Reaching for Freedom

•January 11, 2012 • 5 Comments

My first catch on the Flying Trapeze... reaching for freedom

Today was a bucket list day.    For many years I have harbored a not-so-hidden secret desire to fly on the high trapeze.   Knowing it was not-so-hidden, my husband John gave me a gift certificate to the New York Trapeze school for Christmas…  and gulp, the not-so-hidden desire was plucked right into the realm of reality.    I knew that it was important to do this — and to do it now.  Not just because I have been intrigued to do it for a long time, and not just for the rush that I knew would come from it.  Some other yearning has been gnawing away at me wanting, but not quite able, to come into clearer view…   So, over the past few weeks I have been pondering what this flying thing is really all about.

Why now?   Well, this has been a time of struggle for me, these last six months or so.   It is hard to say it, so I want to lay it right on the table… I have been sad and isolated and feeling lost… grappling and battling with something illusive but deep inside.   I am getting older, and frankly not liking it very much.   I have lost my dear companions Revel and Puck.   I have lost my father and very recently my brother.  Life has seemed, well, hard.  In times when I get stuck in an almost despair-like sense of struggle and futility, I grapple between taking good care of myself and not treating myself well.  I notice that I am drawn to indulgences that are damaging to my heart and body and probably spirit, too.   This is not good for anyone, and especially for someone with heart disease.

All the while, the wiser observer inside watches…. “do you see yourself doing that?   Why is it that for someone who stands for life and realizing dreams and possibilities….  you are actually engaged in hurting yourself…. hmm.. why is that?”   The observer is often present — I notice that he doesn’t seem to intervene much… but rarely does he allow me the pleasure of indulging myself unconsciously.  That would be the downside of doing too much self-development.

Could it be that I don’t want to live?

Now, that is a strong question to pose.  It is an uncomfortable question to pose.  It is not palatable or even acceptable to say such a thing — especially if you are a ”be all you can be“ champion for human development.

It was confronting some months ago when I summoned more courage to ask myself this question more directly…. do I want to live or do I want to die?   The answer to that question was uncomfortably clear.  I want to live.  And, I want to die.  Wow….part of me wants to die…. wants to exit this life.   I notice that it is very hard to admit that truth.   I define myself as a champion for living… it is central to my work… it is how I usually strive to show up for others…. it is a process that is primary for me.   Wanting to die, however, is not — it is a part that feels dark, and shameful, and unacceptable…. not at all part of who I am.   Well, time to take a further look.

As I got more curious about that part, and summoned a bit more courage and a bit less pride… I needed to take a dive beneath the surface on my own well of grief.

(“Well of Grief”, David Whyte from ”Many Rivers Crossing“)

Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief

turning down to its black water
to the place that we can not breathe

will never know
the source from which we drink
the secret water cold and clear

nor find in the darkness
the small gold coins
thrown by those who wished for something else

And, in this exploration, sinking beneath the pressures of life’s entanglements, the black grief of loss of those I have loved, rage at the unfairness of so much around me, I let myself imagine how it might be to just let go… to let go and die.   Ahhh…. breath.   Breathing free…. In that death I discovered an ultimate sense of freedom.  That freedom that has no limits, where one becomes all, where there is no me and you or even an us.   I imagine death to be a returning back into whatever free and universal spirit is… boundless, timeless, just being.  To me, it is bliss.  It is like lying in the grass and becoming the sun and the trees and the sky.  It is the moment sitting on the lifeguard chair on the beach at night when I become the moon and the rippled water.   This is what I am after.

Varrooommm…. back to life, here and now.  What an insight — my deep desire is not for death, per se, but rather it is for freedom.   I have longed for a greater sense of freedom all my life.  Gratefully, I have many moments and periods of life when I experience freedom, and certainly growth over the years has brought me more degrees of freedom.  And yet, in recent times, that freedom has been illusive and the more prevalent experience has been suffering.

From the Wise Heart by Jack Kornfield:

Pain is physical, suffering is mental.  Suffering is due entirely to clinging or resisting.  It is a sign of our unwillingness to move, to flow with life. Although all life has pain, a wise life is free of suffering. A wise person is friendly with the inevitable and does not suffer. Pain they know but it does not break them. If they can, they do what is possible to restore balance.  If not, they let things take their course.  –Nisargadatta

What does all of this have to do with the Flying Trapeze and my fervent desire to join Cirque du Soleil?

After mentioning my upcoming trapeze lesson and nervous excitement to a dear teacher recently, she asked me to tell her about my earliest childhood dreams.   That was easy…  as a kid, I dreamt of many things but the one single-most common, vivid, and visceral dream was always, always, of flying.  There was a period of time when on some level I was convinced that I knew how to fly….not just knew about flying, or imagined vividly what it must be like — no, I KNEW how it felt to fly.   I remember clearly the effort it took to take off into flight… the subtle maneuvering that was necessary with the wind and pressure of the air on my skin… the more uncertain it felt if I flew at a too-high height…. the feeling of looking down on our house and farm, and of being able to steer my direction while in flight.   And at the heart of those dreams was a sense of being free and unencumbered.

As I thought about it, memories came back of the many ways that this theme has always been present.

  • I recalled the summer of 1968 when I was about 9 years old… and the giant oak tree at the end of the lane.   I had bugged my Dad to create a trapeze for me in that specific tree, and finally he agreed to do it.   This was not a swing like one you could sit on…. I wanted a TRAPEZE.   I spent hours practicing my swinging, hanging from my knees, then dropping dramatically to swing from my ankles… and launching into a somersault dismount.
  • After joining the swimming team a year or two later, I immediately knew that I was not supposed to be swimming, but rather diving…  and that became the next pursuit.   What I loved about springboard diving was the sense of flying through the air, either with outstretched arms like wings or curled into a spinning ball… but flying.
  • Sheepish though I may feel to reveal it… there was also the time that I jumped from the roof of our house, much to the horror of my Mother who was doing dishes below, as Mary Poppins… with full get-up of dress, shoes, carpet-bag, and umbrella with a carefully crafted parrot-handle.   I reached that umbrella up to the sky, leaned out, and flung myself from the roof of the house.  Although I mainly got very skinned knees, I suspect I may have been leaping once again for freedom.
  • To this day, my single-most visceral reference point for the feeling of freedom is figure skating on ice, which became my next pursuit as a teenager and young adult.   The most full spiritual expression of freedom that I know is that moment, gliding fast over clean ice in a darkened arena — the light reflecting off the ice… and of leaping from the ice in a long spinning jump…. or just reaching out and and feeling the air rush by me.

As I had this conversation and shared these memories with my teacher, the connection which seems so obvious came into deeper clarity for me.   I have often said that my purpose in life is to create more freedom — for myself and for others.  But as many times as I have said that, in a workshop or to students of mine — it has always felt a bit, well, cerebral.  A bit too rational.  A bit too-well-worded.   What I realized is that my desire for freedom, my own and yours, has always been at the center of my being.  I have strived to find freedom from the inside-out… with my body…. always,  in some way or another.

Realizing this, my Flying Trapeze lesson became much more meaningful.  As I drove today to the New York Trapeze School, I thought about what really this meant for me.   I thought about the suffering that I have been entangled in, and my desire to be free of it.  I thought about how meaning in life, and a sense of being free, is not dependent on the absence of pain, or loss, or strife.  Those are all a part of life.   The quest is for greater degrees of meaning and freedom in the midst of all that life offer to us, good or bad,  each and every day…. in fact in every moment.   I am not solid yet in my capacity to be in that experience much of the time, but I am becoming more clear that it is the quest that I am on — to build or reveal or discover or uncover that capacity.

Well, let’s just say that they don’t waste much time at the Trapeze School.   It is pretty much, ”OK, everyone ready?  Let’s go….“   At various moments, I noticed my fear and my trembling and my doubt… my concern that my arms would not have enough strength, or that I would fall the wrong way.  And in each of those moments I remembered why I was doing this.  I thought of the phrase ”reach out for freedom….“ and I connected with the yearning in my heart for that freedom.   I need to remember those moments, because I know that I am always choosing which way to lean…. toward freedom, or toward suffering.  I am always choosing which voice to listen to… the one who says things like ”you can’t…. you shouldn’t… there is no use….“ or the one who says “just do it…. lean in…. trust yourself…. trust others…. follow your desire….”

And so I flew….  from the bar… from my knees… and ultimately letting go of the bar and catching hold of the catcher and flying.   I left giddy with excitement and a great sense of YES.  More importantly, it gave me a boost to get unstuck and actually write this — I feel a greater sense of purpose and direction.  A new quest is emerging in me around this theme of freedom, and of what it means to be free and choose to live at the same time.

Buy Your Ticket to Bombay Today¡

•January 23, 2010 • 4 Comments


My dear colleague Dr. Okokon Udo and I have been thinking lately about what it is that pulls us forward in big steps toward the vision that we have for what we want to create in our lives. There are many things, we thing… but an important one is being willing to “buy your ticket to Bombay.” And so, that ‘s the topic of this installment of our collaborative writing effort.

We just bought another pair of tickets to Bombay for ourselves! We have set a series of events in motion that will pull us forward toward a joint vision we have, especially in the moments when we forget, when we don’t know how, and when we’re convinced it is impossible. That’s the point of buying tickets to Bombay.

W.H. Murray was a Scottish mountain climber, and a human being who knew a lot about creating something extraordinary from any circumstances. During World War II, he spent three years in prisoner-of-war camps in Germany, Italy, and Czechoslovakia. While imprisoned and using whatever scraps of paper he could find, he wrote the first draft of his book, Mountaineering in Scotland. After it was discovered and destroyed by the Gestapo, he responded by starting again in spite of being near starvation.

Most famously, in 1951 he climbed Mount Everest. Imagine the world in 1951, and the prospect of climbing Mount Everest! The path was not yet known, there was no such thing as Gore-Tex, and certainly no cell phone. It was a venture that seemed impossible, but that was part of a clear vision and dream. His famous quote is often missing what has become, to us, the most important starting line. Here is the quote in its entirety:

… but when I said that nothing had been done I erred in one important matter. We had definitely committed ourselves and were halfway out of our ruts. We had put down our passage money— booked a sailing to Bombay. This may sound too simple, but is great in consequence. Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents, meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamt would have come his way. I learned a deep respect for one of Goethe’s couplets:

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it!

True confessions. we’re often lazy.

We get scared and get convinced that we shouldn’t take risks.

Probably most significantly, we get anxious about our security and, well, comfort. We have learned that left purely to our own devices, we would often prefer to stay warm and cozy on the couch rather than venturing out into the snow storm. But, in our heart of hearts…. in that part of us that is most alive, vibrant, and connected… the truth is that we LIKE snow storms.
Our sense of what is potentially possible for us and the life that we want to live… the impact that we want to have… the fun, the adventure, the love, the intimacy, the challenge… has always been bigger than our current reality. For many years the dreams that we held inside and would barely dare to speak, too often remained just that — dreams. Too often, after not mustering the courage or chutzpah to take risks, our security and comfort, over time the dream would dim and fade, eventually dulling itself into a subtle regret.

Ugh. Sounds fun, doesn’t it?

Somewhere along the way, we learned about “booking our passage to Bombay.” One of those times for me was about 7 years ago when my good friend from Colombia, Sonia, said to me: “I want you to come teach a coaching course with me in Colombia….“ At the time, it seemed very far out of my comfort zone. I said to myself, “isn’t that where people were being
kidnapped? Shouldn’t I focus on clients in my own backyard?”
And yet, listening more deeply, I could hear the rumblings of desire – a longing to stretch himself, to go beyond what he thought he could do, and a gut-level sense of YES, this is right. And so, before planning the course, before knowing who would be there, before knowing whether or not I could afford it, before the doubts became too rigidly fixed in his head…. I called American Airlines and booked my ticket to
Bogotá.

As Murray says, in that moment providence moved too. In that instant my entire frame of reference shifted out of the space of doubt and fear within the context of I CANNOT DO THIS, to eager nervous excitement in the context of OH MY GOD IM GOING TO DO THIS.

For Okokon, it was almost eight years ago, when he finally decided to quit his secure executive non-profit job in search of a yet undefined call to finally commit to what his late father referred to as being an engineer of souls. At the time the pay and benefits were excellent, he was the primary breadwinner of his family at time when his wife had just completed graduate school and was without a job. The risks were extremely high at the same time that the conviction was strong. So he did what he normally would not do. With everything at stake including three young children to raise, acting on his coach’s searching question – “what are you afraid of?”, bought his ticket to an uncertain future as a coach, public speaker and consultant.

Today, I bought another ticket to Bombay. At 4:00 today (January 20), I dropped my application in the mailbox for admission to the Process Work Institute graduate program in Conflict Facilitation and Organizational Change. Okokon is also “buying this ticket to Bombay” —  his application is in process will follow in the mail soon….  (Hmmm…. Another lesson about how to pull ourselves forward toward an unreasonable vision is probably to align yourself with powerful allies — more on that in another blog!).

There are soooo many reasons for us to NOT do this.

  • We cannot afford it, and we don’t have the time.
  • We both have way too many academic credentials and do not need or want another one.
  • We promised our spouses that we would never go back to school.
  • We already know a bit about facilitating conflict. We could go on.

Those are all real. And yet…. if we listen more deeply, we can hear other rumblings. There is something I and my partner Sonia aspire to. We want to go directly to the most wounded segments of Colombian society — the parts that have been brutalized by the civil war, those who have wielded the weapons of violence, and those that have been victims.

Okokon on his part will be a cheerleading partner on my Colombia quest while responding to the call to lean into the ever present religious and ethnic conflicts in Nigeria and the divisive challenges and conflicts in Turkey. It feels scary even as he thinks about it but this is not a matter of whether he will but how soon he can get going. He first experienced the brutality humans unleashed on each other during a thirty month civil war and again during several brutal religious conflicts that claimed thousands of innocent lives. The goal is to get to the systemic causes of conflicts in the first place and help the different sides explore and find other ways. And, he can count on me as his cheerleading partner in Nigeria.

In all of these efforts, we want to find ways to create reconciliation where it seems impossible and bring forward the essential part of humanity however far beneath the surface it has been buried. From where we now stand, those feel like incredibly audacious and ridiculously uncomfortable thing to aspire to – it is way outside our comfort zones. We know, too, that left completely to our own devices, we most likely will shy away from taking bold action to make those dreams real.

We also know that if we put ourselves in the Process Work Institute program (which requires solid fieldwork) it will give us a structure that will absolutely make this work real, however much kicking and squirming we might do along the way. There is something powerful about listening deeply to our heart’s most unreasonable and audacious desire. To hear those rumblings and then ask ourselves: “What could I do that would pull me forward on this journey even when I want to back-out?” And then, on faith, buy your ticket to Bombay.

We know that when we “buy our ticket to Bombay” and it stems from that place of desire, it is an act of creation – and it feels so different from reacting to life’s circumstances. It feels to us like the distinction that Robert Fritz makes between creativity and problem-solving. He says: “There is a profound difference between problem solving and creating. Problem solving is taking action to have something go away – the problem. Creating is taking action to have something come into being – the creation. Most of us have been raised in a tradition of problem solving and have had little real exposure to the creative process.”   (Fritz, Robert 1989. The Path of Least Resistance, page 31).

There is a passage from the KJV translation of the New Testament which states that “faith is the evidence of things not seen” (Epistle to the Hebrews, chapter 11, verse 1). It is akin to Senge’s notion of “presencing” — of feeling into the future that is unfolding and giving it room to come into being. We want to become ever-more able to listen to the heartbeat of what our soul longs for — for the future that is eager and ripe to unfold if we will only allow it to do so.

And so, we ask YOU:

  • What are the rumblings in your soul that you can barely hear, that have you almost lose your breath if you dare to listen to them?
  • What would be YOUR ticket to Bombay? What would be the bold action that puts both of your feet solidly on the boat in a way that makes it much more difficult to turn back?
  • What do you know about audacious goals, and going after them?

With love and gratitude —- Art and Okokon

The Important Thing About Crossing the Finish Line

•July 23, 2009 • 7 Comments

What does it mean to “win?”

My teammate Denise promised that if I don’t redefine what winning means to me, she will slap me…. so, I’d better devote this last Blog entry to that very topic.

I enjoy winning and always have. I like to do things in which I have a good chance of shining and being successful. Truth is, I rather like the spotlight… and the accolades that come from performance. Often in life, I have avoided doing things… or have quit sports, hobbies, endeavors or professional pursuits when the competition became too intense or I thought I might not win. Generally, winning has meant finishing first, diving highest, performing the best jump on the ice, or making the most clever presentation — I love to shine bright. Actually, what I really like is to shine the brightest.

In the triathlon on Sunday….. after the open water ocean swim and the bike ride along the beaches of Falmouth…. I came to the final part which was a 3 mile run up and back a bike path along the water. Throughout the preparation for this event I have assumed and even joked that I would be somewhere bringing up the rear of the pack finishing the event — and that my intention was to take it as slowly as needed just to finish. That sounded like a good thing to say, and I didn’t really think I would be at the very rear. My assumption was that as a 50 year old, even with heart disease, I would go at a slow pace and that maybe I would finish in the last 10 or 20% of the group. Surely many of the people in their 60’s and 70’s would finish behind me. That would be respectable.

As I progressed, slowly, on the running part of the race, it began to dawn on me that there didn’t seem to be many people running behind me on the trail. I began to wonder “How many people are left behind me??”

As Denise joined me (sacrificing her own finish and doing most of the running part TWICE so she could join me) it hit me that, perhaps, I was actually one of the last people of the entire 650 or so people in the competition. It was at first really hard to let that sink in — I thought that it must be wrong.

After I made the turn at the half-way point and began to head back for the final mile, it became clear to me that I was not one of the last racers…. I was actually THE last racer. I was the person that was going to be the one coming in at the very end.

Initially, my heart absolutely sank with embarrassment and shame.

It was right about then that Denise said she was going to start slapping me, and I don’t think she was kidding. And then… one by one…. my team mates began to appear, having run out to join me and to finish the race with me…. John, Lina, Kerry, Chris, Vincent, Mary, Erica…. they began to run with me…. we laughed that I was like the President with his posse of secret service, because if I paused… they paused, and when I sped up… they sped up….

My Winning Team:  Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

My Winning Team: Denise, Chris, John, Lina, Art, Kerry, Erica

I could feel their tremendous joy in their own accomplishment, and even greater joy in cheering me on and sharing this last leg of the race with me. I know they knew that mixed with my laughter and exhilaration was sadness and embarrassment.

John's Brother Vincent

John's Brother Vincent

And then as the finish line came into view…. I heard the SHOUTS of my dear friend Sherman and his wife Leia. As anyone from his Co-Active Leadership community knows, there is no voice of heart-felt support quite like that of Sherman. And I realized what it meant to him to have traveled across the entire United States just to be here for THIS moment — this one moment of cheering ME on as I reached the finish line. I felt as humbled to my knees as I have ever felt in my life.

Oooohhhhh…… this isn’t about me. This was about THEM…. about bringing people together in a way that has the human spirit shine. About joining together in common pursuit of goals that seem out of reach, and supporting each other and cheering each other on, and celebrating each other’s success.

The true prize in this journey — the real WIN — was in the team that got created, the sharing of both the struggles and the victory — and in allowing others to give of themselves in big and heartfelt ways. The incredible satisfaction of witnessing that, and knowing that I had contributed to making it happen, far far far surpassed whatever satisfaction might have come from crossing the finish line with a faster “more respectable” time. That is how I define my victory in this event.

I remind myself why I started this Quest in the first place, six months ago…. I needed a structure to keep me accountable to getting into better physical shape. I wanted to lost some weight. Mainly, I wanted to see what I could learn from my heart disease, and what I could learn about shifting my lifestyle to a more healthy one.

Art and his sister Mary

Art and his sister Mary

Well…. I didn’t lose the weight I wanted (that will be my next venture) although I did get my fitness on track and have gotten into much better shape (…. and discovered the fun of boxing…).

But more importantly, I have learned these things:

…. Triathlons (and many journeys in life) are accomplished by taking them one milestone (and, literally, one step) at a time. The important thing is to begin it — to declare it and proclaim it, and to say “Yes, you can support me…. please do…”
— Often, when the journey feels hard and uncomfortable, it is possible to slow down a bit, and keep going.
…. The journey is much more pleasant when I shift my focus away from my worry and doubt, and place it on the people around me, on the sun on my face, and the world around me.
…. Although I’m no longer sure that comfort is over-rated…. this I know absolutely: what matters is being FULLY ALIVE… and the way to do that is to say YES and put myself in the game in the first place.
…. The real essence of winning in life has nothing to do with how well I do, how I measure up compared to others, or how many points I have at the end. It does have everything to do with who I am surrounded by as I cross the finish line…. it is about the connection, joy, and human spirit that I can allow, nudge, coax, inspire in others — and, for that I will gladly have myself finish last every time.

If you are curious about the actual results, here they are: I placed 591 of the 592 people who actually finished the triathlon — I was the 1st runner-up to last, and completed the race in 1 hour 54 minutes and 39 seconds.

I want to give my heartfelt thanks to every member of the “Comfort Is Over-Rated Team” that have given me so much on this Quest — to the cheerleading squad with a very special thank you to Sherman and Leia, John’s family, and Trish and Camille. And my team of racers that joined me on this Quest: to John’s brother Vincent, to my sister Mary, to my Leadership buddies Lina, Kerry, Erica and Chris, and Denise. Finally, I don’t have adequate words to convey my gratitude to John. All I can say is that all of this is fundamentally driven by a fervent desire to LIVE, and to share that life with you always.

Love,

Art

STAY in the RING!!!

•June 15, 2009 • 8 Comments

Whose f#($*&ing idea was this, anyway?

Over these past weeks, COMFORT has been looking pretty darn good….

Over-rated? There have been many many moments in these past weeks when every cell of my body has been yearning to run away from this whole quest… to run and hide…. to make up some excuses why this just really isn’t a good idea at this time, but thank you very much….

After the trial mini triathlon in Sudbury last month and my 407th place victory, I figured out that I have plantar fasciitis in my feet (oh… it’s not just turning 50 that has my feet hurt this much when I climb out of bed!…..)… I have been traveling every week and have not been very disciplined about training…. the reasons to flee have been mounting….

…and then, after buying myself a (very expensive…) full body wetsuit I summoned up all my machismo and determination to brave the waters off Gloucester harbor. With John and Heidi in their Kayaks to accompany me… (you know, not really necessary but just in case….) I eased myself into the water, step-by-step. My plan was to get out there….. dive in…. and get some good practice in by doing my first open water swim. I’m a great swimmer after all, I told myself…

That was the plan. I got out there, over the slippery rocks, noticing that both John and Heidi had rather worried looks on their faces…. I took a very deep breath…. braced myself, and DOVE FORWARD to begin my swim!

Within a fraction of a second, I was jumping up and down squealing like a stuck pig, holding my face in my hands, shouting in a high pitch “Oh my god! Oh my god! Oh my god!” I cannot convey how painful it is on just the face to try swimming in the freezing waters of Gloucester Massachusetts during the first week of June. The good news is that I now know that I am able to squirm my body into the d(&*%&mn wetsuit, and can successfully remove it — these are no small feats, believe me. Initially, I felt horribly discouraged, and this fiasco contributed to my growing desire to QUIT QUIT QUIT.

There. I said it. I WANT TO DROP OUT! I WANT TO QUIT! I WANT COMFORT! (Imagine this sounding like a screechy whine for the full effect….).

When I let myself get all caught up in the details of the training and the event itself, I want to run the other way. And then, I remind myself that this isn’t about the event. It is about learning something about myself, about navigating my disease, about shifting my lifestyle. And, part of the lifestyle that I am shifting is about STAYING IN THE RING.

Several months ago I told my trainer Kevin that I wanted to change my workout a bit to include more cardio exercise. He looked at me and said: “Sure…. I think that you should try boxing.” ….pause….

Imagine the expression on my face — it was as though he had said: “I think it would be a good idea for you to sprout wings and fly to the moon….”

I looked up at him (he’s a tall guy) and said: “um…. OK, let’s try it.”

And so, a few times a week for the past six weeks or so, I have been learning how to punch, bob and weave…. have been working out on the heavy bag… doing shadow boxing… and beginning to spar in what someday might actually resemble a boxing match. This is a step waaayyyyy out of my comfort zone. I have never… not ever, not once…. been in any sort of fight in my life. The ducking part comes easily to me… the punching and being punched part is a bit more of a challenge.

Left Jab to the Heavy Bag

Left Jab to the Heavy Bag


And, guess what?? I am LOVING IT. In certain moments I tap into a very primal and very core “hunkered down, determined, aggressive, growling, male DESIRE TO PUNCH.” It is a part of myself I think of as “hell-bent determination” — like holding on to a rope and saying to myself I WILL NOT LET GO.

And, on this Quest…. I WILL NOT LET GO.

And so…. for Sibel from Massachusetts who sent me an email a week or so ago holding me accountable for my next blog entry (thank you sweetie….), I AM STILL IN THE RING AND I WILL NOT LET GO.

For Andrée from Toronto who sent me a note letting me know that she had passed the link to this blog onto her client who is navigating cancer…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

For my Triathlon Team of Heroes….. Lina, Erica and Chris, Kerry, Denise, John, Mary…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

For the various friends and students and angels who have been posting comments and sending your well-wishes…. I AM STILL IN THE RING AND WILL NOT LET GO.

I know that it is not about the event…. and it doesn’t matter how I do. I will swim and float and rest… and keep going. I will get myself out of the dang wetsuit and onto my bike…. I will walk up hills as I need to…. I will run and jog and walk… and I will STAY IN THE RING.

The things that make the difference to me are the fundamental commitment that I feel in my gut and my heart to be ALIVE… on lots of levels. And, honestly, it is YOU… your love for me, and your kick-in-the-butt at times calling me back. If I were alone in this, the level of difficult to STAY IN THE RING would be a lot higher. If I ever had doubts, I am quite certain now that the connection that we have with others… the hard-love that others provide (thank you, John…) makes the difference between staying and giving up.

And, I ask…. what is YOUR RING these days? What is the place that is outside your comfort zone that demands an element of STAYING POWER? That thing that you want to run from… and might start to give up on… but that you bring yourself back to with grit and determination?

STAY IN THE RING

Love

Art

Winning 407th Place

•May 11, 2009 • 9 Comments

We did it! Yesterday Team “Comfort Is Over-Rated” competed in the Sudbury Sprint Triathlon! And, I am very proud to announce that out of the 464 competitors… I was the 407th finisher with a grand-total time of 1 hour 22 minutes and 28 seconds. (Congratulations to Kerry, Chris, Erica, Denise and our grand-winner Lina for the stupendous job they all did!).

Team Comfort Is Over-Rated:  Queen Lina, Kerry, Erica, Chris, Art, and Denise

Team Comfort Is Over-Rated: Queen Lina, Kerry, Erica, Chris, Art, and Denise

The past few weeks have been very busy, and I found myself getting grumbly about this whole endeavor…. my feet hurt… it is taking too much time… I am never really “done”… blah blah blah. I realized that I was definitely losing sight of the bigger picture.

And so yesterday, as I swam and then biked and then ran, I kept asking myself: “What is this really about? If this isn’t just about swimming, biking, and running… what is it really for the sake of?”

I wanted for some great and wise inspiration to zap me like a lightening bolt of electric insight, but that didn’t seem to happen. What I did notice was how alive and joy-filled I felt as I ran (well, shuffled) along…

I noticed how much — even at this ripe age of almost-50 — what a egotistical judgment machine of comparison I am. “Hmmm… where are the fat people who might be more slow than I am?” I wondered…. “Oh! Good… that women is 72 years old… I think I might be able to do this faster than she can!“ “Wow…. that guy over there REALLY looks like a loser…. I think he might be more of a loser than me!…..” “I wonder if my gut is flabbier than that one over there?!“”“

Honestly… it is a bit embarrassing to admit how much of that chatter of comparison was going on in my head. And, then… I would notice it and it would subside and I’d return to being more present.

Rider 383...finished 392nd in the biking chunk.

Rider 383...finished 392nd in the biking chunk.

It made me realize that when people see me shuffling along, there is nothing about my appearance that would tell them that I have coronary artery disease… and how we (I) constantly judge others for all sorts of things… not good enough, too rich, not rich enough, overly smart, stupid, and on it goes.

And, the truth is, we do not have a clue what is going on with them, who they are, or what circumstances they might be navigating in their life. We are human, and guess what — each of us has circumstances at one time or another that challenge us to the bone — that make it hard to get through the day, that fill us with fear, or that make it difficult to get to the top of the hill.

As I realized that, I noticed that the judgments subsided, and I felt intimately connected with all these other humans that were moving along in this race with me, each at their own pace, some fast and some slow. Instead of noticing that I was ahead of them or behind – I noticed that in some way I felt connected to them. A certain “we are in this together” sort of kinship. My inner voice shifted to ”We did this!“ instead of to ”I did this better (or worse) than you did….“

I was fortunate as a kid to learn to swim at an early age, and I was on one swim team or another from the time I was 7 years old until high school. Taking it slow, it is a relatively comfortable part of the triathlon for me. (Woo-hoo… I came in 331st in the swimming chunk….) But more importantly, as I watched my heroic team-mates swimming their laps in the pool yesterday, I noticed how difficult the swimming part was. For some it was a struggle and at times frightening. And I thought…. ”Wow… look what they are willing to put themselves through to train for this event for me.“ I feel so deeply, profoundly grateful for them — when I hit my low points and want to quit, they are the ones I think of most; bringing them to mind rallies me. I know that they are both doing this to support me, and they each have their own aspirations and challenges for doing this that are their own. And so, Lesson #1: An essential ingredient in my capacity to change is my relationship with my key allies, friends, and teammates… I do not need to go it alone.

The other lesson that was reinforced today was, quite simply, ”yes I can…“ That wherever we are in our lives… whatever my own circumstances might be…. that is the place from which to embark. To be faced with challenges and obstacles is not a reason to say ”no“ and disengage from life — it is the place from which to say ”yes“, to embrace support, and to ask what is the next step.

So, it is now full-steam ahead for the Falmouth (real) Sprint Triathlon on July 19th. My training plan is set. My bigger challenge is to lose at least 10 pounds by then — that is the steepest hill I need to climb.

With gratitude —

Art

Go Team Go…. Learning from the 1st Brick

•April 19, 2009 • 8 Comments

Team “Comfort Is Over-Rated” had its first real trial training today, with great success!

Art, John, Lina, Kerry B., and Denise gathered in Sudbury at 10:00 this morning to test out the biking and running routes of the May 10 race. And then…. Lina, Kerry, and Denise continued on and did the swimming….wooo hoooo!!!!!!

Denise, John, Kerry B., Lina, and Art -- Go Team!

Denise, John, Kerry B., Lina, and Art -- Go Team!

At the moment, I am…. well…… SORE, and satisfied.

The bike route is just 7.5 miles, and the running route is 2.3 miles. Both of which are reasonably short — significantly shorter than the Falmouth Spring Triathlon will be in July. And, the swimming is shorter at 400 yards and is in a pool. So, it serves as good preparation.

It was a beautiful sunny chilly morning. I popped a nitro-glycerin tab under my tongue and headed out of the Anderson Community Center entrance onto Fairbank Road. I pulled out to lead our little pack, knowing that my loyal team-mates all had some mix of apprehension and concern for how I would do. I know that it must be tricky for them to know how much to just stick with me, and how much to go at their own pace. We decided that we’d stick together on the first lap (the bike route is a 3.7 mile route and you cycle it twice….) and that anyone who wanted to pull out on their own would do that on the 2nd lap. And so, I set the pace for the first lap. I always have the most difficulty at the beginning, and is usually the case a mild amount of chest pain crept up, along with the pounding headache that comes from taking the nitro tab. I reminded myself of my previous lessons…. that I could simply ease up a bit and get more present to the beautiful day, and great feeling of being outside. I noticed the familiar pull toward pushing… the undertone message of “you can push yourself just a little harder….”

I have been noticing and reflecting lately on the impulse that I consistently have to STRUGGLE. Gosh, I just never want to pass up a rich opportunity to have something be a bit painful and difficult! Really…. when else can I evoke as much sympathy and attention from others as when I must overcome uncomfortable challenges to succeed? There is some twisted badge of honor that I just relish pinning on my chest that comes from enduring through tough odds. Please… read this and chuckle as I tell on myself a bit, rather than hearing any tiny violins playing in the background. We all have these rather upside-down ways of navigating, don’t we? Part of my challenge on this Quest is to playfully become a bit more conscious of my own… and to experiment a bit with different ways of experiencing my circumstances. For me, to just ease up a bit and be more present takes away…. or at least reduces…. the struggle. What would life be like if I just allowed more ease?

We finished our bike ride…. John and Lina sailed on ahead for the 2nd lap… and then changed our gear for the run. This was my first time attempting a run outside this year, and it was a rather sobering and challenging test. The team seemed aligned around their plan to stick with me on the run rather than to move on ahead. Running is a challenge — I have to shuffle along pretty slowly and take frequent walking breaks to recover my breath. I felt like the President with his posse of secret service…. they were all around me and each time I stopped to walk they immediately stopped with me. As soon as I shifted gears into a “shuffle” they were right there with me.

In all honesty – it was really hard for me to have my team slow down for me, and walk with me, and do what for me felt like giving up their own run for my sake. This may well be the very biggest challenge in this whole pursuit. Everything inside of me screams “Please! Go on ahead! Don’t wait for me!!!” but I know that that’s not the right thing. I tell myself “Just breath…. and allow these team-mates to just support you…. JUST LET THEM! Have it be alright that you go at whatever pace you go, and just let these people hold you and support you….”

It feels so very vulnerable. It feels, well…. it feels so WEAK. And yet, as I allow that opening to happen —- that “melt” as my fabulous Dog Soldiers would say — I feel my connection to them solidify and a certain form of strength emerge. It is the kind of strength that only comes from opening our hearts to others; that springs from a more honest expression of what is true in any given moment.

I’m not yet very good at this, but I can feel a new awareness beginning to awaken. And, I can feel at the center of my being that it is a new muscle that is important for me to breathe more life into, and one that will serve me down the road.

Practice, practice, practice.

Augh! Spandex Doesn’t Lie

•April 6, 2009 • 13 Comments

What was that line on the Wide World of Sports that I remember growing up?

Oh yes…. “…the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat….” Remember that? As I recall there was a brutal shot of a downhill ski racer taking a horrific fall down the mountain.

Well, I had a terrific victory this weekend…. [drumroll sounding….]. For the first time in three years I got on my bike and rode 12 MILES!!!

On the Bike!

Now, this may not sound like any big deal to you, but for me it was.

Years ago, I loved cycling and going for loooonnnggg rides. One of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had was training for and riding in the 1995 Boston-New York AIDS ride. More recently, one of my favorite activities with my husband John was going for long bike rides, and training for various bike-a-thons. With the progression of heart disease, though, I found it increasingly hard to do the rides.

I distinctly remember the last time I rode, and made a firm decision that it would be the last time. We were in Provincetown three summers ago, and had started out on a ride and were working our way up a hill on Route 6 outside of town. It was hot… and I was huffing and puffing my way behind John. As was increasingly the case I felt a fair amount of angina and couldn’t keep up with him very well. Finally, it got so discouraging that I decided that it wasn’t worth the effort, and I needed to throw in the towel. That was it…. I decided that bike riding was history, and I haven’t been on my bike since.

And so, Sunday afternoon when I got to my dear buddy Lina’s house, I felt very nervous about going on our planned ride together. We mapped out a route through the lovely industrial area of Woburn Massachusetts (having relatively flat roads trumped our desire for bucolic New England vistas….), I popped a nitro-glycerin tablet under my tongue, and we headed out.

Over the first 6 miles I was disappointed to find that in spite of the nitro tab I experienced the same moderate chest pain that had been the case in the past. Memories of the last ride in Provincetown came to mind, and I noticed my inclination to be pulled into the familiar pit of discouragement. In that place I very quickly begin to feel sorry for myself, and the messages start running through my head…

“See? You can’t do this….”

“It’s no use, you might as well give up….”

“You’re not going to be able to do this…..”

Uhhh…. isn’t that inspiring? Doesn’t that just make you want to jump up and cheer?

This time, though, I didn’t let myself get pulled into that black mucky swamp…. I observed it with a sort of bemused detachment. “Hmmm…. look at that….. this is an all-too-familiar pattern…. I wonder what another option might be? I said I wanted for this process to TEACH ME, so, OK, I’m ready! What’s the lesson???”

I find that (in my case, anyway…) wisdom often comes with a bit of a sense of humor and a Dalai Llama-like sort of amusement. The messages that popped into my head were:

“Well, why don’t you slow down a bit so that it doesn’t hurt? Huh??”

“What if you accepted things exactly as they are?”

“What if there were nothing you had to VANQUISH here?“

There is a way that I’ve been looking at this whole quest as a sort of BATTLE. As a fight in which I must vanquish my opponent. As long as I’m looking through that lens, then I’ve got to be strong to do battle…. and if I work hard enough and struggle with enough ferocity, then I will be victorious, because that’s how the story ALWAYS goes for the challenged hero…

What if I just accepted things as they are?

If I didn’t have to prove anything or battle anything or be victorious over anything, what would happen? Oh… I could just keep moving forward, keep breathing, slow down to the pace that works for me. You mean that it might be OK if I: didn’t keep up? didn’t go fast? didn’t appear to be strong? didn’t look like I was winning? What if I slowed down and actually went at my own pace… what if I moved along with others that had a pace similar to my own? What if I really accepted myself as I actually am?

As I imagine that, I can feel my shoulders drop as I let that sink in. I can feel a release happen… a long-awaited exhale take place. Suddenly I feel myself become present to what is happening RIGHT NOW rather than being in an anguished future unfolding in my head that isn’t actually real.

There is a paradoxical mix of relief and sadness and joy that springs up. The truth is, I have loved the part of me that can muster up great muscle to slay dragons in my path — I love to win and to be viewed as a winner. And, I can feel the ego-centric me me gratification of that — it stands in sharp contrast to the more human and real and rich capacity that I can sense awaits in this territory if I allow it to be.

And so, my slogan for the moment is: Accept what is, and keep going…

Happily, the 2nd half of our ride went much more smoothly. At the end, the bike computer said we’d gone 12 miles, with an average speed of 10.6 miles/hour — that is just the perfect distance and speed for right now.

Progress Update:
** Our training team…. me, Lina, Kerry B., Kerry H., Erica, Denise, and John are having a training day on April 19th in preparation for our May 15 Sudbury prep-Triathlon.
** I’ve posted some new results on the results page. Along with my cardiologist, I’m experimenting with different drug levels to try to get my good cholesterol levels UP.
** I continue to struggle with food/exercise while traveling — made a big commitment with my trainer Kevin to map out a good traveling work-out plan. Next week I will be in Bogota and have made a commitment with my business partner there around both food and exercise.
** I have started running…. or rapidly shuffling as the case may be. I have some concern about my 50-year-old knees and am taking it very slow.

Thanks everyone for your support. Your comments here absolutely make a big difference to me – I really appreciate it when you leave a comment even if it’s just a few words.

Love,

Art

The WartHog and the Finish Line

•March 29, 2009 • 9 Comments

Hmmm….. what’s the sunny-side-up way to put this? Well, over the past two weeks I’ve had the opportunity to learn how to really fall into the well (off the horse, into the gutter, pick the metaphor that works for you!), hang out in the well for a while to really become familiar with it, and finally, to pull myself back up and out to dry land.

Wow — I have a new appreciation for that physics law that “an object in motion stays in motion, an object at rest tends to stay on the sofa and watch television…” Isn’t that it? I had a week-long business trip to Washington DC, and let just a few days slip by without working out, and without really paying enough attention to my eating. AND KERPLUNKKKKKKK….. into the well….. Much to my great embarrassment, I believe that I have gained back just about whatever weight I had lost, and spent a few days feeling, well, very unhappy to find myself in the well.

And then, I discovered this video and it absolutely cracked me up. I LOVE this warthog – he is my new buddy and mascot. It captures one of the ways that I feel about this Quest. I am NOT going to let my ____________ (you can fill in the blank “desire for comfort” “victimhood” “tendency to seek sympathy” “discouragement”) get the better of me. This feisty Warthog captures the sense of TENACITY, and STUBBORNNESS, and maybe even PISSED-OFFNESS that frankly I want to muster, and that I DO feel in my gut.

My buddy the Warthog reminds me that when I encounter and obstacle… it’s just that, an obstacle. He reminds me to keep my eye on the vision that I’m really going after for myself. He reminds to get right back up on my feet and charge that damn obstacle!

But, that’s not the whole story. I was teaching a class of brilliant coaching students this weekend, and shared with them my experience of falling into the well. They asked me to take a look at what this would be like if I imagined CROSSING THE FINISH LINE. What does that represent? Who do I become when I view this endeavor from the standpoint of crossing the finish line? If I put myself there, what do I see?

Initially, I see the thrill of accomplishment — the exhilaration of being victorious at something that was a challenge. I feel exuberant and triumphant. I feel pride, and joy. It makes me realize how much I want this!

The next thing I see is YOU – faces of people supporting me (all along this journey and in many ways), and I feel deep gratitude for all of the people I love and who love me, and the many people that inspire me and encourage me. It reminds me of why I am doing this — in addition to my own health, I have a deep hunger to learn about how we overcome challenges on our journeys.

When I imagine the finish line I notice that I am, well, a bit of a mess — I see that I’m not the fastest, and I see that I’m weary and maybe a bit bruised. And what I notice about that that catches my attention is the sense of full acceptance and compassion I have of of my fallibility. Amidst the strength that I see is vulnerability — I see my human-ness and human-mess and it feels raw and real and rich.

I notice when I envision the finish line that I have a great sense of honoring myself — of making the choice to take very good care of my body and my heart on multiple levels. While I feel shy to write this down, what I notice is a peace of mind that comes from loving myself. A quiet but steady voice that says “of course I am worth taking good care of…” From this vision of the finish line, my choice is toward acceptance, love, ease, and gratitude. I know that I long to have that experience for a larger portion of the time than has been the case in the past, and I know that it is possible.

Beware! Progress is the Devil’s Playground!!

•March 10, 2009 • 12 Comments
Progress is the Devil's Playground!

Progress is the Devil's Playground!

I’m learning a bit about my relationship to COMFORT ZONES in this process. The good news is that over the past few weeks I have been making PROGRESS! (I will be measured later this week…. check out the “results” page….). I am no longer wearing my fat pants. I’m moved into “Week 4” of the swimming training program, and I’m all-around feeling better. Yeah!

That’s also the bad news…. I’m feeling better and have slipped into a COMFORT ZONE — the comfort zone of “oh, I’m doing pretty well so I can relax a bit…” A few months ago — when I felt like my circumstances were DIRE — my motivation to change was really high because I had slipped BELOW my comfort zone into the territory of “Oh My God Things Must Change!” I could no longer tolerate the weight gain, increasing chest pain, and general low energy. I was so uncomfortable I had to create change. Now, after a few months of focus on diet and exercise, I have slipped INTO my comfort zone… and I have been noticing how seductive it is to take a break from all this hard work and indulge myself a bit. That little voice in the back of my head says “Oh, go ahead… you’ve lost some weight and you’re doing great…. you can have a muffin (or bagel or cookie or sandwich….).


What is your experience with comfort zones?

What is your experience with comfort zones?

This weekend I felt myself being seduced by my progress. I think that the GAP between my current reality and my goal has got to stay sharp and important. It is this gap that creates the discomfort that puts some gas in the engine. Robert Fritz, author of ”Path of Least Resistance“ and other works on creativity, refers to this gap as the ”creative tension.“ He notes that systems want to resolve their inherent tension — and that release can happen either by moving toward the goal, or by diminishing the goal and relaxing back into current reality.

I know that it’s also important to celebrate progress. The satisfaction of moving forward can also be fuel in the engine. I know that the more I stick to my plan and move forward, the more motivated I feel to keep going. So, both of these things are true. I think that a key for me is to be vigilant about keeping a sharp focus on my heart-of-hearts goal, without allowing progress to lull me into the comfort zone in an indulgent way.

And so…. I hereby recommit to my goal, recommit to this process. I must set the goals for this process that I TRULY want… not that are merely “adequate” and have me get comfortable and lazy. For example, as far as my weight is concerned, I notice (if I’m willing to really fess up and be honest) that I have two goals…. the first is the “realistic” goal… the one that I think I can attain and that some part of me is willing to settle for as good enough — this would be getting myself down to the 160-165 lb range. Then, there is my “heart of hearts” goal — the place that feels like a stretch, but that I know if I attained it would make a substantial difference in my life. This would be to get down to the 150-155 lb range. As I write that, it makes me squirm with discomfort… (yeah!). I hereby claim that goal!

I have a question for you: When you are deeply committed to a goal that is meaningful to you (but requires discipline and discomfort to attain), which of these circumstances are MOST LIKELY to throw you off track? Take this poll below, and as always I’d love any reactions you want to share!

Again, THANK YOU for your support and encouragement…. I’m excited to report that there will be T-Shirts for the team of us competing in the triathlon and for anyone who comes to cheer us on! Our team of competitors now includes…. myself, John, Kerry (and her husband JB as our resident babysitter and flat-tire fixer, Lina, Erica and her husband Chris). I am still waiting for someone in some far-away place to challenge me to do a triathlon with them in their hometown…. is that you??

Love you,

Art

Embracing My Inner Dork!

•March 2, 2009 • 19 Comments

FLASH…. It’s official! I have now offically registered for the 2009 Falmouth Sprint Triathlon on July 19! Woo-hoo! Go Team Go…. Who Else Will Join Us??

I’m happy to report that I think I may have uncovered another secret key to success on this journey: Embracing My Inner Dork!

Over the past few weeks in my physical training, it has become quite apparent to me that whatever attachment I may have to LOOKING GOOD in this process is a hindrance to my success! I’m proud to say that I’ve been really diligent in doing my work and training…. but I gotta let you know that it just ain’t pretty.

This became particularly apparent at the gym this past week. My trainer Kevin is having me do a new series of lower body exercises, including “jump squats” —- sort of like the “clean and jerk” thing you see the big Czechoslovakian weight lifters do in the olympics. Now, I go to the Malden YMCA here in lovely Malden, Massachusetts. Malden is, well, let’s just say it’s a no-frills urban neighborhood outside of Boston…. not quite as posh as the Wellesleys or Marbleheads or Westons.

So picture this…. I’m waiting in the free weight area for one of the large bar-bells to free-up. This is the part of the gym where the big boys work out… The guys using the bar-bells seem to know each other from a previous incarceration or something, and it appears that they could easily lift a small vehicle over their heads. When they’re finished, I boldly step up (imagine me puffing up my chest and spitting or something…) and proceed to REMOVE EVERY SINGLE WEIGHT plate that they had loaded onto the barbell, leaving just… well… the bar itself…. I then proceed to aggressively lift the naked bar (with no weights on it) from it’s stand to do my “jump squats.”

This exercise, as you can clearly see below, is sufficiently ridiculous looking on it’s own. It only becomes more so with the removal of the weights! I must confess that I did have a momentary ego-based flicker of “Oh my God I am going to look like such a dorky wimp doing this!” but am proud to say that it quickly passed…. I realized that this was a great opportunity to NOT CARE how silly I might look.

I was so inspired at my growing capacity to not give a hoot what anyone thinks, that I proceeded to go up to the indoor track to try a bit of running for the first time in a long time. I decided to start very light… just a few laps around the track. There were several other guys there who were actually running — you know, long fast strides moving at a rapid clip — who seemed to zoom around the track. I was doing what could be better described as a rapid shuffle, with arms flapping around me. As I ran, I thought about how dorky I must have looked and truth be told I loved the freedom of knowing that it made NO difference to me…. it made me grin with pride as I shuffled around that track. Although it may seem like a silly source…. it was a form of self-authority or self-validation. It has felt very good to be sticking to both my food and fitness plan, knowing that I’m taking these very positive and necessary steps for myself.

And so, I am embracing my inner dork on this Quest, and invite all of you to do the same! It’s clear to me that the willingness to step right into the fray EXACTLY how I am is all that is needed…. we just need to show up without pretense. I think that when we are able to do that, it gives others permission to do the same. All too often people shrink back from trying something or taking a risk because of the fear that they will look stupid or fail. There’s just not enough time for that.

As for progress, today is Day 13 of my 21 day nutritional cleanse…. and it is going well! I’ve had a few slips, but for the most part I have stuck to the plan really well. I’ll be taking measurements (and posting them on the Results Page) this Friday…. so, fingers crossed!

What do you know about overcoming the need to “look good?” Have you got an inner dork yearning to breathe free too? Love to hear your thoughts!

Love,

Art