"There are things you can’t reach. But You can reach out to them, and all day long. The wind, the bird flying away. The idea of god. And it can keep you busy as anything else, and happier. I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around As though with your arms open.” ~ Mary OliverSometimes we do things that we only understand, or notice for what it was even then, in retrospect. For instance, you buy a book about something you have no intention of doing just because you feel like reading about it.
Sometimes something pops into your head for just an instant. You dismiss it as "Just thinking about ______", or some other mental waving of a dismissive hand. But does it stay there? Does it leave a mark? Did you smile, even for an instant, when you thought it? Have you let something in the door? Is it too late to keep it out?
Sometimes it's important to pay attention to those little thoughts and action, signs perhaps, or at least note them, because they often reveal things to us that our rational mind is too afraid to accept. If you actually do notice them, it might be because they deserve your attention.
Some years ago, probably 2012, I bought a training book about ultra running simply because I felt like reading it. As a coach I read all kinds of training books simply for my own edification. I read books I agree with and I read books I disagree with. I had no interest in running an ultra, and certainly not a 100, I just wanted to read it, even though it was a training book. I remember reading about the training for longer ultras and thinking "There's no way I could do that." The very thought was preposterous.
Your husband may ask, upon seeing what you're reading, "Oh. So are you going to run an ultra now?"
"No, no. I can't do that. Just reading."
Fast forward to 2016 and I am 7 days away from my second 100 miler. Add to that a spring training season that even a year ago I never could have fathomed:
Beginning with the Phoenix Marathon...
...followed by the Monument Valley 50k...
...followed by the Boston Marathon...
...followed by the Collegiate Peaks Trail Run 25.7...
...ending the training cycle a week later with the Colfax Marathon.
All this from late February to early May. If you had told me the first time I read that training book that I would be doing what I'm doing now I would probably have called you fairly crazy, and at the same time, my past self might be strangely intrigued by the idea.
There are things that people suggest to me, that I know I have zero interest in. When I started swimming, and then swimming a lot, people immediately suggested that I try a triathlon. Without a second thought I said, "I don't think so". When I finished my first 100 last year I got lots of comments like "Now you can do an IM" (I won't even comment on the comparison implied there since I've never done an IM, but they are not necessarily comparable). But, these well meaning suggestions never effect me because it's not what I want.
But if I look at MY supposedly innocent thoughts and actions, the ones that I dismiss as just that, meaningless thoughts and actions with no consequence beyond their existence, then I can see the continuity of self thread through my life. I find myself more able to take special note of certain thoughts that actually grab me a little tighter.
As a coach, athletes often ask me for direction when they are feeling at sea with no shore in sight. This happens to many, especially after reaching a big goal. Which way to go now? It's all so vast out there. What should I do now? I see so many people out there doing x, y, and z. Should I be doing x, y, and z??? While I know many coaches offer suggestions, I try very hard to listen for a long time before I say anything. I can usually see signs of something brewing with an athlete, but I must hold my tongue. Too much static and noise prevents us from hearing ourselves - Too much facebook, Instagram, run club blather, etc. Get away from the noise and pay attention.
The answer is in each of us, but we are nervous about making these choices on our own. Instead we look to someone we trust, or someone we believe has more knowledge or understanding or experience to help us. But the person we must trust the most is our own selves. Jean Paul Sartre argued that we tend to seek advice from the people who we believe will give us the answers we already know we want to hear and want to choose. But we are nervous about trusting ourselves and taking the responsibility for those choices. If I take advice from someone else I can always blame them if everything goes off the rails. If I take my own advice I have no one to blame but me. I want the out in case I need it. But this is never the path to authentic choice. Paying special attention to the things we say to ourselves and others, the little seemingly inconsequential things we do, can help us tap into these deeper desires, even in spite of ourselves.
And while we may choose to see what we ultimately want to see, it's getting down to that authentic wanting that is hard, especially when it concerns scary things in a world of noise and clutter and distraction. The signs we choose to see are our souls speaking to us. Be careful what you push away in hast. Something you may call 'just thinking' is never just thinking if it gains any hold on you. 'Just thinking' is you being open to what is possible, with your arms open,
Now. To get my head around what is before me in a week, both terrifying and life giving. What will be will be, but the choice is what matters. What happens after that is just part of the ongoing story.
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