The only blogs I personally like to read are terse and humorous, neither of which mine is. But some have mentioned they enjoy mine. So I’ve composed a few vignettes.
What you wish for in the dark
When I come home at night, seven pm, the world’s been dark since four thirty. Headlights off, car off, bags gathered, and out of the front seat down across the sand-and-salt street to the mailbox. It’s a nice ritual. The mailbox, I mean, and everything around it. The cavernous night sky and my breath in the winter. I don’t even always have mail. When I do, I pull the letters out. They’re soggy if it’s been snowing. I carry them in my mouth or pressed to my chest. It’s so dark, and I have a long driveway, icy walkway. I take cautious steps, fumble for keys. Moments exist between me and my letters. I can’t yet see who sent them or what they say. Nothing rushes. As I’m walking up past the corner of my house by the one sleeping bush, all branches in February, they cross my mind. Sometimes there is a hope for a specific letter, something in particular, a surprise, or someone I’ve written to who never wrote back. The letter I wish for in the dark before I cross through the mudroom to the lamp, that’s the letter that’s taught me the most.
From the wish that whistles through me, I learn what I care about and what I need. Between the mailbox and inside, the letter I want, the dreams I have, the words I would like to hear or read, I realize them. The walk in the dark with the letters in my mouth, it’s taught me: the news we hope for or the assurance we seek, it can be identified as easily as a breath, by naming what we wish for in the dark. If we can see inside ourselves, what do we need to hear? from whom? then, we become capable, bigger, able to tend to that need for ourselves. For we are the only ones who can fulfill ourselves and give ourselves space to yearn and find. Then, in so learning what we need, we can also begin to understand what others need. They might need it too. It, whatever it is. The wish in the dark. Give them what we need. Cradle the wish in ourselves, tend to it, give the tenderness away.
I still can’t say I know his name, but he talks to me at the gym. Always, it’s chats around the reception after our work-out, how many miles we did that day, our pace, our pain, how we can’t wait for winter to end so we can run outside again. Yesterday, after I did a five-mile run on Saturday, he greeted my entering the fitness center with an eager, “I did four today!” Seems now we’re pushing each other to better our distance and our time. I said I wasn’t feeling up to doing more than two that day, but congrats! He replied, “After two miles I just disappeared into my mind.” He makes a whooshing sound and waves his hand over his head to simulate what it feels like when you run and you disappear at the same time, so it no longer feels like you’re running but captured in your mind and the movement happens on its own.
I did three that day. I did not disappear in my mind; I just ran. Showed up the next day, today, and I knew it was going to be good: 20 minutes of running, and I felt nourished; 30 minutes in and I wasn’t tired; four miles passed and I had disappeared. It’s almost spiritual—endorphins, whatever you want to call it. Some claim God is neurological. For me, the disappearing is that concept they call mind-body. The connection. I spent years studying psychology, sitting through all this chat about mind-body blah, blah, and I would say I’ve understood it. For the first time, I’ve felt it. It’s one thing to understand a concept; it’s another to experience it. When I get out for a run, and it’s a good run, it’s only good because my mind and my body work together, so I run until I’m not running anymore but dancing to a beat or lifting sky-high inside myself.
It doesn’t have to be a run that gives you that connection. I am lucky to have two legs that work so well and no health or physical limitations. For anyone who does, there is meditation, yoga, gentler exercise, many ways to push for and find that connection.
This is important: regardless of how one explores mind-body, the ability to get to that connection is related to what, how, and if I’ve eaten, hydrated, and slept. It’s related to what I’ve breathed, experienced, and been around that day and that week. A good run leaves me feeling good but a good run only comes from treating myself well beforehand. The good runs are not about length or pace—they’re about having the strength, aided by good sleep, good nutrition, good hydration, to get to the point where it’s no longer running but feeling, thinking, disappearing in the movement. If I don’t have the strength to get to that moment because I have not gently and properly conditioned myself mentally and physically, I cannot have a good run. Mind-body is a philosophy of being intimate with me and my workings. It’s all of everything that allows me to be connected: my head to my heart to my knees to myself, my fuel, my fire, my nutrients, my hopes and dreams and beliefs about myself. Nourishment. It’s almost spiritual.
These days, I keep a daily journal of hours of sleep, vitamins, fluids, nutrition, and exercise, but the most important part I write in this journal are the sentences at the end, under the bullet, “myself” and “others.” Myself means what I did that day that was for me, that fulfilled me. Others means what I did that day that was for others, that fulfilled others. Both of these bullets are filled with the simplest things. Sometimes it’s a smile. Sometimes it’s eating my favorite meal or spending extra time with a student. The two bullets, myself and others, are at the end of my journal entry every day. The entire entry begins with the nutrition, hydration, and sleep because I cannot serve myself and I cannot serve others if I don’t have enough rest, enough food, if I’m dragging and inactive, not tending to my body and my mind. Without the first half, the second half, where I am able to give to myself and others, is weakened. Every day, I reflect on all these different and important pieces of my day, and I see how they tie together and work together to affect me. Reflecting consciously on my day and how I’ve sustained myself allows me to be strong. It’s also helps me realize these types of mind-body connections I’m talking about.
Most of the times in college, the first parts of my life to suffer was the amount of sleep I got and how well I ate. If I was really busy, I ate poorly, on the run, and I stayed up all night many nights in a row. Ironically, those are the parts that I needed the most to be a more effective and happy person. If I could advise any college student today, I would say, don’t sacrifice the parts of your life that keep you going. Rest. Eat well. Really, sleep. A lot. All the successes and achievements, I would trade them for sleeping in or spending all day Saturday watching mindless TV, two things I did maybe twice in four years of college. Success is many different things. On the one hand, universities breed exhausted, critically-thinking and highly successful generations of students who will inevitably change the world, but on the other hand, I can remember, we were exhausted, our thoughts half the time were incomplete and half-critical because we were so busy, and we changed the world but forgot about ourselves. Maybe we didn’t forget about ourselves, but we denied ourselves for the sake of studying, grades, and extracurriculars.
Minds and bodies untended to. The parts that are our foundation, sleep, nutrition, the foundation that allows us to serve others, to dance in the movements, to love ourselves were the parts we sacrificed. Then you graduate and life slows down and one day you’re in a gym talking to a guy in the middle of nowhere, Maine and he tells you he disappeared as he ran, and then one day, you’re running and realize everything is connected, and you needed the eight hours of sleep to know what to say when the kid showed you a bruise, and you needed the extra banana after work to feel strong enough to keep running, and now, you feel you’re stronger than you’ve ever been, so you run farther, and at the end, you laugh deeper, and you sleep better, and you love more, and the word success means you’re standing on a foundation, and it’s strong, and you don’t worry about falling. Most of the time, you don’t even wobble.
Revelry of the do-gooder
I like the word revel. Because it’s one-letter-off from rebel, something I’ve secretly always wanted to be.
My younger sister sends me a text today about the February challenge to DO GOOD. There’s a new challenge every day, she says. She’s so excited. Then, she says thoughtfully, “People make such a big deal about ‘doing good’ in this world but it’s really not that hard. Plus, it makes you and everyone else around you feel good so I say, why the hell aren’t more people doing good?”
It’s true. It’s not just a feel-good thing, although it is proven to give a mood boost. It’s healthy. In studies on people in chronic pain, those who volunteered had less pain and less depression. It increases longevity. It increases confidence. Helping out has countless benefits. One blogger writes about how her life with chronic illness is transformed through doing good.
My sister and I discuss the phenomenon, though, of the do-gooder two-shoes. The backlash of judgment against the do-gooder. Those filled with the good spirit to make a difference: well, can anyone really be so pure and good-intentioned? Why do they have to be so do-gooder-ish? Gag.
People lose touch, get jaded, feel suspicious or inadequate around good. When it seems so hard to make a difference, in a world that’s filled with crimes and demons and disaster and pain, that’s when people shove off. They shove the world away, form communities of people who’ve abandoned society’s qualms, escaped into whatever feel-good fix that helps them feel like they can manage, and they stop caring about the bigger scene, the larger-than-us. They complain, they have intelligent conversations about the world, then thrive in first-world-problems. They judge the do-gooder as an optimist who still believes in revolutions and their impact. It’s calculated nonchalance. There are too many problems, so let’s blame the naivety of people who try to do something. The world we grew up in sometimes feels like it’s falling apart; maybe it’s always been bad. So, there are rebels. The lifestyle they choose foregoes the problems.
Revel comes from the same root word as rebel. To me, though, revel is like dancing, like free-falling risk, like optimism, like ribbons and festivities and life all around you. This is where the good comes in: there is another kind of rebellion. Where we are, in fact, more, reveling than rebelling, where instead of pushing against the world, we are diving into it and drinking deep. That’s when we embrace the world-changing and the do-gooding, and it becomes a spirit and not a task. We’re holding out our hands, spinning with abandon into the arms of the world’s problems, saying, I will learn how to fix you. We spin right into city streets, lecture halls, down to sit beside the victim or comfort the child or feed someone, and we revel so much, we let our tears come and our strengths show and we sign our name and add our weight to scales until doing good is one action but more than that, and it’s the way we live, and the world tips.
DO GOOD this February: click here.
In the end
The only vignette I want to write is one that helps you feel a little better or challenged or alive. This week, a little boy came running into afterschool clutching a picture of a shipwreck. The joy and excitement, the grin and spilling words, I felt it as he felt it, showing me that picture, as if the word life had been embodied. Life, a reason for it, as small as loving shipwrecks and having something to be excited about. Honest, he loves the wrecks, fascinated by them, thrilled when someone shares the joy. Everything I write is my shipwreck, a child’s excitement. It’s what everyone needs, what makes us rejoice. That thriving feeling. Find a shipwreck. Be inspired.