Sunday, November 30, 2014

Doing just fine

I am a big fan of the day spa concept. I've never been one to splurge on things like clothes, jewelry, or cosmetics, and pedicures and massage are rare indulgences that I usually see as more of a "treatment" to cure my running-related ailments. But give me access to a sauna and the opportunity to spend a few quiet hours lounging in and around a few pools of water, and I am all in. My version of heaven definitely includes a eucalyptus steam room.

A beloved friend is in town this week, visiting her hometown of San Diego from her current home of NYC, and seeking as much Southern California sunshine and relaxation as she can soak in while she's here. (She is the mother of two young children, owns and runs a bustling business, and, did I mention that she lives in NYC?) It has become something of a tradition for me to steal her away for an afternoon during these visits and for the two of us to hole up at the spa at the Rancho Bernardo Inn. We lay around like lizards in the warm desert air, eat fresh and delicious food, and catch up. And today she talked me into getting a massage.

We got checked in, and as my massage therapist helped me get situated in the treatment room, she asked the question that will be familiar to anyone who's been a first-time student in a new yoga class, or who has ever had deep tissue massage: "Any pain or injuries that I should know about?"

I've noticed two major changes within myself now that I'm in my forties. One: I say things like "now that I'm in my forties." Two: at any given moment, something somewhere on my body usually hurts. I was starting to feel this in my thirties, sure, but now it's become fairly constant. Even if I'm not dealing with some kind of a running-related overuse injury, or recovering from damage sustained doing something stupid (like fracturing my foot jumping out of a boat ... it happens), there's probably some large muscle group or joint somewhere that hurts. I've been sitting at work, and my hips are tight. It's a cold morning, and my left knee (operated upon 20+ years ago) is reminding me that it's missing a little cartilage. I sat on the floor working on a project for too long, and oh, my aching back! I'm not talking here about the challenges of living with the chronic pain of a condition like arthritis or spinal stenosis. Just the daily creaks and aches of living in a changing, aging body.

So when the massage therapist posed this question, I did a quick mental scan of my body, looking for "the thing that hurts today," so I could warn her to be careful there. And I was completely taken aback when I came to the conclusion: nothing hurts! I couldn't remember the last time that nothing hurt. No injury. No residual soreness from yesterday's workout. Not even a nagging cough. (I have very reactive airways, as they say, and frequently have to ask massage therapists not to use aromatherapy, or to reposition my head in a way that won't make me cough. I'm a mess, you guys.) "Nope," I said. "I'm doing just fine." I crawled onto that warm table, and laid there for the next hour in a state of blissful appreciation for the miracle of this crazy tangle of 206 bones that are all currently working in perfect harmony. As the Thanksgiving holiday weekend draws to a close, a fitting endnote to this happy runner's very long list of the things for which I am grateful.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Let it begin with me

I love Christmas music. I don't usually get too wrapped up in the frenzy of the holidays, and some years I simply opt out of the Christmas "thing" altogether. But I will always sing along to a classic carol. (I will also always eat a Christmas cookie, when presented with the option. But this post is not about cookies. Stay focused.) I'll admit it: I occasionally even tune in to the all-Christmas-music-all-the-time satellite radio station in the car. But never before Thanksgiving. Never! I do what I can to stay present, and count myself among the many who protest the "Christmas creep," that force of economic nature that would have us decorating and shopping and putting peppermint-flavored syrup in everything as soon as the Halloween decorations hit the recycling bin.

"Seasons Greetings," from Ferguson, MO
This year feels different, though. The events of this week in Ferguson, Missouri have shaken me to my core, and have me grasping for anything that will bring a bit of comfort. Don't panic: this is not a political post, any more than it is a post about Christmas cookies. I have not formed any personal opinions about that grand jury's findings, and when I do, I won't share them here. But it's hard not to be moved by the unrest in Ferguson and beyond. These Americans feel so marginalized and disenfranchised that they are lashing out in self-destructive violence. They perceive themselves as being so beat down by the political and socioeconomic systems in the U.S. that they have given up the good fight for social justice, and instead have launched an ill-fated battle they can't possibly win. I tried to read and watch the coverage last night after the verdict was announced, but was overwhelmed by such sadness that I literally shut down, and could barely muster the strength just to crawl under the covers and put myself to bed early.

I woke up this morning still in a bad frame of mind, made worse by the morning's news. In a moment of weakness as I drove to work, I did it: I tuned in to the Sirus XM "Holiday Traditions" station, even though it's still two days before Thanksgiving. Never say "never," I guess. Seeking a cheerful dose of Bing Crosby or Burl Ives to pull me out of my funk, I instead received a well-timed message that has been with me all day: "Let There Be Peace on Earth."

Let peace begin with me
Let this be the moment now.
With every step I take
Let this be my solemn vow.
To take each moment
And live each moment
In peace eternally.
Let peace begin on earth.
And let it begin with me.

Someone at that satellite radio station was clearly having just as crappy of a day as I was. And God bless 'em for trying to do something about it, instead of just crawling under the covers (like I did), or ranting in anger and judgment about it on social media (like everyone else did, it seems). In that moment, the whole point of the song unfolded: peace that starts from within can spread to others. The station programmer who selected that song did something to create peace with a simple choice. And I can create peace with my own simple choices. I can start my day tomorrow with a run, instead of the news, to flush out the cortisol and elevate my mood. Perhaps that elevated mood will make me feel like smiling and saying hello to a stranger who would otherwise feel isolated and disconnected. Perhaps those lower cortisol levels will provide the calm I need to be present and focused during my work day for someone who needs it. (Have I mentioned that I'm a social worker, surrounded by others' chaos and difficulties, day in and day out?) Maybe that morning run will be my first dig at a little well of peace. And maybe it will spring a leak.

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What could you do to create a moment of peace in your life today?