Taming Transitions

Time is such a peculiar concept.  When you look at the universe, the stars, the planets, time doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot.  We measure all movements, distances and changes in terms of time, but it appears to be a human construct invented for the sole purpose of giving us a method for understanding and discussion.  Time matters to us as humans because of the finite span of our own lives.  We want to cram in as much as possible since, by cosmic standards, we really aren’t here for very long.  This makes us very conscious of time and, in fact, our lives seem to revolve around this theme.  We mark the passage of time with each sunrise and sunset.  Also with the seasons.  We watch things grow and know that time is passing with each change we witness.  Acknowledging the passage of time is a critical element in our understanding of changes in our world and our own bodies.

The recent movie “Arrival” is all about the weirdness of time.  In the film beings from another world land on earth.  A linguist is recruited to translate the sounds they make.  In many ways this film highlights the vagaries of chronology, but one thing that I found particularly interesting occurred during this linguist’s initial attempt to communicate with the strangers.  She wrote something on a tablet and was immediately rewarded with visual symbols presented by these creatures.  The symbols were basically circular inspiring the linguist to note that this “language” was not dependent on time as ours is.  Each symbol appeared to have no particular beginning, middle or end.  Later in the film there was evidence that there were some ways in which time mattered to these beings, but perhaps that was because as humans making this film, it is difficult for us to divorce ourselves from time and its implications.  After all the movie itself had to have a beginning, middle and end even if they were kind of intertwined.  Still it was interesting to think about the ways in which our methods of communication are time-dependent.

So here we are, marching along with the unavoidable passage of time which is really just a way of describing change and yet somehow, in so many ways, we remain completely resistant to change itself.  From the time we are born, or even conceived, our lives are marked by change. When we’re young we change really quickly.  Yet many of us can’t wait to get older.  We rail against the slowness of time and the changes it brings.  As the years (another human concept!) progress, many changes govern our lives and there never seems to be enough time.  Then as we get older, physical changes again loom large.  Now they seem to be happening too fast.  Time seems to pass more quickly.  In our middle years we are often more likely to note the changes in others around us while somehow clinging to our own status quo.  So it can be quite a jolt to suddenly realize that our own bodies are changing right along with those of our children, grandchildren and parents.

Inevitably we reach a point where we have to acknowledge that we, too, have changed.  A friend and I were discussing today how difficult that can be to accept.  Sometimes changes in our physical capabilities can also mean the loss of a familiar community.  Years ago I used to belong to a running club.  Club members would all run together regularly.  Of course, there were many different speeds among the group, but there was always someone I could run with.  As time passed it became more and more difficult for me to run with others.  I wanted to keep running, so I did. But I needed to run at my own pace.  It was hard for me to keep up with anyone else, but I also did not expect anyone to slow their stride to stay with me.  So my attachment to this group began to unravel like fabric when a single thread starts to go it’s own way. Eventually, that became OK as I got more comfortable being with myself and enjoying my own movement.  But for a while it represented a loss.  In fact, multiple losses – physical capacity and also community.

As I continue to age, more examples of these losses present themselves.  Fortunately, I have since learned that loss of ability doesn’t always have to mean loss of community.  Sometimes there are other ways to participate with a group even if you can’t do everything they do. Especially in movement classes.  One of the themes I’ve repeated throughout this blog is that there is no requirement in any movement class that everybody has to do everything exactly as anyone else does, including the instructor.  Most of us worry that we will look funny or somehow be singled out if we don’t follow along precisely as prescribed.  In general, this could not be farther from the truth.  For one thing, most participants in a class are too focused on themselves to worry about or even notice what anyone else is doing.  Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, classes should be a judgment-free zone.  If the one you’re attending isn’t, then find another one.  There are so many out there.  Don’t let one bad experience keep you from finding a place where you can be yourself.  Just show up and move to whatever internal drummer motivates.  Ultimately you’ll find a place where you can feel comfortable.  Online classes are great in a pinch, but community is still an important benefit of classes.

However, sometimes we have to move on.  Accept the reality of the moment and find new paths to travel and new communities to join. When I could no longer run, I found other activities like hiking and walking that I could do alone or with a group – my choice.  When certain yoga poses become too difficult, there’s no rule that says I need to keep doing them.  There are so many others available to me.   Many aspects of my life will and have changed, but what I’ve achieved in the past will always be part of me.  No amount of change or passage of time can erase those accomplishments.  And the person I am today is the sum of all of the many experiences I’ve had during the time that has passed since the day I was born. Learning to be satisfied with who I am today is just another part of my practice.  Each day requires a new reminder of that since every day brings new changes.  Change can signal fear or excitement for experiencing something new.  It’s all a matter of how you perceive it.  And that is a choice each of us can make for ourselves.


Reflections on the Journey

While walking this morning I saw a friend that I used to see frequently on the trail but had not seen for some time.  We stopped to chat.  He told me he had recently had a heart attack.  As followers of this blog know I have had my own health issues to deal with over the last couple of years so we found ourselves comparing notes on setbacks and recovery.  He said, “I never thought I was a candidate for heart problems.  I have always exercised and, in fact, used to run marathons.”  Hmmm.  That sounded familiar.  I could certainly identify with his surprise. After all my years of yoga and Pilates it was equally mystifying to find myself with a back problem that required surgery.  Still more amazing to me, and still a source of bafflement, is the fact that I’ve had cancer twice and somehow I’m still here while others with what seems like similar conditions have not been so fortunate.  Stuff happens.  None of us know why.  The medical community can try to address these issues.  Sometimes they succeed, sometimes not.  At times it seems that as we continue to unravel the mysteries of the human body, questions continue to outnumber answers and every answer seems to uncover more questions.  What’s a person to do??

For me, it all comes back to the basics.  Take one step at a time and focus on the journey, not the outcome.  At this particular moment, I’m feeling better than I have for at least the last 3 years.  Maybe this will last, maybe it won’t, but that makes focusing on this moment right now all the more important.  It has become a practice requiring frequent reminders, but this time I’m determined to try to celebrate every moment of feeling good. During most of last year, while I was experiencing pretty constant pain, I frequently lamented the fact that I had once been pain-free but failed to appreciate it.  Now that I am reasonably pain-free again I have to remember how truly fortunate I am.  Not everyone can experience the results that I have and I can’t attribute these positive results to any particular talent, skill or even genetic trait of mine.  I don’t have any special abilities or powers.  It is tempting to try and find some rhyme or reason why I’m doing great while others aren’t, but there really is no definitive answer to that question.

So rather than spend time pondering the whys and wherefores, I would much prefer to just be grateful for right now and try to take as much pleasure from it as possible.  It’s so easy to get caught up in regrets about the past or concerns about the future.  Whatever was is done and gone.  It can’t be changed.  Whatever hasn’t happened yet is unknown.  Anyone who claims to be able to see into the future is fooling themselves and probably others.  They might luck out and get it right every now and then, but any prediction is still a guess. Sure, we can try and be prepared for circumstances that might arise and certainly we don’t want to throw all caution to the wind.  But it’s still best not to cling too hard to any particular outcome.  If things go the way we hope, that’s great.  But if not, that’s just the way life is.  It’s nothing personal. And we still have to deal with the reality of what is rather than wishing that things were different.

A recurring theme throughout this blog has been to focus on what you CAN do rather than being sorry for what you think you lack.  Years ago I used to read mysteries by the author Sue Grafton.  Her books often made reference to her daily 3-mile run.  In one of those books – unfortunately, I don’t remember which one – she mentioned her run and then said something like, “If I’d known what was about to happen, I would’ve enjoyed that run more.”  That probably isn’t the exact quote, but the sentiment somehow stayed with me.  I thought at the time that I never wanted to have that kind of regret.  Admittedly, however, the concept got away from me.  I forgot to enjoy the pain-free times while they were happening and instead took them for granted.  When things are going well it’s easy to develop the illusion that everything will always be like it is.  But nothing ever stays the same.  We can see evidence of this all around us.  It might seem like the solution would be to restore the past, but it’s never possible to do that.  Even attempting to make that happen always has unintended consequences.

Still there are times when illness or injury – yours or someone else’s – makes staying in this moment really challenging.  In times like these we are all stronger than we think we are.  As impossible as it may seem, it can be an important practice trying to find something positive to focus on.  I don’t mean to make that sound easy.  It’s not.  And even trying to implement a practice like that seems inherently doomed to fail.  But failure is temporary; there is always another opportunity to practice.  If it doesn’t work today, try again tomorrow.  After all, tomorrow will probably be different.  Everything that happens is an opportunity to learn something new – about ourselves or about life in general.  That in itself is something positive.  We may be handed lessons we wish we didn’t have to learn, but learning is part of the journey.