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

Mustard Greens Suck!

•February 22, 2009 • 18 Comments

I am learning two things so far on my 21-day cleanse…. 1) I can recover fast when I slip, and 2) Mustard greens suck.

Really, have you had them? I promised myself that I would really learn to cook “greens” and even bought the cookbook “Greens Glorious Greens (Albi and Walthers, 1996). I find that I love kale… and think that swiss chard is scrumptious. I even found a recipe for collard greens that was OK. And then the other day I tried mustard greens. In fact, I spent the better part of an afternoon chopping, slicing, dicing, and spicing my special mustard greens dish. Ugggh. I don’t care how you dress them up, mustard greens suck. I defy you to post a recipe here for mustard greens that is edible!

The second lesson may have more far reaching implications for me. Last night (evening of Day 4) John and I went out to dinner at a really nice restaurant with another couple, and much to my dismay, there was NOTHING other than the side dinner salad that would have fit my cleanse diet. And so, I gave myself a break and took the evening off. Mmmmmm…. I had two pieces of bread with olive oil…. I had salmon…. I had some strawberry sorbet…. I had a glass of wine…later I had popcorn… wooo-hooooo!!!! And, when I got home and then this morning, I totally wanted to stop the cleanse and eat a whole loaf of Wonderbread with mayonnaise and who knows what else (well, I’m exaggerating, but not that much…).

Historically, after a period of initial success, I have tended to lose my will and discipline, and cave in to the pull toward COMFORT. The real challenge for me has not (in the past) been to get started…. but rather is to KEEP GOING and to get back on track.

I said to myself this morning: ”OK, this is a chance to see if I can REBOUND fast.“ Rather than cave in the the cravings and urges for sugar and flour, what if I could just rebound IMMEDIATELY to the cleanse? Usually I find it much more exciting to struggle and fail for awhile before bouncing back. But today, I actually did it — I returned right to the cleanse. Yes! A victory! Lesson: If I slip up (or, take an intentional break), I can rebound right away.

I’m wondering how other people recover when they lose their will, or when self-destructive urges, cravings, or DESIRE FOR COMFORT take hold and get the better of them. What do you do? Does this happen to you? I would love it if you’d post any ideas you have here on that here.

Today is Day 5 of the cleanse (see Heart of Nourishment for a description), and I’m doing GREAT! I am thrilled to report that I no longer have to wear my fat pants! In two days I can add nuts seeds and grains into the diet — ain’t life grand. Exercising is going great, too. I made it to 3 yoga classes last week… did my swimming and weight training workouts.

I have been thinking about my prep race coming up on May 10th, and the triathlon on July 19th. I have to keep reminding myself that the outcome doesn’t matter. Although I’ve been working out a lot with yoga, swimming, and weights… I haven’t yet started training on the bike or the running. It is the running that scares me…. my confidence that I can actually run is really low, both because of the heart disease and because of aging knees. When I start fretting about it, I remind myself that when I’m riding my bike if there is a hill that is too steep for me to climb, I can get off the bike and walk it up the hill…. And, if the running is too hard on my, I can simply walk…. I know I can do that.

It reminds me of the song ”If You Can’t Fly“ by David Roth. His songs are incredibly hokey, and often prompt me to roll my eyes. However, I have to say that this particular song gets me every time. By the time he is singing about the fish, I have tears rolling down my cheeks. What can I say — it just hits very close to home for me. It has to do with that bright flame deep down inside that wants to live and enjoy life fully no matter what physical limitations there may be. That part of me knows that no matter what the external circumstances, the human spirit — my spirit — is boundless and is not my disease. When someone — whoever they are — chooses to meet challenges by saying ”yes, I will take a step,“ they come forward in all their brilliance. I don’t always choose in that direction, but it certainly is my intention to.

Here’s the song:

All too often we come up against a challenge, and we jump to ”I can’t. It’s too hard….“ Instead, there is a reframe of that to say: ”What is the way that I CAN do this?“ I make a commitment to you on this journey that when it gets really hard and I want to somehow escape, I will ask that question. And, I will do this triathlon in July if it takes me all day!

What do you think? Please add your comments! And, thanks for your support — it makes a bigger difference than you may know.

Love,

Art

I Just Don’t Know How

•February 16, 2009 • 1 Comment

There she is again. When I start doubting the wisdom of this Quest, she appears in my head, blue eyes blazing with her own special brand of intensity and fierce love: “Of course you can do this. You just don’t know how…. You’re scared? Good. You feel the gulp?…. Good, you’re on the right track – now get moving. Remember, you just don’t know how.“ She smiles her sex kitten smile, eyes twinkling in her devilish way, and then she is gone.

Laura Whitworth — friend, mentor, antagonist, and cattle-prod — left an indelible mark on my life. She taught me what it means to have a stake in something that matters so much it becomes more important to me than the stroking of my ego (not an easy feat). She was a tough cookie — and yet for all of her brusque exterior, her conviction about life was ultimately human and loving. She knew that human beings were born to be connected to one another – that human beings long to love, to be loved, and to have their lives matter to each other. The ”Laura-ism“ that pops most frequently into my head these days is this:

”They just don’t know how….“

”They want to listen…. they just don’t know how.“ ”They want to open their hearts… they just don’t know how.“ ”They want to be present and aware… they just don’t know how.“ The enormous power of this conviction is that it creates POSSIBILITY.

Me and Laura at the Mother Tree in 2002

Me and Laura at the Mother Tree in 2002

I had the great fortune to have Laura as my Co-Leader and mentor when leading my first Co-Active Leadership cohort seven years ago. With her, I learned the power of shifting my perspective about others and their motives away from ideas like ”they can’t“ ”they don’t want to“ or ”they won’t“ to ”they just don’t know how..“ With this shift, possibility suddenly appears; an avenue for learning and awakening and change unfolds that was previously hidden.

So, I ask myself: What if I applied this idea to my own life and challenge?

• I can change my eating habits and relationship with food… I just don’t know how.

• I can open myself to love and support and cheerleading from my friends, colleagues
and families…. I just don’t know how.

• I can prepare myself to compete in a triathlon safely…. I just don’t know how.

• I can establish a day-to-day lifestyle that fuels vitality…. I just don’t know how.

Hmmm… what if I go further out on this limb… more unreasonable… more audacious?

• I can recover quickly… almost instantly…. when I slip into any sort of downward spiral…. I just don’t know how.

• I can create increasingly healthy coronary arteries and reverse the course of my disease…. I just don’t know how.

• I can learn lessons that can impact a community of heart patients in meaningful ways…. I just don’t know how.

• I can have heart disease be the platform and catalyst for the greatest wisdom, joy, and contribution of my life…. I just don’t know how.

When I really let myself step into this mindset – it is freeing. Suddenly my experience shifts from a focus on what cannot be, to what is possible.

Opening the door to possibility is to stake a claim on the future that I want. To declare it is to bring its possibility into greater existence. According to Peter Block in his book Community: The Structure of Belonging, ”…possibility is brought into being in the act of declaring it (p. 17). When I allow myself to open this door, I feel something inside me. Rather that dredge up my historical drama of why things are how they are, and why I’ll never be able to change, there is a noticeable and surprising blip on my screen of “Oh… maybe I really CAN do this!” It is subtle, instantaneous, and makes me grin. Most importantly, it (in the moments when I stay conscious of it) translates into different choices and behaviors…. It has me choose NOT to reach into the breadbasket… it has me get up at 5:45 a.m. on the cold snowy days to go to the pool and swim.

I notice that at this moment in time… truth be told I still do not believe that I can really shift my eating habits to consistent healthy ones. I am still, largely, in a mode of overlaying a fabricated story of “yes I can” on top of what feels like a more real and entrenched view of “no, I can’t.” Transforming beliefs is tricky business. I notice that when I move too quickly or without repeated reflection…. it is reduced to wishful thinking. And so, I’ve got to be honest about this. Maybe it happens in stages,and I must start this particular part of the journey from where I am. I do believe that — in general — change is possible. I do believe that…. ultimately….. I can be successful at this. So, here is the step one place I’m going to go:

I can discover and integrate a new and healthy mindset about eating, food and weight that will sustain me…. I just don’t know how.

PROGRESS UPDATE: Last week I was leading a Co-Active Leadership Program retreat in California. I made a pledge to refrain from eating flour and sugar for the week, and to exercise at least 3 times. I did very well for the first four days — practiced my yoga and ate very mindfully. I lost my resolve in the last few days and indulged in some desserts, and am now back on the horse.

This week I’m going to begin a 21-day cleanse diet starting on Wednesday (based on the book “If the Buddha Came to Dinner.” (This is very similar to Oprah Winfrey’s “Optimum Health” cleanse.)

For those of you subscribing to and commenting on this blog: THANK YOU. Your words of encouragement have an enormous impact on me.

Tiger Shorts Here I Come!

•February 8, 2009 • 11 Comments

Wa-Hoo! There are now FOUR of us competing in the July 19 triathlon in Falmouth on Cape Cod!!

“Team Art” now includes Lina, Kerry, John, and myself — and many others have said “I’ll be there to cheer you on!” The responses to the blog have really knocked my socks off. It matters. It makes me think “wow…. now all these people are watching – I need to do what I’ve said I will do!” Yes, that is the point — it is very uncomfortable to me to step out on a limb in what feels like a vulnerable way and say “yes – I need help,” and “yes… I need encouragement…” and “yes… I need your good ideas.”

And, we have signed up for a “Try Tri” race in Sudbury Massachusetts on May 10th…. it is a “mini” Sprint Triathlon, with a 400 yard swim, 7 mile bike ride, and 2 mile run…. seems like the perfect thing to do as a clear milestone en route to the real thing. Feels like it is just around the corner to me.

So if you’ve said… “Yes I will swim with you….” or “Yes, I have food tips for you….” or “Yes, I will find a race in my home town!” I want to take you up on all of those offers. If you want to support me, the best way is to subscribe to this blog and just let me know you’re out there with your comments and insight and experience.

For the past few weeks I give myself a 7 out of 10…. I’ve done well, and it is time to raise the bar. Trainer Kevin took a new set of measurements last week (see “Results” page). There was some teeny tiny progress…. but not enough.

I remind myself that the point of all of this is to learn what it means to set my sites on what feels like an audacious but critically important vision for myself, and then CREATE CHANGE that will last a lifetime. I wonder, as a heart patient, where the balance is between what I can impact and rise above, and what is a matter of graceful acceptance and adaptation. I think I’ve had the bar too low so far.

The clincher for me is FOOD and EATING. This is the area where I must raise the bar, or I will never experience Tiger Shorts (see video) again.

Deutschman says in ”Change or Die,“ that there are 3 keys to making real change happen, including for heart disease patients. They are:

1. Relate: be in community with others that inspire you, encourage you, hold you accountable, and who believe in you,
2. Repeat: exercise new behaviors again and again and again
3. Reframe: Notice limiting ways of viewing your situation, and restructure or replace with assumptions and beliefs that serve you rather than keep you down.

YOU are my ”Relate“ part. I know I’ve got my people lined up. First and foremost my husband John is the wind at my back in this. After all, he just bought for me the book ”The Fat Slow Triathlete.“ Yes, he is my #1 athletic supporter. In fact it had me doubled over laughing, with Chapter Titles such as “No, You Can’t Eat Anything You Want…” and “The Cycling is Easy – It’s Just Like Riding A Bike!”

From my RELATIONSHIP with YOU, I feel that I’m accountable…. those weight and waist measurements need to keep coming down. I’m also getting specific advice from you. For example, my buddy Denise — a wellness coach and personal trainer — advises me that the #1 thing she has seen help people to make good eating choices is to keep a daily log of all food intake. So, I’m going to add that to my practices. And, to hear so many of you simply offer your encouragement, and your cheer that you think I can do this… inspires me, it lifts me. I think that a key will be that I know times will come when I dip down — that is when RELATE will matter most.

Then there’s REPEAT. What are the new behaviors that I need to implement and practice over and over again? OK…. here goes:

1. Keep a daily log of the food I eat. I will start this on Monday February 16 when I return from a leadership retreat in California.

2. Prepare large batches of healthy food on the weekend for the week ahead – like veggie chili, black bean salad, etc… (got any great recipes??)

3. New lunch habits. I tend to go out for lunch and have some sort of sandwich…. if I prepared a lunch and took Puck for a walk to the Park, it would make a big difference.

4. Reduce evening eating. I often do a yoga class from 5:45 – 7:15 in the evening. Eating a late dinner doesn’t work. Instead, if I have an ultra light dinner after yoga it would help a lot.

5. Practice a “harm reduction” approach — a goal is to minimize refined carbohydrates and sugars…. so, make choices that minimize those or that substitute whole grain and complex carb options. Start with a smaller portion. Drink water before a meal.

And then REFRAME… this feels to me like the biggest nut to crack. I think that I fundamentally tell myself: “I can’t do this…” “I need to comfort myself with this food.” “I will have this one last comfort meal and then I’ll be better…” “I’m going to fail at this anyway so I might as well indulge in this food….”

When I dig down and really look at what goes on in my heart and mind when I make bad food choices, there is a fundamental sense of hopelessness — that I am ultimately going to fail at this, that it is impossible.

When I think of doing yoga in my Tiger Shorts (which ought to be embarrassing for a whole host of reasons beyond weight…), the truth is that I do not believe that it is possible for me to lose enough weight to ever wear them again. I remember wearing them about 4 years ago when I was at my lowest weight…. and how wonderful it felt to be able to do that with confidence! Wow, it was wonderful. I feel as though I am PRETENDING that I will do this, but I actually won’t do it.

So, what’s the reframe? What if I could actually be successful at this? What if I COULD change my eating habits permanently? What if in those moments when I cave in I actually stepped into the knowledge that I am able to make good choices, that every step I take and choice I make contributes to my ultimate success? Instead of falling prey to the notion that “this time it doesn’t matter I can start later….” I can remind myself that “there is no later… only now” and that THIS choice makes a difference. Deutschman also notes that often what we think is the “solution” is actually the “problem.” In my situation, I view FOOD to be a solution to feeling down or hopeless — it’s my drug of choice. What if I recognized that actually it is the problem, not the solution — in other words, it is bad food choices that leads and creates the sadness, hopelessness, and lack of confidence?

I’m not quite sure what the practice should be around REFRAMING my relationship with food — but it is clearly an important part of this puzzle. If you’ve got suggestions, please let me know. I think a good practice will be that as I keep my daily food log of what I eat, to include the “frame” or thoughts/feelings that go along with the food choices. I commit to doing that.

Onward Ho! Tiger Shorts Here I Come!

I Choose to Live

•January 26, 2009 • 16 Comments

Change or Die. Compelling title, huh? Actually, it sends chills down my spine, because it hits very close to home. In his book by that title, Alan Deutschman recounts the stories of three groups of people who, even faced with life or death consequences, are remarkably unable to alter their lifestyle and make good choices. I belong to the population of patients with coronary artery disease who experience chest pain on a daily basis to some degree. When I was first diagnosed five years ago (you can read more about that on the About Me and My Quest page) I became a model heart patient, with fierce commitment to my vegan diet, regular exercise, yoga, meditation and good sleep.  At least for awhile, that is.

Life has been a roller coaster in the five years since then. For long periods of time I’ve been a resilient and resourceful heart patient, sustaining a healthy lifestyle. I have, over and over again, experienced profound gratitude for my life, and a deep rumbling call to live fully and healthfully – to create the greatest possibility for many years ahead. And, I’ve also had periods when life has presented challenges that have knocked me off my feet; times when I have fallen into a depressed state of  victimization and fear. In these times I hold tightly to life’s guardrails, fearing for my safety and clamoring to stay comfortable. In this state, my immediate comfort becomes more important to me than staying alive. Sounds dramatic, doesn’t it? My immediate comfort and licking my wounds has been more important to me than staying alive...wow, that’s tough to admit.

Sometimes, well… life happens… and gradually, without fully realizing it, I lose my sense of hope and possibility and purpose. My desire to take risks and grab the reigns of life dims. My gratitude wanes and a dull resignation creeps in. When loss happens — as it did last year with the loss of my Dad in April and canine companion Revel later that month — I become fearful that more loss of something precious might be just around the corner. In times like that I turn to my medications of choice… food and television… to numb out the fear and find comfort at least for the moment. Comfort becomes king, and I stop choosing to live.

Ironically, when I slip into one of those periods of shrinking back from life where “comfort is king” I actually become increasingly uncomfortable. The bigger truth is that I am a lover of life. I think this human existence we have is an extraordinary thing with ALL that it entails, with all of its highs and its lows. I thrive on leaping into unknown territory, on uncovering new possibilities, on witnessing the joys and triumphs of others. I live for the full-on experiencing of life and the wonderful satisfaction that comes from learning and making meaning along the way.  At my most free, that’s how I experience life… just like the image of the diver at the top of the page.*

And so this Fall, after a particularly sedentary period while recovering from hernia surgery… it became clear to me that if I didn’t wake up and change my course, ultimately, I would probably die. (Well, we’re all headed there… but you know what I mean….) Yes, CHANGE OR DIE. I’d like to say that this insight came from some lofty spiritual practice. The real deal is a bit more mundane and humbling. It hit me square in the eyes about six weeks ago on the  day that I had to go shopping at Kohl’s Department Store to buy fat pants. Yes… fat pants. It was simply not possible to remain in denial that I had gained 15 pounds and a good 3 inches or so when confronted by the reality that it was impossible to fit into any of the pants that were in my closet.

Sometimes, it takes something like fat pants to face the music. I had hit low point… something drastic needed to happen. Although the shame of my waistline was the catalyst, it was the deep and growing sense of despair and panic that did it.

And so, I am committing myself to competing in a Sprint Triathlon in 2009.

More difficult than that, perhaps, is my choice to share my story with you along the way, and to reach out for your encouragement, your challenge, and your insight. The physical aspect of competing in a Sprint Triathlon seems — at this point — impossible to me. I gave up bicycling several years ago because the discomfort of climbing hills was too great… I cannot swim more than 300 yards without stopping… and running, well… running hasn’t been on the radar screen for quite a while.

The bigger picture, though, is about the journey and making sense of this particular path I am walking.  Rather that committing myself to a challenge over which I know I will ultimately triumph,  for once it is not whether I succeed or fail in the race itself that matters. More importantly, I want to gain more awareness about questions like these:

* How do I learn to “get back up on the horse” over and over and over again?
* How do I  change the way I live my life, and sustain those changes?
* What does it mean to  CHOOSE LIFE, even when the circumstances are not what I might have chosen?
* What’s the difference between resignation and accepting limitations with grace and wisdom?
* How do I relate to failure and success?
* What impact can my lifestyle have on coronary artery disease?

What I really want, though, is for US — you and me — to learn about these things. While this journey is mine, I want for you to join me in it at whatever level  you’re inclined to engage. For some, I hope that it means you will subscribe to this blog and follow along, offering encouragement along the way. For others, I want  you to grapple with these same questions on YOUR journey, and to offer your insight and experience to the dialogue.

If you find yourself at a similar crossroads and it calls to you — I challenge you to JOIN ME in this pursuit by signing up for a Sprint Triathlon with me, or rallying a team and challenging me to sign up for Sprint Triathlon in your area (see the  “About Me and My Quest” page).

Ultimately, i want to learn something that can help other coronary artery patients. Navigating this disease has become the vehicle and testing ground for me to learn about what it means to me to live fully, and to CHOOSE LIFE in the midst of difficult circumstances. Regardless of the outcome, my pledge is to dive in to this journey head-on and full-on. My commitment is to share the story as it unfolds — both the highpoints and the low points. Please join me by subscribing to the blog, and if you know of others who are navigating coronary artery disease or similar circumstances, please invite them to join us as well.

*yes, that’s me in 1974…  me, choosing to live.