A 53-Mile Lesson in Surviving and Thriving in 2020

“Please subdue the anguish of your soul. Nobody is destined only to happiness or to pain. The wheel of life takes one up and down by turn.”

–Kalidasa

This morning’s ride started off humidly, but blissfully. After a short internal debate—”Do I face the 61st Street dogs early in the ride, with tailwind, or later in the ride, with headwind, but when the dogs are likely to be hot and lazy?”—I headed west. That meant I would pass these pests (Their people are the real pests, since they allow them to run.) within the first three miles, but then be done with them for the rest of the ride. As I approached their home, on the same side of the road, I came upon a rural traffic jam—two slower cyclists up ahead and multiple cars both directions. “Great!” I thought, “Of all places to have to slow down.” I did slow down, knowing that I couldn’t move to the oncoming lane if the dogs ran out to chase. After the last oncoming car passed, I called, “On your left,” and pulled around the cyclists, two Biking Across Kansas acquaintances. We exchanged pleasant greetings, and I said, “Glad those dogs didn’t come out, with all that traffic.” “That’s for sure!” one said, clearly familiar with the furry fiends, as well.

I soon turned south and saw in my mirror that the women continued west. It always feels like a small victory when I get past those dogs without a sighting. Pedaling happily, relishing the quiet Sunday-morning roads, I saw hot air balloonists preparing to launch or wrapping up a flight—I’m not sure which—a few miles later. Except for the dogside traffic jam, the roads were quieter than usual, which had me thinking that people were sleeping off the Fourth of July celebrations.

My ride continued smoothly for several more miles, including a bathroom stop at Lake Afton, until, all of a sudden, 25 miles in, a shockingly painful sting to my groin literally nearly caused me to crash. Disoriented, I realized I was hurtling toward the gravel at the side of the road. I managed to regain control of my bike and come to a stop. Once I clipped out of my pedals and put my feet down, I had to practice great restraint not to strip off my shorts right there on the side of the road. A stinging beastie, apparently unaware or unimpressed that my vegan nonviolence extends to insects, had delivered an excruciatingly painful stab to a very sensitive region. I never did find the perpetrator, but I’m sure anyone who might have been watching from a house window got an entertaining show as I searched.

The scene of the stinging.

After taking some breaths and this photo, I got back on my bike, unsure how it was going to go with a painful groin and shaking body. Fortunately, shortly after getting moving, the pain subsided (Thank you, endorphins.), but the quick reaction that kept me from crashing came at the cost of a serious adrenaline dump from which I never fully recovered for the remainder of my ride. It was a fair trade—staying on two wheels but feeling like I was dragging in the dirt afterwards.

So, I pedaled onward, wondering what stung me. Murder hornet? Given that it is 2020, the thought crossed my mind. I thought about other insect encounters on the bike. Years ago, climbing the big hill (Heartbreak? Wilmar? Manhattan Hill? I can’t remember what it is called.) in Manhattan, Kansas, a bee flew into Kenny’s cycling glove. This resulted in much cussing and an impressive glove removal with his teeth, while we continued to climb with David Blair. Kenny has also been stung by a bee inside his helmet. That also resulted in cussing. One year, as we rode through Andale on the Tour de Parish, Kenny decided to call it a day, and I continued on for the metric century. My phone rang a short time later, but I didn’t answer or check voice mail until I got to the next SAG. I had a message from Logan saying, “A bug is inside Dad’s ear. He went to the emergency room.” According to Logan, he was first alerted to the problem when he heard Kenny yelling profanities in the driveway. So, Kenny has certainly had his share of bike-bug problems. I have had stinging insects fly into my jersey and into my sports bra, leaving trails of tiny bites before I could extricate the creatures. Flies have bitten me through my shorts. On some late-summer evenings, I have come home thoroughly plastered by gnats that had been so thick they flew into my nose and eyes. But no sting has ever hurt this badly or shocked me so dramatically.

I thought about all that as I rode, feeling worn out by the adrenaline dump. Finally, I turned west. Although the wind was not bad at all, by Kansas standards, I looked forward to what should have been a nice push from the east. However, the first things I saw when I turned were two orange construction signs. “No center line.” No big deal; it’s a quiet road. “Loose gravel.” That was less welcome. “Of course there is,” I thought grimly. The gravel wasn’t all that loose, but new chat had been put down since I was last on that road. It was what I refer to as “boulder-size gravel.” Not that loose, fortunately, but it still required a much greater effort than I felt like expending. I tried to distract myself by asking, “What is the lesson in this?” After all, I’m writing a book based on lessons I’ve learned on the bike. Surely, there must be a lesson.

After four miles, I turned back north and soon reached my bathroom stop in Goddard. I felt beaten up by the stinging insect, the ensuing adrenaline dump, the chat road and the humidity.

I was glad to stop for a moment and said hello to a cute little boy and his dad, as I headed into the bathroom. A thorough inspection of the interior of my shorts yielded no evidence of whoever had stung me, and the light was too dim to assess the damage to my skin. I washed my hands and headed back outside. The little boy, whom I soon to learned was three years old and named Tower, approached me and wanted to talk. His dad said, “She’s a smart girl. She wears her helmet.” I told Tower, “Real cyclists always wear helmets. You have a good brain, and you want to protect it.” He asked his dad to get his Spiderman helmet out of the car to show me. Tower talked to me as I filled my water bottle and took my electrolyte capsule. He held the button on the water fountain so I could refill my Camelbak. He said, “You have a flashlight on your handles.” I explained that I had flashing lights on the front and rear of my bike so cars could see me because I ride on the road. He asked about my bike computer and my dog horn. I asked him, “Does your bike have two or three wheels?” He said, “One, two, three, four.” Ah, training wheels. As I prepared to leave, Tower said, “I have a sticker,” and pulled a water bottle barcode sticker off his shirt, gently pressing it to my jersey. I said, “Thanks, Tower. That will be a nice souvenir of our conversation.” I mounted my bike and headed back to the road, telling Tower’s dad, “He is quite the charming conversationalist.”

Heading north, I felt lighter and more energized. I hadn’t totally shed the effects of the stinging/near crash, but I felt happy and recalled other experiences at that very same bathroom stop on the Prairie Sunset Trail, just off 199th Street West in Goddard. Two days ago, I spent an hour and a half in the pavilion there, waiting out a thunderstorm. In 2018 I had another blog-post-inspiring encounter there, when I met Dale who stopped for a bathroom break while on a solo bike ride two days before his 90th birthday.

After crossing Highway 54, I allowed my mind to wander pleasantly again. A mantra, borrowed from Gabby Bernstein, that I use daily in my meditation came to me. “I am open to creative possibilities for abundance.” Then I knew. This ride was a metaphor for 2020. Like the year (2020 just sounds cool!), the ride started with such promise. I had the good fortune of passing the 61st Street dogs without incident, a pleasant exchange with the cyclists I passed and the balloonists, then BOOM! Out of nowhere, I’m stung in the groin (How did the little beast even get between my leg and the saddle?) so painfully I nearly wreck. So startlingly that I am brought to a standstill to assess the damage and recover enough to keep moving forward. (Not unlike the current pandemic when it knocked us all off course and closed and cancelled everything, starting in March.) Making my way after that, I felt battered and weakened. Then, there was Tower, a pleasant surprise who revived me enough to keep going and gave me the boost I needed to recognize inspiration.

As I thought about the ways that my bike ride mirrored the year, I recognized that it was a gift, truly a creative possibility for abundance that called for an impromptu blog post that I expect to develop into a book chapter. It occurred to me that, even as we make our way through the rest of 2020 and beyond, tired and beaten down by the pandemic and all its effects, by social unrest, by political ugliness, by personal and family struggles, we need to remain open to the pleasant little surprises, like curious three year olds and beautiful sunsets caused by the Saharan dust cloud covering the Kansas sun. As the quote at the top of this post reminds us, 2020 and life itself is full of the unexpected. Some of it is painful as heck. Some of it is delightful and energizing. We will always have a mix. We just have to be open to that.

I made it home. Even though I’m sure my average speed was lowered by the exhaustion I felt after the stinging, I made it home safely and in a decent time. (Sadly, when I went to take a photo of the sticker Tower gave me, it was gone. I felt bad because that meant that I had inadvertently littered and because I had lost my souvenir. I guess I was just too sweaty for it to stick.) I think the message of my ride is that we will get through this year. It may be hard, and it may hurt, but there will be joy, too, as long as we allow it in. We have to set the intention and make the effort to notice the gifts, those boosts that will sustain us as we keep moving forward, never completely sure what awaits on our journey but courageous enough to persevere and find out.

What lessons are you learning from 2020? Please share in the comments.

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Jailbreak from Mediocrity

What’s more frightening: the uncertainty of exploring uncharted territory, or the certainty that if you stay put, you’re imprisoned in mediocrity?” –Iris Krasnow

Between multiple, consecutive gray, overcast days and a disappointing setback Friday night, I found myself on my bike yesterday (after yet another weekend rain delay!) thinking, “It would be easier not to . . ..”

In this case, the “easier not to” referred to bothering to build a coaching business. It is not the first time that thought has crossed (or hung out in) my mind. Sometimes, that thought has gotten the better of me for a period of time. Lately, I have been more successful at warding it off, but it was coming back with a vengeance yesterday.

It’s not just building my business, though, I realized, as I pedaled into the headwind in a fairly heavy mist. It’s also easier not to ride my bike. It’s easier not to write a blog post, take a course, cook a healthful dinner, go to the trouble of learning new software and practices for managing business finances, have a child, be in a relationship. You name it. It is probably easier to sit on the couch and not take the chances or put forth the effort to do any number of things in life.

But, if we don’t, what’s left? Did we live at all?

For me, with the coaching business, I believe there is a reason that the idea hasn’t left me alone since it first presented itself around 2001. I pushed it away for several years because it seemed impractical, with a young child and little support or enthusiasm from others.

It rose back to the surface, though, a couple years ago when I was feeling very dissatisfied with my career and had experienced a couple major professional disappointments in a few years. This time, I promised my idea and my spirit that I wouldn’t shove it back down.

Still, it’s not easy, and it’s the “uncharted territory” to which Iris Krasnow refers. Any time we take a risk on something new, it is scary. Accidents and unforeseen events can take place. We may have to climb over huge obstacles we didn’t even know were there. Yet, finding out what is at the end of the journey in this uncharted territory is compelling. Sticking with the known and not worrying about getting dirty or risking some scrapes and bruises might be safer on one level, but soul crushing on another.

Years ago, when I first read Krasnow’s words, I experienced a visceral negative reaction to the concept of mediocrity. Rather than the pursuit of dominance over others, the rejection of mediocrity is for me a reaction to my belief in my responsibility to optimize my strengths, talents, resources and experiences–to give back in proportion to what I have been given.

It has become clear to me over recent months that my recurrent urge to serve the world through a variety of manifestations of health and habit change coaching—including blogging; individual coaching; my free Facebook group: JustWind Producers of Power & Purpose; and future workshops, classes and nonprofit work—is a calling from the Universe.

Sometimes, I have relished the synchronicity and signs that have reassured me that I was on the correct path. Other times, it feels like I am braving Krasnow’s uncharted territory all alone, in the desolate and uncertain wilderness.

My mindfulness practices, along with my cycling, have become lifelines for me, helping me stay grounded and focused during the inevitable ebbs and flows of life. When I start to stumble and risk falling into a pit of hopelessness, I have practices in place these days to throw down a net and catch myself before I hit bottom.

The net helps me bounce back up and courageously return to the uncharted territory.

Yes, it would be easier not to bother, at least for a while. But, then it wouldn’t be. Then, regret would set in–disappointment in myself. I would be mired irrevocably in the muck of mediocrity.

This prison that Krasnow describes is even more frightening to me. As an introvert, I live in my head a lot. To be trapped there with the disappointment and shame that mediocrity would bring feels like the worst fate.

I’ve set some ambitious goals for myself that I am just starting to share with a few people. They are scary. But, the alternative to pursuing them is worse.

So, how do I—and how do you—persevere on an uncharted journey of uncertainty and risk? Here are the things that currently sustain me:

  • I have cultivated a deeper belief in the abundance of the Universe, in an updated way that resonates with me, as the person I am today. We each must find our own path here, but I have come to believe that finding it is crucial. It will likely evolve over time, but it is important to honor our need for a connection to something greater. I have a consistent, cherished daily mindfulness practice that now includes meditation, which I long believed was something I could not do. Now, I can’t do without it.
  • I have connected with supportive others, including a couple of Facebook groups and some business coaches. This helps when I feel alone. I can serve others in the group, while I receive support and guidance myself. As in any relationship, there can be disappointment, but I have grown much more since connecting with the people in these groups than I was doing entirely on my own. Finding the right fit is important. Although my coaching certification institution emphasized that they were “my tribe,” they weren’t. I had to find the right people on my own.
  • I trust my own intuition and instincts. Mindfulness has helped me tune into this and honor this more than ever. I have always believed in doing this, but I am more likely to trust myself now than I used to be. I can really listen when I am in my state of mindfulness, whether it is during my formal practice each day or it is just found in my increased centeredness, a residual effect of my practice. Much like exercise has benefits that last for hours following the actual movement, mindfulness resets my emotional barometer and keeps me on a calmer, more receptive plane throughout the day.
  • I strive to maintain the lifestyle practices that I teach for living and aging with power and purpose—purposeful living, plant-based nourishment and empowered movement—with a high level of integrity. Taking excellent care of my body, mind and spirit best positions me to persist when the going gets tough.

These are what I recommend to you, as you dig deep and find the courage to attempt the jailbreak from mediocrity too. What does that mean for you? Which is more frightening—uncharted territory or known mediocrity? How can I support you?

“There is an inner knowing that there is more to life than the mundane, as well as a desire to create meaning of one’s life by doing the best that one is capable of doing.”

–Linda Kreger Silverman


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.


My Favorite Books in 2016

Once again, reading was a rewarding and enriching aspect of my year. I am excited to share my second annual list, roughly, by the order in which I read the books listed in each genre, of my favorite books from a year of reading.

Memoir is one of my favorite genres, and it was interesting to note how many of the books I most enjoyed in 2016 came from that category. A number of them were about epic journeys of one type of another. I love the idea of a quest for personal growth and soul searching. Many of my bike rides become those in miniature for me. Vicariously, I learn and grow from the memoirists’ quests, and they inspire me to explore the idea of setting out on adventures of my own, whether geographic or metaphorical in nature.

These are the books that I gave four or five stars in Goodreads during 2016.

Business

Health

History

Memoir/Biography

Nutrition/Cooking

 

Personal/Professional Development

  • Retire Inspired: It’s Not an Age, It’s a Financial Number, by Chris Hogan—I felt motivated to take action toward improving my financial future after reading this book. Unfortunately, I haven’t followed through on everything that I planned at that time, but I do intend to refer back to this competent guide.
  • What I Know For Sure, by Oprah Winfrey—I just love Oprah, and this collection of her popular column, “What I Know for Sure,” in O Magazine is light, easy reading that imparts a lot of quotable wisdom.

Social Justice

True Crime & Justice

Writing


Lives and Lifelines

As it often does when I am moving in some way, my mind wandered when I was walking home from my son’s basketball game a couple weeks ago. I don’t recall the specific stream of consciousness that led me to the thought that it often seems like I have lived several different lives. As that thought occurred to me, I wondered if I was the only one who often feels that way and if most people experience life as one coherent path.

I find that it is often easier not to allow my thoughts to linger too long on past phases of life. Pain, disappointment, shame and regret stain some of those memories. There is happiness, too, but when I think about life this way—in compartmentalized lives—the negative emotions are the ones that push my thoughts quickly from one to the next.

Anatole France explained this phenomenon well. “All changes, even the most longed for, have their melancholy; for what we leave behind us is a part of ourselves; we must die to one life before we can enter another.”

Reading his words, I realized that at least some other people must feel the same way.

For me, the melancholy is not nostalgia or wanting to “go back” to some previous stage of life, although there may be certain individuals or feelings that I miss.

It is more that I have needed to let go of a phase—to die to one life—in order to move into the next.  Frequently, the past lives that I tend to push out of my mind are those that ended with at least some degree of involuntariness—deaths of animals and humans I loved, disappointments in jobs, hard decisions that had to be made because of life circumstances.

Sometimes I have died so completely to a life that, as far as I know, people who have more recently come into my life have no knowledge of something that once may have been a huge aspect of my identity or fact of my life. Often, that is because I want it that way. It is easier than getting into details of the past and less painful than bringing up a topic that still has a lot of heartache around it.

I wonder—does this make me less than honest? Or does it mean that I am living in the present? Is it healthy to die to the past lives, or is it just a way of repressing pain and other negative feelings? Maybe it is a little bit of all these things, and the fact is that we are so overloaded with information in the present that there is rarely room for ventures back in time.

There is a ritual in the Unitarian Universalist tradition (and some others) called the Burning Bowl Ceremony. It is usually done at the beginning of a new year, but my son and I performed our own ceremony at the 2015 winter solstice. In a Burning Bowl ceremony, people write down things they would like to leave behind, place them in a bowl and burn them as a symbolic release of habits, relationships, ideas, problems, worries and other things that may be dragging them down. I certainly haven’t done that for every phase in my life, but in our 2015 ceremony, I included generic categories of shame and regret because I had felt myself too often dwelling there in the past year. It felt cleansing and has been largely effective.

Maybe that is why I am noticing the phenomenon described by Anatole France more acutely than I have in the past. Maybe the release of certain “lives” is more complete and conscious than it has been in the past.

I think it is sometimes necessary to shed some excess baggage in order to move forward to the next phase. Maybe this is intrapersonal evolution, although not all changes feel that way in the moment. Perhaps they are all part of the spiritual, emotional and intellectual growth that is part of gaining wisdom, although it sometimes feels more like cynicism, I notice.

In any case, France’s words resonated with me and validated the ideas that had been going through my head.

I am reminded of Maya Angelou’s words from Wouldn’t Take Nothing for My Journey Now:

“Each of us has the right and the responsibility to assess the roads which lie ahead, and those over which we have traveled, and if the future road looms ominous or unpromising, and the roads back uninviting, then we need to gather our resolve and, carrying only the necessary baggage, step off that road into another direction. If the new choice is also unpalatable, without embarrassment, we must be ready to change that as well.”

Maybe that is what it is all about—having the resilience to move with some grace from one phase of life to the next, and the only way to do that is to die to one life, to put down the baggage that adds unnecessary weight.

Maybe those lives have already done their work to shape us. I believe we retain the growth. Even if our minds don’t go back, the changes that those lives and even the loss of those lives effected in us are part of us now and forever, part of that journey that Maya Angelou recognized as an indelible aspect of her identity.

Writing about this does induce—or maybe arise from—a sense of melancholy. Again, it is not nostalgia, not a desire to return, but a recognition of having come through an important leg of the lifelong journey—like turning out of a long stretch of headwind on the bike. It may have worn us out in the short term, but in the long run, we will grow from it.

Just as important as moving forward on our journeys without carrying undue burdens from the past are the people, activities and values that have seen us through many or all of the phases of our lives. Those are the threads that connect all the different lives—the ones that have died, the one we are currently living and the ones that we will live in the future. They are the constants, integral to our identities.

Cycling has been a constant for me. Although I didn’t start cycling seriously and passionately until I was 28, the avocation became so much more and attached itself to my personal value system. The attachment has grown tighter—indeed has been a lifeline—as I have lost dogs, people, career paths, identities, dreams. I am grateful that, while I can let go of what weighs me down, I have aspects of my life that allow me to continue to find my way and remember who I am at my core as I push forward.

I think France and Angelou understood that the journey is all about learning what we need to learn in a phase of life, dying to it when circumstances dictate and holding tightly to the threads that form the lifeline to connect one life to the next. Recognizing that the lifeline is there even alleviates some of the melancholy associated with the serial dying that we must do in order to keep on living.