Moving – Lessons Learnt from Injury

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I move.

I’m not naturally sporty, fitness doesn’t come easily. I sat in the ‘arty’ corner of the common room at school, not the ‘sporty’ one. As an adult however, no longer bound by once comforting school-time cliques, fitness is important. I run – I’m no ironman but I regularly run 12k  and sometimes the occasional half marathon. I surf – I’m not very good at it but I have a lot of fun being tumbled in the waves whatever the weather. I walk – I love a good stomp over the cliffs when my legs ask me not to run.

The best advice I was given about parenting was ‘keep them moving’. Don’t tell them to exercise, just keep them moving: rolling, splashing, stomping, tumbling. Chase them, fly them, spin them and whatever you do, never, EVER tell them you’re going for a walk. An adventure, a hunt, an explore… but never a walk!

This has all become a given to me, balancing moving with working, parenting and drinking coffee with friends is life. And it’s a good life…. when the balance is right. If you’d asked me a few weeks ago why I exercise, I would have told you that it buys me the right to eat biscuits, to drink guilt free wine, it keeps me fit enough, and is a good example to the children. Truth. But not the whole truth. It’s taken me until now… 40 years into life’s crazy journey to really understand WHY I move, and what happens when I don’t. Three weeks ago I broke my ankle, not just broke but shattered it. An unfortunate accident with a skateboard and with the help of a hefty amount of metal, it will be fine.  I try to keep perspective and remember how lucky I am – I don’t have to live with this forever.

I fight the guilt of feeling sorry for myself, guilt for my permanently disabled dad who lived and died with a body that didn’t work properly, guilt for the millions of people living with disability without hope of healing, guilt for people who suffer these injuries in parts of the world where they don’t have the medical care we have, who can’t get prescription painkillers to get through the day. But even with the voice in my ear telling me to be grateful JEEZ it’s hard! The reason it’s hard is not the pain, it’s not the inconvenience, it’s the NOT BEING ABLE TO MOVE! Of course I can hobble about and go out in the back of the car when somebody is kind enough to take me, but I can’t push my body until I feel it working hard. I can’t pull on a wetsuit and feel the freeze of the winter sea biting my face. I can’t get out of breath and feel my lungs burn. More than these physical sensations though are the emotional ones. I can’t escape when life/work/kids drives me crazy, I can’t step outside when I’m facing a problem and walk until I’ve confronted it, I can’t let the sea wash away my worries, I can’t run until that decision I have to make has been made and it’s hard. Suddenly the scales that keep me…well… me are wonky, the balance is wrong. My head is foggy, I’m more short tempered than normal, I can focus on nothing, working (I, conveniently, work from home) is like wading through PVA glue with skis on, I cry at the drop of a hat, laughing feels like quite hard work and things which normally don’t really matter to me suddenly matter too much.

My mental health has been affected by my accident as much, if not more than my body, and that has been a real shock and an amazing revelation in equal measure. Now I understand why I have to keep moving! Why I have to keep the small people moving! I am giving them (and myself) much more than a healthy body, I am giving them a healthy mind and the ability to cope. I suppose I’ve always known that, but now I REALLY know that, and I know too that I AM lucky. I have the luxury, even through my less-than-sharp brain, of perspective and of a future full of movement. Call me optimistic, but I’m expecting to swing back the other way in a few months and experience the mental agility of Einstein, and bounce and happiness the like of which is only experienced by Tigger.

Here’s hoping!

Guest Post by my lovely friend Abbie – wise words and I hope very much she is mended soon.

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Resolutions 1: Start by accepting what is

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Having been mulling change – which is something I don’t find very easy, I was struck today by the reason that I so often fail when making resolutions – by starting in the wrong place.

Change comes with accepting reality. Acceptance brings peace and often acts as a turning point for change. By acceptance I don’t mean some kind of resigned victimhood – but more being at peace with what is. In my experience this doesn’t come without a struggle, without recognising the beasts of anger, denial, sadness and hopelessness. It comes from stopping running away, fighting and attempting to control and  instead simply being.

There are days – in particular those when everything is going my way, when it’s an easy practice and there are others, full of loss, pain and upheaval where denial,blame or distraction are the go to stratedgies. Sometimes reality is simply more than I can bear.

The problem is that until we accept where we are in the present, we can’t look objectively and peacefully at our situation – and without that we can’t make helpful decisions and act from a place of peace and stability.

It’s the ultimate paradox – until we really accept and understand who and where we are, we’re living in a state of delusion and are not in a situation to make changes.

I’m running alot at the moment, partly in training for next year and partly because the Christmas excesses of body and mind – in both social and calorific terms seem best remedied by some exercise. The past few days have been a struggle, the Christmas Holidays are still in full swing, with children in hectic, happy, fully present evidence and the eldest siblings who usually supply my respite childcare  away for a week. I’ve felt the resentment brewing internally, spilling over into irritation, frustration, a feeling of claustrophobia. I haven’t been able to run – and to my shame have blamed my small children who have bourne the brunt of my “bear with a sore head” attitude.

Today I woke with the clouds of angry denial clearing, I could see that my reaction was unjustified and instead of casting myself as victim I was able to make a change. Instead of lying ruminating in bed, dark thoughts brewing, I decided to exercise where I could – in this case half an hour of unpleasant but deeply satisfying hill repeats (runners will understand…) on the road outside the house, whilst the children finnished their list of jobs.

It sounds to good to be true – but it worked. By accepting how life was in the moment without being clouded by emotion I had my running fix, the training plan continued and life was balanced once more. I did return to a couple of broken pictures as a result of Paddington’s attempt to hoover the stairs – but it was a small price to pay…..

The light of the dying day – anatomy of a winter run

For the past many months, each week at the same time and on the same day I’ve run the same route upwards from the far Western bay of the Isle of Wight to within a stones throw of The Needles Lighthouse. It’s argueably about as wild as the Isle of Wight gets. I’ve run it in searing heat on burnt yellowing grass with the sea below limpid blue, clear enough to see the lunar outlines of barrel jellyfish hanging in the shallows; in gale force winds strong enough to make the steepish incline feel like summiting Everest with the cliffs echoing from the heavy brunt of Atlantic storms and perhaps most often recently in disorientating dense billowing mist which threatens to lure the unwary dangerously close to the crumbling edges.

As so often in late December, this was a day where  the night never quite left, windless and eerily calm. The bay itself was grey, the sea throwing up a  large swell, given the absence of wind. A couple of brave surfers paddled out between the rocky outcrops at the Western tip, and the mist hung over stag rock on the Eastern edge – named in remembrance of a stag which supposedly leapt from the adjacent cliffs to escape from a hunt in Victorian times. These rocks on either side of the bay entrance were once the haunt of smugglers and were blasted away with explosives in 1916 to allow the ship “Carl” which was washed onto the beach in heavy storms, to be sailed free, leaving shallow ledges which provide fertile ground for snorkelling expeditions on a calm summer day.

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On the cliffs from which the stag must have leapt a red council sign warns “Danger Cliff Edges Can Be Dangerous”

 

Unknown

As the memorial to a 15 year old boy who feel to his death further along the path suggests, this may be something of an understatement.

E.L.M.
AGED 15
HE COMETH FORTH
LIKE A FLOWER
AND IS CUT DOWN.
HE FLEETH ALSO AS
A SHADOW AND
CONTINUETH NOT.

JESUS SAID
I AM THE
RESURRECTION
AND THE LIFE

ERECTED
IN REMEMBRANCE OF
A MOST DEAR
AND ONLY CHILD
WHO WAS SUDDENLY
REMOVED INTO ETERNITY
BY A FALL FROM
THE ADJACENT CLIFF
TO THE ROCKS BENEATH
28TH AUGUST 1846
—-
READER PREPARE TO
MEET THY GOD, FOR THOU
KNOWEST NOT WHAT A DAY
MAY BRING FORTH

IN THE
MIDST OF LIFE
WE ARE IN DEATH

As with writing, quite often with running, the first few minutes are the most painful, there’s often a kind of hesitancy which allows for all kinds of distraction – on this occasion a few minutes spent watching the surfers toiling out against a turbulent ocean, before turning upwards through the well worn path into the mist towards the monument to Alfred Lord Tennyson.

My running companion always greets the site of this apparently never ending incline with considerable more enthusiasm than I do, skittering this way and that after imaginary rabbits, body taught and quivering with intensity as he prepares to launch himself.

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As we climb, the mist thickens and a steady rhythm takes hold and with foot planting firmly on soft springy turf, the run takes on its own momentum. The monument at the crest of the hill appears suddenly out of the whiteness – bringing with it a feeling of relief that the effort is over and a reminder that here, the sheer drop of the cliff is nearly 150 metres high and only metres away.

As we gently meander downwards,cattle appear out of the gloam. A white heifer heavily in calf  and ponderous shows only a passing interest in our presence.

white cow in mist

Below us the land opens up like a runway. Suddenly with the memory of the uphill trudge forgotten, I want to run – really run and dog and I take off between the strange patchwork of gorse and heather that mark the Western tip of the Island, chasing the haze of the setting sun.

Dancing in the moonlight

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A ” Nuit Blanche” is the typically elegant French way of describing the night when sleep won’t come, when the wandering mind begins its uncontrollable rumination and the distinction between reality and fictional catastrophes becoming blurred. A wonderful antidote is to tiptoe outside, to gently begin to notice the sensation of cold damp grass on bare skin, the vastness of the dark sky and the gentle rustlings of the creatures of the night going about their mysterious business.

I am spending the winter immersed in the outdoors – in part necessitated by my line of work, but importantly also because during much of my leisure time, I choose to be physically active and in touch with the elements that frequently batter and buffet our small Southern English Island.

I often wonder why I choose to drag myself from  the warmth and comfort of a blazing hearth into the world of slate grey skys, wintry drizzle and biting wind that often seems to define my local environment at this time of year.

I run. At the moment I run alot. I run for all the usually cited reasons but above all, I run – or walk, swim, cycle, surf in our inhospitable turbulent sea, ski where nobody else goes, seek the icy blast of wind on exposed ocean shores, for a reason that goes beyond the typical list of why we should exercise.  I do all these things because they help me to feel alive.

As a generation we were bought up to know with our minds – taught to embibe and process knowledge as a baby suckles milk. We weren’t taught to feel – and particular to feel our own bodies – infact most of us are barely in our bodies alot of the time. We are the disembodied.

This disembodiement is largely as a result of living a life dissociated from our enviroment and increasingly from each other too – with thermostatically controlled heated buildings, remote communication,  a constant feed of knowledge, speed, pressure and momentum to be producitve. It’s not the world we have evolved to live in and the bodies’ natural response to this “threat” is often to close down  both emotional and physical senses in order to facilitate a quick  and efficient escape from the percieved danger without having to deal with any emotional responses or bodily feelings. Of course that’s useful when escaping from a predator in the African Savannah – but when this response is constantly triggered and doesn’t switch itself off by the required physical burnout of hormones, we are potentially in trouble.

The result of this is that for alot of us there’s a kind of emotional numbness and sterility that accompanies life which isn’t pleasant – and it takes fairly hefty physical stimulation to actually feel “in” your body.

If you doubt this try a body scan meditation (1). This involves sweeping awareness over the body slowly, focusing bit by bit on each area. It can be an  interesting experience largely because we are ususally completely unaware of how a particular part of the body actually feels at any given moment – unless of course there’s a problem somewhere in which case it usually signals loud and clear.

Experiencing  our body in this way brings with it a huge sense of stability – a groundedness and connection to the outside which is stable, which bypasses the mind with its omnipresent chatter. If we listen hard enough we can begin to feel that the body has a kind of natural intelligence that knows how to handle pain and pleasure, energies and impulses. It knows how to hold them and to let them go. We can also begin to celebrate the wonderfulness of being alive. it’s incredible that we spend so much time and money trying to look a certain way but we neglect to notice everyday that our body is a marvel – a wonderful creation to be grateful for and to care of with kindness. Even when we are old or ill ,whilst we are still breathing we can notice and give thanks for that

Mindfulness mediation is often recommended for those seeking inner calm and equanimity – but sometimes meditation is not a good medicine for the disembodied person. For many people living in the modern world, maybe a more useful approach would be to actually begin to feel the sensations of their body – to gain steadiness from real embodiment  – to put body into its natural environment within a context that it participates in – even if, or perhaps especially if it’s challenging. That’s what being outside does for me.

  1. http://franticworld.com/free-meditations-from-mindfulness/

 

Inviting discomfort

My mornings so often begin with running – it eases the body into the rhythm of the day, takes the edge of the energy of the dog and provides some grounding in the world – a feeling of being in touch with the raw outdoors.

This week was no exception – although the steepish Isle of Wight downland hills were exchanged for the decidedly mountainous Dorset Coastal Path – some of which was almost frightening to walk down let alone run up.

Running – together with many of my other passions, brings with it pain and discomfort at times – and with that a lesson in tolerance, the realisation that these feelings are transitory. It’s always tempting to avoid anything experienced as unpleasant – whether it be emotion, physical stress or just boredom, mundanity. To avoid is to miss the essential wisdom that suffering is part of life – and that to reach real contentment the secret lies in learning to accept and live through all experience – pleasant or unpleasant in order to cultivate real equanimity which is regardless of external circumstance.

A happy, incredibly messy and as always very inspiring, few days were spent in Clare Trenchard’s studio, battling with the art of sculpting in plaster. The lovely Clare welded my armature this time – but the next challenge is an arc welding day course, after which I will be let loose on larger creations.. I’m secretly hankering after a life size Highland Cow ….

Standing lurcher - work in progress

Standing lurcher – work in progress