I’ve recently had a bit of a set back with my half marathon training. During a run over Easter I became aware of a sharp pain in my right Achilles. While I finished the run I knew that something wasn’t right. After a couple of visits to the osteopath and a few weeks of rest I am now, thankfully, back on track. While I’ve lost some fitness I’m hopeful that I will be able to get through the half marathon, which is now only two weeks away.
Last weekend I called in to my local running shop to buy some carbohydrate gels to try out over the next few weeks. While chatting to the manager of the shop he happened to mention that he had recently completed the Marathon des Sables in Morocco. I had recently heard about this race, a 6-day 242km endurance race, known as the ‘toughest footrace on earth’, so I knew what an incredible achievement this was. The Marathon des Sables is the equivalent of five and a half marathons, run in the Sahara Desert over sand dunes and rocky ground in temperatures of up to 50 degrees celcius. If that’s not difficult enough, participants must carry all their own provisions (except a tent), including food, clothes, medical supplies and sleeping bag and prepare all their own meals. It was a thrill to meet somebody who had just completed it!
I found myself absolutely enthralled as I listened to him speak about his experience. I hung on every word and couldn’t help but ask question after question. He said it was the hardest thing he has ever done but he spoke so enthusiastically about having finished and he keenly showed me photos. I have always been fascinated and inspired by people who push themselves to the very outer limits of human endurance. It can be tempting to dismiss such athletes as completely crazy but I think it’s too easy to do this. Perhaps they are an uncomfortable reminder that we may not be stretching ourselves, whether mentally, physically or both, in our own lives.
I cannot imagine ever contemplating participating in an event such as the Marathon des Sables, however, I think people who push the outer limits of human endurance can serve as inspiration to us all to push ourselves towards our own outer limits, whatever they may be. I came away from the conversation feeling, more inspired, more focused and more determined than ever to complete my half marathon. It was just the spark of inspiration I needed to help me lace up my running shoes again.
(Photograph from Marathon des Sables website)
While watching Brene Brown’s recent Ted Talk, ‘Listening To Shame’, I was struck by a quote that she shared. She said -
There’s a great quote that saved me this past year by Theodore Roosevelt. A lot of people refer to it as the “Man in the Arena” quote. And it goes like this: “It is not the critic who counts. It is not the man who sits and points out how the doer of deeds could have done things better and how he falls and stumbles. The credit goes to the man in the arena whose face is marred with dust and blood and sweat. But when he’s in the arena, at best he wins, and at worst he loses, but when he fails, when he loses, he does so daring greatly.”
I must confess that the thought of being in the arena terrifies me. I have, however, started to put myself out there in a small way in one area of my life – running. While I will never even come close to running competitively, my half marathon training is giving me a new found appreciation for those who do. How it is humanly possible for anyone to run a marathon (42.195km) in 2 hours 15 minutes and 25 seconds, as Paula Radcliffe did when she set the current world record for women at the London Marathon in 2003, I will never know. Before I started running I didn’t really appreciate just how extraordinary this is. I couldn’t. I knew that Paula’s record was impressive but her actual time really didn’t mean all much to me. To run a marathon this quickly, you would need to run each and every kilometre in roughly 3 minutes and 10 seconds. The fastest I have ever managed to run one kilometre, running as fast as I possibly can, is 4 minutes and 15 seconds. I can’t even run one kilometre at the speed Paula runs 42 consecutive kilometres! While I still have no comprehension of how she did it, I do have a better appreciation of just what an extraordinary feat it is. Just as I have a better appreciation of all runners, no matter their level or speed.
Theodore Roosevelt’s quote reminds me that it is all too easy to sit on the sidelines commenting on and expressing opinions about those who put themselves out there, in whichever arena, large or small, without really having an appreciation of what’s involved.
My mother recently gave me a book called ‘Your True Home – The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh’. It is a lovely little book that is calming to read; calming even just to hold in my hands. I have been dipping into it this evening and I wanted to share the following insight.
“All of us are only human, and we have wrong perceptions everyday. Our spouse or partner is also subject to wrong perceptions, so we must help each other to see more clearly and more deeply. We should not trust our perceptions too much – that is something the Buddha taught. “Are you sure of your perceptions?” he asked us. I urge you to write this phrase down on a card and put it up on the wall of your room: “Are you sure of your perceptions?”
There is a river of perceptions in you. You should sit down on the bank of this river and contemplate your perceptions. Most of our perceptions, the Buddha said, are false. Are you sure of your perceptions? This questions is addressed to you. It is a bell of mindfulness.”
Fast forward twelve hours… No sooner had I typed this passage, I knocked a glass of water all over the keypad of my laptop. Argh, so much for calm and mindfulness!! My laptop proceeded to turn itself on and off over the next few hours before finally going completely quiet. Not a good sign. I have an appointment with a technician at the Apple store tonight so I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed that the situation can be salvaged.
Waking up this morning I remembered the words I had typed out moments before my peaceful evening was ruined. Last night my perception of events was that this was a complete and utter disaster. Today, however, with the help of Thich Nhat Hanh’s words I can see that, even though it’s still incredibly annoying, potentially very expensive and confronting to realise how reliant I now am on technology, it’s actually an annoying mishap as opposed to a complete disaster. It is only a machine after all. A very useful, helpful and pretty machine but a machine just the same.
Lately, I have been dipping into, and loving, Marcus Aurelius’ ‘Meditations’. What a treasure trove of insights and reflections on life and humanity. I wanted to share the following excerpt -
“One sort of person, when he has done a kindness to another, is quick to chalk up the return due to him. A second is not so quick in that way, but even so he privately thinks of the other as his debtor, and is well aware of what he has done. A third sort is in a way not even conscious of his action, but is like the vine which has produced grapes and looks for nothing else once it has borne its own fruit. A horse that has raced, a dog that has tracked, a bee that has made honey, and a man that has done good – none of these knows what they have done, but they pass on to the next action, just as the vine passes on to bear grapes again in due season.”
(‘Meditations’ – Marcus Aurelius)
This morning I received an email from a friend who thought I would enjoy this video. I loved it! It was a lovely start to my day. I hope you enjoy it too.
On May 2, 2011, the Copenhagen Philharmonic amazed commuters at the Copenhagen Central Train Station, as they created a kind of orchestral “flash mob” – performing Ravel’s famed Bolero, with the musicians gradually assembling in place as the work progresses. The video – which shows not only the assembling orchestra, but also the delighted faces of the commuters – has generated overwhelming interest, and indeed has exceeded the orchestra’s expectations.
(text from Classical Archives)
“Smile, breathe and go slowly” (Thich Nhat Hanh).
I love these words. They are so simple and yet to me they say so much. After a week that has seemed too full, too frenetic and the days too short, I have been left feeling slightly on edge, sort of ‘jangled’ is how I can best describe it. It’s as though I don’t have enough space, enough time, as if everything is starting to close in around me. Thich Nhat Hanh’s words have been the perfect reminder this weekend to be kind and gentle with myself, to smile inwardly and to simply stop and breathe.
Thinking about these words, I realise that they may also help me avoid falling into a familiar pattern that has, on too many occasions, led me to make decisions that weren’t right for me. I have a tendency to be overly self-critical, to try to change the way I am in order to fit more easily into a world that values ‘success’, decisiveness and action; a world that is overly impressed with money and achievement. I tend to resist my soft and sensitive nature and have often felt a great sense of urgency to get on with something, anything, in order to be seen to be doing something worthy with my life. In turn this has led to much inner tension and anxiety and I have made rash decisions based on the values and expectations of others. This, of course, has only increased my anxiety as I’ve found myself doing things that don’t resonate with me.
Ever so slowly I am beginning to accept that slowing down and being gentle with myself, whether through meditation, connecting with nature, cooking and enjoying a healthy meal, or spending the afternoon reading on the couch, help me come back to myself. The me that sits patiently underneath the endless chatter and anxieties that swirl around in my mind. As much as I might wish it were otherwise, going at my own slower pace can help me tap into the things that truly resonate with me and to try to accept that it’s ok not to know exactly where I’m headed right now but to enjoy the moment nevertheless.
About six years ago during a health retreat I heard a sweet story which reminds us to pay attention to what’s really important in life. I think of it every now and again and it makes me smile. I wanted to share it here.
The Mayonnaise Jar and the Pot of Tea
When things in your life seem almost too much to handle, when twenty four hours in a day are just not enough, remember the mayonnaise jar and the pot of tea!
A professor stood before his philosophy class and laid out some items on a table. Wordlessly he picked up a very large and empty mayonnaise jar and proceeded to fill it with golf balls. He then asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. He then picked up a box of pebbles and poured them into the jar. He shook the jar lightly so that the pebbles rolled into the open areas between the golf balls. Again he asked the students if the jar was full. They agreed that it was. The professor then picked up a box of sand and poured it into the jar, the sand filling the space between the golf balls and the pebbles. He asked once more if the jar was full. The students responded with a unanimous ‘yes!’. Finally the professor produced a pot of tea from under the table and poured the entire contents into the jar, effectively filling the empty space between the sand. The students laughed.
“Now,” said the professor as the laughter subsided, “I want you to recognise that this jar represents your life. The golf balls are the important things – your family, your children, your health, your friends, your passions. Things that if everything else was lost and only they remained your life would still be full. The pebbles are the other things that matter like your job, your house, and your car (if you have one!). The sand is everything else. The small stuff.”
“If you put the sand into the jar first,” he continued, “there is no room for the pebbles or the golf balls. The same goes for life. If you spend all your time and energy on the small stuff, you will never have room for the things that are important to you. Pay attention to the things that are critical to your happiness. Play with your children. Take time to exercise, eat well and look after your health. Take your partner out to dinner. Play another 18 holes. There will always be time to clean the house and fix the disposal. Take care of the golf balls first, the things that really matter. Set your priorities. The rest is just sand.”
One of the students raised his hand to ask what the tea represented. The professor smiled and responded, “I’m glad you asked. It just goes to show that no matter how full your life may seem, there’s always room to share a pot of tea with a friend.”
“Nothing in the world is as soft and yielding as water. Yet for dissolving the hard and inflexible, nothing can surpass it. The soft overcomes the hard; the gentle overcomes the rigid. This is a paradox: what is soft is strong.”
(Lao-Tzu – Tao Te Ching)
I thought I would ease my way into the blogging world by sharing one of my favourite quotes. It reminds me that so much in life is not simply what it appears to be; of the strength I often forget I possess; and to stay open and receptive to different ideas, perspectives and people.
Does it speak to you?
I am so excited and grateful to have this little corner of the world to explore and share ideas, whether my own or others’, about health, happiness and living well. I do hope you stop by from time to time!