An invitation to slow down and connect
When I am struggling to find balance in my life I notice that it is my body that helps me navigate through. I do not sit down and make a list of pros and cons. I do not talk it through with others—at least not at first. I move. I run, walk, do yoga, stand on my head, do a challenging strength-building workout that I am not sure I am capable of getting through, do some boxing, go for a vigorous swim, go out and put my hands deep into the soil, pull weeds, water and tend plants. The more physically challenging, the better. I am not entirely sure why I do this—but I do know that my body is strong and capable, so when I am feeling weak or uncertain inside allowing the part of me that I know can handle anything take over just feeling intuitively right.
Since losing my mother this past year what has kept me going is physical activity. On days when I didn’t want to get out of bed; on days when I feel so alone that I want to dig a hole, climb in and bury myself so that I do not have to face another day without my family, the one thing I could always manage was moving my body. Over the last nine months I have turned to movement in the middle of the night when I cannot sleep, in the afternoons when grief interrupts any hope of focus on the task at hand, and even in the mornings to get my body motivated to accomplish everything that needed to be taken care of. It may sound odd, but I feel like there is a partnership between my body and heart/soul, and the stronger I get physically, the more space I allow for my heart to heal and begin opening to possibility again too. I know we are not all this way. I know for many it is the internal world that motivates external action.
People often ask me what motivates me to work out so much. I am realizing that it is the need for hope. Moving my body and getting stronger feels like a promise that my body is making to my heart that there is a way through so much loss; that one of these days I will emerge on the other side of all of this and will be stronger because of it all.
I also notice that moving releases things—ideas, emotions, thoughts and reflections. Often when I am trying to write and feel stuck, just taking a break and doing a workout that leaves my arms and legs wobbly, and my muscles exhausted removes the barrier that I was hitting up against, and I can return to my page and continue to write.
In writing this I wonder if this is a genetic thing. My mother was a long-distance runner. When she got pregnant with me she was training for the Boston marathon. She ran until the day before my birth. I was born at home, and after my mother delivered me she got out of bed and went into the dining room for a meal with a bunch of friends who had come over to celebrate with her. My mother’s older brother was also an athlete. My cousins are all very active—one of them even works for Nike. My dad’s father was a musician, but in his free time he was an avid gardener. He grew a good portion of the produce eaten in the home my father grew up in. My parents took long walks every day. When I would visit them we walked as a family. We didn’t always talk much, but moving together was a big part of our quality time together.
On Friday I had plans in town, but after I finished the first draft of an article I am working on my body was telling me it was time to go to the beach for the first time this season. It was hot and humid, and when I reached the beach and sunk my toes into the warm sand, I breathed a sign of relief. The water was still icy cold, but I managed three short swims, and the feeling of pressing through water again after another winter of snow and ice was the best thing I have felt in months. Yesterday I transplanted mums into the garden bed I am growing in this year, watered my sweet peas and dahlias, and filled pots with soil and started transplanting my violas and pansies. I did a 2-hour workout. Last night when I couldn’t sleep I got up and did yoga with all the windows open and the breeze blowing through. Today is Sunday – my day of rest, but still there will be more violas moving from tray to pot, more watering, more pressing my hands into soil, and very likely a long walk near water. It isn’t so much a question of how I make the time for movement – it is a matter of how could I possibly move forward through my days if I do not?
As I type I notice my gaze shifting outside, my leg muscles flexing under the table. It’s time to let the body move for a while. It will eventually lead me back to my page, and when it does my mind and heart will be refreshed and ready to dive back in.
How about you, friends? What carries you through your days, grounds you, creates balance when you are feeling off-kilter?