Running the Spiritual Path

It's when I can't run that I think about my ability to run. Because when I can run, I tend to take it for granted. Like many things, running takes time, investment, training, focus, passion. It must be nurtured and sustained to remain purposeful and meaningful. Yet, because it's been present in my life for almost 30 years now, I don't think about how amazing it is that I am able to run. It is simply part of the fabric of my life.

I thought about this sentiment lately, because there is so much in the day-to-day that becomes invisible, lost in the ambient (and often very busy) conditions of life, infused in the everyday, invisible because of redundancy or familiarity. I think sometimes about how amazing it would be if every now and then, we could color-code our lives at will, so that all the invisible-becoming-things that start to fade from our vision suddenly show up in bright, popping colors. Then perhaps all the novel and new things that tend to take our attention, along with the urgent things that need immediate attention and fill our vision whether we want them to or not, might recede back into gray and stop taking up so much mental and visual space. Wouldn't that be neat. But wouldn't you know it. We have to filter what we see--and make sense of it--through our own eyes and ways of seeing. Shucks. That is so much harder.

When I am running, I think about life. When I think about life, I consider gratitude. When I consider (and deeply feel) gratitude, I think about spirit.

Of course, it doesn't all happen quite like that.

Anatomy of a Run

Pre-run: I should go running. But I'm so (pressed for time, stressed, tired, fill in blank). Just go, you know you'll feel better. But it's (raining, snowing, icy, hot, dark, fill in blank). Go anyway.

In the fullness of life, often the hardest part of the run is actually getting out the door.

Mile 1: I am outside.
I notice only the most immediate smells, the feel of being outdoors, the sensations that come with stepping into a different environment. I think: It is (cold, hot, muggy, fill in blank). My head is full of chaotic, indecipherable noise. Work thoughts. Motherhood thoughts. Jonah thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Fears. Worries. It's all there, a jumble of knots in my mind. I feel ungrounded.

Mile 2-3: Getting warm.
As I get older, it takes longer and longer to feel warmed up. During the first few miles, I think things like this: I'm stiff. Why does that hurt. Why am I running. I must be crazy. Once past the sheer physical immediacy of starting a run, the noise in my mind starts to subside, and it begins to coalesce into separate and discrete thoughts and ideas.

Mile 3-4: Warm.
I no longer feel or notice the physicality of my environment, nor do I feel the physicality of my own body. Instead, I get lost in thought. I consider each thought, turn it over a bit, and either store it away or let it go. The letting go part has taken 30 years of running to nurture.

Mile 5 and beyond: NOW I am running.
It only took five miles to get here. Ha!

But I am not the same person I was when I stepped out the door.

What exists is NOW.
This moment.
Nothing more, nothing less.

All I know is NOW.

  1. I notice my breath.
  2. I take time to realize: I am alive. (Not just alive, but colorfully, beautifully, amazingly alive.)
  3. I can hear/feel my heart beating.
  4. I hear, see and smell things that I didn't notice earlier, when the mental noise was in the way: the wind and how it sounds different moment to moment; the abundance of living things around me, evident in countless visible and audible clues, even in winter; the light and the quality of its particular sheen this day, this moment; the nuances of scent surrounding me and changing as my legs take me through different places.
  5. I realize that suddenly, I can see.

I have found a way to create my own color-coding and way to make the invisible-becoming-things visible again.

I've learned over time that seeing clearly and seeking to live a grounded life aren't things to attain; rather, they are things to strive toward, with mindful choices and actions.

Grounding myself is cyclic. I am constantly grounded and ungrounded. Sometimes within seconds or minutes, sometimes from day to day, sometimes from year to year. Each day I find that I ground myself in countless large and small ways, and each day, I unground myself in small and large ways. At the end of the day/month/year, sometimes the balance is shifted one way or another, and regardless of where that balance falls, I am still seeking.

Running has taught me this very simple fact:

The act of seeking, searching and striving IS what grounds my life.

For me, running is far more than part of a healthy lifestyle. It is the centralizing place, a haven, upon which I recalibrate, reground, rejuvenate, and reevaluate. In doing so, I hope to reenter the world a more mindful, discerning, thoughtful person.

Running provides a foundation upon which I can step outside of myself to feel gratitude for things beyond me: God, spirit, nature, beauty, the mystifying abundance of things to notice, if one is but looking.

And as always, I live by the personal adage: "The brighter the running shoes, the better the run."

What grounds you?

(Delightfully Squishy) Experiments: Absorb and Expand


Who knew.

These little orbs of fun start out about 1mm in diameter. They are hard and opaque. With a little bit of water, they grow to about 200-300 times their original size.

Once grown, they...

  1. feel delightfully squishy
  2. become transparent
  3. bounce!

After learning the words "expand" and "absorb" in Jonah's Kindergarten class, we decided to do some experimenting.

  1. Order bag of 4,000 Orbeez!
  2. First, Jonah decided to share a teaspoon with each of his classmates (Jonah wrote his classmates' names on little baggies and took them to school to share.)
  3. Then, at home, use a a whole tablespoon of Orbeez and a large bowl to see what happens when Orbeez hang around in water overnight.
  4. Squish, play, touch, and watch them grow.
  5. Refrain from eating.
  6. Throw in a few dimes to show scale.
  7. Watch as they absorb the water and expand!
  8. Submerge in more water and go to sleep.
  9. Refrain from eating (they look sort of delicious.)
  10. Fill up Orbeez lamp.
  11. Watch the colors change.
  12. Fall asleep.

When we are done playing with them, we will save them in an airtight container. They will eventually go into our garden, where they will provide moisture and aeration to the soil.

Non-toxic. Biodegradable. 100% fun.

"What if this room was made of glass..."

"...and I could see the stars."

(Over and over again, I learn the same lesson: that reality and perspective are entirely dependent on how we choose to shape them. Lately, the best lens to see clearly is my son.)

It's been one of those weeks.

Jonah was gone for four days, Friday through Monday. Usually when he returns, it takes him some time to adjust. He attaches himself to me, I bump into him when I turn around, he follows me from room to room, I have to peel him off of me when it's time to go to sleep. The transitions are getting more seamless as he gets older, but they are still hard--for him, for me.

He returned so tired.

I could see it in the way his eyes look, lacking luster, a bit heavy. Still Jonah, still happy, but...just tired.

I think sometimes about how, without any say, he is simply uprooted from all that he knows, spends several days in unfamiliar places, then plops back into the rhythm of life here, which never stopped moving. But he is not exactly the same kid. He brings back with him that period of experiential knowledge, along with an array of interactions, influences, experiences that--just like the ones he has day-to-day here--shape him in some way. I feel helpless not having a context to truly make sense of it. It is a disorienting feeling.

I wonder sometimes how that must feel to him.

I wonder when he will say, "I want the rhythms of my life to be determined by me." Someday he will say that in his own way and act upon it.

Running running running...

I've been running running running this week, early mornings to late evenings, for so many reasons. I'd like to say that I've been literally running, as the pavement pounded and the miles conquered always feed my soul. I rarely miss a day of running. But...alas, no. Each day, Jonah has been a sleepy boy--impossible to wake. This week has been a string of chaotic mornings, trying to get up and out. I felt rushed, frazzled, tired. At the same time, I was trying to wake and get a sleeping child up and at 'em. Perhaps later, it will seem comical: I brought him downstairs. He fell back asleep. I took him to the living room and went to get something. He fell back asleep. I put him back on the bed for a bit while I showered. He was snoring, deeply asleep, when I got back. And so I had to start the wake-up-Jonah process over and over again.

Lying for awhile with Jonah tonight, sentiments of this nature were sticking in my head:

--I looked in the mirror and found a long, long white hair sticking out of my head.

--I squeezed out some time to make it to the gym, but forgot my running shoes.

--I lost my computer charger.

--I found my computer charger.

--I lost it again. I found it again (yes, I did that twice this week!)

--I thought about meals to cook but couldn't find time to cook them.

--We had Cheez-its for breakfast one morning (I am giving myself permission not to feel awful about that!).

--I lost my keys.

--I lost my flash drive.

--I forgot my teaching binder on the day I was teaching.

--I found my keys, I found my drive.

--I never found the minutes I lost looking for those things.

I lose things when there are too many things in my mind, fighting for space.

I am tired.

I got exasperated that he was active, silly, unable to settle, with eyes wide open and percolating questions. His eyes looked tired, but his mind and body were awake. After awhile, he turned to lie on his back and started whispering to himself. Initially exasperated, I listened for a moment, and then I asked him what he was saying. Jonah--sweet Jonah--turned his head toward me, blinked those incredibly long lashes at me a few times, looked back up toward the ceiling, and he said,

"I was thinking, what if this room was made of glass, and I could see the stars..."

When he said "room" he made a sweeping gesture with his arms, and I could imagine the whole room made of glass. In that moment, I saw the world as Jonah saw it, vividly.

A glass room.

Endless stars.

With that gesture, all the impatience and exasperation of this week simply melted away. Instead, I felt a rush of very different thoughts. I remembered them in vivid images, like this:

--A moment of conversation with the amazing Tom Doyle, during which a fleeting but beautiful full rainbow serendipitously appeared over the Howard Street Bridge.

--Coming home to the warmth and heavenly scent of a woodfire, built by Jonah and Dug to await my arrival home.

--The quality of light today, when the sunshine sparkled brighter than it has in awhile, and Jonah whipped off his hat in the backseat to say, "This sun is making me hot!"

--The synergy of a classroom full of thinking souls, teachers-to-be, engaged in meaningful conversation.

--The scent of citrus and ginger that captured my senses, and made me wonder where it was coming from.

In sharing a magical moment of clarity with Jonah, I therefore have a better perspective on...everything.

What a week it's been.

He is finally asleep. At 10:00pm. I hope he is still seeing stars.

On Mothering: From Solo Parent to Family

I miss Jonah. That's all there is to it. A yearning, visceral, achy sort of missing.

His absence takes up as much space as his presence when he is here.

When he is gone, the quietness feels loud, the space feels huge, the moments feel still. Yesterday on the phone when I asked him what his nose-horn says, there was a pause (and I could imagine him pinching his nose) and then he said, "I miss my Umma very badly, I miss my Umma very badly."

While remembering Jonah and missing him, I found these pictures. They exemplify his insatiable curiosity and capacity to live with beautiful intensity (hilarious how with Jonah, living intensely always includes huge messes!).

From Solo Parent... For 5 years, Jonah has only ever known a household with one parent. Me. He has never seen modeled within this household what it means for a mother and father or other parent figure to collaborate, love, and parent together. We built a rhythm of life, just the two of us. The depth of his dependency and need was, at times, terrifying. As he grew, the depth of my love and need to keep him safe was equally terrifying. As the years passed, I wondered when he would begin to notice his friends' families and start asking questions. He never did. What I realized over time is that kids are phenomenally malleable. Beautifully, amazingly, incredibly so.

After starting life as a sub-3lb premie, fighting his way through 49 days in the neonatal intensive care unit, and being shuttled from home to home his entire life, I am amazed at the grounded, empathic, joyful child Jonah is and continues to become.

It's funny how the moments of life blur into nonexistence, and looking back, it's easier to encapsulate life into kid-chunks (Jonah's infancy, the year he became mobile (!!!life, forever changed!!!), his start in preschool, his change to Kindergarten).

(I have to remind myself sometimes to remember and encapsulate my life in grown-up-chunks too (topic for a future post!)

Yet in the moments of living, the details are what matter: what was said in the moment; the reciprocity of a touch, a word, a gesture; the wind on one's face; the backdrop of smells and sounds.

I often think about how so many memories created now, he won't even remember. Over time, I started to believe more and more fervently that memories lost become instead an irrevocable part of one's being, intangible but palpable. They are invisible but evident in the thousands of choices my child makes and the actions he chooses to take every. single. day.

I know now that the quality of my responses in tiny moments matters far more than I ever think they do in the moments they are happening. The collective of those responses and choices IS parenting. It's why parenting is so damn hard. Mothers (and other caregivers) shape a child's way of being in the world, most particularly and importantly, in relation to other human beings. What an incredibly daunting task.

There have been times when the sheer responsibility of shaping and teaching this beautiful child overwhelms me. What I've learned over time as well, is that within many moments of being mindful and patient, I fail. I fail in small ways and huge ways. While I might once have anguished over those moments, I have learned to give myself permission to fail and permission to let them go.

I know that the collective goodness of my mothering still drives his direction and mine. Now that Jonah is old enough to express his thoughts in speaking and bring to life his imagination in drawing, I see tangible manifestations of my influence on him. I tell myself and know in my heart that if I can imagine holding the collective of my choices, responses, and actions in relation to Jonah, it would look--overall--grounded and harmonious. I try not to focus on the little bits of disharmony.

I step back. Family. Lately this house has been full of love. I have been a parent alone. It was a rewarding yet lonely task.

Until now.

Dug is now part of this family. He has seamlessly become part of the fabric of my life and Jonah's, and Jonah is living, observing and emulating what it means to be selfless, to be honest, to have integrity. I am watching daily a love story unfold between man and child. Me, I am living it.

The nested shape I just posted used to make me feel like the ovoid was floating slowly up and away.

Now when I look at it, it appears to be settling into place.

Nesting Shapes

Lately I am drawn to nested shapes. They give me a sense of being held, floating indefinitely, safe, but not settled--yet.

Collections (as seen through Jonah's eyes)

During the spring and summer of 2013, Jonah, Dug and I invested countless hours cultivating our love of gardening. Every morning was spent wandering the yard and garden, noticing the growth of flowers and vegetables, and picking them as they ripened. As autumn approached, I realized that Jonah had become--over the months of carefully looking in our yard as we sought new growth, vegetables to pick, and seeds as they formed--a discerning and careful observer of natural (and unnatural!) things. Throughout his days at home and school, he began to pick up the things he noticed, and at the end of each day, we emptied his pockets to look at his newest collection. Always accompanying each collection was an elaborate story: a remembrance of place, smells, and people that created the context for his findings. For me, it was a chance to gain a glimpse into his day, to hear a story grounded by an artifact, and pay attention to his interpretations of what he noticed that day.

Often, after emptying his pockets, he sorted the items, so the pictures you see here are his arrangements. Imagine my delight when he pulled out his collection of googly eyes and sequins!

Collections (as seen through my eyes)

While meandering through my days, I have run into, stepped on, and knocked over some strange things underfoot in odd places. I am delighted at the most unexpected times by evidence of Jonah's flights of fancy, explorations with materials, scientific experiments and careful installations. Somehow, they simply appear. Usually by the time I see them, Jonah is long gone, immersed elsewhere in something new. They happen in small moments, between reading books together, while I am cooking, when I am in the other room.

To me, they are evidence of a creative mind, tangible manifestations of the things I cannot see. I am reminded of how complex and rich his world is, and how every moment that he lives, he is building experiential knowledge that will further inform his next creation. The moments and creations are ephemeral, yet they are also powerful evidence of countless stories and realities that make up the moments of Jonah's living. In these collections, I see evidence of a playful, inquisitive mind, and his creations bring to life the stories that live in his imagination.

Sometimes when I pause to ponder what he might have been thinking, I am reminded of how much children live richly, loudly, beautifully in the present. As an adult with often muddled thoughts that crisscross between my past and ponderings for the future, these little gifts left by Jonah are a stark reminder to live a little more deeply, mindfully, in the present.

Jonah has a fascination with light and rainbows: what they are, how they are created, why they create color. Shortly after learning about prisms and how they bend light, Jonah put together this collection of reflective items and carefully arranged them to reflect light.

As summer ended and evenings became cooler, we started building fires in the outdoor brick fireplace in the backyard. To help start the fires, we established a routine of searching for kindling. Jonah stacked a few loose bricks and created this beautiful, artful piece!