Change and challenge…

“Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”  

(James Baldwin)

As i was about to post that quote this morning — one equally applicable to our social surroundings as to our internal selves — i realized today is a personal anniversary, marking six years cancer-free. It was almost an afterthought. (Almost.)

The quote pairs well with this one: 

“When you can’t control what’s happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening. That’s where your power is.” 

(Stephanie Schulte)

cello snow

Seasons’ fleetings…

leaves on snow

Here in southeast Wisconsin, the first snow came early this season. 

While October’s foliage still stunned with radiant hues, the storm moved in, dropping several inches of wet white stuff — and shaking me out of my ardent embrace of autumn. 

This photo shows the view from my bedroom window that morning. It felt important to capture the reversal of order, the leaves that were dropping onto the fallen snow. 

Perhaps this isn’t all that uncommon and i just never noticed it before. 

But it’s making me think about the suppositions i carry of what is likely to happen next. I’ve learned to welcome the stirring up of settled notions, the upending of unacknowledged assumptions — to keep from becoming too staid.

Let the wind rustle the leaves over the snow.

I would have liked for autumn to hang around a bit longer. But i do also delight in gray skies and the neighborhood layered in white. 

Winter has charms of its own, and the best of them is that it doesn’t last for too long either.

Witnessing fitness…

cat lifting weights

A few weeks ago I wrote a guest post for fitness blogger Saguren’s site Exercise and Health, on the topic of fitness blogging in general. When he issued the invitation, I was interested in contributing a piece because I find his blog helpful, interesting and balanced. I highly recommend you check it out.

You can read my guest post with his added comments at this link. I am also republishing my original text below.

***

I have a tendency to get a little annoyed by some fitness websites (not this one) — for at least two reasons.

First, it often seems like they’re ‘preaching to the converted’ — catering to people who are already fit.

Second, they can come across as looking down on those who aren’t, by over-simplifying both what the attainable goals should be and what it takes to reach them. 

(An earlier post of mine from a few years ago also touches on this idea.)

I was especially interested in doing a guest post for this site because neither of those is true here.

For all my early life, I had little natural inclination toward strenuous physical activity. My interests ran to the cerebral and stationary: writing, reading, meaningful conversation. 

(My twin sister, in contrast, was in high school sports and seemed, from very early childhood and throughout, to have a noticeably faster metabolism, even though we share the same DNA.)

Years later, recognizing the cumulative detrimental effects on my specific constitution of not being more physically active, I finally found the resolve to make changes and incorporate regular exercise and healthier eating into my lifestyle.

The efforts were rewarded by improved overall health, and have become a permanent part of my routine for many years now, though they still require self-talk and determination.

Here are a few points I’d appreciate fitness buffs keeping in mind when they’re out to encourage others…

1. Everyone can take steps in the right direction

…but not everyone is going to find achievable the success you may be reveling in, or will find the fitness focus as enjoyable in itself as you do.

As mentioned, I obtained positive results from changes I made in exercise and nutrition routines, but I’ll never look like a body builder and those steps will continue to require purposeful resolve.

2. You don’t know the background obstacles your readers are working with

…so be encouraging while taking care not to imply too high a standard. 

After I recovered from two-plus years of cancer treatment in my 50s, I came away from it with permanent physical limitations. More than one cancer survivor/motivational speaker I’ve came across since has unwittingly left me more discouraged than encouraged, because they were harking back to their extreme good fitness before their diagnosis. (Both had been long-distance runners.) I’m happy for them to have returned to it — but I didn’t feel they could relate to my experience, having never been into sports and exercise beforehand. 

3. Don’t discount or underplay the role of mental health…

The effort it takes to move toward better physical health is precisely what is blocked by psychological difficulties; the two are, of course, intertwined. 

In order to feel more positive, I must get moving — but I can’t get moving because I feel so negative. 

Gives ‘cycling’ a new meaning. 

Yes, the cycle can be toggled to build upward rather than downward — but not without encouragement and determination, and only by starting with small measures. 

This is why every seemingly minuscule step must be celebrated; it is the only way to build productive momentum. 

4. Everyone’s success is unique to them…

I cannot expect to arrive at a similar shape as my sister, who has been ballroom dancing competitively for years — and we are identical twins. 

While the sciences of fitness and nutrition have made great strides, the relationship between the innate physique and environmental conditioning is still not completely understood — including, for example, how cells store and shed fat in different people.

For me to have trimmed the excess pounds I have since my treatments may be an even more satisfying achievement in its own context than my twin having never had to do so.

My favorite activities are still writing, reading and meaningful conversation.

Now, as part of maintaining whatever level of health is available to me, I’ve tried to add a more active spin to them — for example, sometimes writing or reading while on a stationary desk-bike, and arranging to converse with friends while out walking together. 

The challenge is to take whatever steps are accessible to me, however small, within my circumstances. 

Keeping this in mind counters the unhelpful comparisons with others — because only I know internally what it has taken for me to accomplish whatever small successes i have. 

The positive effects on my sense of self and wellbeing are incalculable.

On the move…

wave splashing on rocks Tyler Feld 07142018

(Tyler Feld Photography)

I composed some of this post while i was walking this morning, and some while i was knitting. The movements got me thinking about life from the perspective of motion…

As creatures bound by time, we experience our existence as movement through time. 

We measure our days and our years by what we get done, and by when. 

We wish our favorite moments could last forever.

When something shattering happens we say it was like time stood still.

When we accomplish or survive something significant, we feel good about having gotten from then to now, from there to here. 

‘Making progress’ feels important to us. We mine satisfaction from a sense of forward motion.

This is on my mind as i consider why i’ve felt rather contented over the past few months. Some of it comes with stepping out into the clearing after having been in the woods for a while. Some has to do with uplifting connections with family and friends. But it isn’t due to any major achievement, or to writing more posts (obviously). 

I do always feel a sense of having gotten somewhere after i’ve written. But i haven’t posted anything of length in a while, and it occurs to me that i’m getting some of the sense of movement i need from another source, namely, knitting and crocheting… 

When i write an essay or a fable, i love seeing the beginning, middle and end take shape. 

The ‘fiber arts’ projects also provide a beginning, middle and end that i am directing. 

A crucial distinction is that with the yarn-based endeavors, i’m following someone else’s pattern, rather than creating something original. Composing demands more strenuous thought and is therefore rewarding in a different way. 

But enjoying the fiber arts (which i only recently returned to after decades away) strikes a happy medium between passivity and more deeply engaged effort. And while doing the finger-work, i am often mentally stimulated to get on to the writing.

Relishing both activities, i hear a whisper inside: “Lots looks different now, but you made it through, you’re ok.”  

Reflecting on tougher times, it hits me that they were characterized by either very little perceived forward movement, or by a swirl of motion involving me that i was not directing and had little influence over. 

But even when all is well, we live in a culture that prizes busyness, and we need to cultivate composure, make time for down time, elicit equanimity. 

The momentum of a too-busy life can get the better of us, like losing one’s balance running down a hill. 

For some, meditation and mindfulness are key to countering the imbalance. They do so not through escapism, but through re-orienting.   [*Be* the purring kitten.]

Momentum does not equal purpose. We can feel adrift doing too little or too much.

Peaceful direction seems the best balance. 

We can get a certain amount of this just from getting little chores done. Paying bills or doing dishes –they’re still movement [sideways oxymoron alert].

And spending time with others doesn’t get in the way of goals — when it is one of the goals. 

An idea which guides my thinking about almost everything is connectedness. Our deepest satisfactions as well as our most disruptive challenges have to do with our interrelations with others; the investment can be hefty but is rarely wasted.

I’ll have more to say in a future post about other kinds of movement. 

But if you’ll excuse me for now… that scarf isn’t going to knit itself.

Mirth and melancholy…

The turn of the year compels us to look in two directions at once. We encapsulate the closing year as we reflect on the opening one’s possibilities. Our inherent drive to mark time also carries the urge to compare — between today’s thoughts and those at last year’s turn, and to overlay them with a clarity of progress and pattern.

Last year at this time, i considered life’s vagaries here through a musical motif. This time, i offer another wordsmith’s sentiments, using the music of poetry.

I’m moved by how this simple, early 1900s poem by Ella Wheeler Wilcox evokes the melancholy behind the mirth:

THE YEAR

What can be said in New-Year rhymes,

That’s not been said a thousand times?

The new years come, the old years go,

We know we dream, we dream we know.

We rise up laughing with the light,

We lie down weeping with the night.

We hug the world until it stings,

We curse it then and sigh for wings.

We live, we love, we woo, we wed,

We wreathe our brides, we sheet our dead.

We laugh, we weep, we hope, we fear,

And that’s the burden of the year.

The poem’s somber nature overtakes the joy — and that may not be where some readers want to land.

I see it as a contemplation whose grave tone dwells on only one aspect of human experience. Other songs and poems bring out the exuberance and optimism of new beginnings. Let us be looking for those as well.

Heraclitus and social media…

river stones

No man ever steps into the same river twice.

The ancient Greek philosopher this quote is ascribed to added that this is because it’s not the same river, and he is not the same man.

[Alternate post title: “Who said this? Wade wade, don’t tell me.” (Forgive me.)]

Though Heraclitus was referring to change being ever present in the universe, i’ve thought of this truism often in the context of virtual re-connections with past friends.

Social media has facilitated getting in touch with folks i most likely would never have crossed paths with again. Folks i have fond and vivid memories of from years and even decades ago.

For a few in particular, when they randomly came to mind before, i always pictured the OMGs and hugs and tears that would flow if i saw them in person again.

Not that such imaginings moved me to try to make it happen.

While i regretted having lost touch, i had no fresh impulse to start up with them again unprompted.

Once social media made reigniting old connections possible, even likely, i relished thoughts of the OMGs, hugs and tears across cyberspace.   Continue reading

Making peace in troubled times…

peace

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, it’s hard to deny that these are troubled times. Thinking about not accepting injustice also brings to mind the pitfalls of ‘fighting fire with fire.’

I recently came across this stirring quote about peacemaking — and was particularly moved by its vision of actively pushing back and yet breaking out of an escalating cycle of retribution:

“Peacemaking does not mean passivity. It is the act of interrupting injustice without mirroring injustice, the act of disarming evil without destroying the evildoer, the act of finding a third way that is neither fight nor flight but the careful arduous pursuit of reconciliation and justice. It is about a revolution of love that is big enough to set both the oppressed and the oppressors free.”  (Shane Claiborne)

Yes, the real work is in hashing out *how* to enact such lofty principles — but we can and must let inspiration like this at least get us started.

“How did you get through it?”

relax

Most everyone you meet carries a burden you don’t see.

You know this if you think about it because of what you yourself carry inwardly.

Plenty of travails are out in the open — health problems, break-ups, tumults large and small. Not as immediately visible are the scars and anxieties we take with us, the determinations we make in response.

This post has been percolating for a very long time. the result of thinking about how to shape a positive perspective from a buffeting past. I am grateful beyond description for the many wonders, good things and cherished people in my life. These are some momentary musings about the hurts in between. 

More than once in my life, slings and arrows of outrageous fortune have clustered together. Arrows from disparate bows — relational, financial, medical — shot straight into my peace of mind within a brief slot of time.

Early 2012 was one such period. I was let go from the most rewarding position i’d ever had (amicably but unexpectedly, due to funding issues). A long-term couplehood came to an end painfully, requiring me suddenly to set up a new residence. And more distressing than either of those, a person dear to my heart struggled with destructive substance issues — at the edge of the end several times in those few months.

People say you pick up the pieces. And that’s true. I did.

The reason ‘one day at a time’ has become so cliche through repetition is that it’s so useful and true — and in the hardest crises becomes one hour at a time.

I think 90% of getting through hard times is nothing more than just deciding to keep moving. Which is plenty — but not complicated.

Continue reading