by memories of Ben in these last weeks, I constantly think of time. People always say how quickly it passes, but I never felt it in my core until now. I’ve asked myself, what can I do to stop time so that I’m so present that the notion of time doesn’t even exist. If I can get into that I am grounded and I can find my way. So I run. I run to freeze time. It’s the gift I do that brings me closest to home. Right now, in mourning, all I want to do is let what I love guide me. Besides our friends who’ve helped hold all our broken pieces together, running has been the ultimate comfort.

In the wake of this tender loss, I’ve never felt so clear about where I am. Less push, more flow. Less hustle, more faith. I feel deeply connected to the people of my inner circle who have emerged so generously to give to our family. I am confident in the momentum that this gift of running continues to give. As loss sheathes our days, I’m learning that you can live with that while experiencing so much that is good. As this trauma continues to unravel, at the same time beauty surfaces. I’m excited to announce that my longtime runner friend, Melissa, and I are launching a women’s running team here in Santa Cruz, with overwhelming positive feedback. I continue to plant the framework for my summer running camp. And my personal running has never been more necessary.

If there’s a silver lining in such a profound loss, it’s that I feel so alive. I wish I could tell Ben what an honor it was to know him. That I loved him. Instead, I’ll go on living with my whole heart, knowing that’s the very best thing I can do.

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Above: Summer 2010 — Ben up front after a water fight with young Kieran (Andy’s son). We rode in his Jeep that whole evening, blasting country music, no seat belts, free as can be.

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Above: I found this picture while we were cleaning out Ben’s home last week. Summer 2011. Pregnant with Lucia. It was the summer I ran in humid Cape Cod and dove in the perfect water. Ben made us lobster on his deck and entertained us during warm, slow nights.

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Above: February 2016, three days after Ben passed away. Lucia and Oliver take turns on the idyllic swing on Ben’s trail.

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Above: February 2016. Sunset run, just leaving my in-laws home. I ran every evening into this sunset. I drank these colors each night and let this remind me how grateful I am for this little life of mine.

Demystifying Meditation

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The best way to eat. The best way to parent. The best way to train. Social media, news, forums, parents & friends: we are constantly  flooded with these “best way” approaches to living. It can be consuming if we allow  it. Instead of letting myself feel overwhelmed by dogmatic viewpoints, I have grown into a mindset that there are many right ways to do things. I’m constantly reminding myself to value various perspectives. Open mindedness is so much easier in theory than practice, especially when the beliefs aren’t too far off from our own. This doesn’t mean I don’t have my own set of values and ways that feel right for me. It just keeps me in check when I have an instant judgment about myself or how others are going about life.

Which brings me to meditation. When I was first introduced to the idea several years ago, I wrote it off as mystical voodoo. The prayer beads, the incense, and goddesses. Not for me. Big fat judgements going on in my head about the “type” of person who meditated. I quickly wrote it off and vowed to stay clear of the new age nonsense. But as I started exploring yoga, I realized that all these people I wrote off as hippie freaks actually had a lot to teach me. I started to appreciate their way of cultivating a present and content life and realized they weren’t such freaks after all. They were stopping long enough to be present. And so what if they had these rituals that weren’t for me. And whether or not it was a passing trend, they were on to something.

And so I started exploring.

Six or seven years ago, I first started dabbling in yoga and meditation. I came to it like so many others do. To find stillness in my monkey brain and to ease stress. At first I felt out of place and like a total impostor. I remember feeling uncomfortable sitting for so long in one position. I had run races so hard that I puked. I had traveled alone in foreign lands. But the thought of sitting still with nothing but my mind and my breath scared me more than anything I had tried. I’d fidget, get up for water, count the seconds in my head, and squint my eyes open toward the clock. But eventually something clicked. Once I realized that there was no competition, no right way to do it, no end goal, I was hooked. I started to crave this time.

Over the years, my meditation practice has evolved (maybe devolved?), but it has adapted to my life at each stage. It used to be routine, long, connected to a yoga practice. But now, with a totally full plate, I’m sure many purists wouldn’t call it a meditation practice, but back to my original point: there are many “right” ways to do things.

I do it because it makes me more capable of living my life. I meditate because I know that true happiness comes from internal peace. Not to say things won’t be noisy and messy and unfortunate around me, but I know that if I can have a baseline sense of internal contentment, unfortunate circumstances will have less of an impact on my overall contentment. I love all the scientific evidence that it can actually rewire how our brains respond to stress, that it makes us more productive, and allows us to ease our reactions. It’s why it’s as trending in Silicon Valley as it is at Wanderlust. But all that aside, for me, I do it because it helps me get out of my own way. I am able to see situations as they actually are, not just how I perceive them. I can say “yes” to whatever happens and to learn not to judge whatever the circumstance is at that time. The less combat, the more ease.

Here’s what my meditation practice looks like. I don’t do it every day, although maybe someday I’ll make time for that. Also, it was incredibly awkward and unsatisfying the first few times when I started a home practice. A few times a week, I wake up before my alarm, and I’m lucky if the kids are still asleep. I do everything to not pick up my phone or computer for a digital hit. Because then it’s easy to get lost down the rabbit hole of email and Instagram. I turn on the hot water (so I can have coffee ready right after!), put on my coziest sweats, fuzzy socks, and waltz into the living room half asleep and slightly grumpy that I’m awake. I roll out my yoga mat and prop up some pillows. I sit down on the pillow and start feeling my way into my body and the practice. I’m usually cold and a little fidgety when I first sit down. Then I allow myself to just be there with myself, my breath, my body. As I get more comfortable, I begin to follow my breath and watch it grow slowly and fully. I don’t force anything or put any time frame on it. I envision my breath like a revolving circle and this helps move my breath fully in and out through my nose as my stomach expands and my entire body relaxes. Sometimes I’ll last a minute and sometimes I’ll sit for 10 minutes. Eventually, I feel like the practice is over, and when I stand up, my senses are heightened and I’m calm and aware. Exactly what I need to carry me through my day.
Soon after the kids are up, breakfast is spilling everywhere are we’re all running out the door, but that imperfect, brief inward practice is enough to kick-start my day. It’s a space I can remind myself of throughout the day, no matter how out of control the outside world feels. Meditation is my favorite underutilized tool toward contentment, and I’m glad I was finally able to see past my own judgments to appreciate what the practice has to offer.

The funny thing about time is…

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There’s a way to structure in your running so that you have time for the people and events that matter most in your life.

 

…you’ve always got enough of it–even when you think you don’t!

Last year when I started dreaming about running a decent marathon, the first thing that popped into my head was, “I just don’t have time!” I started listing all the things I have to do like work, preschool drop-off, husband home late, etc. I could make the list go on forever if I wanted. Then I began to realize that I do have time in my day–I just don’t structure it. Don’t get me wrong–unstructured time is so important as a way to ease off the constant “race” through life. But when you are trying to accomplish something–like say train for a marathon or finish a proposal or a maybe write a book or something that’s daunting–you have to structure  tough things into your day.

Here are my tips (especially for Moms who feel like there just aren’t enough hours in a day!):

1. Buy “The Passion Planner.” This tool has, no joke, changed the way I live my life. Not to mention that it started by one badass young girl and her kickstarter plan, it’s hard not to support it. The layout gives you space to dream and reflect, forces you to do away with “to-do” lists, and helps you plan out your hours in your day. I’ve been using it for three months, and it’s a winner. I have been much more effective at work, I’ve been able to keep up with my training, and I feel like it allows me more time for leisure.

2. Plan out your workouts in advance. For me this has been a lifesaver. Every Friday (while I’m finishing up my work day), I write down the mileage and workouts I want to run for the following week. This helps me see the big picture when I start my week that Monday morning, and it’s soooo much easier to set aside time for it when it’s written in advance.

3. Don’t beat yourself up if you can’t squeeze in a run. The reality is that one run will not make or break a race! Just be consistent and if you feel good the next day, tack on a couple extra miles.

4. Run before the kids wake up! It’s hard yet so rewarding. If you have a supportive partner (thumbs up to my hubby!), you might be able to wake up at 5 and run from 5:30-6:30. If you’re lucky, when you get home you will have run 6-8 miles and maybe the whole home is still asleep. Then you can enjoy a hot cup of coffee in total peace. How often does that happen!? Or, if you have an awesome partner, you’ll return at 6:30AM to two toddlers running around like monkeys while he’s patiently putting on his tie while one kid is hanging off his leg. That works, too. It definitely takes a supportive home to help you balance the time. Say thank you often and reciprocate at the appropriate time. At our home it’s, “Babe, take some extra surf time, and get some tacos with buddies afterward.” Whatever keeps everyone happy and balanced is fine by me.

5. Don’t do stuff you don’t want to do. This took me years to figure out. I used to say yes to everything. I just felt bad if I said “no” to anything–invitations, favors, parties, you name it. Now I care way less what people think and way more about what is the right thing in my heart. Yes, there are obligations and there are times it’s appropriate to just do it and take one for the team. But far more often there are times when you need to check in with your inner voice and ask yourself is this something I really want to/need to do? If the answer is an automatic “no” then maybe you should reconsider your “yes” reflex. Learning this skill–I have discovered–may allow you to structure your life for you, allowing your more time to run and do whatever else it is that matters to you.

 

Have fun playing with your time! Even if you begin with scheduling in a jog around the block twice a week, you’ll be surprised how it enhances your mood, and from there, you’ll be able to see ways to add running to your weekly routine.