Reflections

Life is a Beautiful Ride

One of my joys this fall is that I’ve gotten back into spinning. I thought I would start spinning again right when I moved to London but it’s funny how inertia sets in when there’s been an extended gap from doing something you once did with proficiency. It took me nine months to work up the courage to give one of the boutique spinning studios a try. I felt like a fish out of water walking in alone the first time to Psycle in Central London but as soon as I clipped in, my body remembered what to do and I was hooked again. I just had my 15-Class Anniversary at Psycle which was my inspiration for writing this:

Life is a Beautiful Ride

By Kate Ballbach (Psycle Rider since 2017, Life Rider since 1970)

We ride alone in our own saddle, yes, but even in a darkened room or during a darkened time unless your eyes are glued closed, you know that we also ride together.

Sometimes we spin in circles, forgetting where we are heading, which is why it’s helpful to look up at an instructor you trust and mirror their body language until you find the beat again.

We can tune out and just ride when the coast is clear but when we need to add on or double time, we can go further and faster wherever people gather and where there is music.

The multifaceted wonder of music, that welcome distraction when we feel pain, that subtle builder of endurance, that megaphone to drive us deeper into synchronicity with ourselves.

In a world of nonstop talk, we forget that our ride does not depend on our ears or tongue. It's the position of our feet, clipped in and pedaling one push at a time, and our hands, open and not gripping too tightly, as we learn to build our core strength.

We can skate through, cheating our resistance dial, or we can choose to give it our all where we are guaranteed to get soaked in sweat but where we know it's the only way to find the zone.

The zone, where effort feels momentarily effortless and your Everest feels possible, isn't a place where we can live permanently but isn't it glorious to know we can pass through from time to time.

Life is a beautiful ride, yes, but it’s only when you get out and ride through headwinds, heartbreak hills, and heat that the promise finally makes sense.

Freaky Friday: When Your Children Become Fitter than You

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Peanut M&Ms and sports trivia used to be our currency of choice when trying to get our boys, one boy in particular, to soldier on for family hikes (see above.)   I was remembering those years of vociferous reluctance and bribery during our recent 7 day hiking trip to Slovenia

My position on family hikes has always been the caboose, in part because I like taking pictures and because in those early years one parent needed to fence in any attempted escape back to the car.  In Slovenia however, I pulled up the rear because try as I might, I couldn’t keep up.  After years of hiking exposure, that boy in particular is now the young man who bounds ahead and waits for the rest of us.   And this time it was me not them that needed cajoling to carry on. 

It’s a funny thing, those inversion moments with your children, where they are the ones whispering in your ear: “You can do it” when you’re sure you can’t.  Twice I found myself crouched on a mountain paralyzed by my overbearing fear of heights and twice my children came to my rescue, not with peanut M&Ms, but with an unwavering confidence in me.   I, not gracefully or without tears, did eventually do it.  They then hovered around me until they knew I was comfortable again before they raced ahead to the next climb.

My boys have now traveled to 29 countries.   A lot of those first trips, like our early hikes, were hard because they were young and not entirely flexible.  None of our trips were a waste but some were sacrificial.  When we set out on this commitment 5 years ago to spend our time and money on travel, we hoped that the exposure to new cultures and experiences would make them more adaptable and curious about the world.   I admit that personality, and maybe even parenting, plays a large role in how travel experiences are ingested but the mere experience of seeing a new part of the world is enough to crack open children's natural curiosities.

It seems unlikely that without that unwavering commitment they would have passed the hours hiking in Slovenia by quizzing each other -- without parental involvement -- not only on NBA stats but mostly on African capitals of the world.  Or that they would start to genuinely love it when we, no longer embarrassing parents, stopped to talk to a local and asked bare (North London slang for "very") questions.  Or that they would be willing to eat whatever was on the chef’s menu, even if that menu wasn’t in English or the ingredients weren’t recognizable.  And in Slovenia, they eat bear ... thank goodness we got the venison.

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I’ve noticed in these 5 years that as they have become more flexible travelers, I have become a more finicky one.  I’m not exactly sure why I’ve digressed while they’ve expanded -- maybe it has something to do with expectations?  More often than not when we travel, it is them urging me to be patient when service is slow, or when we get lost, or when we’re stuck in a standstill for 1.5 hours on a two lane road when it's late and we’re starving.   Whatever the reason for my backslide, it is pure pleasure to pull up your mental accounting of a trip and for there to be a legitimate zero under “kid complaints.”

Family travel is a muscle that requires exercise and like hiking, there is a point at which you as the parent will lag behind because they have become fitter than you.  Enjoy the view while you still have them in sight. 

I leave you with this beautiful quote from the book I'm reading now, Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng:

“To a parent, your child wasn’t just a person; your child was a place, a kind of Narnia, a vast eternal place where the present you were living and the past you remembered and the future you longed for all existed at once.” 

A Window into a Child's Imagination

One of my memories about heading out the door for school was my Mom reminding us that she had spies watching us.  She was someone who knew the neighbors.  Mostly their job was to report if we took our hats and coats off before getting on the bus.  For a few years, until big hair and jean jackets made hats and parkas untenable, "Operation Stay Warm" worked.

Today was my boys first day back to school.  While I don't know enough neighbors to create a spy network, I may have found something even better ...

Last week our 10 year old son shared something about his life that he hadn't told anyone in detail before.  He told his 14 year old brother first, who in a fine display of teenage grace, thought it was really cool.  

That something was that our 10 years old has been in a movie for as long as he can remember.   We've heard him mention his movie a couple of times over the years but we didn't know how active the movie was playing out in his daily imagination.  He says the movie started when he was born but he only became aware of it when he was about 6 years old.  

The movie is about his life.  He is the main actor but he doesn't have to perform because the movie is about the real him and his real life.  There are about 15 people who watch his movie, seeing everything he sees through his eyes. The 15 people were born when he was born and will die when he dies and because they aren't in this world, they have time to just sit and watch his movie.  They don't talk into the screen at him but they do sit on a couch and eat popcorn.  (A few of them are also apparently overweight.)

He says he doesn't think about his movie every day, but when he does get down or bored he remembers that being in a movie is interesting.  He says the 15 people don't mind when things are a little boring but he sometimes spices it up with auditory "tutorials" like "how to properly shampoo your hair" when he's in the shower or "how to fall asleep" when he's going to bed.  Some tutorials, like "how to sit still in the hairdressers chair and make it easier for them to cut your hair" are thankfully conducted without audio.  (We now understand the regular chit chat coming from the shower.)

You might think that a kid that feels like his life is a movie would be either self-absorbed or with his head in the clouds, but Lawton is neither.  He is both empathetic and keenly observant of his surroundings.  Perhaps because the movie is about his real life not a superhero life, the movie allows him to keep his feet firmly planted in the here and now.  He seems to see the scenery, characters and lighting of life in way more color than many of us do.  Interestingly, he says he can't rewind or fast forward his movie.  (As as regular in his movie, I would have liked to cut a few scenes I didn't know were being filmed ...) 

But the most fascinating part is when he explained how being in a movie affects his life. He said that knowing people are watching makes him want to work harder and not cut corners.  (This is so much better than spies!)  And that even though the people watching his movie have seen him make mistakes and have meltdowns, they still keep watching because they are with him for life.  Also the audience will always be the same 15 people, even if his life gets way more interesting.  It's like having an angel on one shoulder, a devil on the other shoulder and a small brigade as a cape.

Many of us believe in a visible and invisible world but few of us know how to articulate it.  In the unique way only a child can, Lawton has painted a picture of what that duality might look like.  A world where you are the Director and Actor of your own movie but there is a committed audience to your every move and their role is to help you bring out your best self.

Lights, camera, action ...  

 

 

Do not withhold good

Anger towards injustice can be a useful emotion. It fuels us to rise up and act. It helps us to turn a Facebook rant into a telephone call. It compels us to get out of our seats and onto the streets. It causes us to open our wallets and front doors.

There is a Proverb in the Bible that says: “Do not withhold good from those who deserve it when it is in your power to act.” Believing it is necessary to have an immigration policy that is both safe AND fair, this week – like many people -- I have been signing petitions against the ill-conceived, not so hidden religiously intolerant Travel Ban and its authors, sending emails to politicians, and donating to charities serving refugees. You may disagree with me but that’s not the point of this post.

Nor am I saying that immigrants and refugees are the only people who deserve our action. You might have another. [I’ve also been looking for a good charity that supports our Veterans – particularly those who served in Iraq and Afghanistan - with job retraining as they are another marginalized group of people that I believe deserves the attention of those with the power to act. If anyone has a suggestion, please pass it on.]

I’ve been thinking however that while anger is useful for getting us out of the chair, as it did me this week, it is not sustainable on its own. If we want to really serve those who deserve our action we need to positively feed our faith in the long arc of justice enough so that our anger will be starved. We should love our world enough to engage with it, including in the public square, to want to see it as it was created to be. We need to surround ourselves with historians to lengthen our lens and believers to restore our imagination of what healthy interdependence can and should look like in a world full of color and differences.

For me, part of feeding my faith in justice is joining together with the people of my church here in London who believe and live out the invitation that: “This is a church that loves and accepts everyone … you are so welcome here.” Every Sunday I look out over the congregation which is full of people from every race and dozens of countries, so many of them young, and it brings me to tears every time. Every time. I’m trying to hang out with them more. I recently heard someone say, “The coals in a campfire burn bright and put off heat when huddled together but if that coal were to jump away from the fire, it would die out.” Action from the privacy of your home can only do so much. Action together, in whatever form that looks like, burns bright.

The other way I’ve been feeding my faith in justice has been a very small thing. On my regular runs in Regent’s Park, I make it a point of looking every Muslim woman I see in the eye and offering a smile. So far, every smile given has been returned with a smile that is somehow deeper and more beautiful than a courteous one. It seems to be saying “hello and thank you” at the same time. That too is a kind of fuel to remind me there is nothing different between white eggs and brown eggs - no difference in yoke or taste. You only know a bad egg once it’s cracked.

I was recently asked to do one of those online tests to find your strengths. I don’t like doing those tests and yet it confirmed for me where I should be investing myself. In some ways, this post is me trying to build on one of my strengths: positivity. This is a time in our country (and others too) where we all need to be exploiting our natural strengths. May you therefore use your time, resources, and even the platform of FB to take your strengths – which are uniquely yours and desperately needed - and work them out for the public good.

 

The Naturally Nervous First Year Parents Crop

Closed groups on Facebook can be sources of good information and sometimes, awesome entertainment. This fall as my son was entering his first year of college we joined a FB group for the parents of his incoming class. We 700 members are the cream of the Naturally Nervous First Year Parents Crop.

The posts contributed by the moderator around school events, housing, campus safety, etc have generally been helpful as have some of the parent questions and comments. Most parent members passively receive information. And then there is the smattering of …

1. Questions that Google has an answer for. As in: “What time does the football game start?”

2. Questions that Google has an answer for AND that you really should not be figuring out for your man child. As in: “Is there a Fedex or post office on campus. My son needs to ship something.”

3. Lost and found questions better directed toward campus security than parents in the off chance they have the kind of relationship with their student whereby they talk about other people’s missing things. As in: “My daughter lost here watch near X over the weekend. Did your student find it?”

4. The needle in a haystack questions. As in: “We are going to be on campus and while there, we need access to a marimba for our high school son to practice. Any leads?”

5. Delivery questions that Amazon can’t handle and therefore no one but a roommate or friend is likely to handle. As in: “Is there a delivery service that could deliver cold medicine and a vaporizer [in the next 2 hours] to my daughter who is sick during finals?”

6. The safety-first parent questions. As in: “Where we can find earthquake safety info and plans for the dorms.”

7. Delivery questions that make you feel guilty for only sending snacks from Amazon Pantry. As in: “Has anyone ever tried successfully to have birthday balloons and/or Edible Arrangement delivered to the dorms?”

8. Questions that make you want to cringe for the parent/student relationship. As in: “Does anyone know where grades will be posted?”

9. The parent/student selfie upload. Cute on your FB page. A little weird on the parent page.

10. The 100% school spirit post that includes no question or comment just an overuse of the school slogan, emojis and hashtags. It’s all there. Sometimes with a band video clip. Fight On!

God bless us as we Fight On letting go of our children. We are a funny bunch.

It's Election Day

I’ve been wondering. How, practically speaking, do you give your all to something? Not a physical or temporal goal but a principle you’ve decided is missional for you. If you say you are All for Love or All for Justice or All for Freedom or All for Jesus or All for ________ , how do insure that you are in fact ALL IN in a loud culture full of distractions? How do you not get overpowered or keep from skimming the surface?

I think most would agree that anything worth being FOR requires both a full commitment and the long view. It needs to be strong enough to move you across the line from belief to action. It should cause your eyes to fill with tears at one moment and a steeliness to do the impossible in others. 50% Love or Most of the Way Justice lacks the aspiration needed to make any meaningful impact. It has no staying power. And, more importantly, if we want to be ALL IN for something that endures it also means we probably won’t be around to see it come into fullness. We have to be ok with being bit actors.

I don’t know the complete answer for how to truly give your all to something that matters but I read something recently from CS Lewis that suggested a good starting point: What you choose to fill your mind with when you wake up.

“The real problem comes where people do not usually look for it. It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each mornings consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life coming flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings, coming in out of the wind.”

Many of us, me included, have a habit of picking up our phones first thing when we wake up. As habits go, it seems rather benign. And yet, it is in effect blindly turning over our first thought to something we aren’t actively choosing. Even if that thing is good or neutral it probably isn’t that bigger thing we want to align ourselves with. The danger is that what we expose ourselves to isn’t simply a matter of getting informed or being entertained. Its fuel for how we will act. It therefore makes sense that we ought to buffer our intake first with the reference point we claim to be central in our lives.

I had an experience in Spain last week. It was warm and so we slept with the windows open. It was also windy and so the sound that woke me most mornings was the wind rustling through the palm trees. It was loud enough to both get my attention and still the other voices that weren’t as demanding. It wasn’t until I choose to listen past the wind that I heard a rooster in the distance, birds in cheerful conversation, pans coming out for service in the kitchen. The simple exercise of re-tuning to those other, sweeter voices didn’t still the wind but it pushed it to the back of my morning symphony.

They say you only have one chance to make a first impression. The good news is that we have a new chance each morning to decide which voice we will listen to first. What our morning symphony will be. If what we eat (or don’t eat) for breakfast sets our energy for the day, how much more does what we choose to fill our minds with set not only our mood – but our motivation and action – for the day.

The wind in the US will be howling loudly today and tomorrow. No matter the outcome, we need the ALL IN people – on both sides of the political aisle – to come in out of the wind for a moment and listen to those quieter, enduring voices that promise to speak hope into and well beyond the next 4 years.

 

E-Bikes and Marathons

This summer I rode an electric bike for the first time. Are you judging me? Because I was judging me in the same way I’ve judged every mall cop and city tour group on a Segway. It sounded gimmicky and dumb when a proper, human-propelled bike would do just fine. Not that I’m some kind of biking purist but please … does everything really need a motor?

As these things often go – doing something you swore you would never do – it started with a need. I was staying out in the French countryside alone with my two younger boys and without a car for several days. The nearest town with services was 10 kilometers away. Though I love walking, it seemed prudent to have a transportation solution in case of a baguette or other more pressing emergency. I therefore went in search of a bike rental as there were no close car rentals. The only rental option I could find was an electric bike. Why there wasn’t a single road bike or run-of-the-mill cruiser bike with a cute French basket to rent in the host country of the Tour de France remains a mystery.

But c’est la vie. At least I had a workable solution. I could cover ground quickly if one of my children needed stiches or I needed a bottle of Rose.

For those of you not familiar, electric bikes have an electric motor and rechargeable batteries but unlike a Segway or moped what makes them unique is that the rider retains the ability to pedal. It can be a free ride but they aren’t designed with that in mind –the expectation is that you will pedal. So the experience is exactly like riding a conventional bike except you have the option to turn the battery on when you want an extra boost. You can set the battery to low, medium or high. It’s best to save high power – which drains the battery fastest – for when you really need it. After a certain range, like an electric car, the battery needs to come home to be plugged in and recharged.

Funny thing is I expected the E-bike to look different but really it looks like a normal bike that makes a little whirring noise. My E-bike rental even came with a cute French basket. It wasn’t so different in appearance and yet its performance was well … totally awesome. Zero-emissions. Minimal sweat. Major help getting up hills.

I confess. It was like switching from US butter to French salted butter. One spread is all it takes to never want to go back to the old stuff. On the E-bike, you could cover more ground in shorter time, move at the speed of traffic on country roads and through intersections, take short breaks from pedaling when you wanted to take in the view, but also get a workout when and if you wanted to. It was the perfect blend of assisted and unassisted riding where you set the tempo and were in control but your range was limited by the need to recharge.

I think the spiritual life is a little like riding an E-bike. Before you try it, you might judge it as gimmicky especially if self-propulsion has worked just fine. In my case with the E-bike a seed was planted weeks before by a friend – an extremely able-bodied, fit friend – who surprisingly gave the E-bike a thumbs up. She didn’t seem like the E-bike convert type. So when the E-bike turned up as my only option, I was slightly more willing. I wouldn’t have given the E-bike a chance had it not been because of a need. In the same way, true religion only has a chance when it is entered into out of need. It can be abused as a free ride but the intention of true religion is that it be a mix of sustained effort with divine bursts of power. So while we have free will to control our own bike we also have the invitation to pedal with or without assistance.

I thought again of that E-bike when I was running the Berlin Marathon last weekend. I had done by part by putting in the miles and the training up to 20 miles but the last 6.2 miles were uncharted territory for my body. In the end it was those last 6.2 miles that were my favorite to run. Not because they were the easiest or fastest but because that’s the place where I felt my effort mingle with something outside myself. Often I find that outside myself is the divine working through other people.

The burst of power that wasn’t related to the power GU or sports drink came from remembering my Dad fight on with his Parkinson’s Disease and remembering the Syrian refugees for whom the money I raised was going to support. It came from the first 5 miles with my running partners who encouraged me to start slow so I could finish strong. It came from being surrounded and in the fellowship of other runners who were at the exact same place in their journey as I was. It came from my son with 3 kilometers left running alongside me on the course saying, “Mommy, you can do anything for 15 minutes.” And it came from hearing the lyric of a song shuffled on my playlist with 1 kilometer left: “When the waves are taking you under, Hold on just a little bit longer, He knows that this is gonna make you stronger, the pain ain’t gonna last forever, the things can only get better, believe me this is gonna make you stronger.”

And with that lyric and a last celebratory cheer from my husband and son in the final stretch, I crossed the finish line …. not entirely to my surprise … 15 minutes faster than my best hoped for goal.

Anticipation: Where's your next trip?

Few things live up to the excitement of waking up on Christmas morning when you are a kid. Buying a plane ticket for a vacation, the grown up version of Santa’s big gift under the tree, might come close. People care not for the airlines but there is an undeniable tremor of delight every time you book a trip (business and bereavement travel excluded.) Once your flight is booked or some other measurable (ideally non-refundable) step is taken towards planning a trip, anticipation sets in and carries you toward your departure date. Even the airlines stoke our excitement by believing we may have as many as 6 email addresses to share our itinerary with.

As Thomas Swick says in his excellent travel book The Joys of Travel and Stories that Illuminate Them: “Anticipation is to a journey what infatuation is to a romance: an uncritical but crucial prelude to reality.”

Anticipation may be the least documented portion of your journey but it’s no doubt the frame in which your experiences will fit into. Planners will engross themselves into guidebooks and maps and travel underwear. Dreamers will immerse themselves through books, music, or movies set in their destination. Connectors will reach out to their friends and friends of friends and the grocery store clerk for tips. Fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pantsers will assume their travel companion is taking care of things. Most everyone will look at pretty pictures, choose one as their screen saver, and drool until touch down. Social media junkies will then “check in” at the airport and continue to do so daily until they’ve returned to work.

Whatever the method, there is a positive buzz about this stage of our trip because we anticipate all the good parts and take a mental hall pass on all the hassles, crowds, misfires and grumpy people who were not waiting with a fresh Hawaiian leis to welcome us. As Thomas Swick says, “Anticipation of travel is always more idyllic than travel itself.” Not being able to find a restroom when you need it never comes up for consideration when you are dreaming about your beach vacation. Nor do you think about (or later admit to) days like this as described by a brave travel comrade: “Kraków Day 2 giant FAIL. 2 hour wait at Wieliczka Salt Mines + 2 hour wait at Schindler Factory Museum plus torrential downpour + sleepy kids = afternoon spent in a mall eating at a super crap restaurant. You win some. You lose some.”

It almost doesn’t matter how long the countdown is as the jolt of anticipation will gladly fill the space given. “Where’s your next trip?” is also a serviceable conversation starter in virtually any social setting and infinitely more interesting than the weather. Strangely, people are often more interested in where you are going than where you’ve been. A cynical view of this might be that’s because we have short attention spans but maybe it’s because anticipation is largely all reasonably positive and retell is too many details edited either for only the AMAZING! or every horrible thing done to you in a place like the Maldives. Also there are no photo albums to endure during pre-trip conversations.

Reality should not temper the golden hues of anticipation. We need the fantasy to go through the hassle of leaving our house and handing over our credit cards. Home base is full with enough reality that you shouldn’t care if the award winning photo of your destination has cropped out a power plant in the distance or that the darling monkeys you’ve read about will cease to be cute after 15 minutes. If aware, the anticipation buildup can be a kind of goodwill that might actually come in handy when the reality on the ground isn’t mapping to the pretty picture.

Because anticipation does however raise the expectation bar, it does behoove you to KNOW THYSELF when planning a trip. If you like to be led and cared for, pre-book with a tour group. If you hyperventilate in crowds, skip Florence in July. If history bores you to tears, you won’t be cured by sacrificing a day in the Churchhill War Rooms because someone included it in a list of “Top 5 Things Not to Miss.” If you have children, remember you have children. Resilience training does not happen on the fly.

There was a widely-referenced study conducted in the Netherlands about the link between vacations and happiness and the conclusion was that the largest boost in happiness comes from the simple act of planning. Apparently the old adage “the best is yet to come” does not necessarily apply to vacations. Even though happiness peaks before you’ve reached 10,000 feet, the happiness halo returns to baseline roughly 8 weeks after a trip. While this may sound discouraging a better takeaway is perhaps to take shorter, more frequent trips so that you have something on the horizon.

Anticipating a trip is obviously easier with both financial resources and in places with more liberal vacation practices than the US.  The Netherlands study showed however that the happiness boast isn’t linked with how far, long, or luxurious the travel but rather simply planning a break away from your normal routine. While the study didn’t suggest this, my own experience proves that the payoffs for planning a trip to the overlooked and less traveled places are almost always higher. So while I can’t guarantee that planning a weekend getaway to Waco, Texas will yield an 8 week happiness halo it’s worth a shot.

Where’s your next trip?

Words to (Really) Live By

I love me a good lifey quote.  When there’s one that stops me in my tracks and gets under my skin I often write it down in my journal.  Writing it down feels like a silent activation from the page to my brain.   Of course the next day there is a new page with new thoughts and chicken scratches along with the demands of life that bury what came before.   On the rare occasion I look back over my journal, I re-encounter many of those inspirational quotes and think, “Oh, yeah. That was good.” but when I scan for evidence on how I’ve actually applied it, it’s almost always underwhelming. 

Activation of a good word in the flow of everyday life needs more than a ball point pen.

I have this ring a dear friend gave me a year ago inscribed with a verse from the Bible (Philippians 4:8) that speaks to our thought life. It says, “Finally brothers and sisters whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.”  That’s a lot of words to get on a ring, folks.   So tiny is the writing that it’s been easier to commit the thing to memory.  Aside from my wedding ring, I’ve had no consistent jewelry habits.  I can’t even manage a regular watch.   But even though this ring is nothing particularly special, I’ve mysteriously found myself wearing it almost every day for the past year.  

Wearing it feels like a kind of armor.  I instinctively touch it whenever I feel my thoughts going down a rabbit hole of negativity and the good quote activates.  It’s been a gentle, real-time reminder in the flow of life that there are many other things – at least 8 other things with a wide open “whatever” preceding them -  I can choose to be thinking about.  Although I’m still not sure I’ve had any riveting noble thoughts.  The real benefit however is when the new thinking spills over into modified behavior.  It may sound silly but I’ve noticed how the mere twirl of my ring can re-center me at the precise moment I feel on the verge of popping off into complaint or cynicism.  Not every time (obviously) but enough to be detectable.

This little piece of silver around my finger has been more instrumental in applied living than anything I’ve written down in my journal.  I imagine some people have tattoos for a similar reason.  It’s probably why I still remember putting on the Armor of God – which included a shield and a breastplate! - from my days in Sunday school.

We have an enormous capacity to remember things but our reflex to access those things in stressful situations could do with some reminding.  It’s got me thinking about the method of loci, the memory technique whereby you place information to be remembered at a point along an imagery journey route.  Typically the technique to remember something like a list of groceries uses a route through your house and you associate each room with a piece of information to be recalled at the store.  I always felt like that was a dumb example because why would anybody go through the mental gymnastics for something they could write down on a list.  I can remember milk.  Remembering to Be Kind Always, like while driving or on Facebook, needs nudging.

It made me wonder though if instead of the mental mapping of our house we used our bodies to remember important things.  If we took my ring example and expanded it.  Since we already carry our emotional lives in our bodies why not use our bodies to carry back signals to our brain.  So rather than associating “front door with fruit hanging from the chandelier”, “hallway with hamburgers” and “the powder room covered in toothpaste” we used our own body to evoke the things we want to practice. For example, when we touched our eye we might think about Jesus’ words from the Sermon on the Mount “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light.” and how our perspective impacts our whole body.  Or when we turned over our hands for the umpteenth time during the day we might hear the words of Mother Theresa, “Give your hands to serve and your hearts to love.”  Or when we trace a scar on our own body we might be reminded of the now famous adage: “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”  

If enough of these type of voices auto-played as we moved through the world in our bodies, I have to believe it would be detectable in our interactions.  It’s exciting to think about how many truths we can tuck away in the palace of our bodies.   I’m reviewing my journal now and making assignments.  If anyone has a suggestion for arm pit, I’m all ears.

Growth vs Fixed Mindset in Practice

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I have no idea how far an average 9 year old can (and should) run.  Until today I might have taken the token elementary school “one-mile run” benchmark, grossed it up for good measure and said 2 MILES.  In fact I invoked that line of thinking when my 9 year old insisted he wanted to join me on my run today.  Thankfully my day’s training schedule called for a short 4 mile run so having him run HALF of that with me seemed like a worthy goal.

Training to run a marathon in a 45 year old body not wired for sustained efforts of self-discipline has a way of loudly intruding on family life.  On days when I have a double digit mileage target I’m both out of the house for hours and then talking about my recovery, requesting foam roller massages and affirmation for the remainder of it.  It’s hard for my boys to miss this Marathon business is kind of a big deal for their Mom.   They’ve been really sweet about it. 

So there we were today – earbuds in– embarking on our inaugural mother/son 2 MILE run.   Heightening this already big milestone was the fact we were doing it in the picturesque if not relentlessly hilly French countryside and aided by an unusually cool morning after a night of rain.  We started out on a confidence building downhill.  By 0.4 miles there was talk of it “being easy.”  By 0.8 miles there was the question of how far his 13 year older brother had just run on his own.  (Answer: 3.8 miles at a much faster pace than his Mom.)  By 0.95 miles, as I expected there might be, there was the bold declaration that he was not yet ready to turn back.   He wanted to go the full 4 miles with me.  When I suggested maybe 2.5 or 3 miles he would have none of it.

Given the course up to that point had largely been downhill, 4 miles seemed like an overly ambitious goal for someone, a wee-little loved one especially, who had self-reportedly never run more than 8 laps around a school track.   I also wanted our maiden marathon training to be a win/win.  I wanted him to feel successful and to enjoy running and I wanted to get my 4 miles in.  But instead of giving in to that well-meaning impulse I flashed to Carol Dweck, the Standford psychologist, talking about fixed versus growth mindset and how maybe I needed to use this experience not to help my child succeed but rather to give him the chance to grow.  I said, “Ok.  Let’s Do It.”

By 1.8 miles the “easy” talk had subsided and that’s when it got interesting.  Over the next 2.2 miles I taught him all the strategies I’ve learned.  On the steep uphills I told him about leaning forward into the hill and not letting it work against you.  When he got a cramp in his side, I suggested he have a word with the cramp and tell it to please leave him alone.   I taught him how to relax his arms.  I taught him how to slow his pace so he could go longer.  I taught him it’s okay to stop and stretch for a minute. And when he was really gassed I reminded him to focus on one foot at a time … to which he said, “Like that show Unbreakable where Kimmy says you can do anything for at least 10 seconds.”   Exactly!

And so when at 3.5 miles with a final uphill to finish my red-faced, exhausted 9 year old boy asked me in hopes of a reprieve: “Mom, are you tired?” I answered honestly, “No, because I’ve trained my body to do this … and you can do this … it’s only as far as 2 more laps around the track.”  To finish would mean he would do 8 more laps – or exactly double – his personal best.  He asked at every remaining driveway if it was “our” house but didn’t stop until I confirmed it was and my watch confirmed it was 4.0 miles.

I still don’t know how far an average 9 year old can (and should) run.  What I do know is that today mine ran further than he (and I) knew he could.  Not only that but he’s asked to go with me again tomorrow. 

We can be content to remain as we are, we can push to reasonably sanctioned limits or we can be willing to get red-faced to go farther than those around us believe is possible.   Children routinely do this better than we can so let’s give them the berth to try, pick them up when they fail and encourage them to do it again.  They have something to teach us in what it means to truly be unbreakable.  10 seconds at a time.