Monday, November 23, 2009

Grab a shovel! We're gonna have to dig deep...

I like a challenge. If you know me, you know that. I like to push my limits and see what I can do and find new places in my heart and soul that I never knew existed. For a lot of people, that's uncomfortable. It's dark and ugly in there and, quite frankly, it's so much easier just to leave the door closed and imagine the heaping pile of mess inside will just disintegrate into oblivion. It won't. It is one of the few things in life I am absolutely sure of....

This past weekend was filled with opportunities for many of my good friends and clients and myself, for that matter, to dig deep and discover how much inner strength we all possess. The Ragnar Relay is a 203 mile race across the state of Florida. You run as a team passing the baton as you go. You run on grass, on roads, on trails. You run through the heat of the day and the cold of the night. You run in blackness so complete that only the halo from your headlamp provides the only protection from the darkness-- you run and you run and you run some more. This continues through the night with only two very short naps (maybe an hour each) and not nearly enough food. And when the dawn finally breaks through, you can't help but to wonder, for just a moment, exactly why you are doing this. Or more accurately, how you are going to do this last segment.
That was exactly what I was thinking as I stood in the chute ready to take the baton from my teammate and head out on my final segment of the race.

I like a challenge. If you know me, you know this. But, I have never in my life had to dig as deep as I had to dig on November 21st at 1:55 pm. Never. I've been tired before, so tired I thought I could just curl up in whatever spot I was in and sleep for days. I've been hungry before. I mean, the kind of hunger where you're own hand starts to look kind of tasty. I have certainly had my body ache and scream at me. My body has said things to me that would make a sailor blush. I have never experienced all three at once, at top intensity. I will tell you, it was not the most awesome I have ever felt.

So, I took the baton and I did the only thing I could do. I ran. One foot in front of the other, one step after another, focused on the person in front of me, the person I had to pass. The distance between us shrank with every footfall. I passed her and I kept running. It hurt, it was hard, but I kept moving. Running, running, running. And then, I fell. I stepped in a hole and the pain shot through my whole leg from the toes to the top. My knees buckled as I fell like a tree, a solid mass colliding with the ground. My face hit the dirt and my nose pushed halfway up to my forehead. I sucked in air and my eyes filled with tears. The tears poured over onto my cheeks mixing with the dirt and the blackness dripped onto the grass. The pain was throbbing and radiating. I couldn't breathe and if there had been food in my stomach, I would have puked. I stared down at the black puddle in front of me and watched another black teardrop fall from my nose and join the others. The blackness inside me: my worst enemy and my biggest motivator, my heckler and my coach. I run because it makes me and I run to get rid of it. I closed my eyes really tight, took a slow deep breath, glanced back and saw the form of the girl in the distance behind me. I reached deep down into my soul to dig out the last ounce of anything I might have inside, and I stood up. Oh God, it hurt. It hurt so very, very bad. But, I did the only thing you can ever do when things get tough. I started moving, I looked to the horizon and I started heading that direction. At first, just a limp, then a walk, and finally a jog. The wind pounded me in the face, taking every opportunity to beat the ever-loving crap out of what little spirit I had left. The terrain was merciless with its ups and downs. Monsters were reaching out of the ground and stabbing my ankle with every single step. The sun taunted and teased me determined to melt away any hope of finishing. I stared at the horizon and my jog became a run.

"One foot in front of the other.... Run with perseverance.... One foot in front of the other.... Run with perseverance...." The mantra rolled through my head over and over. The cadence of my feet carried an awkward off-beat shuffle sound. My mind became a void and my breathing matched the beat of my heart, a breakneck race to see which would max out first. And then I saw the sign. One mile to go. I glanced back. No one in sight. I tucked my chin and I pushed even harder. As I rounded the last bend, I saw my team hands in the air waving and screaming like a bunch of idiots and my whole body felt them pulling me forward. I handed off the baton, squatted down and let the tears fall. This time, they weren't black.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Peaceful Power-- Lessons in SELF from the ocean.

I stood, coffee in hand, on the 24th floor balcony overlooking the Gulf of Mexico. The waves marched in like lines of soldiers bravely moving forward to battle, faces a mix of stoic purpose and confused resignation. The seagulls floated on air pockets, neither still nor moving; a rather strange mix of moving stillness, really. How is that even possible? The breeze nipped at the tiny hairs on my neck and sent a shiver down my back. The ocean was all I could see, miles and miles and miles of ocean. An expanse so incredibly huge I cannot even fathom the distance or volume or power. And then, me- a teensy, tinsy little spec. A mere dust particle in comparison.

Talk about perspective. I couldn't make even the tiniest wave stop it's purposeful march to the shore, no matter how hard I tried. Even if I mustered every single ounce of strength from every single muscle fiber in my body, I couldn't float on an air pocket. I couldn't achieve that perfect mix and create stillness in motion like the birds. Every brain cell in my head working at full capacity, can't understand the magnitude of this view; I can't comprehend how all of this works so perfectly with such ease. The birds don't fret about whether or not they will catch the next air pocket or if the laws of physics will suddenly change and they will crash to the ground. The mollusks don't worry about which direction the current is carrying them and whether or not they will like this new location. How can you be so purposeful? How can you know so well your place in life that you allow it to just happen as it will? How can I be so self centered as to think anything or anyone should revolve around me? Or that I am so powerful that I can fight the natural course of life in my pursuit of anything?

I stood on that balcony and I had to fight every muscle fiber in my body. I wanted to jump so badly. Not because I wanted to die or anything crazy like that. But because I wanted to feel it. I wanted to float on an air pocket, I wanted to just let the current carry me wherever it goes. I wanted to resign and just let life happen and see what comes of it. I fight too much. I struggle and fret and wrestle, and I think it's too much. I need to learn to create change like the ocean, with poise and purpose but also resignation, humility and flexibility. Oceans change shorelines-- slowly, methodically. The ocean can't stop the magnetic pull of the moon or fight the resultant monsoons from volcanoes on the other side of the world. Nope. The ocean creates change silently and gracefully. It works with what it is given. It stays at the task day in and day out understanding that despite the challenge presented on any given day, it must continue its march to the shore creating great change without great commotion.

Hmmm. That's something to think about....