Setting the Pace

Did you see it? Did you see it?

This past weekend, Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya ran a marathon in less than two hours: 1:59:40.

JL108400-2048x2048-1440x810.jpg

Read about the amazing feat here.

I've been thinking about this incredible human achievement all week long... and even though I'm a runner myself, I'm actually not thinking about the running side. Watch:

Who are your pacers? Whom are you pacing, and how?

~

This post was sent yesterday to my email newsletter. Subscribe to get these messages delivered straight to your inbox.


Ten for Tuesday... Featuring One and Only One Link

Normally my Ten for Tuesday post includes a list of links that have inspired, delighted or challenged me.

Not today.

Today I only have one link to share, because I want everyone to listen to it. It’s that important.

Johann Hari

Johann Hari

It’s an interview with Johann Hari by Dan Harris on the Ten Percent Happier podcast.

Hari is the author of Lost Connections: Uncovering the Real Causes of Depression and the Unexpected Solutions.

Three minutes into the episode, I had already bought Hari’s book.
Sixteen minutes in, I knew the book (which I still haven’t read) would change my life in some pretty profound ways.
After the interview ended, I immediately went back to the beginning and listened to it a second time.

From the episode description:

Suffering from his own long battle with depression, social scientist and author Johann Hari yearned for a greater understanding of what caused it and what might help combat it. Hari set out on a journey to not only meet the leading experts on depression, but to observe how other parts of the world treat it. He breaks down his research into the biological, psychological and social causes of depression and presents several fascinating studies from around the world.

If that sounds dry, it’s not. Hari is a great storyteller, and several of his findings brought me to tears.

If this episode seems like it’s not for you because depression doesn’t touch your life or community, well a.) I don’t believe you—it does, you just don’t know it, and b.) the factors that Hari talks about are endemic in our culture, whether it leads one to fall into depression or not. Every pastor I know would benefit from giving this episode a listen.

Obviously this topic is a very salient and personal one for me right now. Very true. The interview makes clear that antidepressants are (or can be) a very important tool in living with depression… but that there are many others, some of which have societal implications. That’s both heartening (listen to the bit about Cambodian antidepressants) and discouraging (the amount of cultural shift that would need to happen in the U.S. is huge in order to take his findings to heart).

I will say this though. My kid has received unmitigated support from her community, from doctors to friends to family to insurance to teachers and school personnel. It’s overwhelming to all of us… even as I ponder the immense privileges at work in many of those things.

Anyway, several months ago I attended a workshop put on by the school district about parenting kids with anxiety. The workshop was free and the place was packed with parents. (You know the stats on anxiety and depression are ghastly, right?) We were introduced to brain research, received coping tools, and learned how to support our kids and build resilience. Part of me was appreciative, part of me was angry—not at them specifically, but at all of us. It was as if our kids all had really bad respiratory problems, and we were there getting the gas masks and learning how to use them, and feeling the comfort of being in a room with other parents whose kids aren’t breathing well either… meanwhile nobody’s talking about why there’s so damn much poison in the air.

If you, like I, want to know why there’s so damn much poison in the air, check out the podcast, and let me know what you think.

~

And there’s still time to help us get to 50 donors for the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Read my blog post or donate here.

50 Days. 50 Miles. 50 People.

In 50 days, I will run the JFK 50 Miler. It’s the nation’s oldest ultramarathon. I ran an ultra in April, a 50K (31 miles), but this will be my first (only?) 50 miler.

As I’ve done with each of my major races, I’m running for a cause. This time it’s for NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Why?
Because mental illness touches all of us in some way.
Because it’s still too stigmatized and misunderstood.
And because my own daughter lives with anxiety and depression.

Her story isn’t mine to tell, though she did give me permission to share this. (Really. I asked several times. I showed her this post. My kid is a teen, which means she does not hesitate to tell me to kiss off.)

As for my story, I’ll say this: it has been the single hardest experience of my life, but also the most important and precious. My kid is beautiful, brilliant, talented, and strong. There’s nowhere I’d rather be than by her side. (Stand with her too: donate here.)

In the early days of my daughter’s most acute struggles, I signed up for a 50 miler. It’s hard to explain the timing of this decision. It felt reckless in a way. But I knew it was the right thing to do. I needed something big and audacious, something that was mine alone. In retrospect, it gave me additional excuses to care for myself: to eat well, to get solid sleep each night, to pare down my work to the essentials, and to exercise regularly. (OK, there’s nothing “regular” about running 22 miles one day and 16 miles the next. Noted.)

In all things over the past several months, the invitation has been to hold things as lightly as possible—worries about the future, wondering whether the worst is past or if another shoe will drop, fretting over whether this will be a lifelong struggle, or just a terrible but temporary quirk of the teenage brain.

Meanwhile, my kid continues to astound me with her stubborn determination to get better. She is my hero. I’m going to run 50 miles in a couple of months — Fifty. Miles. — but in terms of hard things that members of the Dana family will do this year, it is a distant, distant second.

One of the many trail races I’ve done in preparation of the JFK.

One of the many trail races I’ve done in preparation of the JFK.

Just as we’ve tried to hold all things lightly, I’ve held the race pretty lightly too. I’m training, but I reserve the right to call it off if it doesn’t feel right and good. Well, now the time is close. It’s 50 days away. Even now, I’m willing to let it go… but I can actually see it happening. That said, it can’t just be me running a stupid number of miles. I need to connect it to something larger.

That something larger is you. I’m looking for at least 50 people to donate any amount to NAMI over the next 50 days. Please join me. Root for me, and root for my kid. It would mean the world to us.

DONATE.

"Everything Is Helping You": Advice from Trevor Noah

I heard an interview with Daily Show host Trevor Noah in which he shared the best advice he’d ever received. Do you agree? I explore that advice in the video below:

Here's a direct link to the video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzdees8mf_E

Side note for Harry Potter fans: I recorded the above video last week, and since then have finished listening to the audiobook of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. I've read the book and seen the movie(s) several times, but this time I couldn't stop thinking about the Room of Requirement in light of Trevor Noah's advice. You will remember that the Room of Requirement is the place in Hogwarts that transforms into whatever the person needs at that moment, whether a meeting place, a practice room for casting spells, a storage closet, or a place to hide. It's a morally neutral space--some nefarious characters use the room for their own dark ends, as do some honorable ones for valiant reasons. The point is, everything in it is "helping" those who visit it.

I'm intrigued to consider what it would be like to see life around me as a sort of macro Room of Requirement. I don't want to push this idea too far--there's plenty of stuff that happens to us that is simply too traumatic to make immediate use out of. There is some suffering too great to be worth whatever life lessons we may valiantly derive from it. Still, I can't quite let the image go... the idea that what I need is here. What I do with those things is up to me--I can use my experiences and resources for good or for ill. But here they all are--the raw materials I need for the living of my days.

It's a challenging thought, yet a comforting one for me to play with right now.

I'd love to hear what you think.

~

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. Subscribe to receive these dispatches straight to your inbox.

Ten for Tuesday

Cheers!

See #10 below…

See #10 below…

Been a long while since I did a link-ariffic post… so I’ve got quite the backlog. Here’s a quick list of stuff that has interested/challenged/delighted me recently:

  1. The website Buy Me Once only stocks items that have a lifetime guarantee. What a nice way to make a small impact in our disposable society.

  2. Did you catch the recent comments from Bill Maher about how we need to bring back fat shaming? (James Corden had a response that was complicated but thoughtful. Also funny.) This article suggests that fat stigma has become a bigger problem than fat itself. (And the former contributes to the latter.)

  3. I see trigger warnings everywhere these days, but studies suggest they may not help.

  4. My friend and colleague Jan Edmiston contemplates the racist bones in her body. (Mine too…)

  5. I’m late to Anthony Bourdain’s work, but recently listened to Kitchen Confidential. Audiobook is the right mechanism for his stuff, methinks. His voice is singular. Here’s a lovely tribute to the late genius of food and humanity.

  6. Here’s one on the politics of carrying purses… and who ends up cleaning up messes as a result.

  7. But the real enemy of women is not the purse. It’s the lack of time for ourselves.

  8. Art Spiegelman reminds us that the golden age of superheroes corresponded with the rise of fascism. FYI.

  9. So many of us read children’s books as adults. It’s a wistful thing.

  10. And on a whimsical note: this runner uses his GPS maps to construct elaborate art with his running routes.

Frayed Threads and Saliva: On Knitting and Life Changes

I’ve often said knitting is the most theological of the fiber arts. (Knitting shows up as a metaphor in both the Psalms and in Paul’s letters!) 

Case in point:

I’ve been going through some stuff lately. Someday I’ll write about it, but not now. I’m trusting it’s all in the service of good and positive transformation, though that trust is easier said than done.

In the meantime, for the past year I’ve been making a temperature blanket. It’s a large project, but really easy:

  • One row for each day of the year (so the blanket will be 365 rows when I’m done).

  • Color of the row is determined by the temperature that day. For my blanket, 91-100 degrees is red, 81-90 is pink, 71-80 is purple, etc.

And since I’m running All Of The Miles this year in anticipation of my 50 miler, I’m also adding one simple lace stitch for each mile I run:

58835218744__CAE79191-6986-4391-B06B-9D36B9258A39.JPG

The only tricky part is changing colors, sometimes on every row. There are a variety of techniques I looked at, but many of them involved more sleight of hand than I could manage. (There’s a reason my bio calls me a “haphazard” knitter.) The easiest method is to cut the previous yarn and tie it to the new color, but then you have a weird bump in your project and loose ends to weave in.

My mother the master knitter recommended something called spit splicing. I love this technique, not only for the ease and fun of it, but because it feels exactly like my life right now.

With spit splicing, you basically cut both the old and new pieces of yarn and fray the ends like this pink piece:

IMG_1945.jpg

Then you put the two frayed ends in your mouth and get them nice and slick, then twist them together so they’re wrapped around one another:

IMG_1946.jpg

Finally, you rub the twisted piece vigorously for a good 20 seconds up against something a little coarse. Denim is great for this, and since I wear jeans most of the time, I can spit splice anywhere. The result is a new single strand of yarn that consists of the two colors tangled together: 

IMG_1947.jpg

Every time I knit a new row, I think about my life and the transformation that's happening. I think I’m leveling up, spiritually speaking. It’s also possible this is a lateral move. Not all change is change for the better. Sometimes it’s just… different. Sometimes it’s worse, to be perfectly frank.

Jury’s out on all that. For now, I see a lot of spit splicing going on, both in my life and in the lives of people around me: loved ones, friends, and people I coach. Here’s what I’ve noticed:

Change isn’t “clean.” According to the YouTube video I consulted, saliva works better than tap water. I haven’t tried anything but spit, and why would I? I’ve knitted this blanket on planes and trains, while watching movies with family, and on a camping trip. Water isn’t always available. But also, there’s a stickiness to saliva, so I believe the YouTube is right. 

Change ain’t pretty, friends. It’s made of sloppy stuff.

Change isn’t comfortable. When I first started spit splicing, I was way too ginger about it, and when I would gently tug on the new strand to make sure it was properly spliced, it would often come apart. Friction is a part of the process. Lots of it, sometimes. It’s amazing how strong the resulting piece can be… but you really have to do the work.

The raw materials matter. My mother gave me the yarn to make this blanket, and it’s a nice-quality wool. Good thing, as it turns out: synthetic fibers cannot be spit spliced; only the natural stuff will do. Similarly, I’m realizing that for me to weather this change well, I have to lean into my authentic self. That means feeling what I feel and embracing the messiness. Being as real as I can. (I hate this a lot of the time, to be honest.) 

Change is incremental. In seminary we learn the phrase “liminal space,” then overuse it within an inch of its life, then make fun of ourselves for using it. Maybe I’m coming back around to the term though. Liminal space is that in-between time when the old and the new mingle together: 

IMG_1948.jpg

I like that the beginnings of rows show a bit of both colors. That’s where I am right now—the new color is emerging, but little tufts of the old ways are still poking out quite a bit. That feels true to me, and I think that’s OK. As a mentor used to say when asked how she was doing, “I’m in the process of becoming wonderful.” 

Where do you see change in your life? How is it emerging?

Onward,
MaryAnn

~

Note: This message was sent to my email newsletter this morning. Subscribe to receive these dispatches straight to your inbox.

P.S. Bonus link! I wrote recently about new ways to think about goal setting for the International Coach Federation blog.

The Kindest View: A Tale of Two Graphs

Content note: This post discusses weight loss as a component of my overall personal fitness. It’s an illustration of a larger point, unrelated to weight loss, but feel free to skip if that topic is not helpful for you to read.

As a Woman of a Certain Age, I have reluctantly accepted that I have to be intentional about my health. Positive habits don’t just happen; they must be practiced. That doesn’t mean that I don’t still enjoy foods I love and occasionally overindulge (*cough*gorge*cough*). But at almost-50, I have a lot less margin than I used to when I was 20. Which means when I do make less-healthy nutrition choices, I try to get back on track as soon as possible. Consistency-ish, not perfection.

I’ve set a goal to run the JFK 50 miler in a few months. It’s a huge physical challenge, and not something I’m positive I can pull off, which makes it both exciting and scary. What I do know is I will have an easier time if I’m not carrying around extraneous weight, and if the weight I do carry is relatively high in muscle and low in fat.

So in addition to my running, I’m strength training several times a week. I’m also prioritizing lean quality protein and reducing carbs, though not eliminating them altogether (the joys of being an endurance runner—we need quality carbs aplenty!). I’m paying attention to how my clothes fit as a sign of what my body’s doing, and also taking some measurements from time to time to gauge body composition.

And… I weigh myself every day.

This is a controversial practice. I know it can be triggering for some people. Even those who aren’t triggered can get wrapped around the axle with the inevitable daily fluctuations: overreacting to a higher number by restricting calories beyond what is healthy, or even going on a food bender as reward for a “good” result. I’ve learned, gradually and still imperfectly, to look at the forest rather than the trees. What does that mean? It means I take the measurement most mornings, but I kinda blur my eyes mentally, if that makes sense. I pause before I even step on the scale to get myself in a neutral, detached place. I try to see the number as one indicator among many, and not even the most important one at that. How I’m feeling, what else is going on in my life, where I am in my menstrual cycle, how much stress I’m experiencing and where I’m carrying it physically—all of of these are more important than weight. I’m not always successful at keeping this perspective, but I find it essential to try. I saw it written some time ago, “Your best weight is whatever weight you reach when you’re living the healthiest life you actually enjoy.” I couldn’t agree more, which for me means holding lightly the number on the scale as just that—a number.

Anyway, lately my weight has been slowly trending down, which at this stage is what I want it to do. But this brings me to the point of my post. The app I use allows me to see the trend line over various periods of time: a week, a month, two months, etc. Here’s what I see when I look at the three-month view:

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 7.48.53 PM.png

A pretty good trajectory, eh?

By contrast, here’s the the year-long view:

Screen Shot 2019-08-26 at 7.49.10 PM.png

When I look at this graph, I remember every poor choice I made, every late-night snack session, every work trip in which I let all my healthy habits fly out the window. And no matter how positive the last several weeks have been, I want to berate myself for letting things get out of control.

This is not a kind way to treat myself.

I’ve been reading and doing a lot of processing around self-acceptance and self-kindness. My latest revelation has been the work of Buddhist teacher Tara Brach, especially her book Radical Acceptance: Embracing Your Life with the Heart of a Buddha. This approach may come easily to some of you. It doesn’t come easily to me. I’m someone who sees life as one big self-improvement project. Which isn’t bad in itself, but when that self improvement is grounded in a sense of not being enough, it’s a problem.

When I look at the first graph, I feel empowered, like I’m taking control of my health in a positive way. There are fluctuations, but the overall trend is clear.

The second graph makes me want to give up.

The thing is, both graphs are “right.” The data are accurate, and you could argue that the year-at-a-view is more accurate because it contains more information, a longer-term picture. Sure, it makes me feel bad, but hey, numbers don’t lie, and that upward slope is the price I paid for making a series of bad choices. I made my bed, now I have to live with the consequences.

That’s my own self-punishing voice talking, but it’s not just me. There’s a real punitive undercurrent in our culture right now. Perhaps it’s always been there—a harsh, Puritanical edge, what Anne Lamott imagines as the purse-lipped high-school principal leafing unhappily through your files—but it seems especially acute at this moment in history. This line of thinking is very vigilant against anything that can be seen as inflated self-regard. Just look at how we sneer at people who express any weakness or vulnerable emotion: Snowflake.

In the prevailing view of this culture, it would be self-indulgent, even dishonest, of me to ignore the year graph and just focus on the one I happen to like.

Except the three-month graph inspires me and helps me want to live better, both in terms of good choices and accepting with compassion when I make less-than-great ones.

Tara Brach tells a story of a man who carried a lot of anger and resentment from his upbringing, to the point that he lashed out at his family regularly. He heard Brach’s teachings about self-kindness and acceptance as the path to healing, but he bristled: I don’t deserve that kindness, he pushed back. I’ve been way too hurtful to the people I’m supposed to love and support. In response, Brach simply asked him: Has that self-judgment helped you be less angry? Has the punitive approach chastened you and put you on a path toward wholeness?

…Is it working?

The questions were a revelation. Once he began seeing himself in the kindest possible way, he was able to do the work of transformation. Over time, he changed to the point that his wife was able to say, For the first time in our marriage, I’m not afraid of you. A miracle.

I shared all of this with a friend recently, who summarized it thus: “self-acceptance over self-improvement.” Not that we can’t grow in our capacity for grace and goodness. But we do so through self-kindness, not self-punishment. Self-acceptance doesn’t ignore our missteps, but it frames them in the midst of our own belovedness, and focuses on the part of the picture that helps us live happy, joyous and free.

It’s been a minor revelation to realize that I can simply choose the kinder view, and that I don’t need anyone’s authorization to do it.

On the Edge--Where Change Occurs

It’s August, so I know I'm not the only one who's ready for the brutally hot and humid temperatures to leave. Well, I'm seeing some signs of hope... and I'm not just talking about the weather:

Speaking of fall, I've got a full speaking calendar the next few months, with events in South Bend, Indiana; Ft. Worth, Texas; Savannah, Georgia; and lots of places in between. Check out where I'll be--I'd love to see you!

I'm also excited to announce that God, Improv, and the Art of Living is available on Audible! Got a long commute? What better way to yes-and those miles in the car or public transit. Audiobooks help you pass the time while cleaning or weeding the garden? Improvisation is what it's all about.

What's emerging for you these days? I'd love to hear.

Onward,
MaryAnn

~

This message was sent to my email newsletter. Subscribe to get these videos and reflections right to your inbox. Updates sent 1-2 times a month.

"The Music of the Genuine" -- Howard Thurman

I’ve been thinking about these words from Howard Thurman since receiving them last week courtesy of Richard Rohr’s newsletter.

Howard Thurman

Howard Thurman

There is something in everyone of you that waits, listens for the sound of the genuine in yourself and if you can not hear it, you will never find whatever it is for which you are searching and if you hear it and then do not follow it, it was better that you had never been born. . . .

Sometimes there is so much traffic going on in your minds, so many different kinds of signals . . . and you are buffeted by these and in the midst of all of this you have got to find out what your name is. Who are you? . . .

Now there is something in everybody that waits and listens for the sound of the genuine in other people. . . . I must wait and listen for the sound of the genuine in you. . . .

Now if I hear the sound of the genuine in me and if you hear the sound of the genuine in you it is possible for me to go down in me and come up in you. So that when I look at myself through your eyes having made that pilgrimage, I see in me what you see in me and the wall that separates and divides will disappear and we will become one because the sound of the genuine makes the same music.

I long for a world that tends to the “sound of the genuine,” don’t you? I wonder what that would look like.