Limbo

I was having wine with a couple of my besties last night, just talking about life. We all had news since we last visited, life goes on and on and on. After updating us on all the developments in her extended family life, one friend stated, “we’re just in limbo right now.” I thought about my life and all the events and developments that have accumulated since last I shared with my friends, I’m in limbo, too. Aren’t we all, though? Aren’t we always? Always waiting for the next step; to grow up, the party, Christmas, the right person, summer vacation, the house, the proposal, the raise, the baby to arrive, the end of the school year, the settlement, the promotion, vacation, the kids to go to school, the crisis to end, graduation, the divorce to be final, the economy to recover, the equity in the house to grow, the diagnosis, the kids to go to college, retirement, the cure, death. Life is constant transition, always in waiting, always in limbo. The only certain resolution to being in a state of limbo is death. As long as we are alive, we are in limbo in some respect or another. Perhaps several.

Interestingly, if you look up limbo in Wikipedia, the first result is the theological reference, based on the Latin word “limbus”, meaning the edge or boundary. Of hell. Often, in life, finding ourselves in a state of limbo equates to a hellish experience, does it not?

Transitioning from one phase in life to another, from one circumstance to the next, from a situation to another situation, from one problem to a resolution and on to the next problem, this is really what life is made of. And to live happily along the way, not hellishly. Like walking, one foot in front of the other, repeat, repeat, repeat and if we stop, we are no longer walking. Are we walking towards hell or are we walking happily?

I used to love to go to the roller skating rink on the weekends. There was nothing I didn’t love; free skate, races, couples skate, reverse skate, the red light/green light game. My very favorite, though, was the limbo game. I was good at it, I could bend way down low and glide right under the bamboo stick even at the lowest setting. There was a trick to winning limbo on roller skates; you needed good forward motion, you had to be flexible, have a good sense of balance, and a certain amount of strength, and courage. You had to have the courage to try again and again as the bamboo pole was lowered, inch by inch, turn by turn.  All of this was accomplished with lots and lots of practice, week after week.

Is limbo, in life, really any different than limbo at the roller skating rink? I don’t think so. And since we are in a constant state of limbo, in life, doesn’t it make sense to approach it happily, like a game, instead of like the verge of hell?

To win at limbo at the roller rink, first of all, you need to be skating. Forward. You need to be in motion, to have momentum. So, too, in life. To make progress in one phase and move onto the next, you need to be in motion, to be moving forward, with momentum. With intention. With deliberation. Nothing ever gets better that stays the same. Motion is critical, in life, in limbo.

Skating under a bamboo pole, set at increasingly lower intervals, is tricky. In addition to actually moving forward, you need to be flexible enough to crouch under the pole. So, too, in life, when we’re in limbo, we need to have significant flexibility. To change, to evolve, to progress, to move, from one set of circumstances on to the desired set of circumstances almost always requires some sort of compromise, some sort of change of plans. The more flexible we are, the more adaptable we are, the more creative we are, the easier it is to find a workable solution to anything we encounter. Rigidity, inflexibility and stubbornness usually result in a lack of progress, stalemate, delay, anger, and frustration. Openness, a willingness to consider a number of possible solutions will often get us through limbo more successfully.

Strength and balance, both, are crucial to successfully skating beneath that bamboo pole. As well in life. We need to have the strength to see things through, no matter how difficult. We must have balance, the ability to focus on the right things, at the right time, to make the desired progress.  Those who fell as they tried to skate beneath the pole lacked either strength, or balance, or both. Those who falter in life often lack the strength and balance to progress as desired.

Life, like limbo, requires courage. Life is not for the meek, the timid or the weak at heart. Without courage, life is merely an existence. To face and overcome obstacles, challenges, and problems, to achieve goals and realize our dreams, to evolve into the people we deserve to be, requires a great deal of courage. Daily, we must face our fears and press on, lest we remain in limbo, never realizing anything close to our potential, always existing on the edge, the verge, the boundary.

And none of this is possible without practice. No one ever gets everything right, in fact, we almost always get it wrong a few times before we do get it right. The first time you roller skate towards the limbo pole, you’re probably going to fall, or knock the pole off the stand, how sad to give up then and there. Play the next round and the next and the next until you develop the skill to skate beneath the pole. With each and every obstacle in life that puts us in limbo, we need to approach it, and if needed, approach it again and again, until we figure out how to get past it. With each success will come a new challenge, and with practice, each challenge will become easier to skate under! With practice, we develop the right motion, the balance, the strength and the courage to succeed, in the game and in life.

So lace up your skates and enjoy your day at the rink and when you hear the limbo song begin, get ready to play!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let Me Slip Into Something More Uncomfortable

Comfort, we think of this as a good thing, something we desire, something we seek. We look for comfort in clothes, shoes, beds, chairs, couches, cars, climate, friendships, relationships, our income and standard of living. I have a hard time thinking of a place we wouldn’t desire comfort. And, yet, comfort can be the enemy. I’ll explain.

There seems to be a fine line between comfortable and too comfortable, in life. When we are comfortable, everything is going well, or well enough. Often, once we’re comfortable, we slip into a state of “too comfortable”, which is stagnation, or even complacency. This is where we fall into a danger zone.

Complacency and stagnation imply a lack of concern, a staleness, an absence of movement. Yet, the world continues to move at a very rapid pace all around us. We may soon fall behind if we do not pay close attention. This can jeopardize our career, our fitness and health, and our relationships.

Career wise, think of the job skills and the technical skills that are necessary to be competitive now compared to ten years ago. Compared to twenty years ago. I know people who were “comfortable”, career wise, twenty years ago and became stagnant and complacent. As technology advanced, they clung to their comfortable ways, and in so doing, became less than competitive and unmarketable in their careers.

In our fitness and health realm, becoming comfortable can be very detrimental to our long-term health. While we are young and our metabolisms match our young, hearty and often unwise eating habits, all is well. As we become older and our metabolisms slow, we begin to accumulate extra pounds. Often, as our career and family interests and demands increase, our activity level decreases, yet our food intake does not, and the problem worsens. Soon, we are “too busy” with life to imagine how we’ll ever fit exercise and healthful food preparation into our schedules. We won’t, unless we make the effort. But, I have to ask this, if you don’t have time for fitness and healthful food preparation now, how in the world are you going to be able to manage illness or disease with your “too busy” schedule? That is often the consequence.

Comfort in relationships is also desirable, but once it becomes stagnation or complacency, the relationship is doomed to unhappiness or demise unless corrective measures are taken. Relationships, successful, enduring relationships, take as much effort and energy as an effective fitness program. Relationships involve two people, each of whom are growing and changing, learning and advancing, with time. It is important to always be focused on those changes and how they impact the relationship. It is important to allow the relationship to evolve along with the changes, the evolution of the parties involved. If a relationship is comfortable, stagnant, or complacent, and doesn’t evolve as the people do, it will suffer and become strained. A certain level of consciousness should be paid to your relationship, as much or more as you pay to your personal and career advances.

To grow, to change, to evolve, to advance, we need to get uncomfortable. Metaphorically speaking, and in reality, if we are sitting in our recliner every night, veg’ing out in from of the television, it is very hard to foster meaningful change. Heck, it’s hard just to stand up again. We will never accomplish anything greater by repeating the same, ordinary behavior over and over. To accomplish anything greater, we need to do something greater, and this is usually something that will be, at first, uncomfortable. One of my favorite home workout videos is Jillian Michaels’ Yoga Meltdown. She is quoted in one particularly tough section as “get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

John Assaraf , author, lecturer and entrepreneur posted this on Facebook “I find that so many people nod their heads and say yes ‘I want this or that’ but when it comes down to really doing what it takes to do ‘this or that’ another part of their personality kicks in. It’s the ‘I’m too comfortable’ doing what I am doing right now part of their unconscious that kicks in and they allow their old comfortable self to rule and keep them away from the possibilities of a better future. To succeed beyond where you are, you must be willing to do what you aren’t comfortable doing for enough time so it becomes easy.”

I have shared some of my challenging experiences in the past, experiences where I had to get uncomfortable to progress in a direction that was necessary for me to go. In my current job, I teach groups of professionals how to use any of several accounting and auditing softwares. I must speak for eight hours at a time, standing, in front of an often unenthusiastic audience. I was never one for ANY kind of public speaking, I was once even shy speaking to professionals one on one. This job came to me at a time when my family was in great financial need. I took the job and overcame my limitation out of desperation in order to keep a roof over our head for a few more months. As you know, this job requires a great deal of air travel and when I took this job I was a very nervous flyer. I overcame that nervousness out of necessity. I have also told of my decision to begin running in an effort to overcome another self-imposed limitation I’ve harbored for many years. I became comfortable with running out a desire to challenge myself personally. We can change in any manner we seek by putting ourselves in situations where we are uncomfortable, this fosters growth and evolution, builds self-confidence and self-esteem

I truly believe we can do anything, that we can overcome any self-imposed limitation we choose, but, to do so we must do that which makes us uncomfortable. We have to push ourselves to change and to evolve. An immovable object will not just begin moving without some force to dislodge it. We are often that immovable object. We are also the dislodging force if we desire it. Dislodge yourself from complacency and stagnation. Slip into something a little more uncomfortable.

I challenge you to slip into something a little more uncomfortable. Take a moment or two and figure out something, however minor, however major, you’d like to accomplish. Assign a timeframe to it. Let’s do this together! Tell me what you want to accomplish that makes you a little (or a lot) uncomfortable) and I’ll tell you what my new challenge is. Push-ups make me uncomfortable. I can do about one. I want to be able to do more. I remember a young lady in my son’s fifth grade class who could drop and do 100 push-ups. I want to be able to do THAT, but it’s very uncomfortable, for me! I know this is no major, life altering ability, but, to me, it is. I have always had inferior upper body strength, a limitation, perhaps even a self-imposed limitation. Just to prove that limitations, of any sort, can be overcome, I am going to work towards being able to do one hundred push-ups, non-stop, one year from now. We’ll round down to June 1st to make it easier to remember. By June 1, 2014, I will post a video of me doing 100 push-ups, non-stop. How uncomfortable! What’s your challenge?! Let’s all slip into something uncomfortable!

Hittin’ My Stride

In an effort to evolve into a more healthful person and in an effort to challenge myself to do something I’ve never done before, never thought I could do, I took up running, just about a year ago. I ran my first half marathon in October 2012 and have signed up for my first full marathon in December of 2013.

While living in Sacramento, I trained with a large, local running group (SacFit) on the recommendation of a friend I’d gone to high school with in Napa. There were over 500 members in this well organized group. We ran in groups according to our “pace”, how many minutes it takes to run a mile. Each pace group had at least three coaches who provided us with advice and recommendations. We run two abreast in groups of twelve, or so. The coaches time our run/walk intervals, set the pace, remind us to drink and to fuel. There are dozens of pace groups running up and down the bike trail that parallels the American River every Saturday morning. This is how it’s done. I often mused that we must look like the armed forces in training, minus carrying our rifles, as we ran in tight formation up and down the trail. Our training was all according to a carefully designed and proven plan to help us meet our goals, finish our races at our pace, and avoid injury in the process. It was perfectly regimented and I like that.

My life is pretty haphazard, I travel often for work so I’m in different time zones all the time. Even when I work from home, I’m often working with clients in different time zones. My life lacks routine in many, many respects. So, I seek routine and regiment in a few areas of my life just for some semblance of normalcy, like a touchstone. My workout routine is one, my writing is another, running another. For those who know me, they know, when I decide I’m doing something, I do it. Relentlessly, according to plan and to a very regimented schedule.

Routine is good, as long as we build some goals into the plan and strive to improve. In running, I started with a goal in mind; I wanted to finish a half marathon and I’d like to run faster than I walk. I can walk at four miles an hour for extended periods of time (like twelve hours, if necessary, carrying a backpack, up and down mountains). When I first started with the Sacramento running group, I was placed in a pace group based on a one mile trial run. Now, my one-mile trial run was the first time I’d run, at all, in, well, since like junior high. I took it easy, even though my cardiovascular fitness level was really quite good. The first pace group I was with nearly made me crazy. I could’ve walked faster. I promoted myself once, then again, and found a comfortable pace with some great coaches at 13:00. I trained at this pace for the full season leading up to the half marathon, which I ran at 12:00 sort of against my plan. I stumbled upon a pace setter amidst the sea of runners who was timing and calling for routine run/walk intervals. I just ran with him at a pace a full minute faster than I’d been training at for the last four months. But I did it, for 13.1 miles, proving to myself that I could run faster if I only tried. I totally surprised myself.

The next season, I promoted myself to the 12:00 pace group and was quite comfortable with that. I was challenged on some of the “race pace” runs, but probably more because I only run on weekends, and sometimes I miss a few weekends in between. In other words, unlike most “runners” who run multiple times a week, I sometimes only run once every three to five weeks. Meanwhile, that marathon looms ahead. My ultimate goal is to run a 10:30 and “qualify” for “ultra-marathon” running. This seems a distant and somewhat unlikely goal, but I’ve put it out there and I’m working towards it. Sort of. I haven’t run in weeks. And now I’ve moved an hour and a half away from Sacramento and my early Saturday running group. I need to find a routine.

When I go to the gym and do cardio, I have a routine I favor, certain machines, certain resistance settings, certain times, I even have a preferred order. In yoga, I like the routines, the sun salutations, the balance moves, the strength moves, the relaxation moves. Zumba, crossfit, body sculpt and barre classes all offer the same basic routine, warm up, work out, cool down. This I find soothing and centering. Running has been the same, very regimented, very routinized. Warm up, run at a certain pace for five minutes, walk for one, run for five, walk for one. Drink water every walk break. Fuel (eat) every forty-five minutes. Very regimented, very routinized.

Until today.

Today, after poking around online, I found a running club here in Napa. I thought I’d try them out, they were on both Facebook and MeetUp. There wasn’t anything in their information about pace groups or anything, so I was a little unsure, but I thought it would be worth checking out before I re-enlist and pay my $100 for another season with the Sacramento running group. At the price of free, it was, at least within my budget. No one is going to pay me to run, so free works.

It was a perfect morning in the Napa Valley as I drove to the local running store where we were to meet. The sun was shining, it was warm, and though it was pretty early, for a Saturday in a town where people drink a lot of wine, people were out walking and jogging and cycling. There were folks walking their dogs, couples pushing strollers and the limousines were all gassing up at the gas station, preparing for their extended journeys from winery to winery to winery to winery to winery. I was taking all this in, the serenity, the peacefulness. I saw a small herd of deer in a field in front of an old Victorian home. One of them was defecating. Illusion shattered, back to reality.

The Napa club is run (no pun intended) by a man at the local running store. I was greeted warmly and introduced to people as they arrived. I signed the hold harmless release and was briefed on how the run would go. There were options to run 3, 4, 5, 6 or 10 miles. I was thinking 10, but those folks met and left earlier. I settled on 5 miles. I asked about pace and there seemed to be no real concern about it. When I said I ran at a 12:00 minute mile pace I was introduced to a couple and told I should run with them. Okay, cool. I looked around at the group of runners, probably about twelve in all, and no one had a hydration pack, like mine, no one even had water bottles. Nothing. I dismissed this observation, I figured they’d pick them up on the way out, or something. Soon, we headed out the door and BAM! We were running. We were running really, really fast. Around the corner, down the street, over the bridge. These people just fucking run! I asked the woman I’d been told to run with what run/walk intervals she ran. She looked a little confused. “Oh, I just walk for a bit after a couple miles or so, it just depends.” Just fucking run. So I did. I ran and, after a few blocks I thought I might die. I was winded and we hadn’t even hit the upgrade yet. In Napa, there are a few more hills than Sacramento. I’m sort of a flat lander as a runner. I can hike mountains all day long, running, I only know flat. After we crested our first (pretty wimpy) upgrade, I took stock of myself and I was okay. My breathing rate had settled, my heart rate seemed under control again. I’d hit my stride. I felt like I could sustain this pace for a while, which we did. And by we, I mean me and the woman I was told to run with, and her significant other. And it was only his second time running. Ever. The rest of the group were mere dots on the crest of the next hill. Just fucking running. We ran for two and a half miles and walked for about three seconds at the turn around point, then ran two and a half miles back to our starting point. And I was fine, even carrying the extra six pounds of water and fuel in my hydration pack. I consider that my handicap, like weighting race horses to compensate for the differences in the weights of the jockeys. My handicap was a six-pound hydration pack. And I just fucking ran. I ran a sustained pace of 10:30 for five miles, without walk breaks every five minutes. I just fucking ran and I met a goal I thought was distant and unlikely just a few hours ago. I hit my stride.

This lesson can be applied to so much more in life than just running. Setting a goal, the bigger the better, distant and unlikely, then working towards it. Often, in working towards goals, we tackle them in a routine and regimented fashion. Whether a career goal, an academic goal, a fitness goal, a health goal, a relationship goal, we work steadily towards it. Sometimes, though, it may be to our benefit push ourselves a little harder, a little faster, maybe a little sooner than we think we’re ready for. We may surprise ourselves. In other words, just fucking run with it and you may find your goal is much more easily met than you ever imagined. Twice now I have surprised myself with my running pace; my first half marathon pace and my running pace today. I know, now, more than ever, I can do anything if I just fucking run with it.

When you think you’ve hit your stride, in whatever goal you’re pursuing, I challenge you, like I challenged myself today, take it up a notch. You can do anything, and you can probably do it faster, sooner, better than you give yourself credit for. Routine is great, but every now and then, just fucking run and hit a new stride.

 

Like the Vine

Consider the grapevine of the wine-producing sort. When you drive past a vineyard in a wine region, you usually notice the neat, straight rows. The vines are sometimes trellised so they stretch out along a wire, others are not, growing unsupported, depending on the variety. Vineyards always appear neat, tidy, geometrical, pristine. Sometimes you see many people in the vineyards tending to the care of the vines. It would seem that the vines needs are looked after in every respect; the soil, water, nutrients, there are fans and heaters and sprinklers and all sorts of things to keep the vines warm when it is too cold and cool when it is too warm. Many measures are taken, depending on the practices of each vintner, against pests, from tiny bugs, to birds, to deer, to passing, hungry motorists. They actually record the temperature in the different vineyards many times throughout each and every day to calculate out necessary information for optimal care of the vines. At first blush, it seems that vines are pampered much like star athletes. Some varieties of grapes come from vines that require many years of establishment before ever producing a single piece of fruit. Consider the investment involved.

I had the good fortune to take a walking tour through a vineyard this past weekend as part of a special “Earth Day” event. As we strolled along, viewing different “blocks” of vineyards, our tour guide described many of the different practices used in growing vines that produce wine grapes. I was at Hess Winery in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, a series of steep hills with harsher soil conditions and cooler weather conditions than other wine districts in this famous region. Because Mt. Veeder is cooler than other districts, and because the soil is composed mostly of limestone, with a thin layer of topsoil over it, the vines here are in a constant “struggle”. Only certain varieties can even endure this district’s climate. And this, it was explained to us, is good. Vines that struggle will produce better fruit than those that do not. Whether a vine has to struggle to derive nutrients from the soil or to overcome a streak of unusually warm weather, the results are usually for the better, ultimately. Struggle, to a degree, is good, if you’re a grapevine.

An Effort to Evolve

I began to contemplate this some after about my third tasting, of six, following the vineyard walk. I’m glad I decided to taste wine after the walk and not before! As I thought about the vines and their struggles, I translated that to people and their struggles. Are we not very similar to grapevines? People who struggle usually grow in ways that are both unexpected and beneficial, in the long run.

It is unreasonable to expect that every growing year, for a grapevine, will be perfect. There are likely to be conditions that will cause the vine to stress out a bit and to struggle. It could be a late season frost, or an early, warmer than usual spring, a cooler fall, a colder winter, too much rain, or too little rain. No two years are ever going to be exactly alike in any wine district, in any wine region. This explains the distinct differences in wines between regions and years, or vintages.

It is also unreasonable to expect that life is always going to be a cakewalk for us. We are all going to struggle with something at some point in time. If you haven’t, brace yourself. I know, I know, I know; I’m the “positive mental attitude” and “law of attraction” preacher. And I am here to tell you, that my life was as perfect as I could imagine and going my way, 100%, for a very long time. It was pretty easy to be positive. Occasionally, I would look over my shoulder, though, because I couldn’t believe how well things were going, for so long. Not perfect, of course, I was making compromises, but things were really, really good, overall. And, even while practicing and preaching PMA and the law of attraction and even visualization, my entire world collapsed. Talk about struggle.

For quite a while, as my world completely shattered all around me, only my immediate family and my closest, closest friends knew what was happening. For everyone else, it was business as usual. Yes, I was struggling, but because I was so positive, because I believed in the law of attraction, I knew I would grow tremendously from the struggles I endured. Only occasionally did my faith waiver, only rarely did I despair, and only in private, and only for a moment. Then I set myself straight, and just went on.

As more and more of my friends and acquaintances became aware of the turmoil that had occurred, the struggles endured, by me and my kids, teenagers at the time, the more often I heard “I don’t know how you just keep going”. I didn’t know how to NOT keep going. I was driven, my kids were driven. It was just a struggle and we were going to get through it. As more and more friends found out about our situation, and looked on in awe, I realized that we had become invincible because of our struggle. We had always been tough, stoic, strong, stubborn even, the three of us. What we endured in the past several years, to some, would be a nightmare beyond fathom. Ok, it was. We lost everything. But all the while, we went about our work, school, myriad volunteer activities, we never had an excuse, we never quit, we showed up for everything, worked hard, and we excelled at everything we endeavored, we smiled, joked, laughed, lived. And we grew; better, I think, than if everything had gone perfectly as they had all those years prior. My son became an Eagle Scout, my daughter held a state office in the California International Order of Rainbow for Girls and I took on a new job that required learning pubic speaking and also required an enormous amount of travel, two things I never considered an ability prior to this “struggle”.

Our story is not unique. I’m sure, in light of the past several years of economic turmoil, you can think of a family, perhaps displaced from their home or from their jobs, who through those struggles actually found a new lease on life. Perhaps a more suitable lifestyle, perhaps the rare chance to start over with a career, to finally do something they only ever dreamed of doing. The vine bore better fruit as a result of the struggle. Of course, there are those who just sat there in despair, being the victim, languishing and desperate. Those grapes became bitter fruit because they did not respond to the struggle in an appropriate fashion.

I guarantee that no successful person in the history of the world ever made it to success without some significant struggle along the way. It is not possible to truly succeed without having struggled. The greater the success, I promise, the greater the struggle.

Do not be afraid when you are met with a situation you must struggle against; health, money, relationships. Just remember the vines, growing on the steep, limestone hillside in the Mt. Veeder district of the Napa Valley, remember that occasionally they struggle beyond just their difficult rooting in the rocky soil, in a climate cooler than the rest of the valley, where there is far less water. As a result, the fruit becomes sweeter, and the wine is divine! You will be, too. Learn to use struggle as a catalyst for growth and you will succeed, like the vine.