Ups and Downs

I signed up for a half marathon this coming weekend. I hesitated, but finally just did it. Why the hesitation? The course is hilly. Running uphill is hard, and running downhill is jarring. One cannot become a better runner, and we should always be striving to become better, if we don’t overcome our challenges. Or at least attempt to!

If we aren’t improving, we are falling behind. This is true for running, and for all things in life. We are meant to continually seek to improve in every facet of our lives in order to fulfill our potential. It’s this constant drive to grow, learn, and improve that helps us discover our passions, our potential, and our joy.

I went for a hike yesterday, and it was hilly. There were other challenges, like the heat, which made the hills far more intense than normal, for me. I made it back to the car no worse for the wear, and am proud of my accomplishment.

Scarlette Begonia

In hiking and in running, there will always be ups and downs. And, for every up, there is a down, for every down, there is an up. You cannot get back to the car, or home, or whatever your place of origin, without experiencing equal ups and downs.

Life has its ups and downs, too, and while perhaps not quite as equal as in running and hiking, they do tend to cycle fairly regularly, both in short periods of time, say within a single day, or over an extended period, say, oh, life. In life, we can’t simply decide not to register for the race because there are ups and downs, they are there and they must be dealt with. While running up a hill, sure, I can tell myself it isn’t there, try to trick myself, but my legs still work harder, my breath comes faster, my heart pounds harder. The hill is real and nothing I can do will make it go away, that is where the race course has led me.

Interestingly, in hiking and in running, and other pursuits, it is at the very top of the hill and the very bottom of the valley, that we often discover the most amazing views, the most awesome features. Life is not dissimilar, it is in the challenges and the triumphs, the highs and the lows, the ups and the downs, that we find the most growth and reward.

Don’t be afraid of the race, don’t shy away from the hills. Ups and downs are part of the course. Ups and downs are part of life. The more we practice, the better we become at meeting and conquering the challenge. Race on.

I’m Religious

Religion – a definition:

: the belief in a god or in a group of gods
: an organized system of beliefs, ceremonies, and rules used to worship a god or a group of gods
: an interest, a belief, or an activity that is very important to a person or group
: a personal set or institutionalized system of religious attitudes, beliefs, and practices

“Religious”, then, being the practice or adoption of a religion. Most church-going folk, then, are considered “religious” if only because of the fact they devote some portion of their time, usually on a weekend, to attend a church service. Whether church-going folk are actually practicing their religion is a whole other story. They could be, many do. Some don’t, and the only religion they practice is the exercise of going to church to be in the midst of those more technically religious than they are. Like the holiness, righteousness and salvation of the god-fearing will rub off on the non-god-fearing church attenders. There is a difference between being religious, then, and being virtuous and faithful to one’s chosen god. My point. But I digress a bit.

So, by the same standard, then, there are folks who don’t attend some church building on a routine basis who are religious in the god-fearing, worshipping, virtuous and faithful way. The act of routinely visiting some building with hundreds of other “believers” does not, then, make one saved. The non-church-going god worshippers are also religious in their belief and practices surrounding their chosen methods of worship of the god they have faith in.

In common, everyday, language, some people refer to a set of secular practices, performed regularly and with a certain amount of devotion as being “religious”. Even godless, non-church-going folk may do some activity “religiously”.  Pagans.

So, then, I contend that someone can be “religious” whether they go to church, or not, and whether they actually believe in and worship some god, or not. When we say we do something “religiously”, we mean that we believe in and practice in some way, something we feel strongly about. We are devoted. I know folks who are religious about watching certain television shows. I am acquainted with people who are religious about swearing and using profanity. I have friends who are religious about adopting stray cats. And, not unlike the god-worshipping devotees, the religious, though some of them may beg to differ, we are imperfect, always, in our practice. Whether god-fearing, church going, or not, we are all sinners, however “religious” we may be.

I am religious.

Non-secularly; I am a believer in and worshipper of some higher power. So I have a belief and a practice. Of sorts. I like to think I live a fairly virtuous life, and may even “qualify” by some standards for an “after-life” or “eternal salvation”. I won’t get into details beyond that. But, aside from worship, godly powers and eternal salvation, I am religious. I have many secular, pagan, beliefs and practices that I follow regularly, that I am devoted and faithful to.

I eat clean. I buy organic, sustainably grown, locally grown, fairly traded and humanely treated food. I buy food as close to its natural state as possible. I not only read ingredients, I try to figure out just how many processes an item of food has undergone before I put it in my basket. The fewer the better. I avoid additives and unnecessary processes, I avoid unnecessary packaging and other practices I feel are detrimental to the environment, my health, or the purity of the product. About this, I am religious. It is a belief and a practice that I embrace, daily, that I am devoted to and follow faithfully. But, I do sin. I am imperfect. Occasionally, I eat crap, a Double-Double at In-N-Out, just because, or I eat M&M’s on a long drive to keep awake and alive. In my travels, I often have to eat in restaurants where I can only hope the food is a fraction as wholesome, unprocessed and pure as I’d like. My sin, my imperfection, however, does not in any way negate my belief and my practice. I don’t just stop believing and practicing eating clean because I sin now and then, by choice or out of necessity.

I exercise. I believe in, and practice, vigorous exercise on a regular basis. Daily would be my preference. I run, I do cardio at the gym, I do strength training, I practice yoga, I attend spin class, and I lead an active lifestyle beyond just my exercise regime. I am religious about exercise. But I am imperfect. I am slender, but still carry extra weight in a few “trouble spots”. I lack the desired muscle tone in other places. And I sin. It is humanly impossible to work out absolutely everyday. And there are those days, too, where I just don’t wanna. My sin and imperfection as a religious exerciser does not mean I am any less a believer in the virtues of exercise in my life. That I sometimes just don’t want to exercise some day or another does not mean I have abandoned the practice. I am still religious about it.

I meditate. I am religious about it. I believe and practice meditation. Not nearly as much, or as regularly, as I’d like. It is a newer belief and practice and I am still trying to integrate it into my “daily routine”. Like clean eating and regular, vigorous, exercise, I believe that meditation offers many benefits for health and wellness and general happiness.

On another note, I’m pretty religious about craft beer, red wine, and ice cream, perhaps a little more religious in my practice than I should be. Hallelujah! Praise the lord! Amen! Pass the offering plate!

I read. I write. I pray. I work really, really, really, hard. I post lots of food pictures to Facebook. All things I am fanatically religious about. All that, and my “daily routine”. I am religious about my “daily routine”. I make lists to help me accomplish all that I hope to in my “daily routine”, but, without fail, the routine is never completed, on any, one, day. Ever. I am imperfect, a sinner. Do I give up on my “daily routine”? No. I believe in it and practice it and it will never be complete or perfect. But it is still good, and I still try. What I don’t accomplish one day, I may the next, and I am better for it, just like clean eating, regular, vigorous exercise and meditating.

My lunch. See?
My lunch. See?

My point. Whatever your religion, whatever you believe in and practice, you cannot, will not, no matter what, ever be perfect and sin-free. Don’t ever abandon your belief and practice of something you find worthwhile because you stray. Be religious and you shall find salvation!

Hallelujah! Amen!

 

 

 

Strength and Balance

What does strength have to do with balance? Everything!

Try this; looking straight ahead, standing, draw one foot up so you are standing on the other foot. Don’t hold onto anything for support. Now count. How long can you hold it without touching the floor with your other foot or without grabbing onto something for balance?

If you practice yoga or Pilates or do a significant amount of core strength exercises, I’m sure you were able to balance on one foot for quite a while longer than you were able to before your practice. Yoga, Pilates and core strength exercises build the strength, the core strength we need, to simply balance.

Elderly people that you see wobbling and tottering about as they walk through the grocery store have lost a lot of that core strength required to help them keep their balance. This is why elderly people are so prone to falling. For those of you who practice yoga, Pilates or core strength training, just how many elderly people do you see in your classes? Few, if any. And for those few, I’m guessing they stand more solidly and walk with more stability than those who don’t.

When was the last time you walked on a curb in a parking lot like you would a balance beam in gymnastics? Not since you were a kid? I do. I do, every time I am met with the opportunity. I will even do so carrying a grocery bag, or two, and my ridiculously large purse. Balance is very important, now, and as we grow older. And balance requires significant core strength.

When did I come to realize this? No one ever told me that balance was improved with improved core strength. I found out when I went on my first ten-day backpacking trip as part of the leadership team for a Boy Scout adventure. I was cardiovascularly fit enough to go on the trip, even though I was dangerously close to the upper weight limit for a woman my height and age.

I hiked and backpacked with the group who would be participating in this great adventure to gain experience and to be comfortable with the group and with my equipment. On one training hike, we decided to camp overnight just on the other side of a stream. There was no bridge, and so, to get to the other side of the stream, we had to leap a few feet, just further than we could step. The first man leapt easily across with his full pack strapped to his back. The next man just as easily. And the next. I was the only woman. I stepped up onto the rock we were to leap from, with my full pack strapped to my back. I could feel that I was losing my balance and I frantically waved my arms in an attempt to regain it. I fell, pack first, and was wedged in the most embarrassing position possible, between two large boulders. It took three men to right me. I was relieved of my pack and I managed to leap across the cold, fast moving water. Almost. Luckily I had waterproof boots on. I was the charter member of what I called “the turtle club”. Anyone who fell for any reason on any trek thereafter joined me in membership. We have three members.

With the training hikes behind me, the actual ten-day backpacking adventure was upon us. I was a bit nervous. Really nervous. We hiked nearly seventy five miles in those ten days. It was a particularly wet, rainy summer in New Mexico and the creeks and streams were all full. Many of the trails we needed to traverse crossed cold, swift water. Sometimes multiple times. On one very rainy day, in a very steep canyon, we crossed on stream thirty eight times. To cross the streams, there were “bridges” that were crafted from a single, split log somewhere between six and twelve inches wide. With all the rain, these log bridges were incredibly slippery, in spite of the hashmarks hacked into the wood with an ax. I was a nervous wreck, but, somehow, guts, I think, in spite of my size and lack of core strength, I made it across all the log crossings without incident.

A couple of years later, I returned to New Mexico for another ten-day backpacking trek. I was even more cardiovascularly fit, and had trained primarily hiking up and down very steep hills. It was a much drier year, and there were very few slippery log water crossings, I was still nervous and felt incredibly at risk for falling, in spite of my improved physical condition. Luckily, again, no turtle club incident.

The third time I returned to New Mexico for a ten-day backpacking trip, I was at the extreme lower weight range for my age, gender and height. In addition to intense cardio training, I incorporated yoga and core strength training. Slippery log crossings and precarious leaps across voids presented no trouble whatsoever. I was in far better command of my balance. Primarily because of the strength training I incorporated, though I’m sure the significant loss of weight makes both strength training and balance an easier road to hoe.

Now, let’s talk about something other than backpacking and the turtle club. Balance. Not in the sense of standing on one foot without support, or tottering, wobbly elderly people, or crossing slippery log bridges over cold, raging creeks. What of balance in life?

Balance in life is, first of all, quite complex, and secondly, very personal, being unique to each of us for our own reasons and circumstances. But, in short, it is the ability to identify and focus on those things we consider important in our lives, afford them each their proper due, their proper energy and priority, and to be able to maintain that focus, energy and priority with shifting and changing circumstances. Like leaping across a creek with a full backpack strapped to your back or crossing a raging, cold creek on a skinny, slippery log, takes a great deal of strength, concentration and, well, guts.

How do we gain the inner strength to achieve balance in our lives? Believe it or not, yoga may again provide some help, but only in that it is a contemplative and meditative endeavor. Not just good for the body and for your core strength, but good for your mind and your mental strength.

The strength we need to achieve to become more balanced in life will first of all require us to exercise, much like we would to be able to balance on one foot unsupported or while walking along a curb or balance beam. We need to exercise self discovery, we need to exercise our ability to shift our focus with changes that occur in our lives, both short term and long term. We need to know what we stand for, before we can practice standing on, we need to know our own, personal core values in order to establish and adjust or focus, and to prioritize what’s important right now.

Like balancing in tree pose, life balance takes a great deal of regular practice and is something we are never truly perfect at. Why is yoga not an Olympic sport? There is no perfection, no perfect 10.0 score. Yoga is a personal journey, a practice. There is never a “perfect” in yoga, there is always room for improvement. The same is true with our practice in life balance, it is a very personal journey, and a continual process. The core values we have this year, may be different next year as circumstances in our lives change. Our ability to have clarity and focus to afford each core value it’s appropriate amount of energy is a practice that must be exercised constantly. Or lost. Like our ability to balance while walking on a curb in the parking lot at the grocery store, bags in hand.

My challenge to you, a double scoop of challenge. Acquire strength. Learn balance. Both physically and metaphorically. Find ways to practice both, regularly, if not daily, and I promise you, even in your golden years, you’ll be able to keep upright in the slipperiest of conditions, and you’ll have the inner peace and tranquility afforded only those few that know what balance in life is, and how to achieve it.

Namaste.