T is for Tattoo

TLast year in this spot, I wrote about my toes. I thought perhaps a short update was in order. My toes are fine. I’ve logged many, many miles in the past year and the toes are holding up just fine. Very few toe troubles—no blisters, no missing nails, no black toes (knocking on wood as I type this). Most of my toes do have a touch of callous on the top, little caps of tough skin to protect them, but nothing that would keep me from putting my feet in a pair of flip flops or Chacos, no deformities that would cause the pedicurist to run screaming.

How to segue from toes to my new tattoo? There’s no smooth transition, really, so here goes: Four weeks ago yesterday, I strode purposefully into a local tattoo parlor and announced I wanted a tattoo, please. The guy eyed me suspiciously, made a show of checking his calendar and told me I needed to make an appointment for the following Tuesday. The shop was virtually empty, but I didn’t argue. I put down my deposit and entered the date and time in my phone calendar. I left him with the artwork I knew I wanted engraved forever onto my right shoulder.cho_ku_rei1112

When I returned at the agreed upon date and time, he looked at me with raised eyebrows, but set about readying his station and preparing the artwork. I flipped through tattoo industry magazines while I waited, patiently. What was taking so long? Did he think I would lose my nerve? Did I not appear to be the tattoo type? IS there a tattoo type? I mean, seriously, everyone has a tattoo these days: grandmas, grandpas, hipsters, nerds, athletes, moms, dads. Now it was my turn.

Finally, he signaled that he was ready and he put a stencil on my shoulder and had me look in the mirror. “Bigger,” I said immediately. “I want it about fifty percent bigger.” He raised his eyebrows again, but went ahead and swabbed the stencil off with alcohol and schlepped back to the printer, returned with a much larger stencil, and handed me the mirror again.

“That’s it. Perfect,” I said and lay down on the chair/table/tattoo bed. That’s when I noticed the razor on the counter. “Hopefully you won’t have to shave much hair off my back,” I remarked with a nervous laugh.

“Oh, I already got it,” he said. “Can’t have any hairs getting pushed in by the needle. Even baby fuzz can turn into a nasty ingrown hair.”

Ew. I turned my face away and pondered how I might deal with an ingrown hair on my shoulder. I wouldn’t be able to see or reach it on my own. How much hair was there on my back, anyway? Ew. I didn’t want to know, but I thought it was a good sign that I hadn’t noticed him shaving my shoulder. Maybe this tattoo thing wouldn’t hurt too much after all.

I have been thinking about a tattoo for a few years, but never quite hit on what I wanted permanently inked onto my skin. My life has been about words and technology, but nothing I could think of in those realms seemed worthy of a tattoo. I considered Scrabble tiles but couldn’t come up with the right words. A crossword puzzle crossed my mind, but again, the words to accompany it eluded me. I definitely didn’t want any sort of computer rendition on my skin.

Then, sort of out of the blue, this symbol jumped out at me. The Choku Rei. I came across the choku rei over a year ago when I made a book/prayer flaggy thing for a Christmas gift. I needed a symbol for health, healing, and spirituality to go with the quotes I wanted to use in the art project. Google turned up these:choku rei art symbol 1

I carved two stamps to use in the project, which turned out really cool if I do say so myself. And then I pretty much forgot about the symbols. But when I thought about where I wanted the tattoo—on my right shoulder—the Choku Rei made perfect sense for a couple of reasons.

First, I have been having weird and annoying sensations under my scapula for the better part of two years. Recently I discovered that the source of the discomfort is radiculopathy—nerve pain from my messed up thoracic spine. What better symbol to put on my shoulder? The choku rei symbolizes healing and power. The points where the spiral meet the staff indicate the chakras, and the symbol says “put the power of the universe here.” It is used in Reiki, a form of healing massage.

Secondly, the choku rei is not a tattoo everyone else has—it would be a conversation piece and unusual. Plus, I imagined it would look badass when I wore a racer back tank top on my runs.

These were my thoughts as the tattoo needle stabbed and jammed the ink into my shoulder: I will look badass. I will look badass.

“How ya doin’?” Tattoo guy asked, pausing midway through the interminable process.

“Hurts like a mofo,” I said. “I didn’t know what to expect.”

“Yep,” he nodded. “You get used to it though. Once you have one tattoo, you’ll want another. It’s addictive.”

tattoo1“We’ll see,” I said and winced. “We’ll see.”

He was right. While I haven’t quite forgotten about the pain completely, I am already considering another tattoo.

S is for Spirituality (and also Short)

SKnock me over with a feather. I am pretty sure that I would not have predicted I’d be writing a blog about Spirituality, but things change, do they not?

As a emotionally scarred refugee from fundamentalist christianity, I have long carried a burdensome aversion to anything that even remotely smacked of religion—the supernatural, spirituality, church, prayer, ceremonies, rituals, rites of passage, religious/spiritual people . . . the list cascades into eternity (that’s another suspect concept, the afterlife).

But, here I sit, having met yesterday with a spiritual leader of sorts, to discuss with her the possibilities of joining her “church” (I broke out into a hot flash just as I typed that last sentence, so maybe not joining, maybe just, uhm, attending on a more regular basis). We had a lovely meeting–a meaningful chat. I’m signed up for a class that starts next week.

Yesterday afternoon I had a massage with a side helping of transformational breath work, during which I’m pretty sure I had an out of body experience.

I have an appointment later this week to meet with a life coach who sees into the supernatural realm, and I’m doing a presentation in one of my classes on spirituality and counseling/therapy (or whatever we are calling it these days).

The list goes on. I’m branching out, dipping my toe in.

I am expanding my spiritual horizons.

R is for Rain and Resistance

RLast month my pal Cami wrote a nice piece for Adventures Northwest Magazine on running in the rain, the upshot of which was that when you live somewhere like the Pacific Northwest, you have to get used to running in the rain. Life is too short not to run in the rain. If we don’t run in the rain, we will miss many, many running days.

I don’t disagree. But, as I type this, rain pummels my roof. I set my alarm last night so I would be up and ready to run this morning by 8 a.m., yet here I am, typing away, snug as a bug in a rug in my warm, dry bed. My coffee and my smoothie sit deliciously on my nightstand next to me. I don’t want to get up to run in the rain. photo

I calculate the number of hours I have until I need to get in the car to drive to class in Seattle this afternoon. Then, I look at the weather app on my iPhone and wonder if it really is going to reach 70° and sunny today. Could I squeeze a run in the hour before I need to leave? Might it be drier and warmer by then? Maybe, but there’s no guarantee. If I don’t run in the rain, I may never run again.

Over the past year and a half, I have logged plenty of wet, rainy miles. I ran a 10K last fall in a torrential downpour, complete with thunder, lightning, and rivers of cow, uhm, waste. I’ve never regretted a single rainy run. I always feel like a fierce (if slightly damp) warrior when I finish, when I’m peeling off the soaked lycra and climbing back into my Jeep, dripping but exhilarated.

Still, I resist. And why? What lies beneath the resistance when I know something good awaits if only I could muster the energy and throw off the ennui long enough to push through? What reward will I find here in my warm, dry bed that is better than the sense of accomplishment and rush of endorphins that will greet me on the trail?

If I continue to wallow here in my resistance, I know what will happen. I will reread all of the bad news on CNN. I will check and recheck my Facebook feed. I will spend a half an hour down the rabbit hole that is Twitter. I’ll play a game or two of Trivia Crack. An hour or two will go by. An hour or two of my one wild and precious life.

So, here I go. Up, out of bed. Drain the coffee. Pull on the running gear. Pushing through, fighting the resistance. Embracing the rain. Life is too short not to.

O is for Owies

OPain is a fact of running life. Inevitably, the time is going to come when a runner will be cruising along and suddenly have to pull up short with an “Ouch!” Toes, legs, knees, hamstrings, IT bands, feet, backs. At some point one or more of these parts is going to betray us.

My most recent owie has been my lower back. I believe that lawn-mowing season is to blame, that and a really fucked up spine. I’ve mentioned in these posts that I have degenerative disk disease—my thoracic and cervical spines are fubared beyond what is normal, for no apparent reason. I’ve never been in an accident, been rear-ended, or hit an airbag.

The only possible explanation I can think of for the state of my spine (besides old age, which, I am assured by those in the know, is not the case in my situation), is that I was a forest fire fighter during my college days and schlepped five gallon rubber water bags around on my back, up and down mountainsides for days on end. A massage therapist once told me that I have steel cables running down my spine instead of the expected flat ribbons of muscle.

Anyway, I digress. When I’m not running, my lower back seizes up, and small tasks (such as moving the laundry from the washer to the dryer or loading the dishwasher) cause me to grab my back and say “Ow!” Among other things.

No matter what body part hurts, one sure remedy for any sort of athletic injury is a hot Epsom salt bath. I’ve taken more baths in the past year and half than in the previous non-running twenty years or so. I’ve become a big fan of Dr. Teal’s scented Epsom salts, with eucalyptus as my favorite. Lavender and rosemary are both lovely as well.

traction
Traction

I’ve also become one with the heating pad and a regular at physical therapy where I spend an hour and a half once a week. Lately they’ve been putting me in traction for 15 minutes after I get a massage—traction is lovely, though it sounds dire. I’d stay longer if they let me.

I know it seems antithetical, but for me at least (I cannot speak for anyone else after all), motion is lotion—the more I move, the better I feel. Just this morning (after PT), I was sitting on my heating pad feeling sorry for myself and sore. I decided to go running even though I felt kind of shitty. Running loosened me up and, so far, is keeping the owies at bay.

N is for Names or What Am I?

NLast week in my counseling and professional identity class, a class I should have taken four quarters ago, we spent a good hour and a half debating what we should call ourselves: counselors or therapists? I like therapist, personally, and was more than a bit frustrated that we’d spent so much time splitting hairs, focused on semantics rather than content. At my current tuition rate, this inane conversation cost me approximately $150. Yes, we are studying in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program. And yes, as a group, we are referred to as counselors. But on a daily basis, in my practice, I will call myself a therapist.

Evidently, in the fine state of California, the marriage and family therapist lobby has legally taken the name of therapist for themselves. No one can call themselves a therapist if they are not, in fact, a licensed MFT. But I do not live and practice in California. Nor do I plan to.keep-calm-the-therapist-is-here-9

Some of my classmates (well, one in particular) thought that therapist reeked of white, upper class privilege. She actually looked across the classroom at me and said something to the effect of “therapy implies rich housewives going to whine about their lives once a week.” Others in the class thought therapist has a negative, destructive connotation, as in electroshock therapy and reparative therapy.

I tried not to take these opinions personally, but I do use the term therapy when I go to see my Licensed Mental Health Counselor once a week. I do not go to whine about my life, however. I go seeking healing and strategies for making my life richer and more meaningful. I go to get help making sense of my history, to learn how it impacts me now. I go to figure out how I can be happier, more fulfilled, less stressed. In short, I seek therapy in order to heal and live better.

In fact, the root of the word, thera, traced back to its origins means “forward” “progress” and “healing,” all of which make me want to be a therapist, to call myself a therapist, even more. To be someone who helps others move forward, to progress, and to heal? Sign me up.

BLOG-counselor-inundatedCounselor, on the other hand, to my ear sounds like someone who gives advice, and, in particular, legal advice. Or, like a school counselor–someone who talks to children who have misbehaved. If there’s one thing I don’t want to do it’s work with children. And, if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my five quarters of school, it’s that we counselors/therapists are not to dispense advice. We are to listen, to guide, to inquire, to reflect, to mirror, to ask questions, but we are not to give advice or tell our clients what they should or should not do.

The American Counselors Association (ACA) Code of Ethics tells us that we are to avoid imposing our values on clients (Section A.4.b.) What is advice if not an imposition of values?

The bottom line is that it doesn’t matter what I call myself if I practice in Washington State. I can get my degree in mental health counseling and call myself a therapist or I can call myself a counselor. I can see upper middle class white housewives or I can see lower socioeconomic white people. I can see whoever wants to come and sit across from me and tell me their struggles. I can offer them a chance to heal, a way forward, a path of progress. I can give them therapy.

L is for Letting Go

L

(disclaimer–I’m not a Buddhist nor an expert on such things. The following information is simply my take on a Buddhist concept. Please explore the links provided for more (and better) information. Also, we are taking a break from the running theme).

I’ve been listening to a lot of Tara Brach lately, mostly at night before I go to sleep. A Western Buddhist meditation teacher and clinical psychologist, she has a soothing voice, and as riveted as I usually am by her talks, I generally drift off before she’s half way through. When I wake up at three a.m. with the next hot flash, I restart the talk and listen some more until I drift off again. I am pretty sure lulling me (or anyone) to sleep is not the intention of her talks, but they beat taking pills, and I always pick up a morsel or two of wisdom.

Letting Go is a recurrent theme in her podcasts from the Insight Meditation Community in Washington DC. Letting go of expectations. Letting go of control. Letting go of desire. In the last podcast I listened to (from 2014), she talked about how expectation blocks true intimacy—when we have expectations of other people, situations, experiences, we miss out on what is actually happening in the moment. Instead we are focused on our own fantasy about what we want to happen, and we miss the opportunity to authentically experience the other person in the here and now. We forfeit the opportunity to meet people where they are because we expect them to be different, to meet our own needs.

I know it might sound kind of like hippie dippy voodoo shit, but I’m trying to put the theory into practice in my life. Last week, for example, I started a new quarter at school. I have some pretty high expectations about my classes, the instructors, and my classmates, as well as for my own performance in said classes. But what I discovered this week was that my expectations interfere with reality and serve only to make me miserable and take me out of the moment. Until I let go of my expectations of what I thought the class should be, I couldn’t fully participate in the class as it actually was. I was a wreck. Once I let go, everything improved. And trust me, Letting Go was no easy task.

Suffering, according to the Buddhists, occurs when we ignore reality, when we have expectations or desires. To avoid suffering, we need to Let Go. Tara tells a story about a guy who falls over a cliff and grabs onto a small branch on his way down (there’s always a branch), and as he dangles precariously over the jagged rocks, he calls for help. A voice commands him to Let Go. He asks, “God is that you?” “Yes,” the voice replies, “Let Go.”

The man calls out “Is there anyone else there?”

Letting Go is hard and scary, but sometimes the only thing we can do is to drop down into the abyss. There’s a true story (a book called Touching the Void) about Joe Simpson who was mountain climbing and fell into a crevasse, breaking his leg in the 150 foot fall. He couldn’t climb up out of the crevasse and after days of struggling, he finally realized that his only chance at survival was to Let Go, to drop down into the abyss. So he did. And he found a tunnel that he crawled through. The tunnel led to a town. He survived.

Give it a try. Let go. See if you don’t suffer a bit less and enjoy the moments a bit more.

Loosen your grasp. Let
It go, and in the release
find deliverance

K is such a difficult letter. Kilometer. Knowledge. Kundalini

KI’ve been struggling with what to write for K, which, technically, should have been done yesterday. Tying a K word to my running theme is proving difficult. I suppose the obvious K is Kilometer, as in 5K, 8K, 10K, etc. I could go down that road, metaphorically, I suppose, but I’m not feeling inspired.

My favorite race seems to be the 10K, or 6.2 miles, roughly a quarter of a marathon, a little less than half of a half marathon, which is 13.1 miles or 21.08241 kilometers. Most days I run 5 miles or a bit over 8K.

When I started running and using my Nike app, I got a little verbal acknowledgement from the voice in the app when I hit each kilometer along my run. I found the information frustrating as it meant I spent the next kilometer futilely doing math in my head, trying to figure out what my pace was in miles per hour. Eventually I switched the app to alert me at each mile which makes much more sense.

I remember a concerted effort by the powers that be to educate us on the metric system when I was in middle school—7th grade if I remember correctly. The metric system is coming, they warned. Best to brush up on this vexing system of 10s. Nearly forty years have come and gone since then, and we still prefer the random foot, yard, mile system here in these United States. We don’t seem any worse off for not making the switch.

See, that’s all I have to say about kilometers. Not very inspiring or useful, really. I took a look back at last April to see what I wrote about on the K is for day then and that was not helpful either. A year ago, I was as stuck as I am now.

I considered a K blog on Knowledge as well, a pretty big topic. As a student, I find myself awash in the acquisition of knowledge. I struggled to tie Knowledge to the running theme, though. I suppose we could approach it via data—data is information, and information, once absorbed, becomes knowledge. Knowledge is power. Once I know my stats, I have information and then knowledge about my running. I can then fine-tune my runs. Meh. Maybe if I were interested in taking my running to the next level, but I’m not. I’m content with the status quo.

Two more possibilities arose as I pondered K words, one of which has nothing obvious to do with running: Kundalini. Kundalini is the energy that rests at the base of the spine (according to yogic tradition), which, once awakened can result in deep bliss (among other things). Interestingly enough, to those who know me, I attended a church service this past weekend where the topic was Kundalini Mayhem, or what happens when the kundalini rises in the unprepared. (It’s a long story, but fascinating. One I may have to explore in more depth in a later blog post.)

The kundalini rises along the spine’s chakras, which brings me to my new tattoo (I know, a very circuitous route—I just can’t wait until T to write about my tattoo): a choku rei symbol. The choku rei symbolizes power. It means, basically, “place all the power of the universe here.” The symbol is said to represent the chakras, in the places where the coils intersect with the staff.

I put the tattoo on my right shoulder for two reasons. First, it will look all sorts of badass when I run in a racer back tank top. And second, because I’ve had a strange sensation under my right scapula for the past two years. Recently I discovered the discomfort is the result of degenerative disk disease, something called radiculopathy (basically, nerve pain).

The Choku Rei symbol is used in Reiki to draw power to the parts of the body on which it is drawn. I figured my right shoulder and the radiculopathy could use some assistance. That, and it looks sweet. (Hopefully by the time T is for Tattoo rolls around, I’ll have a better picture).

tattoo

Rise with me–spiral
Up. Let us float heavenward
Toward hope and bliss

 

J is for Just Do It!

JI’m not a particularly big Nike fan (beyond their running app, which I live by), but I do like their “Just Do It” motto—I think that we’d all be better off sometimes if we stopped hemming and hawing, quit analyzing and crunching the data, gave our information-saturated brains a break, sucked it up and jumped in, feet first.

Do you want to start running? Are you unsure about where and how to begin? Do you have mysterious aches and pains? Do you worry you don’t have enough energy or the right clothes? Are you afraid of the rain, the cold, the sun, the heat?nike 1

Take the leap. There’s never going to be the perfect time, the perfect weight, the perfect weather, the perfect outfit, or the ideal body. We all have to start somewhere, with what we have. It doesn’t matter if we are waiting to write a book or begin an exercise regimen. If we wait until we have time or an office, the right shoes, or smaller love handles, well, we might never get started.

Begin at the beginning. Start where you are. I have a friend who wouldn’t start running because her shoulder hurt. And then her knee hurt. She chose to stay on the couch with an ice pack on instead of getting out there and moving. Until she didn’t. Until she got up and just went for it. The aches and pains vanished over time. She lost weight. Her mood improved. She joined a running group. Eventually she ran races and bought cool shoes.

2012 nike app
My runs, 2012

That’s the paradox. When we use our muscles, they feel better (or they hurt so good) because they were meant to move. When we write, we improve. With each mile we put on the pedometer (or Nike app, or FitBit or RunKeeper), with each sentence we get down, each paragraph we complete, our muscles get stronger, our prose improves, our ideas coalesce.

So, go for it. Just do it. You’ll be glad you did, and everything will fall into place, including those love handles.

My runs, 2015
My runs, 2015

Some places to start:
Fit School
Couch to 5K
Fitbit
Runkeeper
Nikeplus

I is for Inspiration

IApril is an inspirational month for runners. Just check out these two anniversaries I happened upon recently.

Terry Fox. I ran across this article today on Facebook. Terry Fox began his epic run across Canada 35 years ago. That number feels impossible. Can it be that long ago that this 22-year-old kid took off on one good leg and one prosthetic leg on his Marathon of Hope? He covered about 16 miles a day, day after day for 143 days, over 3339 miles in all. Amazing. Inspirational. Seemingly impossible, even for someone with two good legs.

Check out his foundation’s website here.

Katherine Switzer. In 1967 Katherine became the first woman to run the Boston Marathon. You can read her story here, on her website. Forty-eight years later, it’s difficult to believe that women were ever not allowed to run marathons. Inconceivable, in fact. In spite of being physically attacked on the course, (by the race co-director!) Switzer completed the marathon in four hours and 20 minutes. In 1975 she finished in two hours and 50 minutes. She’s run the marathon 8 times.

That’s a lot of inspiration for one day, folks. May we all find the motivation to get up off the couch and move. Perhaps we will even inspire someone.

 

H is for Hills (and F should have been for Falling)

HEveryone hates running hills, and I am no exception. Hills hurt. Even going downhill, which seems like it might be far easier and more rewarding than running uphill, carries its own perils and pains. My daily running route of late has not been very hilly (because I’ve come down with a bad case of lazy)—but over the past year, my usual loop included a lot of ups and downs, none very long or terribly extreme, but with enough variety to keep me in pretty good hill shape. Or so I thought.

In February, I ran my first (and possibly only) trail half marathon with my pal Cami who has done a lot of marathons. I wanted to sign up for the 10k, but she talked me into doing the half . . . “It’ll be fun,” she said. I was pretty sure it wouldn’t be that much fun, but I acquiesced, not wanting to appear wimpish. How bad could it be?ft ebey 1

Bad. I’d never run a trail race before—not a single-track race where five hundred people share a mere two-foot wide path, a hilly, winding, steep up, steep down, muddy trail. In all the time I’d been running up to that date, I had not ever fallen down while running. Not once. Yet I fell twice during that trail half marathon—once while running up one of the bazillion hills, and once while running on the flat.

The first fall surprised me early in the race when I still had a fair amount of energy. I took a muddy uphill switchback too fast and my foot slipped. My face landed in the muddy trail in front of me, but I jumped up quickly, brushed myself off, and moved on. The second fall came sometime after mile eight, by which point I felt exhausted. I could barely pick up my feet and that’s what caused the fall. I hit a root and went down hard. I did not bounce back up quickly.

I slogged on through the final five miles, up and down, down and up. Relentless. With less than a mile and a half to go, the course opened up along a bluff overlooking Puget Sound, and just when the going looked easier (and breathtakingly beautiful), we came to one final uphill: a foot wide, completely vertical sandy path that wound endlessly skyward.

I could see the finish line over my left shoulder—I could stop here, skip this final hill, and call it quits. Or, I could complete the climb and follow the rest of the runners back into the woods and finish the race.

Quit or forge ahead? I’d come this far, I told myself, so I dug in. I could climb this final (I hoped) hill. I channeled The Little Engine That Could. I visualized all the hills I normally ran every day and strung them together in my mind, and I got to the top of that damn cliff.

ft ebey 3Climbing the hills makes us stronger and gives us stamina for the long flat stretches. We can always catch our breath on the backside, on the way back down.

What awaits us at
The top is unimportant.
‘Tis the climb that counts.