Growing Freer

I’ve been thinking about balance.

At the start of the pandemic, which now feels a lifetime ago, I decided that my new found spare time offered me room to begin running again. It didn’t matter that over the previous two decades I moved no faster than a brisk walk. In college I ran to relieve the stress of studies and an unhappy marriage. After college and well into my thirties I ran because when I ran I felt strong and invincible. I wanted to feel that way again. And so I made my preparations. I researched the best shoes for my finicky feet and purchased what I could afford. I found websites and apps with titles like Running for Women, Running for Seniors and Running for Senior Women. I downloaded training schedules and created a list of routes to run and calculated the distances. It didn’t take long for me to graduate from brisk walk to shuffle to an actual jog and in those first weeks I looked forward to a healthy body, a clear mind and the lean, organized structure to my life that I craved.

And then a broken side walk came between my toe and my hopes. While my knees and my thumbs healed I considered giving up. A few months later, when I had a second hard fall, I did give up. 

Falling down was not a rare occurrence when I was a child. My mom would tease, You can trip over thin air, she’d say. When I was in sixth grade one of our teachers who was fresh out of college watched me stumble my way through a tangle of classroom chairs and then, dripping sarcasm, joked about my ‘grace’. It’s funny how we remember these things and not our moments of actual grace. To be fair, it’s true that my knees were skinned more often than not throughout my childhood. But I don’t believe it was because I was clumsy or awkward. I was too busy thinking about the next adventure to notice where I was going. My head was always a million miles ahead of my feet.

And I didn’t think too much about having skinned knees when I was a kid. I always bounced back up, brushed myself off, stuck a bandaid on my scrapes and moved on with life.

But last year the cracks in the sidewalk that sent me flying caught me by surprise. I didn’t bounce back like I did when I was a girl. Something was different. For the first time the trust I had in my body, that all would be well, was questioned. For the first time I found myself afraid of the future and the changes my body would continue to go through as I aged. 

When I stopped catastrophizing about a future that is a mystery to me and began to think clearly I realized that there was plenty I could do now to improve my strength and my balance. How I take care of my body now will inform how my body thrives in the future. I can eat more vegetables. Especially cruciferous ones. I can take Vitamin D. I can add more weight bearing exercises to my routine to keep my bones strong. I can remember that physical balance can be practiced. And then I can make sure to include standing balance poses to my yoga practice.

I don’t really have a formal game plan. It doesn’t mean that I don’t care or that I’m not working toward my healthy future. It means I’m letting go of some of the anxiety I hold about the future. Over the last few weeks I’ve realized that a balanced body goes hand-in-hand with a balanced mind. And to keep a healthy, balanced mind I need to remain present with what is rather than focused on what might be. I can smile more. I can reach out to friends more often. I can immerse myself in the things that I love like art and reading and cooking. 

And I can remember that sometimes we sing the body electric’. Sometimes we fall down. 

This Pablo Neruda poem appeared in my Facebook feed this morning along with this advice: we are growing freer…not older.

You Start Dying Slowly

You start dying slowly

if you do not travel,

if you do not read,

If you do not listen to the sounds of life,

If you do not appreciate yourself.

You start dying slowly

When you kill your self-esteem;

When you do not let others help you.

You start dying slowly

If you become a slave of your habits,

Walking everyday on the same paths…

If you do not change your routine,

If you do not wear different colors

Or you do not speak to those you don’t know.

You start dying slowly

If you avoid to feel passion

And their turbulent emotions;

Those which make your eyes glisten

And your heart beat fast.

You start dying slowly

If you do not change your life when you are not satisfied with your job, or with your love,

If you do not risk what is safe for the uncertain,

If you do not go after a dream,

If you do not allow yourself,

At least once in your lifetime,

To run away from sensible advice.”

– Pablo Neruda