Mindfulness and Running…Among Other Things

I spent most of my morning rather exhausted and asleep, not so much from any particularly strenuous physical activity but from mostly the electrical activity in between my ears. Although I’ve been in relatively high spirits as of late — not to mention, relaxed (as my friend kept saying yesterday, over and over) — I’ve been really hung up on my swimming lately.

When I’m not really sure what I’m doing, I have a tendency to sit back and observe. It’s something I do quite well actually — observe and mimic. And, what I’ve noticed is that there are really two types of swimmers at the gym: there are super hardcore swimmers (people who know what they’re doing and can shoot off walls like torpedoes) and then people who spend a LOT of energy with their heads above water and essentially swimming at a 45 degree angle (people like me!). After watching what makes swimmers efficient — staying as parallel as they can with the surface of the water, coming up for air on every third/fourth stroke, exhaling and making room for air in the water instead of outside of it — I tried to mimic it as best I can. Once I did that (last night, as a matter of fact), I had enough air to actually make it to one side of the pool instead of halfway.

Seems like a really silly thing to be down on, but I think in the face of something difficult we all question our abilities a bit. If I can just learn to enjoy it and be in the moment, and to learn from others instead of comparing myself to them, I’m sure I’ll be a much happier camper. I think I was also down on myself a bit since I didn’t make it in to practice on the loose schedule I committed to — twice a week. I think instead of giving myself such leeway I should really just designate days so that I can’t trip up or give myself any excuses.

At some point I think I can be in the moment. With running, I think I feel comfortable enough with it now that I’m not too focused on being tired, hot, sweaty, etc., and I just run. Yesterday, on my 6-mile run, I didn’t break through until mile 3, but when I did it felt great. The last three miles of my run was a complete breeze. I barely noticed the time going by. I was even sad that the run was over! (I suppose I could’ve just kept going.)  However, biking and swimming still requires a lot of concentration for me since I don’t yet feel that I am proficient at it. I am sure when I jump these mental and physical hurdles it’ll be great.

In the meantime, I came across two posts that really inspired me to think about being more mindful while training for the triathlon and less negative. Check them out! The first one is about the Buddhist philosophy on meditation and mindfulness, and a Tibetan lama speaks to how running mindfully can help you improve the mind-body connection. The second one is a blog post by Ryan Hall, a professional runner, and he speaks to the most athletic year of his life in an effort to qualify for the 2012 Olympics.

I know that I do a lot better when I stop listening to myself. Self deprecation is such an easy way out. It’s much harder to challenge yourself and break through. Here’s to less worrying and plan-paralysis and more doing.

 

 

 

Long Weekends, Long Runs

Hope you all had a fantastic Memorial Day weekend! I spent my time off balancing pure relaxation and pushing my limits. All in all it was pretty fun!

 

I’ve found that double digit runs have been very intimidating for me personally, even though I’ve done a few of them already. There’s reticence on my end since I usually have to prep a bit for it. A 3, 4, 5, or 6 mile run requires nothing more than staying hydrated beforehand and then eating immediately afterwards…and usually sunscreen 20 minutes before I leave.

However, when a run goes into 10, 11, 12, 13+ mile range, I usually load up my hydration pack and a few portable snacks since I get hungry pretty easily. Then comes the lag. I take forever to get dressed. I walk circles around my apartment — even though it’s pretty small — and make excuses and procrastinate. I start flipping through magazines or organizing my desk, cleaning out the fridge, fix my hair…pretty much anything except get myself out of the door. The last bit of procrastination usually includes me laying down on my couch for a bit and visualizing my run. I never really know what gets me up off that couch and out the door but it does and I get on with it.

It’s not so much the dread of feeling tired, or getting sweaty, or whatever other excuse I can come up with, that gets in the way. For some strange reason I’m always paranoid that I won’t finish my run. It sounds ridiculous because all I have to do is choose to end it — I can cut it short, I can take a detour, I can stop and enjoy a park, or I can extend it — so really, “finishing” is relative. Finishing a run is not really the same as finishing school, finishing a project, or finishing the course of a relationship. Or perhaps it really is the same, since we are all in control of our choices, our happiness, and how we manage the things that effect us.

There’s almost an invisible amount of pressure on me that I’ve really just fabricated. Being enrolled in a marathon training class is a little pressure, but it’s really the good kind. I’ve enjoyed it thus far but what I’ve missed the most lately is running just for the sake of running — not to train for something, not to qualify for a race, not to check in or check out, but just for the sheer fun of it.

Today I decided to take a different mental approach and re-run a very difficult course with the mentality that I was just running for fun. (I of course checked in to it!) I focused on a few things: 1) keeping my composure, 2) smiling a bit more at strangers, 3) enjoying the scenery and 4) maintaining a consistent pace. I ran through Miracle Mile, Hancock Park, Sunset Blvd/The Sunset Strip, Beverly Hills, West Hollywood, and back to Miracle Mile. With that attitude, my run was an absolute breeze!! I enjoyed a beautiful sunset along the Sunset Strip, and enjoyed magic hour in Beverly Hills. It was night by the time I made my way though WeHo and back towards my home and when I ran through the final streetlight, I didn’t feel a bit tired. My knees were a bit achy, but my breathing wasn’t labored and my energy wasn’t shot. Los Angeles is so beautiful, especially on the tail end of a long weekend that vacates the city. With the wind this weekend, the skies were clean and clear. For once I felt like I had the city all to myself…and I treasured every minute of it.

Now that I’ve taken this route a second time, I’ve kept my eyes peeled for some interesting photos. Next time I run this same route, I’ll create a photo album so that you guys get to see what I see! After this weekend I feel confident that I will be able to successfully take on the 15K in Santa Barbara on July 4th without a problem. I’m so excited to make my way back to Santa Barbara again…I am positive that the course will be absolutely stunning.

To end an otherwise great weekend, I received this nugget of genius in my email box just a few minutes ago…

Believe that you’re young enough, old enough, strong enough, and so on to accomplish everything you want to do. Don’t let worn out beliefs stop you from moving beyond yourself. -John Bingham

Recent Read: Born To Run

I started this book today waiting for the Metro to take me home from my just-completed 13 mile point-to-point run from my apartment to the ocean. It came highly recommended by a client who also happens to be a triathlete.

I’m about halfway through it so far and I’m impressed — it’s linear insomuch that it reconstructs the chronology of particular chance encounters but also spins off into sub-chapters explaining the characteristics that each of the ultrarunners bring to the game. I’ve excerpted a few of my favorite passages below.

(Update: I’ve finished the book and it was great! I loved the storytelling aspect as the writer follows many different runners on their journey. The only part I didn’t like was that there was one small portion where the author was hypocritical: he makes a mention of an unsaid runners code of ethics, but then manages to slam another professional runner a few pages later. I wonder why the editor let that one slide by!)

Pick it up! My rating: 8/10

* * *

“Lesson two….think easy, light, smooth, and fast. You start with easy, because if that’s all you get, that’s not so bad. Then work on light. Make it effortless, like you don’t give a shit how high the hill is or how far you’ve got to go. When you’ve practiced that so long that you forget you’re practicing, you work on making it smooth. You don’t have to worry about the last one — you get those three, and you’ll be fast.”

* * *

Was Zatopek a great man who happen to run, or a great man because he ran? Vigil couldn’t quite put his finger on it, but his gut kept telling him that there was some kind of connection between the capacity to love and the capacity to love running. The engineering was certainly the same: both depended on loosening your grip on your own desires, putting aside what you wanted and appreciating what you got, being patient and forgiving and undemanding. Sex and speed — haven’t they been symbiotic for most of our existence, as intertwined as the strands of DNA? We wouldn’t be alive without love; we wouldn’t have survived without running; maybe we shouldn’t be surprised that getting better at one could make you better at the other.”

* * *

That fall, a photo appeared in UltraRunning Magazine. It shows Jenn finishing a 30-mile race somewhere in the backwoods of Virginia. There’s nothing amazing about her performance (third place), or her getup (basic black shorts, basic black sports bra), or even the camera work (dimly let, crudely cropped). Jenn isn’t battling a rival to the bitter end, or striding across a mountaintop with the steel-jawed majesty of a Nike model, or gasping toward glory with a grimace of heartbreaking determination. All she’s doing is…running. Running, and smiling. But that smile is strangely stirring. You can tell she’s having an absolute blast, as if there’s nothing on earth she’d rather be doing and nowhere on earth she’d rather be doing it than here, on this lost trail in the middle of the Appalachian wilderness. Even though she’s just run four miles further than a marathon, she looks light-footed and carefree, her eyes twinkling, her ponytail swinging around her head like a shirt in the fist of a triumphant Brazilian soccer player. Her naked delight is unmistakable; it forces a smile to her lips that’s so honest and unguarded, you feel she’s lost in the grip of artistic inspiration.

* * *

Ann liked to tell her friends that running huge miles in the mountains was “very romantic.” But yeah, Ann insisted, running was romantic; and no, of course her friends didn’t get it because they’d never broken through. For them, running was a miserable two miles motivated solely by size 6 jeans: get on the scale, get depressed, get your headphones on, and get it over with. But you can’t muscle through a five-hour run that way; you have to relax into it, like easing your body into a hot bath, until it no longer resists the shock and begins to enjoy it.

Relax enough, and your body becomes so familiar with the cradle-rocking rhythm that you almost forget that you’re moving. And once you break through that soft, half-levitating flow, that’s when the moonlight and champagne show up.

* * *

 

Finding Inspiration When You Need It Most

When I find that I am low on patience and inspiration, I usually head towards the water. It’s humbling to be surrounded by something so majestic and grand as the Pacific Ocean. After all, the oceans covers 71 percent of the Earth’s surface and contains 97 percent of the planet’s water. And, at any moment it can swallow me up whole and make me disappear into nothingness.

If you are finding yourself low on inspiration, I find that these usually help:

  • A change in environment: Sometimes you just need to change your location. There might be something in your current surroundings that is stifling your ability to think. Either address it or change it, but don’t ignore it — this type of frustration will fester.
  • A change in perspective: You might have unnecessarily pigeonholed yourself. Try to see the problem from a different angle and your perspective should change. If you’re a designer, put on your photographer hat. If you’re a service provider, try seeing it from a client’s point of view. Be honest and don’t include your own projections. Truly try to see it from the other side.
  • A change in activity: Some of the best ideas percolate while you’re doing something else. Give it a rest and refresh yourself. Chances are you will find some inspiration in something completely unrelated.

It’s sometimes difficult to put our problems into perspective. Just remember that you are one small piece of a very, very large puzzle…and that things are never really as troublesome as they seem. Don’t get caught up in the minutia of life! Just enjoy it and go along for the ride.

Four Stages of Conflict Resolution

This morning I participated in a meditation and Dharma session at a local Buddhist meditation society and listened to a very thoughtful and provoking address on conflict resolution. In the past year I’ve noticed that my approach to conflict (and its eventual resolution) has dramatically changed. Be it a shift in perspective or different resources I have available to me, it has definitely changed for the better and I am beginning to be more mindful of when I am practicing meaningful conflict resolution. I hope that these stages will help you recognize your abilities to reconcile the differences that present themselves in your daily life and that you will be able to apply them as needed.

Stage 1 – Pacification. There is an attempt made at pacifying a conflict, otherwise known as a “heart-to-heart” or some sort of method by which one party attempts to address the situation. Usually done by “talking things out,” this step almost always reinforces a relationship by establishing a connection or bond that revolves around trust. It is in this stage that the relationship between the two individuals grow deeper.

Stage 2 – Mediation. There may be insufficient communication between the two conflicting individuals; therefore, a third-party mediator may be required to help both individuals address said conflict. This can be via counselor, psychologist, friend, clergy, arbitrator, etc, but it is preferred that mediation be conducted by someone who does not have a vested interest in said relationship. An objective point of view is necessary to help evaluate the conflict, but not place value on either individual’s opinion.

Stage 3 – Magnetization. One individual within the conflict changes the situation in such a way that compels the other person to take action. In this stage, ultimatums or interventions may reasonably take place. A drastic action that creates a schism in the relationship will push the resolution in one of two directions. Much in the same way that magnets work, this will either bring the two individuals closer together or tear them apart. In this case, it is safe to say that there is no middle ground.

Stage 4 – Destruction. Either one or both individuals choose to destroy the aspect of the relationship that causes conflict. This does not necessarily mean that the two individuals walk away from each other entirely. This stage of conflict resolution highly depends on both of the individual’s emotional quotient. The most emotionally mature individuals may be able to permanently separate their overall relationship from the root of conflict. In this case, the conflict is resolved but the relationship (either actualized or imagined) remains intact.

How have you been successful at conflict resolution? Do any of these steps apply to you?

——

Special thanks to Ken McLeod for the discussion after this morning’s guided meditation at Against The Stream.

Knowing When To Take a Break

My friend, Garick, once told me "Remember, the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast..." He got that from Blade Runner. 🙂

I am the quintessential over achiever. It’s not something that I’m really proud of. It’s just a part of me. When I was still under the auspice of my lovely parents, they would always remind me to sleep…take a break…enjoy my youth. However, I realized that when I left the nest things got immensely worse.

I launched my own company in the midst of a recession right before getting laid off from my full time gig. I was pulling long nights and weekends for a startup. In between hustling new clients and taking meetings I decided that this was the time I’d go back to school. Then factor in the residual work that it takes to keep all of these ventures humming along with some modicum of success — homework, late night accounting and billing, shooting off emails at 2am, coordinating teleconferences over multiple time zones — and you have yourself one tired puppy.

One way I’ve decided to overcome this is to not sit at my desk for too many consecutive hours at a time. Now, mind you, this is coming from someone who spends at least 12 days in front of a computer, 7 days a week. (Insane, isn’t it?) This little trick I’ve devised requires only some tealight candles and a glass.

When you sit down at your desk to work, light the tealight candle. Place it in the glass so you don’t burn your office (home or otherwise) down. Immerse yourself and completely focus on your work without distraction. When the tealight goes out, take a break….and then repeat. If you still decide to power through after the light goes out, just think back to the quote I opened up this post with: “Remember, the candle that burns twice as bright burns twice as fast.”

Achieving Balance

Ahhh, the eternal struggle. How does someone balance all of their obligations and cram 30 hours in a 24 hour day?

I stumble and fall but I find that most of my lessons are learned when I get back up. No one likes a frazzled and stressed person! The time has come that I put more personal responsibility into my schedule instead of filling it up with more and more project work. If I can’t be relied upon to take care of myself, how will my clients be able to trust that I can take care of my managed aspects of their business?

With this realization, I have decided to be proactive, rather than blindly placing the blame on external factors. The only way to achieve happiness is to manage what you can control…and, chances are, you can control your environment. For example, I can’t blame anyone else for my over-committed schedule but myself! The key to balancing obligations is to never actually attempt to cram 30 hours into a 24 hour day. It means breaking up chunks of work into manageable pieces so that the right amount of time can be devoted to each project. It means saying “no” to projects that you are disinterested in. It means that you have to plan fairly far in advance and to stick to your goals in the face of procrastination, laziness, and sloth in general.

Jon Bernstein, the author of The Power of The Notebook, says that when you write down your goals you are more inclined to put a plan of action together to achieve them. Here are my goals for the remainder of the 2010 year:

  1. Maintain a regular exercise regimen and train for a 5K
  2. Delegate tasks to my employees at Unicorn Press and trust that they have the judgment to get them done properly
  3. Be more disciplined and focused with my masters’ program classes
  4. Make it a habit to answer every email in a timely manner.
  5. Regularly go “off-the-grid” to recharge my batteries (no pun intended)

Let’s see how well I commit to these goals!