The morning run

A little over one year ago I felt a pain in my knee which forced me to stop running. For a while, it was even difficult to walk.

I began running again in 2009, after having taken several years away from this sport. For me, running had become drudgery. I had forgotten why I was running.

I was never a competitor, against others. I had competed against myself. My runs became more about running faster times. It was in this competition that I had lost my desire to run.

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I have always been my worst enemy, allowing the thoughts and comments of others to populate and rent space within my head. The worst part is I allowed the rental property to go unchecked for a long period of time. The renters took advantage of my absence and they completely trashed the property. When I finally admitted that it was my absence which leads to the state of disrepair, I felt too sad to do anything about it. Sadness turned into depression and depression lead to inaction. The property went unsold and was eventually taken from the market. This injury, really the first since I began running when I was 16 allowed the same process; the same cycle of degradation to happen all over again.

Several times I watched and rewatched the video “Motivation for Your Morning” from the Territory Run Company.

I fell in love with this company when I first found them on the net. Check them out. If your runs are more spiritual in nature, I think you’ll really like this company.

Anyway, as I watched the video, I began to recall what I love about running and more specifically the morning run. The feeling which arose as I watched this video, the feeling which always seems to return to me when I let go of the need to identify as a particular type of runner was beginning to make its way into that property which had for the last 15 months become dilapidated after so many months of neglect. It felt like a warm summer night sitting on my front porch and in the distance I hear the sound of music as it escapes through the speakers of a car and its open windows. The sound, as it gets nearer becomes a song which I recall with a smile. It reminds me of simpler times and of memories of runs gone by, both good and not so good. I am reminded of the time when I waited by the window for a summer rain to cease or at least abate enough, in my thoughts that it would prove to be a comfortable run. knowing this would not happen, I laced up my running shoes and completed a quick three miler with all the enjoyment of a small child opening gifts Christmas morning. It was running times such as these which allowed the weight of the world to be left behind. My thoughts instead became filled with joy as I stopped on the crest of a local bridge and waited for the sun to rise beckoning a new day; a day like a wet lump of clay on a potters wheel, which could be made by me in any form.

I also began rereading the thoughts of George Sheehan in a book which was one of the most important to me since I was 15 or 16. That book is “Running and Being.” First published in 1978. My copy remains held together with several pieces of scotch tape. I still recall making this purchase at the long-defunct Walden Bookstore. George wrote, “I am a noonday runner.” I, on the other hand, have always been a morning runner. This has been and continues to be, as an Introvert the time of day which I covet. I covet this time of day not only for the solitude which it brings but today, I run at this hour because quite frankly, I am safer during this hour. George wrote, “The best most of us can do is to be a poet an hour a day. Take an hour away from being a serious adult and become serious beginners. Take an hour away from what Shelley called a life of error, ignorance, and strife, and introduce love and beauty and delight.”

One of my favorite quote from George Sheehan’s book is this one. “I am a lonely figure when I run the roads. People wonder how far I have come, how far I have to go. They see me alone and friendless on a journey that has no visible beginning or end. I appear isolated and vulnerable, a homeless creature. It is all they can do to keep from stopping the car and asking if they can take me wherever I’m going.
I know this because I feel it myself. When I see the runner I have much the same thoughts. No matter how often I run the roads myself, I am struck by how solitary my fellow runner appears. The sight of a runner at dusk or in inclement weather makes me glad to be safe and warm in my car and headed for home. And at those times, I wonder how I can go out there myself, how I can leave the comfort and warmth and that feeling of intimacy and belonging, to do this distracted thing.
But when finally I am there, I realize it is not comfort and warmth I am leaving, not intimacy and belonging I am giving up, but the loneliness that pursues me this day and every day. I know that the real loneliness, the real isolation, the real vulnerability, begins long before I put on my running shoes.”

I have attached a link to the video I mentioned earlier. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

//content.jwplatform.com/players/mDLR0SCD-vTGW2TdI.html

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The Disease of Being Busy


I have struggled with the “dis-ease” of being busy, of feeling as though I need/needed to be doing something all the time. I had my share of time when I felt guilty because I wasn’t necessarily doing something which other people might have defined as productive. It has taken me a long time to accept the fact that taking time for myself is what assures that I have the energy and the desire to accomplish those tasks which I need to accomplish throughout the day.

I came across this post by Omid Safi and am sharing his work with you. I hope you enjoy it and perhaps, as I did, find it as much a reminder as I did.

BY  (@OSTADJAAN)COLUMNIST

I saw a dear friend a few days ago. I stopped by to ask her how she was doing, how her family was. She looked up, voice lowered, and just whimpered: “I’m so busy… I am so busy… have so much going on.”

Almost immediately after, I ran into another friend and asked him how he was. Again, same tone, same response: “I’m just so busy… got so much to do.”

The tone was exacerbated, tired, even overwhelmed.

And it’s not just adults. When we moved to North Carolina about ten years ago, we were thrilled to be moving to a city with a great school system. We found a diverse neighborhood, filled with families. Everything felt good, felt right.

After we settled in, we went to one of the friendly neighbors, asking if their daughter and our daughter could get together and play. The mother, a really lovely person, reached for her phone and pulled out the calendar function. She scrolled… and scrolled… and scrolled. She finally said: “She has a 45-minute opening two and half weeks from now. The rest of the time its gymnastics, piano, and voice lessons. She’s just…. so busy.”

Horribly destructive habits start early, really early.

How did we end up living like this? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we do this to our children? When did we forget that we are human beings, not human doings?

Whatever happened to a world in which kids get muddy, get dirty, get messy, and heavens, get bored? Do we have to love our children so much that we overschedule them, making them stressed and busy — just like us?

What happened to a world in which we can sit with the people we love so much and have slow conversations about the state of our heart and soul, conversations that slowly unfold, conversations with pregnant pauses and silences that we are in no rush to fill?

How did we create a world in which we have more and more and more to do with less time for leisure, less time for reflection, less time for community, less time to just… be?

Somewhere we read, “The unexamined life is not worth living… for a human.” How are we supposed to live, to examine, to be, to become, to be fully human when we are so busy?

This disease of being “busy” (and let’s call it what it is, the dis-ease of being busy, when we are never at ease) is spiritually destructive to our health and wellbeing. It saps our ability to be fully present with those we love the most in our families and keeps us from forming the kind of community that we all so desperately crave.

Since the 1950s, we have had so many new technological innovations that we thought (or were promised) would make our lives easier, faster, simpler. Yet, we have no more “free” or leisurely time today than we did decades ago.

For some of us, the “privileged” ones, the lines between work and home have become blurred. We are on our devices. All. The. Freaking. Time.

Smartphones and laptops mean that there is no division between the office and home. When the kids are in bed, we are back online.

One of my own daily struggles is the avalanche of email. I often refer to it as my jihad against email. I am constantly buried under hundreds and hundreds of emails, and I have absolutely no idea how to make it stop. I’ve tried different techniques: only responding in the evenings, not responding over weekends, asking people to schedule more face-to-face time. They keep on coming, in volumes that are unfathomable: personal emails, business emails, hybrid emails. And people expect a response — right now. I, too, it turns out… am so busy.

The reality looks very different from others. For many, working two jobs in low-paying sectors is the only way to keep the family afloat. Twenty percent of our children are living in poverty, and too many of our parents are working minimum wage jobs just to put a roof over their head and something resembling food on the table. We are so busy.

The old models, including that of a nuclear family with one parent working outside the home (if it ever existed), have passed away for most of us. We now have a majority of families being single families, or where both parents are working outside the home. It is not working.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

In many Muslim cultures, when you want to ask them how they’re doing, you ask: in Arabic, Kayf haal-ik? or, in Persian, Haal-e shomaa chetoreh? How is your haal?

What is this haal that you inquire about? It is the transient state of one’s heart. In reality, we ask, “How is your heart doing at this very moment, at this breath?” When I ask, “How are you?” that is really what I want to know.

I am not asking how many items are on your to-do list, nor asking how many items are in your inbox. I want to know how your heart is doing, at this very moment. Tell me. Tell me your heart is joyous, tell me your heart is aching, tell me your heart is sad, tell me your heart craves a human touch. Examine your own heart, explore your soul, and then tell me something about your heart and your soul.

Tell me you remember you are still a human being, not just a human doing. Tell me you’re more than just a machine, checking off items from your to-do list. Have that conversation, that glance, that touch. Be a healing conversation, one filled with grace and presence.

Put your hand on my arm, look me in the eye, and connect with me for one second. Tell me something about your heart, and awaken my heart. Help me remember that I too am a full and complete human being, a human being who also craves a human touch.

I teach at a university where many students pride themselves on the “study hard, party hard” lifestyle. This might be a reflection of many of our lifestyles and our busy-ness — that even our means of relaxation is itself a reflection of that same world of overstimulation. Our relaxation often takes the form of action-filled (yet mindless) films, or violent and fast-paced sports.

I don’t have any magical solutions. All I know is that we are losing the ability to live a truly human life.

We need a different relationship to work, to technology. We know what we want: a meaningful life, a sense of community, a balanced existence. It’s not just about “leaning in” or faster iPhones. We want to be truly human.

W. B. Yeats once wrote:

“It takes more courage to examine the dark corners of your own soul than it does for a soldier to fight on a battlefield.”

How exactly are we supposed to examine the dark corners of our soul when we are so busy? How are we supposed to live the examined life?

I am always a prisoner of hope, but I wonder if we are willing to have the structural conversation necessary about how to do that, how to live like that. Somehow we need a different model of organizing our lives, our societies, our families, our communities.

I want my kids to be dirty, messy, even bored — learning to become human. I want us to have a kind of existence where we can pause, look each other in the eye, touch one another, and inquire together: Here is how my heart is doing? I am taking the time to reflect on my own existence; I am in touch enough with my own heart and soul to know how I fare, and I know how to express the state of my heart.

How is the state of your heart today?

Let us insist on a type of human-to-human connection where when one of us responds by saying, “I am just so busy,” we can follow up by saying, “I know, love. We all are. But I want to know how your heart is doing.”

Namaste

The Adirondacks

I left Friday morning. My company for this trip to the Adirondacks is, as per usual my friend John Burroughs. “I go to nature to be soothed and healed, and to have my senses put in order.” – John Burroughs

I need to get up to the Adirondacks at least twice every year. The peace and solitude which I find in the mountains is the peace I need to recharge my batteries. I run into few people. My cell phone does not work and I am reliant on the solitude which this time alone offers me.

After a 20-minute drive from Indian Lake to Long Lake, I stopped at the Long Lake Diner for breakfast. Where else can you have an amazing breakfast of toast, omelet, freshly made home fries, coffee and a to-go coffee for less than $10?
diner

After breakfast, I drove to Tupper Lake and then on to Saranac Lake taking in the sights as I drove slowly through each town.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Later I arrived at the Village of Lake Placid. I usually bypass this area unless I am with someone who has never been. Instead, I stopped by the Olympic Training Center and ski jumpstopped by the ski jumps. The weather was so beautiful it made sense to take the elevator to the top to the 120 meter (394′) jump. The panoramic views are always amazing and when the skies are blue and the sun is shining, it is even more beautiful.

panorama

The next stop on the round trip is Whiteface Mountain. Unfortunately, at this late time of year, the  Veterans Memorial Highway to the summit is closed. It is closed during the winter because frankly, it’s just too unsafe to drive when it is covered with snow.  At its steepest, the grade reaches 8%. It was snowing at Whiteface just two weeks earlier.

As one approaches the base of the mountain one is met with another of the beautiful wonders of the Adirondacks., the Ausable River. I love to fly fish and find myself enamored with the peace of the cast. I watched this fisherman almost 30-minutes, lost in the silence which is fly fishing. On occasion, I’ll take my fly rod out and practice my cast.fisherman

“But I early learned that from almost any stream in a trout country the true angler could take trout and that the great secret was this, that, whatever bait you used, worm, grasshopper, grub, or fly, there was one thing you must always put upon your hook, namely, your heart: when you bait your hook with your heart the fish always bite; they will jump clear from the water after it; they will dispute with each other over it; it is a morsel they love above everything else. With such bait, I have seen the born angler (my grandfather was one) take a noble string of trout from the most unpromising waters, and on the most unpromising day.” – John Burroughs

waterfallsLast stop of the day was over to the Ausable Chasm. This is one of those areas when I would stop regardless of the time of year to bask in the beauty. If one keeps one’s eyes open, one can see many different things.

My planning this year suffered. The leaves were not only past peak but many of the trees had already shed their leaves in preparation for their winter slumber. There were, if one was to look, trees which held onto their leaves as if waiting for my arrival. “How beautifully leaves grow old. How full of light and color are their last days.” – John Burroughs

ausable fall“The longer I live, the more my mind dwells upon the beauty and the wonder of the world.” – John Burroughsausable fall1
One of my favorite quotes from “The Art of Seeing Things” is this quote from Mr. Burroughs. “Love sharpens the eye, the ear, the touch; it quickens the feet, it steadies the hand, it arms against the wet and the cold. What we love to do, that we do well. To know is not all; it is only half. To love is the other half.” ― John Burroughs

Bitch & Complain

Bitch and complain! This is what I hear most days.

“I can’t-do it!” “My skin is the wrong color!” “No one will give me a chance!” “I don’t have the money!”

Keep bitching and complaining and I ask, “How’s that working for you?”

Keep posting your woe is me story all over Facebook looking for sympathy and again I ask, “How’s that working?”

Sympathy is not what we need. Get off your ass and make things happen. No one ever got ahead from bitching and complaining how bad their life is. No one ever gets ahead by bitching and complaining. Frankly, no one wants to hear it.

So stop bitching and complaining and make something happen! If you need help, ask.

Dogs Love to Play

I turned 54 recently and my dog Jack, 14; that translates to 72 in human years. I am grateful we’ve had the last 14-years to spend together. He has brought an immense amount of joy to my life.

20170729_200806We are both growing older. Jack spends the majority of his time sleeping on the couch, rising and finding a different spot to sleep. We still go for walks but they have become briefer. Instead of inspecting the neighborhood and everything, and I mean everything in it; we cross the street where he does his business and returns home. Gone are the days where he would sit outside with me while I read or completed therapy notes on the laptop. He does remain excited about the “walk around the house” Sunday morning when we retrieve the morning paper.

It is a sad thought that at some point he will no longer greet me at the door with his nub tail wagging but we will all reach that point in our lives. Death is one thing which we will all encounter. What we are unaware of the when.

I have learned so much from Jack. He has been an amazing teacher. Like so many moments which take place every day, there are those pearls of wisdom to be gleaned from the sea of life. Too many of us choose not to take the opportunity to see them as lessons.

Jack has taught me and then reminded me of the importance of “taking it easy” and gratitude for the things which I have

Life has a tendency to slow down as we get older. The things which we once saw as being on the list of “need to do” are often relegated to “maybe.” We begin to review our priorities seeing what is truly important and what no longer matters or matters as much. As a therapist, I feel sad for the individuals I see on a  regular basis both in my practice and simply traveling through life who don’t take the opportunity to slow down and reflect. We use this excuse “I don’t have any time” too much. We’re all busy but are we actually accomplishing anything or are we just busy?

One of the greatest gifts we have received in life is time and since we don’t ever know what our expiration date is, it behooves us to take every day and the see the beauty which it beholds. This morning as I was making coffee and getting ready to leave for work, my wife in the shower and my daughter had left already, I heard my grandson say, “Play with me Popi.” He was sitting at his little table and chair playing with his play-doh. I poured my coffee into a thermos and took a seat next to him playing make-believe with his play-doh. This ranks as high for me as sitting outside the other night watching the Notre Dame game with my son while enjoying a cigar.

Make sure you make time for those things in your life which are truly important. You’ll regret it if you don’t and no one likes regrets. Oh yeah, don’t blame others for the time you feel you don’t have and the time you don’t take for yourself.

 

Read it or not. I don’t care!!

I have been thinking recently about therapy, the process of change, how I do therapy and how that process has impacted my clients.

I love (sarcasm) the emails I receive almost every day. You know the lists. “Ten things to do to be happy, etc., etc..” Why ten” Why is ten a magic number? Why is ten THE magic number? Who comes up with these lists & why are they or why do they seem to be the definitive list” The Internet & social media especially Twitter has impacted this process. We struggle to read anything beyond 140-characters. We have become skimmers. If the article is more than 2-3 pages we probably won’t read it. Mark Manson will even tell you when an email arrives in your mailbox how long the article will take to read. Read it or not. I don’t care!

Almost every client with whom I have every worker has asked, “Are there any books you can recommend? This question is often asked at some point during the initial session when I’m still trying to get to know you and assess what your therapeutic needs are. Those self-help books are useless if the purchaser isn’t going to read them, practice the skills often contained within them and do the homework assignments which are also usually contained within them. I refer to self-help books as “feel good” books. They make us “feel good” when we read them and then we rip them and their author apart “because they don’t help anymore.” The books will not make a difference if you won’t continue to practice the process of change.

Therapy is often complicated by the fact that many people don’t understand what therapy is. Therapy is not a time when we meet, you tell me what is bothering you and I tell you how to fix it. That’s what friends are for. Therapy is an opportunity for me to help you understand that change is a process and to help you build the tools which you will need to traverse this process of change.

Medication is another bone of contention with me. Clients get pissed when they find out they may have to wait 2-3 months to get into the doctor. Then I have to beg and plead with the doctor who has known the client for less than 30-minutes to not prescribe a Benzodiazepine. Then clients get this classification of medication, they feel good and they stop attending counseling appointments because “I feel better” so there’s no reason to continue counseling. If you want medication but don’t want to change anything in your life, please don’t waste my time. Go see your primary care doctor. That way when you become addicted to the medication you’ll just have another issue to address and like the many other issues in our life where we blame someone else, you can blame your doctor for “getting you addicted.” Mark my word; the prescription of Benzodiazepines will be the next healthcare “crisis.”

A client called me last week and complained that she felt “like counseling’s not working.” I explained to her I had sent her a letter months ago and closed her case because she had not attended an appointment in 8-months. She was unhappy when I explained I did not feel like counseling was helping because she had not been engaged in counseling. Personal responsibility is huge in the process of recovery.

We have become a society that looks down on failure and making mistakes when there is so much to learn in that process. If we don’t take risks and make mistakes along the way, how are we expecting ourselves to learn?

I keep saying the “process of change” because that’s exactly what it is; a process. There are no easy answers. There are no quick fixes. Therapy is a process of taking a good hard, long look at ourselves, acknowledging what we don’t like, asking for help if necessary and making the difficult decisions & choices to correct what we don’t like. Anything else is just whining and best done with a friend or on Facebook.

I never said that change was easy and that it isn’t scary, but if we’re not willing to confront those things that scare us, then nothing changes.