Last night I just took a night off. The week had been full of workouts already. Morning swims on both Monday and Wednesday. Cycling all three days. Some hard riding, some easy. So I was feeling a bit gassed by last night.
There was a time I’d run right through that feeling. Obsession helps you do that. But I’m no longer obsessed with fitness. Once in a while it’s okay to refuel the mind and body. Take a break. I went out in the garden instead and pulled some weeds with my mosquito buddies helping out. The creeping charlie was demanding attention too. Yank and toss. Then I came back inside when the rain threatened and lightning flashed to the northwest.
Down into the basement I went. It’s cool down there in summer and warm in winter. But it needs to be cleaned out. The clutter of existence included boxes and bins of abandoned bike parts. Old running shoes that never quite got tossed. Lots of extraneous stuff, including old boom boxes from when my kids used to hang out with friends down there.
Toss and pitch. And once you get going, it’s a gas throwing things out. You take a look and ask the question, “When’s the last time I used that?”
Cleaning up your fitness program
The same attitude applies to old training methods as well. Doing the same thing over and over, year after year creates a malaise and a sort of clutter in your head. It’s time for fresh territory.
That’s why swimming with all its challenges in building endurance and learning proper form has been enervating. There have been rewards. Those moments in the cool open water swimming the day before the Pleasant Prairie Triathlon were superb. I was anxious before the start but thrilled as heck during the swim. Sure, my arms cramped a little after 700 meters but what do you expect. I’m not experienced at this yet.
Open water, open mind
This past three years has been a bit of open water for me. When you spend eight years trying to keep someone else alive through cancer there is a mental cost to it all. The same goes for people going through divorce or other life-altering experiences. Yesterday I was interviewed by a local media maven named Dolly McCarthy. I was interviewed about my book The Right Kind of Pride, and my new art show Urban Wilds. I also talked about my next book Nature is My Country Club. When people ask me “How do you do it all?” my response is simple. “I can’t not do it.
That’s sort of the opposite of the Nike slogan “Just Do It.” When I wake up with blog topics already fully formed in my head, I need to write them down. Some of this might be an escape from reality. I’ll admit that. There’s been a lot to process in life, and I didn’t come to all this blank-headed or light an empty slate. When my late wife was diagnosed with cancer, my high school track coach called and said, “Your whole life has been a preparation for this.”
He meant that the perseverance gained from endurance sports like running can be directly applied to life. And one of the other skills you learn from distance sports is how to detect when the mind and body are nearly on empty. When you get gassed and you are running on fumes, it is important to pause and refuel your mind, body and spirit.
My son Evan has set a wonderful example this past year. He’s gotten into a number of activities that combine fitness, meditation, and mental release. He’s been through a lot in his life as well. We share some of this, and his big measurement of my actions and well-being comes through the question, “But Dad, are you happy?” Because he sees me frustrated by the world of politics and injustice. He knows I project some anger through those social media channels. So I’ve been working on balance. But I will never quit working for equality and social justice. Neither will he, I suspect.
That “Are you happy” phrase is a complicated question. At times happiness has simply been freedom from immediate strife. For weeks after my father passed away I’d make mental checks to see if he needed something. Coming to grips with the fact that he was actually dead was a strange experience. For years, I’d built in mental space to prepare for all those last-second calls. See, he never called ahead about anything, nor did his caregiver. I was On Call 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
Now I’m trying to de-clutter my overall existence and look ahead. While I’ve done well in my business in many respects, and gotten some great results for my clients, I’m looking at the long-term plans and where I best belong. I just took a test on the Northwestern Medicine website where I inquired about a marketing position and was interested to see the questions they asked. “Do you like helping people?” was one of the questions. “Strongly agree,” I responded. “Are you uncomfortable around people of different backgrounds, race or religions?” it also asked. And I said, “Strongly disagree.” And as well, “Do you like being a member of a team?” And I thought, Yes, and I’ve also led them quite often.
And while my art and writing are often done in solitude, both are actually ways of reaching out in communication with the world. They also refuel me when I’m otherwise gassed. Of course, there are times when I get tired while writing or painting. So I go for a run or a ride, a swim or a garden walk. It’s a positive circle if you’re mindful.
And speaking of circles. I’ve completed some new paintings that are going to be installed in the new hallway at Water Street Studios. They depict the parallel worlds of everyday existence and the decision-makers who help our community grow and change. A pair of figures walking on the roof of some buildings symbolizes those people who do all the high-level decisions, yet also work on committees and commission.
Meanwhile, the days and nights of Batavia go by, and in that sphere, almost like a dome over the city, is pride of place as well. You can see the two paintings in their original form at top. But they also “pair up” with the circles built into each work. The two unite in concept.
It’s work like this that helps me feel real and involved in the world. And even when I’m gassed, or lying down on the bed at the end of a long day or waking up in the morning, that is often when a spark of creativity will come along, and I fan it into flames, and make it come alive.
And that’s always a gas.