Finding a Higher Purpose

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Today I started day one of my fitness project, under the training supervision of fitness pro, Kim Oddo.  I was referred by a classmate of mine to him, and after receiving my nutrition and fitness plan, I was expecting some of what he put together, but also surprised at some of the restrictions.  The interesting thing about nutrition is that for each person there are minute details which can be tweaked.  His plan goes down to each meal in detail, calories are overall most important for the day, but it is not as simple as just that.  I am allowed to swap out certain foods for like foods, but sadly, I can not consume 1500 calories of Peanut Butter and Nutella (although how amazing would that be?!) and call it a day.  Although I completed my marathon back in November, I can’t say that I was consuming the right kind of foods.  I think protein rarely made an appearance in my diet while I was living in Japan, which is really not a good thing, considering how important it is for overall health (and muscle growth).  If I had been taking in the right foods, I really have to wonder how much better I would have performed on my training runs and on race day.

Over the past few months it has been difficult dealing with the aftermath of my failed relationship.  I’ve been reading a few different books over the timespan to help me through the grieving process, to understand what went wrong, to recognize the signs of a toxic person, and most importantly, to once again find my higher purpose.   I recently began Richard Bach’s classic, Jonathan Livingston Seagull.  I am still working through the book, but the basic premise is that we need to do what we believe in, regardless of whether it is what everyone else is doing, if we think that it will lead to our purpose in life.  When I was in my relationship, I thought my highest purpose was to love my significant other, but I noticed I began neglecting myself.  When the relationship ended I was left with a massive void where that love once was; it felt like a vacuum.  I thought: What is there for me if this person is now gone from my life?  What other purpose could I possibly have if not to love him?  Although I am still working through these emotions, I truly believe it is the love of oneself.  Author Jo Coudert puts it perfectly in her book, Advice from a Failure:

You do not need to be loved, not at the cost of yourself.  The single relationship that is truly central and crucial in a life is the relationship to the Self.  Of all the people you will know in a lifetime, you are the only one you will never lose.  

I think of the Alanis Morissette song, Underneath, where she sings:

There is no difference in what we’re doing in here
That doesn’t show up as bigger symptoms out there

What we do within, for ourselves, how we feel about ourselves, manifests in the world.  And it is so hard to feel good or to feel okay when somebody abandons us, but we must ultimately accept what their choices were, and realize it is not about us. 

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My fitness project, along with the increase in my writing, are ways that I am trying to regain what I felt called toward once before.  Seeing internal strength, willpower, and dedication manifested as physical strength.  BEING MY BEST SELF.  That is what my higher purpose is.

 

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What I Learned from Running a Marathon

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My coworkers are probably sick of hearing me talk about running a marathon.  Look, okay, running a marathon doesn’t suddenly make you a better person, you’re not “holier than thou.”  I will tell you this, though–it teaches you an incredible amount about YOURSELF and what YOU are capable of.  Sometimes it takes 26.2 miles of pain to figure sh*t out.  Oh yeah, there’s a little bit about running that you learn about thrown in there too (like don’t wear gear you’ve never worn before on race day, don’t forget to bring warm up sweats when your race is at the end of November and you’re the only idiot walking around in shorts in 35F weather before the race actually starts, and don’t just “wing it,” your body will thank you later), but mostly, it teaches you about life.

1. COMMITMENT AND DEDICATION ARE THE PILLARS OF SUCCESS.  You have to really be committed to the goal of finishing a 26.2 mile race.  I love the quote, “Do or do not, there is no try,” because you are either going to finish the race, or you aren’t, plain and simple.  Who the hell gets satisfaction in walking away saying, “Yeah, well, I tried to run a marathon.”  Injuries aside, you are going to be the one to ultimately decide whether or not YOU are going to cross that finish line.  Can you envision it?  Is the goal greater than the momentary doubt or pain?

2. YOU ARE STRONGER THAN YOU THINK.  I have NEVER felt so much continued pain in my body before.  Hours of pounding pavement is absolutely killer on the joints.  By the time I reached mile 20, I was really, really spent.  I thought about giving up so many times, but I kept thinking about crossing the finish line and about why I was even running the race to begin with.  Wasn’t it to prove a point to MYSELF that through willpower all things are possible?   And if that’s not enough, think of all the people, good and bad, that were there along the way–the naysayers, the people who supported you, the people who hurt you, and the people who ran alongside you through the pain–think about them too.  

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3. DON’T SETTLE FOR LESS THAN YOU DESERVE.  This is perhaps the most important lesson I learned. Since YOU have put in the time and the effort, you have pushed past the pain and torn down the walls of doubt, you know what it takes to be extraordinary, you know that success means being better than you were before, and we all have the ability to be better within us.  Don’t make excuses, don’t accept excuses.  You will never succeed by taking either action, you will only be holding yourself back..

4. CHANGE IS POSSIBLE.  If after touching down in Japan 2.5 years ago, someone would have come up to me and said, “You’re going to run a marathon 2.5 years from now,” I would have laughed in their face.  I had never run more than 5 miles in my entire life.  Why would I even waste my time doing something ridiculous like that?  Well, because sometimes the things we once see as “ridiculous” and “impossible” suddenly become important to us, and as I learned how to push past pain I understood what it meant to change.  It was a long, slow process from within that required the aforementioned commitment and dedication.   Change isn’t easy, but it is possible, and it allows us to grow.

5. BE GRATEFUL.  You have a body that allows you to absolutely feel what it means to be alive–everything that you are made up of is working together intricately, allowing your body to run the race.  Be grateful you have the opportunity to do so.

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Run for those that matter, run for those that don’t, because in the end you are going to have made the good ones proud and you will have left the bad ones 26.2 miles behind.

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“It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” -Da Vinci

Reflections before a Marathon

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“Your journey has molded you for your greater good, and it was exactly what it needed to be. Don’t think you’ve lost time. There is no short-cutting to life. It took each and every situation you have encountered to bring you to the now. And now is right on time.”

― Asha Tyson

This is not a post about running. This is a post about the end of things and how life comes full circle at times, and how what is necessary to come to pass will eventually come to pass.

November 2011 I lay in my bed and I could feel my insides twisting in burned confusion; not about love–or at least nothing resembling love–but about people and about life and where I was even going. Success was not unreachable, but I found the path muddled and convoluted. It was like reaching through a thick wall of tangled yarn trying desperately to see what was on the other side. And there was part of it that took hold of the fragile core deep within me and held it tightly in its grasp, threatening to shatter it into a million pieces.

But somehow I refused to let it break; finally the hold lessened, and I drew into myself to protect that core. I ran mile after mile, in the cold, in the heat, in the early morning light watching the sun rise over the ocean, in the rain, and in the coolness of the night. I ran and ran and my legs ached and my stomach churned, but my veins surged with the one thing pushing me on–DETERMINATION. Sheer determination. There is nothing beautiful in a distance run. The body grows weary, it starts to give out at times. The joints ache from the continued pressure, and your insides churn from the constant motion. Why then, do human beings continue to distance run?

Because the run only reaffirms being alive, and in the end, when you finish your distance, you know that you are stronger than you think and that anything is possible when the mind and body are tested.

I lay here now, the culmination of my running efforts barely 48 hours away, and thoughts flood my mind like a relentless sea. Things that I have done and seen and felt course through my body and invade my mind, and I question whether the path has been the right one or not, but I already know the answer; there is no wrong path, only doubts and distractions that keep us from reaching the end goal. I think about god and how he/she/it keeps me from stopping to count pebbles or convincing myself I am too tired to push on; and the force comes like a great rain that washes down over the earth and pushes deep into the blackened soil, forcing nourishment. I chose HOPE to symbolize this post because it is this painful, sometimes forced grace that allows hope to spring forth, even if we didn’t think it possible. When we are open to reception, we will always receive the guidance and truth that is necessary in our lives to make us better people.

I carry these things with me as I run the race.

Ghosts of Kyoto

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This past weekend we traveled down to Kyoto.  It is an absolutely ancient place, with human civilization having been established there as far back as 10,000BC.  The prosperous city that we see today is the modern-day version of Heian-Kyo (peace and tranquility capital), seat of the Imperial Court in 794.  It is absolutely full to the brim with culture–tourists are numerous.  Kyoto is magnificent because one can truly see so many different cultural aspects converging; the city itself was built as a scale replica of the Tang Dynasty’s capital, Chang’an.  I will do more features in this blog on Japanese history and the significance of the Chinese and Japanese relationship over time, but for now, just a brushing on Kyoto.  It is very Nihon-rashii (Japanese-like), and another interesting thing is that the people in the region speak Kansai-ben.   I recognized it instantly as I heard a few older gentlemen conversing in the train station.

What in the world is Kansan-ben? you might ask.  In Japanese, many different dialects are used; with the exception of the extreme north (Aomori, Akita) and Okinawa, most dialects do not largely differ.  The standard on television and the news, of course, is the Tokyo dialect, “Tadashii Nihongo.”  Kansai-ben changes some words and emotion-enhancers, and is super noticeable to Japanese people (and for some reason, really entertaining to them).  So Here is an example of standard vs. Kansai dialect:

Standard: “Hontou ni?” (Really?)

Kansai: “Honma ni?” (Really?)

Standard: “Kyo, hontou ni samui da ne.” (Today is really cold, isn’t it?)

Kansai: “Kyo, honma samui ya ne.” (Same meaning as above)

I don’t know why, but this sounds really funny to Japanese people.  Most big comedians are from the Kansai region.

Friday evening we tooled around Gion and were able to spy a few Geisha running here and there to appointments; sadly, as I frantically tried to snap photos with my camera, I didn’t realize I had turned it off and somehow couldn’t manage to turn it on.  My friend was able to steal a lovely photo; I’m honestly surprised we saw so many (2 or 3), considering there aren’t many left.

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We sung karaoke, walked around, visited a temple in the snow (too dark for good photos), and ate at a delicious ramen spot called Ippudo.  

The next day we headed out early so we could get in as many sights as possible, starting with the famed Fushimi-Inari shrine.  

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The shrine is dedicated to the deity, Inari, who is sometimes male, sometimes female.  Merchants pray to Inari for wealth; hence the famous “thousand torii gates” (they are dedicated by businesses and merchants).

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After we left the Shrine, we made our way toward Ryoanji Temple.  Ryoanji is known for its zen rock garden, which may imply a deeper meaning behind the arrangement of the garden.  You can read more about it–> here.

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Finally, after Ryoanji, we headed up to the Kinkaku-ji, the Golden Pavilion complex.

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Kinkaku-ji originally served as a villa for a wealthy statesman, and eventually was purchased by the Ashikaga Shogunate and transformed into the complex.  It has a somewhat odd history; in the 1950s a mentally unstable novice monk burned down the pavillon and unsuccessfully attempted suicide.  The structure that stands today is from 1955 (the original was not actually gold).  The gold was added to the current temple as a physical symbol of purification from any negative thoughts toward death.

Visiting Kyoto felt like going through an old photo album; I was there in 2005 with my classmates from Johoku High School on our class trip.  At first it seemed like an unfamiliar place, and then slowly, as I went to these same places–through the streets of Gion, in front of a school for young Geisha, walking on the cool wooden floors of the Ryoanji Temple, standing before Kinkaku-ji with the sunlight illuminating its golden walls, the memories came flooding back and it was familiar once more.  There is an imprint with everything we do; these ghosts that roam the streets remind us of who we once were and how far we have come.

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On Running

Sometimes I hold anger far longer than I should, or I find myself thinking about the past and questioning everything about the present.  It’s hard to let go of regrets; and even though Edith Piaf loudly proclaimed, “Non, je ne regrette rien,” it’s hard to just be completely okay with everything sometimes.  I don’t know if I believe that things happen for a reason.  I do think that things just happen and that we need to live our lives with the fluidity of a river; it’s own force pushes it on through eventually to the larger destination where it joins into the sea.  The river flows and turns according to the path carved out in the earth; it adapts to the road set before it.

So I try to accept the things that happen, I try and ask for the serenity to accept what I can not change and to focus on what I can, but it proves difficult (mostly to my own stubbornness).

So I run.  I have always hated running.  I was that kid in gym class–yeah, you know the one–doing the 12:00 minute mile (with lots of huffing, puffing, and stopping).  I struggled to run a sub 8-minute mile for my physical fitness tests when I was at the Naval Academy.  I ran when I absolutely had to.  And then one day last year when I was at a very low point (constant replaying of Pink Floyd’s The Wall in my car driving home from work), one night I listened to a song by Florence + the Machine and I heard the lyrics:

The dog days are over
The dog days are done
The horses are coming
So you better run

Run fast for your mother and fast for your father
Run for your children for your sisters and brothers
Leave all your love and your longing behind you
Can’t carry love with you if you want to survive

And everything seemed so simple: I needed to run.  2 miles turned into 3.  3 turned into 3.5 and then 4, 4 turned into 5 and 5 would eventually turn into 6, and so on.  I just needed to run.  And I was now running for completely different reasons; not for a PT test, not for gym class, not for anything other than to clean myself out emotionally and spiritually.  Not worrying about distance or time, I just learned to run for longer periods of time, and suddenly I was running distances much longer than I had ever run on a regular basis.  Just  me, my lungs, the rhythm of my breathing, the music I listened to.  Everything turned back into what we are at our basics–animals running and existing to survive.  The beauty of the body, feeling my limbs and my bones all working in perfect unison to self-propel.  The divine machine.  I’ve been reading Christopher McDougall’s bestseller, Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.  It’s the story of a man searching for answers about what makes it so that certain people can withstand extreme distances and conditions when running.  The interesting thing is that most of the people (and even the mysterious Tamahumara tribe) in the book had something in common: running was somewhat of a spiritual practice for them.  The Leadville 100 race started in Leadville, Colorado was borne out of a town’s despair, Caballo Blanco aka Micah True began running because of a broken heart; I am fascinated by the power that the simple movement of one’s body can have on the psyche and the will to survive.

For runners and athletes alike, I highly recommend this book.  When I’m feeling down and like I’m getting myself into a rut because of negative thoughts I think of a line Caballo Blanco has:

“I saw a 95-year-old Tarahumara man walking across these mountains.  Know why he could do it? Because no one told him he couldn’t.”

The Resolution

It’s really funny how sometimes irony pops up unexpectedly in our lives–and then we’re left thinking, “Well, geez, I guess I set myself up for that one in some weird way.”

Have you ever wanted something–or thought you wanted something–and it doesn’t work out and you kind of put it out of your mind, but then suddenly it just clicks easily for someone else?  You’re left there kind of behind in the dust, asking, “Why didn’t that work for me?”  I think that’s hard to swallow, and this can be applied to career, love, life in general.  “I’m putting out all this effort, why wasn’t I good enough for job ____ or for person _____.  Why was so-and-so better than me and they didn’t even put in a quarter of the effort.”

I suppose there are two potential answers.

1.) You are not actually putting in the effort entirely required to achieve whatever it is you are looking for.

2.) The universe is telling you something.

As for #1, I think of a line actor Dermot Mulroney has in The Wedding Date, “Every woman has the exact love life she wants.”  And let’s step back here and imagine that this isn’t really just a quote about someone’s love life, but about life in general.  Within reason, we all have EXACTLY what we want; or rather, what we allow ourselves to have (which in a sense, is what we want because we are not allowing ourselves otherwise).  I say this WITHIN REASON because obviously there are outside factors for certain situations which inhibit us.  But think about it–you can’t just WISH to play the piano and then be able to play, you have to put in the time and the effort to do so.  So sometimes we need to reassess certain situations we initially shrink from because they are not in our favor.  We need to ask ourselves, “What am I going to learn from this so that I can influence the outcome of a similar situation in the future?”

As for #2, I do believe that the universe operates with some sort of underlying timing.  Imagine if chaos had some sort of rhythm to it–what if, and I’m going to be really radical here–what if chaos is actually just another name for a pattern or patterns that we do not yet recognize?  I’m going to be really ridiculous here and make another terrible pop culture reference–in 1984 a truck driver named Michael Larson went on the popular TV gameshow Press Your Luck.  In what appeared random to previous contestants, Larson saw order and as a result he beat the game.  He knew exactly how to game the gaming system itself and it created a huge uproar and scandal.  But the point is this–before him contestants saw the flashing lights on the board to be a completely random, chaotic sequence, but in reality it wasn’t.  What if things really do happen for a reason, even if nothing more than just to complete some larger pattern among the universe that we can’t fully comprehend?

Just a few shots

The days have been incredibly long at my job, so I can not express just how relaxing it is to come home, listen to Edith Piaf, and have a cup of tea before bed.  Especially when the hours you are working look something like wake up at 5 AM and don’t return home until around 9 PM.  Staying focused has been difficult recently; we’ve been working 7 day weeks and it’s not certain when we will stop.  I’ve dug up a few shots I took awhile back that I’ve always liked, so I’ll go ahead and post them tonight.

So on a completely random note, one of my New Year’s Resolutions was to listen to more music, and now that I have a big-girl-job I can actually afford to download pretty much all the music that I want on itunes.  Recently I’ve been listening to The Who’s Tommy, which I was introduced to through my all-time favorite, Almost Famous.  It’s pretty wild, and if you’re into concept albums like myself, it’s worth a listen.  Totally bizarre.  And on the topic of music, I can’t wait for Mumford and Sons’ new album to be released.  Definitely looking forward to that one.