Sleep, Now.

I once had someone jokingly ask if I was a vampire.

“How many hours of sleep do you normally get a night?” The question comes from everywhere– doctors, coworkers, my parents. “Eight” is always the preferred response, most people respond that they six to seven, with a sad sigh and a wave of the hand, a universal symbol that says, It’s not enough, but it is what it is.

I, however, was always proud to respond, “Oh, four or five. Six if I’m lucky, but I’ve never slept more than eight unless I was sick.” I would smile, proud that my body seemed to need less rest than other’s, and nonchalantly shrug when people seemed surprise. Maybe my internal processor was just churning too fast to rest much; maybe I just recovered quickly. Mostly, I just enjoyed the small sense of self-importance.

Cut to the last month, where it feels like I’ve been doing nothing but sleeping as many hours as I can. I nap often– wrapped in a blanket on my couch, after working for an hour on a weekend morning, curled onto the tiny bench in my classroom between classes. If I can find a spare ten minutes, I’ll turn into myself, let my eyes go soft, and shut down.

I’ve been trying to understand what’s been happening to my body, since I’ve always struggled to sleep, including a two-month bout of insomnia a year ago that knocked the life out of me in a powerful way.

Since overcoming that insomnia, I had still never become much of a deep sleeper. I’d get my six hours, normally waking up midway through, to the dismay of my partner. Recently, though, my body has been in a perpetual state of sloth, as though I am trying to recover from some kind of illness.

Maybe I am. Over the past four months, I have reverted to many of the same, problematic behaviors I had a year ago. I move so fast I forget to breathe. When I finally am forced to sit still– on a long flight, for example– the air whooshing into my chest hits me like a bucket of ice has been emptied over me. Without warning, events that I had moved through as quickly as I could wash over me, and I am left sitting stunned as I review the tape of my life over the past days or weeks. Was that really me? I ask myself. Did that really happen?

Of course, it’s not as dramatic as all that. I’m known to need a little storm to settle me down sometimes. There aren’t any huge problems in my life, and generally, the process of settling into my seat and reviewing my life has been overwhelmingly positive.

I suppose, if anything, my descent into a week of rest has allowed me to enter into the dream world of my subconscious that I had left untended for too long. Sandra Cisneros, when asked about writing when she presented at my school, said that we need to take solitude to sleep, dream, and look into our own imaginations to be able to write.

So, this is just a reminder to breathe, to rest, perchance to dream. As I prepare to board another long flight home, I am immensely grateful for the week to be surrounded by so much love and care, and look inward. It was, then and now, the time to sleep. Tomorrow is coming too quickly, and I need to get ready.

 

Like Water

There is something about the shock of cold that is powerful as a writer.

I know that’s a funny thing to say, as I live in Hawai‘i, of all places, but any time I get to go somewhere cold (oddly, this time, Houston for NCTE), I’m reminded about what a powerful sensation the cold is.

The cold makes me turn inward. It focuses me. It forces me to eschew the outside world (which, for me, is often distractingly beautiful), and instead turns me back to what’s it inside.

And that’s powerful, because as teachers, we’re so quick to nourish everyone else’s voice. Rarely do we make the time and allow ourselves to grow our own voices. We’re so focused on what everyone else wants or needs, we forget that our students look to us as models, which means modeling the practice of prioritizing time to nourish, to self-care, and to read, write, and grow as people.

So, as I ran down some cold, dark trails one morning in Houston, I thought. I asked myself: What are the stories that are sitting in my heart that I have been too busy to share?


A few weeks ago, I went home, looked at my running shoes, and started to sob.

I don’t know what came over me, but I was just so sad. I was devastated. It felt like I was watching the slow death of a part of myself. The sight of my abandoned running shoes lying against the door frame hit me– in the past, my shoes had symbolized struggle, discipline, pain, joy. They were literally covered in my blood, sweat, and tears. So, to see them laid against the door frame, a reminder of what I wanted but felt was unattainable, was so cheesy, yet such a powerful symbol of the place I was in. I felt a pang of longing and sadness swell inside me that was so big it felt the only way I could get it out was to let it seep out of my eyes and wring it out of my throat.

I flopped onto my couch in a heap and began to cry. My throat grew hoarse as I let my mouth hang open, sadness ringing out of it like the mourning church bells at a funeral. I held myself, quite literally, on my couch, and let myself steep in what I was feeling.

A few minutes later, I was able to catch my breath. I inhaled, and felt the cool stream of air flowing into me slowly bring me back to a calmer place.

And then, 40 minutes later, I went out and ran 6 miles much faster than I had in a while.

Sadness is a funny and powerful emotion, and one that we run away from far too often. We associate sadness with tragedy. We do everything we can to stifle or erase or “get over” it as quickly as we can.

The thing is, sadness actually forces us to take time to check in with ourselves. Like a cold or an ache, it’s way for our bodies to let us know that something is off or in transition, and we need to check into that part of ourselves and try and understand that some part of ourselves is in flux.

I look back on that day and ask myself what I needed to heal, what needed to change. As I remember, I realize how quickly I had let the world around me pull me away from tending and cultivating the world growing in my heart. 

It’s certainly not an unusual phenomena for me, particularly at this time of year. The beginning of the school year always tends to be crazy, and when you combine that with my first year being a full-time cross country assistant coach and the handful of part-time jobs I have, it was so crazy that I barely had time to breathe. I didn’t write– for the first time in nearly a decade, I haven’t written a post about my birthday and what I want this year of my life to be. When we get so pulled away from ourselves that we forget to nourish our internal growth, the lack of light and care makes it a lot harder to feel like we’re on solid, fruitful ground.

It’s hard, though, because in some ways I feel like I’m doing some of my strongest work as a teacher this year. I’ve incorporated student feedback and finally have a manageable plan for reading and writing this year. My kids are having some really meaningful conversations, and I’m feeling like I have a better handle on my work coaching first-year teachers too.

So part of me doesn’t want to step away– my mind keeps telling me I have to work, work, work to keep up this quality of work.

If running has taught me anything, though, it’s that physical and mental recovery is the only way you perform at your best. Physically, recovery days allow our muscles to rebuild– the sinews and fibers in our legs heal and grow stronger after we break them down with a work out. Mentally, taking time to recover and turn inward allows us to actually reflect on what’s happened and learn from it to move forward. Grasping at the the straws of individual moments and seconds-to-breathe is hardly a way to hold on and create meaningful change in our work.

My sadness wasn’t a problem, really, it was the rainstorm reminding me that I needed to return back to myself. It was the beating of the rain reminding me I had to listen to my internal workings before everything crumbled.

I am, now, so grateful for the sadness I was feeling. I am doing my best not to run away from it, and instead listening to it as helps me return to myself. Like water, it flowed through not to destroy, but to purify– and to bring back to light the parts of me that had gone dark.

Gratitude, Grace, Joy

You’ve gotta be kidding me, I thought as I looked at my phone.

It’s a few weeks later, and I am on a cold, Houston street after finishing a 16-mile run. I was eager to look at my pacing, and opened my running app to look at my stats. That’s when I saw it: I had run 48 miles that week.

Running big mileage is a staple of any good distance training program. It helps build up stamina and muscle. It lets your legs to build the foundation, slowly, for the endurance it will need on race day. Your hamstrings and quads stretch and mold under the consistent beating of the pavement. Your calves firm up. It’s physical and important.

Still, I had never hit mileage this big before. In fact, the closest I came was 7 years ago, when I hit 45 miles in a week. I tweeted, cavalier, that in two weeks I was going to hit a 50-mile week.

Then, the accident happened.

I was hit by a car 7 years ago while running, and I didn’t know if I would run distance ever again. Certainly, a 50 mile week was out of the question. I eventually crawled my way out of my injury, and would occasionally, wistfully think about hitting 50 miles again, but between everything in my life, it seemed unlikely.

The last few weeks, though, I had certainly ramped up my training. After my little cry-fest, I signed up for a Revel race on Big Island and decided to try and hit a lofty, crazy speed goal. I invested a little money in a coaching program, and something about having a defined set of workouts clicked. I’ve run faster than I have in years, my mileage is up, and I’m feeling a lot better than I did before.

Still, I’ve been busy. Last week was 8th grade camp and this week I’ve been at NCTE, and so trying to meet my weekly training goals has been tough.

Yet, by some fluke, I had made it to 48 miles without realizing it.

So, as I looked at my phone, something sparked in me, excited and eager. You can finally do it, it said. You can finally have a 50-mile week. 

I showered, had lunch with a friend, and then returned to my room. I was tired, but I knew that if I wanted to hit my goal before sundown, I needed to get moving. I put on a new set of running clothes, ached as I reached down to slip on my soaking, wet running shoes, and hit the road.

It was a slow, thoughtful 2.1 miles. I thought about the accident, the races since, and the things I loved about running. I also thought back to the girl who had cried as she wrote a few weeks ago, and wondered why I was so sad when that happened. What was I mourning?

Then, I realized it: running used to be easyNot physically, but mentally. I didn’t care about pacing, all I wanted to do was beat a rhythm on the pavement as I moved through Hawai‘i.

I had lost that. In all the change my body had gone through in the past few years– different sports, becoming a coach, teaching yoga– I had lost the mindset of being a distance runner. I realized I had not used mantras to focus myself in years. I had stopped warming up and stretching. And, frankly, I just wasn’t doing it as often as I used to.

Now, though, I was running more than ever, but it wasn’t easy. Increasing my speed and mileage has taken work. I don’t get to just zone out the entire time like I used to. I spend a lot of time actively thinking about my form, cadence, and pacing. It’s a balancing act, each piece moving and spinning in its own way so that the machine of my body can propel itself properly.

See, over the past few years, I honestly hadn’t put in the work. I ran, sure, but I also did a bunch of other things and hoped that my years of experience and general fitness level would mean that I would be able to finish a race well. It had worked, but only a little. While being fit and cross-training are useful, there is no substitute for lacing up your shoes, pounding the pavement, and just putting in the miles. It is often not glamorous, but it adds up.

Teaching, in many ways, is similar. We can have all the rockstar moments we want, or I can get accolades for a thing I write or something I say or share. And that’s great, but none of that is a substitute for the day-to-day relationship work that my kids and I do together each day. Not every day is a fancy, amazing lesson, but the moments we laugh about a journal topic together are just as important to laying the foundation for a great classroom.

I hit 1.75, and started to push my pace. Now’s the time, I thought. My cadence sped up, the rhythm of my legs churning faster and faster, my heart starting to beat a little harder in my chest. You have to push now. It’s time. I returned to my mantra: I am strong, I have energy, I feel good, I can do this. With each phrase, my pace quickened.

And just like that, my watch beeped, and I had done it. Without fanfare, as the leftover drizzle from the tail-end of a storm sprinkled my skin, I hit a 50-mile week.

There were no fireworks. I took a screenshot and smiled. There was no fanfare. No, it wasn’t easy. It was hard and sometimes grueling work. It pushed me.

Yet, for all that work, there was something about knowing that I was setting up something much greater than each individual step I was taking. There was something more important than “easy” or “fun” at the end of the week.

There was gratitude. There was grace that the work will keep moving us forward, even when we doubt its potential. There was joy– not just temporal happiness– but joythat my body was capable of laying the foundation for something bigger than I had planned.

Then, I went inside to stretch. It was time to get to work.

Thank God for the Stoplight

I’ve never been good at slowing down.

Well, scratch that. As an adult, I’ve never been good at slowing down. Like most people, I was a happier, more carefree, and likely a better human when I was a kid. I would have been content to spend hours sitting, reading books, watching TV and just enjoying the world.

Now, though, like most adults, I live in a world of Google Calendar notifications and Doodle polls to try and find time to do everything from attending meetings and grading to seeing my girlfriends (sometimes needing to plan weeks in advance– we’re busy! And I’m an introvert who needs emotional time to prepare to see people!).

This especially includes fitness. A colleague of mine yesterday spotted me going out on my second run yesterday. No, I’m no superhuman– I just knew that my day was going to be crazy, so instead of being able to do a regular run, I’d need to break it up into two short ones– one at lunch, and one after school but before my meeting.

“I feel like it must be something you schedule,” she said, thinking about how to get into the habit herself.

I thought about it and realized she was right– like anything else, I normally assess my calendar that morning to figure out just how I will be able to manage the many plates of teaching, part-time jobs, writing, trying to see friends and fitness. There are plenty of days where I don’t want to– I’d rather take the hour to veg out in front of my laptop and play on Facebook.

But since my running shoes are there, I compel myself to go out, often as fast as I can. The faster you go, the more miles you can run, I think to myself, using it to push my pace.

Because I feel like I’m always racing the clock and squeezing in miles when I can, I am normally annoyed when I have to stop running. I’ve crafted routes that avoid the particularly slow and long stoplights in my area so I’m not wasting precious minutes of running just, well, standing around “doing nothing.”

Yesterday, though, I went out for my second run and hit nearly every stoplight. I was perturbed at first– how was I going to hit my mileage and make my meeting like this?!

At the third stoplight, though, I noticed the light rain falling over Honolulu. In a place that is typically warm and a little humid, the rain felt wonderful– cool and inviting– it’s understandable why Hawaiian culture views the gentle soothing plop of each drop hitting your skin as a blessing.

By the fifth stoplight, I realized how grateful I was to be forced to stop. I was pretty achey (I haven’t done two-a-days in a bit), and I’m actually recovering from a nasty bout of gastritis from last week. I realized that, at each red light, there was a little bit of grace. I was being given permission to stop, to breathe, to let my body heal and to appreciate the world around me.

So often, we’re trying to fill in every second of our day being as productive as possible– how long can I go as fast as I can so that I achieve as much as I’m capable of? That can be good, but it’s important to seek out and feel grateful for the pauses where the universe forces us to stop, let ourselves recover, and appreciate the moment we are in. As much as we want to hustle, we all deserve a second to breathe too.

So, by the last few stoplights, I made it a point to look around. Towards the end of my run, there’s this beautiful chapel surrounded by a row of trees on the street. Green and luscious, their rich, shiny leaves are each a reminder of how beautiful even small things are.

I waited there, marveling at the trees, appreciating them and the rain and the bright, afternoon light. For the first time in a while, I willed the red light to stay just a moment longer, if only so I could take in the true beauty of this moment and feel grateful for the deep, peaceful pause in my heart.

 

Running Towards Hope

A confession: I’ve been hurting the past few days.

Nothing crazy, but I’ve been waking up feeling particularly tight and painful. I couldn’t figure out why: did I have rhabdo (I clearly didn’t.)? Did I need to break in my shoes more? Had I pulled something? Of course, at a certain point, it hit me that three months of three-a-days with very sporadic rest wasn’t a particularly healthy strategy and that the amount of strain I had put on my own muscles was likely just catching up with me.

So, after a painful 5k on Thanksgiving morning, I took the day off yesterday, since I knew that I had to go out and do my twenty-miler sometime this weekend. I rolled out last night, went to bed early, and prayed that this morning I’d magically feel better when my feet hit the road.

Spoiler alert: I didn’t. At least, not at first. I woke up feeling fine and, despite gusting winds and periodic storms, the cool weather boded well for me. This was a good day to go out and do the damn thing.

I was bummed to discover, though, that after a few miles I was still tight. My shins were screaming and my hips ached. What is going ON?! I mentally wondered to myself. I kept having to stop every half mile to try and stretch out to make the pain go away. I kept trying to breathe into my muscles, but I was really struggling to make this run work.

Then, right around mile 3, my arm grazed a pole in just the wrong place, tearing a huge hole in the sleeve of my favorite shirt. I groaned and stopped. “BRUH!” I yelled at the sky, at God, the way only a young, Catholic, CrossFit asshole can. What’s the deal? I asked. Do you want me to stop and turn around? What do you WANT from me?

I stopped, stretched, and breathed for a second.

I heaved a heavy sigh, and the questions came back to me: Are you present? Are you here? Are you listening?

And thing is, I knew the answer: No. I was caught up in my head, stewing in anger over some things happening in my life that had nothing to do with the run and, frankly, were out of my control. I had been holding all the anger and sadness in my body for days now, and was parsing through it during those first few miles.

I shook my head, frustrated that all this negativity was still affecting me. I shook out my body again, and continued to parse through my thoughts. After a few minutes, I came back to two questions for myself:

  1. As frustrated as I am, can I let it go? Could I accept that even if something is unfair, it may also be what’s right? Am I able to say a silent prayer of gratitude for the surfeit of love and light in my life and walk away?
  2. Even when we are working through anger, can I still act with kindness and love? Can I center on that and find forgiveness? Am I able to stand up for myself and name my hurt while still ultimately knowing that, in the end, compassion is the place I am moving towards?

As I looked at these questions, I knew what my answer had to be. Even if I didn’t feel like living up to them, I knew that the only way I could stay true to myself was to recenter myself with these questions as the compass. I knew that, if I could say yes to these things, I would be okay, and able to come back to the place of unfettered love and joy that makes me who I am.

So, I prayed for strength and grace, and began to run towards forgiveness. It wasn’t easy– forgiveness encompasses all the sadness and frustration of grieving.

As I ran, though, I thought about the rainbow I had seen that morning. In Christianity, the rainbow is the sign of God’s promise to His people after the great storm. It reminds us that, even when the rain comes for forty days, we ultimately believe that the universe will bend towards justice and good. It’s a reminder that, in the end, things will be better.

I kept running. In a lot of ways, forgiveness is an act of hope. It’s moving with the belief that hurt has occurred, but does not need to be dwelled in. It’s understanding that the only way to move past pain is with love. It’s knowing that we can move past pain in the first place.

With each step, God asked if I trusted that things would be okay. With each step, I affirmed that the answer was yes. Each step was a silent prayer of gratitude and hope, a testament to my faith that things would get better.

As I ran, my body loosened up. My hips settled a little more. I breathed a little more deeply. I knew that, even if this wasn’t going to be easy, I was going to get through it. I was going to be okay.


So, what’s next?

Well, I have two marathons within six days of each other, because that’s what I like to do. I’ll be running the Honolulu Marathon and then, later that week, run the inaugural Hawai‘i Bird Conservation Marathon. Since the latter is an all-downhill course (I know), I’ll be taking Honolulu nice and slow to see what I can do later that week.

Of course, I haven’t been training for any of this. I’ve been running, sure, but until today my longest distance has been 10 miles. Today was hard and painful (running into the wind for those last 6 miles didn’t help). So, honestly, if I can finish both of them with a smile on my face, I will be amazed and happy.

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So, This Is Love

It doesn’t hit me until I am doing laundry.

My body is already bone tired— there’s a weird pain in my hips every time I turn and I’m pretty sure I’ve permanently strained my rotator cuff, since every time I have to pick up anything there’s a weird pinching in my back. My shoulders sag; even my ear is sore from hitting the mat. I’m tired.

Then, I realize that my laundry doesn’t fit in the machine. I’m going to have to do at least two loads since I just remembered that there’s another pile in my gym bag I forgot to grab. I sigh, since it’s all going to have to be washed on hot and extra long because… frankly… it stinks. It’s covered in sweat and salt and spit and no dinky, express wash is going to be able to handle this.

I rub my eyes, split the load, and get ready for a long night of laundry.

When did this happen? I ask myself. Have I also had this much stuff to wash?

I realize that, no, it hasn’t always been like this. It’s because I’m switching identities multiple times a day now. I jump from middle-school English teacher to runner to CrossFit athlete to jiu-jitsu practitioner in a single twelve-hour period. Each requires its own costume, its own gear, and each has me use and abuse a new article of clothing. That increases the hours I spend doing laundry each week and since I’m out late doing all these things, it makes for a very, very long day.

So, this is love.

It hits me when I was hunched over the washer, stretching my hamstrings as the machine begins to whir. If love is the measure of our devotion and investment in something, the way we attempt to name the amount of time and affection we give, then I have been having an intense love affair for the past few months.

Love is multiple loads of laundry every week so that you have what you need. Love is line-drying jiu-jitsu gi and getting your own CrossFit equipment. It’s separating out piles of running clothes and looking for matching socks at 10 PM because you have to be up at 4:30 AM to run if you’re going to be able to get to everything else that day. It’s having to pack and unpack your car in multiple trips because between all the clothes and all the gear for these twelve-hour-days there’s no way you can carry it all at once.  It is, at the end of that day, running to your classroom and grading twenty essays in your jiu-jitsu gi because it’s easier to go straight to back to school then it is to go home. It’s sore shoulders and aching calves and groaning as you try and roll out all these muscles, knowing that the next morning you’re going to get up and do it again.

Because that’s what it takes. Or, more importantly, that’s what I want— it’s not about medals or accolades. I’m not a competitive CrossFit athlete or jiu-jitsu practitioner; I don’t win marathons. I simply love doing these things, even when they hurt. Even when I have a bad run or my lifts suck or I lose every sparring session, I am in a deep and intense love affair with my body. That love makes me move from workout to workout, knowing that the sacrifice and commitment now will mean something much greater in the long run.

After years of trying to understand love– of my family, my friends, my students, a man– I’m finally understanding what loving myself means. It’s the time and devotion and affection for the physical space I inhabit each and every single day. It’s investing in myself and that space to do things I never thought were possible.

“Joy cometh in the morning,” Psalms tells us. It’s not just a reminder to know that a new day always dawns, but a spiritual exercise in hope and persistence. Love is the mental wherewithal to persevere when things are bad because I believe that they will eventually be better. It’s knowing that, on the days when my body may not perform the way I wanted, the joy is in the practice itself and not the outcome. It’s believing that every failed lift or tired run is a step towards eventual triumph.

So, yes. It’s long hours and lots of laundry and an aching body. Yet, I know that at the end of that day when I finally make it back to my apartment, I will sigh happily with relief. Everything hurts except my heart. My heart is always bursting with a love for myself that completely new and thoroughly joyful.


 

Note: So, during aforementioned marathon grading session, I took a break to run to BJJ so I didn’t burn out. I definitely forgot a change of clothes and had to run back to my classroom in my gi to finish grading. The ridiculousness of it struck me, and I wanted to capture the moment. Thanks to Calamic Photography for the photo edits. 

The Stories I Weave Myself

I am sitting in a small dorm room at Carroll College. The window overlooking downtown Helena and the Helena Mountains is to my right, and the sun has just broken out of a thunderstorm to break into a beautiful sunset at 9:20PM.

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Earlier, when I was supposed to be writing this piece (though I confess, I had no idea what I was going to write about), I was sitting with my feet up on the windowsill as a lightning storm passed through. Thunder boomed, lightning shot across the sky, and the rain streaked down all the way to the range– long fingers of cloud-wisps reaching from the horizon towards the trees. I sat in the room, alone, listening to Jazz music, just… watching.

I am in Helena, Montana, for a seminar on nature and education. It seems fitting to try and paint the picture of my setting for this story.

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I had an interesting realization earlier this week. While I’ll be studying with a cohort of 16 people, I don’t know anyone on this trip. I don’t know anyone in Montana. I got on the plane out here knowing that, frankly, I was going to be alone. No one to meet up with or reach out to, no one sitting on the plane next to me holding my hand and planning adventures. I was on my own.

As much as I am an introvert and love my alone time, I realized that I actually am very rarely alone. I’ll go through brief afternoons and evenings, but I haven’t really been on my own since I moved to Hawai’i five years ago. Ever since then, I’ve found people– friends and family– to call mine. If I’m really honest, I’m a serial monogamist who hasn’t been single in quite a while either. I function best, I think, when partnered.

Or, I assume. Of course, I am still (very happily) partnered, but there was no feasible way to get my guy out here to join me on this journey. So, for the next three weeks, I’m flying solo, and it’s completely new to me.

And, as much as I should have been excited, I’ve actually been terrified. What if I lost all my luggage on the trip? What if being apart like this destroys my relationship? What if someone I love dies while I’m gone and I wasn’t there? What if I hate everyone? What if everyone hates me?

These questions don’t just stay simple, easy-to-answer dilemmas in my head. Unless stopped, they will often weave their way into full-blown, worst-case-scenario stories. I will very vividly visualize the horrors each one would rain upon me. A pit forms in my stomach. I can’t stop seeing the worst.

As much as I love stories, as much as I’ve been focusing my life on storytelling, I see now that sometimes my own stories hold me hostage.

I used to see Panic as the monster who would come and get me. That’s an apt metaphor much of the time, and sometimes my panic attacks will come out of nowhere, with no decipherable trigger. The problem with that image, though, is that it means I have no agency with my anxiety. Sometimes I don’t– sometimes it just hits me like a ton of bricks, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.

Over the past few weeks, though, I’m beginning to see the ways I have, perhaps, let anxiety come to run parts of my life. I have become so accustomed to weaving tales that, sometimes, I’ll follow the yarn of a question all the way around and around until I weave myself into a web of despair, unable to claw my way out.

I am trying to get better at pulling myself out of the web. Instead of wriggling around, further entangling myself, I am trying to stop, breathe, and re-evaluate the situation. Often, though, I have someone who can help me start finding my way out.

Now, though, I am sitting in a dorm room thousands of miles away from the people who love me, with no one but the mountains and trails to help me find my way out.

So, at first, I was terrified by this.

But this morning, I woke up after very little sleep (Helena is currently in an unseasonable heat wave and our dorm room unexpectedly lost air conditioning, so little rest was had). I was tired and moody. I missed my partner. I missed air conditioning.

Then, I decided there was no one to cry to about it (literally, as I was the first person in the seminar to arrive), so I better just go out and do something else. I hiked up the 1906 trail to the summit of Mt. Helena. I saw nature like I never had before– endless sky and mountains covered in more evergreens than I could ever imagine. I was welcomed and helped by friendly strangers and their dogs. I ran down trails that looked like the ones I have dreamed of.

Then, I bought myself some chocolate milk, did some work, and watched the rain fall outside while listening to some Jazz music.

I’m currently going through a bit of a mind-shift, I think. As I’ve been asking myself what I really want, it also means coming to terms with the things I actually need– not just of other people, though, but of myself. What do I need to do to bring happiness into my life? How can I stop letting anxiety write the story that I should be writing myself?

I look out at the sunset, breathe, and remember the joy I felt this morning running along a lonely trail. Surrounded by trees, I felt so blessed just to exist, on my own, in such a beautiful space. It was a complete 360 from the despair I felt this morning. It was seeing that with each footfall I took, on my own, I was slowly stepping out of the web and back into myself.

And that’s where it begins, I think. As much as I love and need the support of people in my life to help me manage my anxiety, I need to be the one to break out of the narrative and back to the blessed reality that I am loved, supported, and incredibly blessed. People can tell me that as I further entangle myself in darkness, but ultimately I have to be the one to believe it. I have to be the one to set it down in ink on my heart so I don’t lose sight of it.

No one can write my story but me.

Rhythm and Flow: Beating Myself Back Into my Body

I’m becoming certain that, as unexpected as it may seem, there is nothing quite as mindful as getting punched in the face or choked by your own collar.

I’ve been toying with the idea for several months now, ever since I started training Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and sparring in Muay Thai. After years of becoming knowledgeable as and identifying myself a runner (something I’m struggling with), I’ve jumped into two physical worlds where I know… absolutely nothing. I’m newer than new to both sports. I had a brief stint with Karate as a kid, and trained some boxing and grappling on and off over the years, but nothing consistent.

Needless to say, the experience has been incredibly humbling. There’s a lot to learn, and while I’ve always considered myself generally athletic, there’s something really different about BJJ and Muay Thai that’s asking me to do something completely new: be totally and completely present.

Don’t get me wrong. Running and weightlifting both require thought, especially in order to do well. Running distance asks you to consider pace, strategy, and efficiency of motion. Weightlifting and doing a difficult WOD means thinking about form and timing strategy as well.

Still, both (running especially) have allowed me to slip into a cradle-rock rhythm of “work” and lose myself there. I’ve said before that running is a form of moving meditation for me. It often allows me to zone out completely until I’ve suddenly run many miles without realizing it. It has offered me solace and escape in this way for years.

Now, though, I’m working in a world where the consequences of zoning out will punch you in the face. Literally. As soon as the bell rings, all my attention has to focus on that moment– what is my opponent doing? Where am I expecting them? How will I counter their move? The physical muscle memory I am trying to build so I can hit or grapple safely and effectively is in a consistent, intertwining dance with the mental chess game at stake. Come at me with a body kick? I can be ready to throw the cross. If I’m able to take mount, I better be thinking about how to keep my base and try for a submission. Every moment is assessing the situation, choosing a response, and planning the next move.

Still, while it’s tactical, it’s a graceful and powerful experience too. It’s dangerous to overthink (and, thus, slow down) while sparring, so while there is consistently critical thought, there’s also the need to let go and see how well training and translated to good instincts. There isn’t always time to debate every possible move; the person in front of me demands a response in this moment. It demands my body to move in space with another. It forces me to interact with the world around so completely that I can no longer turn only inward and ignore everything around me. Instead, I allow myself to be drawn into the push and pull of another person, and the tension is fraught and exhilarating and reaches into a deep, gut-level part of myself that I so rarely get to interact with.

Recently, I’ve been thinking a lot about the state of Flow, a state of joyous and complete focus.

As strange as it is, I have always had a hard time reaching Flow while running or even while doing yoga. I would try and focus, be mindful, concentrate on my body, but the repetitive movement made it so easy for me to zone out, stop thinking about my body, be able to work through other mental things (something, again, I often love).

As I am trying to grow in these new arts, though, I find myself not only focusing more quickly, but almost being forced into Flow. In some ways, a sparring situation is a Flow or Die kind of moment. You either pay attention and do your best, or you get smashed.

There’s no shame in getting smashed though. If anything I’ve come to welcome it. There’s nothing like a teep in stomach or getting rolled over your head to bring you back into your body. When I am tempted to lose myself down the rabbit hole of my own mind, being in a space with other people who will beat me back into my body– quite literally– is actually incredibly soothing in a way.

Each hit, blocked or eaten, is a reminder to breathe. Each slam of breath out of my lungs makes me grateful for the next gasp I take in. And when time my training kicks in (finally!) and I land a hit or take a stronger position, there are double blessings: there is a brief moment of triumph that my I learned and executed something new, followed by the humbling realization that it was one moment in a series of many, and that I better get back to work.

Because the work is exhilirating, empowering, and exciting.

What’s Next: Teacher, Writer, …?

When I started this blog a few years ago, it was in part to document my journey attempting to hit a sub-4 hour marathon. As I stared at the Wordpress title field, trying to think of a name, I decided to label it after my three favorite activities: teaching, running, and writing.

As I am approaching 30 (*oomph*) I had always sort of assumed much of my personality was set. Naive, of course, but I saw myself as a lifetime runner– one of those folks who would be marathoning when they were 80 or something. Running wormed its way into my heart as a daily necessity, a place I had to go to each day to be able to breathe properly. I loved it.

Now, in 2017 I don’t think I’ve run more than 15 miles a week. Tops. I have gone over 5 or 6 miles. I’m not sure because the band of my Garmin broke in January and I didn’t bother to get it fixed or get a new one. I no longer plan my life around my a run.

I still run, on occasion, as a way to help train the fighters at the gym where Chase and I coach or as a warm-up for my own workouts. It is still the place I can go to clear my head or listen to some good music and just disconnect from things. I still enjoy running, but is running still a core part of who I am? That’s a harder question.

I woke up before my alarm this morning, though, a rare occurrence that made me wonder if I should lace up my shoes. I’d had a bad day yesterday, and spent much of the afternoon overwhelmed and crying on my apartment floor. My eyes were swollen and groggy, and I wasn’t sure if I could muster the energy to coax a run out of my already sore limbs– a feeling I hadn’t experienced in years.

I decided to give it a whirl. I slipped on old shoes and trotted out the door, my body easing into a familiar rhythm. I put on some salsa music, thinking that since I was out of practice, I’d need the motivation.

As I crested the hill near my apartment, I could feel my muscles flexing with each beat against the concrete. “Oh, hey,” my legs sputtered, surprised, “we’re doing this again?” I cracked my neck back and forth, ear to shoulder, and smiled.

“Yup. Here we go.”

Within a mile, I shut the music off. I found my groove– slower than normal, I’m sure, but steady and solid. I buckled in, dipped my head forward and began to move forward. The road was still there, unchanged in my absence, ready to meet me where I was again.

As we move into April, I’m excited to start figuring out what’s next for me, at least as far as the physical is concerned. I’m teaching Yoga three times a week, taking Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, and lifting heavy things at CrossFit. Each of these is challenging and exhilarating in its own way.

But it’s nice to know that, no matter what happens, the road will always meet me where I am. In a world in which I am always asking, “What’s Next?” I am grateful to know that I don’t need to eschew the things I loved before to grow– I merely find a way to fit them in. Whenever I need to, I can always strap on a pair of shoes, strip away all other distractions, and run back to myself.