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Running Free

Last time I wrote of running unplugged and not experiencing any epiphanies but quietly building my confidence. Tonight, the epiphany arrived before, and then necessitated, the run. I’ve been struggling with fatigue, which has made getting up early enough for my morning run impossible the past couple of days. I needed to run tonight to maintain my fitness level so I didn’t fall back into the painful cycle of having to rebuild. More importantly, I needed the emotional release that running provides and quiet time to meditate.

My apartment has been empty since Saturday, and this week is the first time I’ve been alone, really alone after finishing work at the archives in months. For the past two months, I have been with friends and acquaintances nearly every waking hour, which stayed the loneliness. However, once everyone had gone, I had no more distractions from the melancholy that settled in. Despite having numerous reasons, all logical and some quite serious, I have continued to struggle with my eating habits. I tried to fill the loneliness with food, with books, with TV shows, even emailing and chatting with friends, but nothing filled the void because it came from within and not from outward circumstances. I would overeat at times because I didn’t think I was worth taking the extra effort to make wiser choices. And therein lay the key to understanding why I persisted in doing things I knew were not healthy: I didn’t think I was worth it.

Tonight’s epiphany, then, was this understanding and the truth that the One who created me made me for more than this. As I set out for my run, without my iPod I might add, I walked out of the door unafraid – unafraid of the pain I knew was waiting for me from stiff muscles and an overly full belly, unafraid of disappointing myself with my ‘performance,’ unafraid of the stares and strange looks I would get for running at this odd hour – or running at all, for that matter.

I knew that this would be the last time I allowed myself to overeat and so willingly accepted the painful reminder that I was intended for more than the physical pain, emptiness, and shame I felt after eating too much. Despite that heaviness though, the rest of me felt light and free. I was made to live into my full potential and not settle for anything less. I had been praying that God would sink that truth into my heart, and he answered that prayer in a profound way tonight as the puzzle pieces I had been mulling over dropped into place.

So I ran. I ran into town and down Cours Mirabeau, magnificently lit up and reminding me of the magical unreality of Disney World, with hundreds of well-dressed people milling around, enjoying late dinners, and every vendor still displaying jewelry, clothes, and handcrafts after dark. I ran into the softly lit, mysterious medieval streets of Centre Ville and up toward the Cathedral, its illuminated tower shining like a beacon, pointing me home – not home to my apartment in Aix, but home within myself, within my heart, at peace with who and what I am. As I passed it, I breathed a thank-you to the One who affirmed me. I ran on, feeling as if wings carried me up the hills of this ancient city and finally ended at the gated entrance to the apartment complex, surprised to have arrived back so quickly. I ran with and into freedom and a deep sense of peace tonight.

Although the road back to full health remains long and even a little daunting still, I am more confident now that I have what I need to persevere. For those who are curious, I found 2 Peter 1:3-11, 1 Corinthians 6:12, and 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 very encouraging, along with Lysa TerKeurst’s Made To Crave. For now, my watchwords are self-discipline and perseverance. I trust God for the strength to follow through and to face my fears with courage rooted in truth.

I realize that I still have other stories to tell of my travels, but I write what I feel compelled to write when compelled to write it and must therefore apologize for the delay once again. At the same time, I believe the inner journey is as important, if not more so, than the outward adventures.

A balance between living and writing about living remains to be reached, but I sense that I am getting closer. More stories to come – and pictures!  🙂

 
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Posted by on August 23, 2012 in Self-Reflection

 

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Running Unplugged

With much to ponder this morning, I decided to leave the iPod behind as I set out on my run.  This may not seem like such a big deal, but it inspired trepidation as I double and triple checked to make sure I had what I needed before heading out the door. Inhaler- check; key- check; watch and running shoes- check and check. That’s it! Here we go … !

I rarely run without my iPod now because no matter how long I train, running is still painful, and I’ve found music to be some of the best medicine. I get lost in the pounding drums and great guitar riffs, timing my pace to match the driving rhythms of the rock music and forgetting how sore and tired I am.

This morning, however, I needed a different sort of therapy – that of solitude and the quietness of my thoughts. With nothing to distract me, I found myself listening to the birds waking up, the rhythm of my own heart beating, the timing of my breaths, and the pounding of my feet on the quickly warming pavement.  The peace afforded time to pray, reflect and to let my mind wander, process, and problem-solve at the subconscious level while I focused on one thing: perseverance.  I wasn’t sure how I would fare on the run without my melodic wonder drug, so I set what I thought were reasonable expectations – a simple three-mile run at a conservative pace to let my legs recover from running and swimming this past week. I wanted to prove to myself that I was mentally tough enough to make it through my run and even enjoy it, distraction-free, so I set a goal I was pretty sure I could accomplish.

Although I cannot claim to have had any epiphanies on this morning’s run, I discovered how empowering such a simple decision as running low-tech can be.  Not only did I run the first three miles comfortably, but I added hills and another mile on top of it, bringing the total distance to 4 miles, only about a quarter of a mile shy of my long-run distance from the previous two weeks! And without breakfast, I might add!  A new “normal” distance was established this morning, and I was more proud of that than any other run I’ve put in lately.

While I may not choose to run without my iPod every time, I will definitely do so more often and with more confidence.  One more benefit: I was able to practice mindfulness during my run, enjoying a rediscovered awareness of my body as it moved through my surroundings.  Despite the aches and stiff muscles through the first two miles, being fully present made me realize how grateful I was to be able to run at all for any distance.  Instead of frustration over my limitations, I experienced a sense of freedom and intense gratitude for what my mind and body were able to accomplish when allowed to sync, sans technology.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2012 in Self-Reflection

 

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Throwing off everything that hinders…

Yoga is all about being present in the moment.  It’s also about letting go –  releasing muscle and joint tightness that locks up our bodies as well as negative thoughts and emotions that weigh us down.  As I did my yoga practice this morning in preparation for and following my run, I realized that I was holding on to tightness; my muscles did not need to remain so taught. It may have been the result of habit, the fear of falling over, or simply inattention, but as soon as I discovered that I was the one resisting the stretch, I had to let go to permit those muscles to lengthen.  It was simply a matter of awareness and choice. Exhaling, I allowed the tension to drain away, deepened my stretch and felt my muscles and joints breath a sigh of relief.

Once I let go of the physical stress through yoga, I felt more balanced, strong and light as I completed my long run.  For the first time in a very long time, I finished the run feeling refreshed and knew that I could have run at least another mile. This was not just the result of one morning’s yoga practice, of course, but from the accumulated benefits of running consistently over several weeks, frequent yoga sessions, and the change in my diet. Just as I learn these lessons through yoga and running, my spiritual journey is also teaching me to let go of the anxiety, fear, and shame that have been holding me back from living the joy-filled life God intends for all of us. And like yoga and running, the release of those things that cause emotional and mental stress must be habitual as well.

Both the Christian walk and yoga are also about gratitude – being aware and thankful for all of one’s blessings.  I am living my dream right now. By choosing to let go of negative emotions and embrace awareness of and gratitude for even the smallest things that bring me joy, I feel more fully alive. In this way I am able to move forward toward my goals with a greater sense of freedom and joy, unhindered by the things of the past.  What is more, even painful events can be sources of joy when one looks for and finds the fruit they bore.  I continue to discover ways I have grown from such experiences.  The by-products of struggle – perseverance, resolve, determination, as well as new-found gratitude, faith, hope, and strength – propel me forward.

The ideas of awareness and gratitude that stem from my yoga practice and faith find expression in the habit of mindful eating.  Even though I didn’t cheat on my diet, I allowed my emotions to dictate when and how much I ate for a couple of days.  Last night, I felt overly full, lethargic, and depressed at my failure.  This morning, after yoga and a great run, I decided to mindfully eat my eggs and at least half of my apple.  I was enjoying it so much though that rather than beginning to write after I finished the first half of my apple, I continued on in that way until I got to my tea, which I’m currently sipping as I type.  I find that being aware of the flavors, the texture, the temperature, and savoring each bite increases my gratitude for the meal.  Since I contemplate each bite, I find my cravings for anything else subside because I am so thankful to have such tasty food. And I’m grateful to have found food that not only tastes good but also helps my body heal itself.  Rather than my usual habit of shoveling it in as quickly as possible so I can rush to the next task, I chew each morsel slowly and more thoroughly, which aids digestion, and I feel full and more satisfied longer. I have also found that mindful eating (even if only practiced occasionally) leads to a sense of calm and greater focus when I return to work and to the rest of the day’s activities.  With all of this in mind, I am heading out into the day once again to enjoy the sights, sounds, and delectable smells of the Aix market and to continue my academic work, thankful for so many blessings.

Image from: <http://yogaposes4stressrelief.blogspot.fr/&gt;

 
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Posted by on June 23, 2012 in Self-Reflection

 

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The Blessing of Wrong Turns

I love taking a wrong turn. I do it all the time in Aix and have found an unexpected surprise waiting for me, usually as I turn around to figure out where I am. I never allowed myself to take a wrong turn the last time I was here. I was a newcomer, barely spoke the language, and the winding, maze of medieval streets confused me. I definitely didn’t want to get lost! Each day I needed to go somewhere new, I memorized my route so I wouldn’t have to pull out my map and be targeted as a tourist. Now that I know my landmarks and have a pretty good sense of direction, during the hustle and bustle of an afternoon of shopping or finding a new route to my bus stop from class, I purposely wander down streets I’ve never explored. One day, I ran across a great little used book store with some beautiful antique works. Today, I discovered a surprisingly large Mediterranean grocery store – La Corbeille d’Orient – with such delicacies as Baklava and “home-made” dried apricots and papaya, none of which I can eat because of the sugar, but a fun find, nevertheless. (They also had a few things I could eat for half the price of the supermarket – a very important consideration for a grad student!)

However, my favorite surprise find came at the end of the day. I made time for a run, fighting the fatigue of the day and lack of sleep. It was exactly what I needed, and I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect night for it. With a warm spring sun, a few clouds in the distance, and a pleasant breeze to cool my skin, I hit the hills. If I haven’t mentioned it before, Aix is nestled in the foothills, make that small mountains (from a runner’s perspective!) of the Alps. It’s absolutely gorgeous but makes running an extra challenge. I love it! Maybe it was growing up in Fremont and training on “Toboggan” and “Hernia” Hill.  I’m not sure, but I have loved running hills ever since. Anyway, up and down I went, into the heart of the city, past the accordion player entertaining tourists enjoying aperitifs before dinner and the boutiques and shops closing for the evening. As I headed out of the city, I, as usual decided to take a different way home. I knew what direction I needed to head and started up a hill, or what I thought was a hill. Up and up and up… the grade kept getting steeper, and my legs began reminding me that I’d already put in three running miles on top of the 5 miles I’d walked during the day. Finally, after nearly a half mile at about a ten percent grade, I decided to give in and turn around to see where I was.  I reasoned that I would need to reverse directions to get back to my apartment anyway. I slowed to a stop, paused my watch, and as I faced the direction from which I had come, I stopped breathing, and it had absolutely nothing to do with the run. There in the distance were the Alps as far as the eye could see. I’ve never had such a fantastic view of them. I was rooted to the spot until a crescendo in the music I’d been listening to reminded me that I should probably keep moving. Wondering if I could find an ever better vantage point, the sight of the Alps inspired me to continue further up the “hill.” I cranked up the music – a quarter of cellists playing some incredible hard rock – and attacked the slope once again. (I know hard rocking cellists sounds crazy, but look them up if you don’t believe me – Apocalyptica.) At long last… well actually, not that much longer, my legs reminded me I still had another hill to run on the way back, and I gave up. I had been glancing back periodically and never found another spot where I could see the mountains. Trees obscured the view, and on the way back, on the other side of the road, trees were also in the way. If I hadn’t stopped at that very place, I would have missed out on that sublime moment of awe and wonder over God’s magnificent creation. What blessing to take a wrong turn!  It didn’t hurt that I got to run down that enormous hill on the way back and feel, for a few minutes at least, like a “real” runner a again. 🙂

I can’t find a photograph that is similar to the view of both the city of Aix with the Alps in the background, so I’ll have to return with my camera. I’ll post the picture as soon as I have the chance. I also need to take some pictures of Aix in the evening. I can’t take credit for the one I included in the post since I didn’t have my camera with me on the run, but it conveys the feel of the city in evening.

(Photo Credit: “Aix-en-Provence, Adagio,” <www.voyage-unique.com>)

 
 

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