Equanimity in the Wind

We Kansas cyclists know wind.

My original blog post explained the inspiration behind the JustWind name and philosophy. Justwindmusings.com blog continues to evolve into my coaching practice website, justwindcoach.com. I was encouraged last week, when I reconnected with an acquaintance with whom I had had no contact in nearly a decade. Out of the blue, without knowing the name of my coaching practice or my blog, she told me that she has always remembered our conversation when I explained the concept of adopting the perspective that life’s challenges are “just wind.” Her recollection helped validate for me the benefits of applying the “just wind” reframe in the face of challenges and difficulties.

Winds in Kansas were so strong on Tuesday that my son’s track meet was postponed. This is a reminder that, even when viewing challenges as “just wind,” there are times when we must stop and regroup. Occasionally, doing so is both prudent and necessary. Sometimes we encounter an obstacle so big that it causes us to step back and adjust. The important this is that we do get back on track and that we take from it what we choose to aid in future growth and progress on our path.

Regaining Equanimity

“When force of circumstance upsets your equanimity, lose no time in recovering your self-control, and do not remain out of tune longer than you can help. Habitual recurrence to the harmony will increase your mastery of it.”—Marcus Aurelius

Because the winds of life will blow, sometimes even knocking us down or pushing us off course, it is crucial that we have strategies to help return to equanimity, which is a state of calm steadiness, even in the face of chaos around us. Here are some of the strategies that I use personally and that I teach my coaching clients:

  1. Mindfulness: To me, this means being in the present, rather than being caught up in the frenzy of past regrets or future worries. Practicing mindfulness allows us to think before we act, to remember our priorities and to make conscious choices. It is a decision to act with purpose and to remain in alignment with our values. I see mindfulness as having at least two parts—a dedicated time for practicing mindfulness (Morning works well for me.) and anchors and rituals to return to mindfulness at key times (such as meals) throughout the day.
  2. Breathing exercises: While breathing exercises are part of my morning and pre-meal mindfulness practices, I also employ them throughout the day in moments of stress, times when I need or want increased focus and when I want to reset my mood and mindset. Noticing the breath, intentionally deepening and slowing the breath and practicing particular breathing patterns can all facilitate a return to equanimity.
  3. Empowered movement: Setting an intention for exercise and reflecting on that intention throughout a movement session often evokes feelings of relaxation, peace, gratitude and even joy or euphoria, after a long, stressful day. I can literally feel the weight of the day lift from my body on a good bike ride, where I am really focused on my intention for the ride. Any kind of physical activity can serve this purpose.
  4. Powerful words: I have mentioned in previous posts how much I love quotes. I have collected them for years and refer to my volumes (I just started my sixth blank book!) at several points throughout the day to find words that speak to me in the moment. If I do this before an opportunity to think—like a bike ride, drive or shower—I will contemplate the quote or use it as a mantra during that activity. It is amazing what insight can come from this practice. It often allows me to reset and steady myself in the face of life’s winds.

Appreciating the Winds

“Should you shield the canyons from the windstorms you would never see the true beauty of their carvings.”—Elisabeth Kubler Ross

As difficult as it can be in the moment, we have much to gain, and a better chance at achieving equanimity, if we can find appreciation for the winds of life that batter us. It may not be so much that we appreciate the winds or challenges themselves, but that we recognize that they are a big part of what makes us who we are.

I find that riding into 35- or 40-mph wind for hours, while not exactly fun, is much more bearable when I remind myself that the winds are making me stronger and increasing my mental toughness. I often draw back on previous experience facing brutal headwinds or holding my line in the assault of crosswinds. I tell myself, “This is tough, but it is not as tough as the Satanta to Ashland day (an infamous day on Biking Across Kansas 2006).” I finished that day (and then sank, exhausted, onto the school bathroom floor to nurse my 1-year-old son), so I know that I have it in me to survive other ordeals.

We become stronger when we face the winds and survive.

Not only that, but we are shaped and changed and made unique by our difficult experiences. Acknowledging this is not the same as asking for these trials. Like the wind in Kansas, though, they will occur. When we can appreciate them for the lessons we learn and the strength we gain, we are better able to handle them. We become more adept at staying upright and at keeping on course amid the challenges.

Adopting regular rituals and practices that allow us to return to equanimity positions us on a peaceful platform to reflect on, and benefit from, the growth that we can achieve through courageously pedaling forward in life’s wind.

February Funk

I promised myself to publish at least two blog posts per month in 2018. It is late February, and I am just writing my first for the month. It is not the post I planned to write. Hopefully, I’ll still get that done in the last few days of the month.

For now, I just need to acknowledge that February has been an “off” month and move forward.

There is no major reason for my February Funk. Through introspection, I have come to recognize some contributing factors.

One of my problems has been vertigo attacks and the residual symptoms. All in all, I am very grateful for my great health, but I have dealt with Benign Paroxysmal Positional Vertigo occasionally, since January 2017. I wrote about my first attack here. After months of feeling fine, I had a severe attack, with extreme nausea, on December 10, 2017. That one really knocked me down. My most recent attack was January 23, 2018. It came on after a prolonged period lying flat at a periodontist appointment. I treated it with the Epley Maneuver, which a vestibular therapist taught me to perform on myself, so that I don’t have to see a doctor every time I have an attack. I am grateful for that, but I have not felt “normal” since my last two attacks in January. I feel a sense of disequilibrium in variety of positions, and, frustratingly, I have felt a bit limited. I am very grateful that, unless I am in an active attack, my cycling is largely unaffected. I have had to modify resistance training, yoga and other exercise, though, and I don’t like that. I am afraid to sleep in any position, except on my back, propped up on two thick pillows. The sensation that it would not take much to send me into another attack has left me feeling vulnerable in a way that is uncomfortable.

Combined with the vertigo, winter weather has added to my funk. I am a summer girl, so Kansas winters are always tough on me. Winter driving is a particular fear of mine. While I know that this winter could have been (and still may be) much worse than it has been, but I have had a few very stressful driving experiences this season. The worst one occurred unexpectedly earlier this month, when I was driving back from Manhattan, Kansas, after a Biking Across Kansas volunteer staff meeting. While I knew northern Kansas had a winter weather advisory starting at 6 p.m., south central Kansas was not under any kind of advisory. I left Manhattan by 5 p.m. and drove south. The first half of my drive was fine, but I suddenly realized, while driving 75 mph on the interstate, that freezing precipitation had started. My heart started was pounding. I reduced my speed and took deep breaths to calm myself. My biggest problem was that my defroster was not keeping up with the precipitation in the subzero wind chill. No matter what I tried, the portion of the windshield through which I could see grew narrower and narrower. My anxiety became overwhelming on the dark, icy interstate. I desperately needed to exit, but could barely see to do it. I turned on my emergency flashers and slowed even more, barely able to see at all. Finally, I made it to an exit with a truck stop. Shaking because of my greatly reduced vision, I managed to make my way onto the street and then make a left turn into the truck stop. I could not really see where I was going and ended up among the diesel pumps and semi-trailers. Somehow, I weaved my way to an access road and then into a McDonald’s parking lot. I got out, scraped my windows and sat for several minutes, with the defroster on full blast and the windshield wipers running. Eventually, I found the courage to head the remaining 22 miles home on county roads. I was grateful to make it home safely, but the experience was terrifying and left me feeling completely spent, even the next day.

I fully realize that these are small problems, in the big scheme of all that people face in this world. Still the disequilibrium of my lingering vertigo symptoms, my fear of setting off another attack of vertigo and the adrenaline crash after my frightening drive have left me feeling drained and off and ineffective this month. I have felt an unsettling lack of clarity around goals for my coaching practice and other areas of life, and I have felt a heavy inertia settle in and weigh me down.

In my coaching practice, I work with people who choose to live and age with power and purpose regardless of life’s challenges, so I must make the conscious decision to get back on track and do the same. The JustWind philosophy teaches that we can face the Kansas-strength winds of life and still look around and appreciate what we have and choose to keep taking brave steps forward. I talk to my coaching clients about viewing their mistakes, shortfalls and steps backward with curiosity, not judgment. I have to remind myself to do the same. I realize that sometimes we need to take a step back to look around and make sure we are headed the right way. Maybe that is part of what is happening for me.

I just can’t stay here. I need to keep moving forward and making progress and evolving and growing. As part of that process, I am in day three of a reset cleanse. This is not a fast. That works for some people, but it is not for me. I don’t function well at all without food. I am just taking extra care for the next two weeks to emphasize whole foods even more diligently than I usually do. During this period of feeling off, my chocolate cravings have returned. This reset cleanse will help me eliminate those. It will also allow me to lose the sense of heaviness that I have been feeling. Some sunshine (which we have for the first time in a week!) and warm weather would certainly help that, but those things are out of my control, so I will control what I can and eat very cleanly, while incorporating empowered movement and engaged mindfulness.

I will treat myself with compassion, acknowledge the impact of the vertigo and the terrifying drive, and view my feelings of the last several weeks with curiosity and openness, learning from them and carrying those lessons forward, as I resume my journey.

Reflections on BAK 2016

Two weeks have already passed since Biking Across Kansas (BAK) 2016 concluded at the Missouri border, in Elwood, Kansas. I have learned so much on and through this annual ride. My experiences with BAK epitomize my major goal for this blog: celebrating my passion for cycling and the lessons and insight I glean through it. No doubt, more formidable crucibles exist, but I have found BAK to be a reliable forge for my evolving self. From my first BAK in 1999, when I was a runner-turned-novice-cyclist, accompanying my then-boyfriend (now husband), to my 18th BAK, as a seasoned veteran and BAK Board Member, I have moved through many phases of life; gained and lost animal and human companions, jobs and life directions; encountered physical and environmental challenges and felt my way through parenthood. Every BAK is different and special in its own way. These are my reflections on BAK 2016.

  • We are almost always tougher than we think—if we give ourselves the chance to find out. I think my first real inkling of this occurred when I trained for, and completed, my first marathon, the 1996 New York City Marathon. After my introductory BAK three years later, my mom asked, “How did you know you could do it?” I realized that my experience in the NYC Marathon, as well as the encouragement and example that my husband and his friends provided, allowed me to have the sense of self-efficacy necessary to attempt to ride across the state. This year, I was privileged to help my son Logan discover that he, too, is tougher than he realized. Logan has grown up around cycling and has participated in BAK every year since I hauled him into the wind and up the Blue Hills in my belly. He has accumulated some road miles for each of the last four years, but this year, on a new road bike, he smashed his previous record and greatly surpassed his goals. At one point, while he and I were riding late in the week after leaving a SAG (support stop) where he had been complimented, I said, “People are really impressed with you, and they are amazed by how well you are riding.” He giggled and said, “Yeah, me too.” The 309 miles he rode boosted his confidence and helped him to realize that he is capable of taking on challenges that some may find unreasonable or impossible. I hope that this awareness carries over into other arenas in his life as he prepares to enter middle school this fall and beyond. The confidence that I have built by accomplishing challenging cycling goals continues to be invaluable for me.
  • I felt stronger than ever. Last year, my as-yet-undiagnosed B6 toxicity and small fiber neuropathy were at their peak on BAK. While I enjoyed the ride, I knew something was not right, and I had thermoregulation issues that caused me a lot of discomfort and concern. I did not really tell anyone how much I was suffering at times. Once I was diagnosed and eliminated the supplements that led to the B6 toxicity, I began in earnest to make a conscious effort to minimize the negative stress in my life, manage unavoidable stress more effectively and optimize my nutrition. I was delighted to find this year that I felt strong and healthy on BAK. At one SAG in Highland, KS, a man told me, “It is just fun to watch you go up the hills. It is like your legs are just carrying you up like a little water bug.” While I appreciated the compliment, he might have retracted it if he had seen me in the hot, hilly headwind stretch that followed that SAG. However, I truly did feel strong and in control over the course of the week, perhaps stronger than on any previous BAK. It was a nice testament to the efficacy of the changes I have made in my life.
  • The wind is just wind, and the hills are just hills. As I mentioned in my introductory post about my blog’s namesake quote, there was a time when I allowed myself to become stressed and frazzled by wind. There was also a time when seeing upcoming hills could psych me out. Since my son rode with me for 309 miles on a very hilly route, I had a lot of opportunity to observe his reactions to hills and wind. When we had a cornering tailwind, he enjoyed the hills and did not worry over them. Later in the week, though, when we faced some challenging hills in strong headwind, his enthusiasm for the hills waned. I tried to share my hard-earned wisdom with him. I have learned that I will get up the hill, albeit a slow, effortful slog at times. I will also reach my destination in the headwind. That, too, can be slow and painful, but I have learned to stay calm in both those conditions, as well as to remain unruffled in crosswind. Those can be unnerving, especially in hills, because the wind currents can become unpredictable and scary. I have learned how to talk to myself to stay calm and collected and peaceful. I tried to help Logan do this, too. I think my words helped occasionally, but I realized that experience is often the most convincing coach. He will probably have to learn these lessons on his own, in order to truly internalize them. Watching him allowed me to reflect on my gratitude for these cycling lessons and to recognize how much I have used them over the past year, as I have worked to manage my stress in healthier ways and to be happier in my daily life.
  • Life is more fun if I am flexible and adaptable. There will be wind, and there will be hills, and I just need to flow with them. Biking Across Kansas provides abundant surprises and unpredictability. Will showers be warm, ice cold, a weak trickle or a needle-like spray? Where will we sleep tonight? What vegan dinner options will be available? On BAK and, I have found, in life, approaching the unknown with a sense of adventure, rather than dread, makes the ride and life much more enjoyable. If I remember the underlying truth—that there is nowhere I would rather be than BAK—I can weather minor inconveniences and irritations without allowing them to spoil the fun. The same is true when navigating the mundane realities of life.
  • Perfect is the enemy of the good. I have been called “rigid” more than once. I prefer the terms “disciplined” and “driven.” I do acknowledge that I can sometimes benefit from relaxing. My nutritional plan on BAK is a perfect example. I never waver in my veganism, but it is not always easy or even possible to meet every one of my daily nutritional objectives while cycling through rural Kansas. This year, I did not always get as many servings of beans or greens as I would have preferred. It is tough to eat exclusively whole-grain pasta or bread, like I do at home. I promised myself this year that I would relax, do the best I could and not allow myself to become stressed if my nutrition was not perfect. I controlled what I could and let go of the rest, and I was very happy and got plenty to eat.
  • Friendships formed and strengthened amidst shared challenge are unique and special. BAK provides an extraordinary medium for growing friendships. Longtime BAKers have shared memories of battling the elements together for many miles over many years. I enjoyed riding quite a few miles this year with my friend David, whose long-ago, matter-of-fact statement about the wind inspired the name of my blog. We share a special bond because of the road battles we have fought together and because of our common love of cycling. We have suffered and survived an 80-mile day with cold, torrential rain, small hail and 45-mph wind. He has stuck by me (twice) when I was slower than slow because of terrible heat cramps. He has worked on my bike roadside when I had mechanical problems. A few years ago, my friend Denise and I rode for a day with two young cross-country runners from Wamego, teaching them how to draft. Even my marriage is a result of cycling. My husband was literally on his bike when we met, and almost all of our dating and early-marriage entertainment was cycling. There is just something special about persevering together when it would be easier to quit.
  • Sometimes easier is better. Before Kenny and I got together, he was a confirmed tenter on BAK. There was no sleeping inside the schools for him. I love sleeping in a tent, so I joined him in his conviction that the tent was the place to be. Once Logan came along, managing the tent and getting on the road in the mornings became more complicated. Over the past few years, and especially now that Logan is riding, rather than sleeping in, we have both realized that sometimes it is just easier and more fun to have one less thing to handle in the mornings (or even in the evenings). There used to be a sort of pride around sleeping in the tent, no matter what. Not anymore. This matches the question that I try to use to make decisions in the rest of life these days: “Will it bring more stress or more peace to my life?” Sometimes easier is better. Kenny and I both owned that truth more fully this year than in the past. We slept inside six of the eight nights. It was easier, and that allowed us both to enjoy BAK more.

A concentrated week spent focused on the bike really illuminates the lessons I learn from cycling. I made a conscious effort this year to enjoy every moment and to avoid dreading my return to real life. Although I would head back out to the Colorado border right now to ride BAK again, I have been fairly successful at cherishing the experiences I had on BAK 2016 and allowing them to enrich my daily life, rather than to look back only with sad nostalgia, wishing my real life were different, as has sometimes been the case in the past.

My goal now is to carry what I have learned from BAK 2016 with me on my training rides at home and in my daily activities as a mom, a wife, an academic advisor, a vegan advocate, a blogger and my assorted other roles. Doing so is evidence that I have truly internalized and incorporated into my being the gifts of the ride.

LoganFirstFullDayBAK2016

It’s Just Wind

On a hot, windy June afternoon in Holton, Kansas in 2002, I encountered my friend David Blair walking among the unloaded bags at our last overnight school on the annual Biking Across Kansas (BAK) tour. Wind is not uncommon in Kansas, but the 2002 tour had been extraordinarily windy, and I was coming down with a cold after seven days of battling the wind. We greeted each other and compared notes from our ride that day. I was sick of being beaten up by the wind all week, and I proceeded to have a mini-tantrum and complain about the wind. David listened quietly and then shrugged and said, gently and matter-of-factly, “It’s just wind.”

Something about the way he said it really struck a chord with me. It was such a simple, casual statement, but it felt profound and full of truth. In an instant, I knew he was right. I was on my fourth BAK, a ride that I loved. It occurred to me that, if all life’s problems were as simple as fighting wind for 60 miles or so on a ride that I had chosen to take, then I would be very fortunate.

I love quotes and have several volumes of formerly blank books filled with them. David’s words went into my then-current volume, and I began to view life through a different lens. I realized that, not only could I acknowledge how minor an issue a windy bike ride really was in the big picture, but I could choose to see the rest of life’s challenges as “wind” and strive to take them in stride, just as David had taught me to do with the Kansas wind.

That was 13 years ago, but I still remind myself often, when dealing with tough issues, that, in the big picture, most of my challenges are “wind.” Living in Kansas, there is no shortage of wind on the bike. Sometimes I am fighting it head-on, and it takes tremendous effort. It can even feel like I am being pushed backwards at times. Other times, it is a crosswind that threatens to buck me into traffic or push me off the road. Times like these, it can be exhausting to hold my line. My hands and arms get worn out from the effort of staying upright in the vicious crosswind. It can be treacherous at times. My best bet for handling it is to stay calm, use caution and determine the best strategy for staying safe. Sometimes that is tucking low and trying to minimize my contact with the wind. If I am in the hills, I often feel safer and steadier if I sit up and take more of the crosswind, but slow my descent. I am not a fearless descender under any conditions, especially in squirrelly crosswind, but staying calm and reading the conditions allow me to respond as effectively and safely as possible.

These experiences and techniques for managing the wind on my bike serve as informative metaphors for handling what life throws at me. David’s response to my complaining was a wake-up call, and it has contributed to my growth as both a cyclist and a human. It was the beginning of my recognition of the ways that cycling’s lessons could apply to the bigger picture of my life. Cycling became more than a physical challenge; it became a foundation for growth and a source of deep joy. Not every moment on the bike is bliss, but I am now grateful for all of them and for the countless gifts they give me. I am stronger both on and off the bike because I have learned to accept the wind for what it is and deal with it calmly and confidently.