Authors note: “Write from the white hot space.” That phrase describes the conditions for this blog’s creation, written while sitting on my deck last summer, minutes before I had to leave for the office, words tumbling out of my brain into my typing fingertips. The blog has gone unpublished for months, but I reflect on it today as I mentally prepare for the Kansas City Marathon. I retrieve the writing piece as a reminder to myself that the reward of many of life’s endeavors lies as much in the process as it does in the outcome. I share it in hopes that it may inspire something of value in the reader too.
When the Noise Became too Much
There was a moment in May when I became overwhelmed with noise. Well, more than a moment. It was a more like a mounting crescendo, an avalanche of information and opinions and comparisons and data and contempt and bad news. I was also beginning to feel like my life was lived in a glass house of my own making. Every event, every thought, every experience something that I was turning into a story. Wordsmithing, theming, scripting for later publication. The world of social media had become, at a minimum, a distraction from my real life. I was working so hard to document each moment for future sharing that I was losing the present. And the noise. Oh the noise, spinning in my brain all hours of the day and night. One of my last posts before the Facebook fast revealed a painful night of unrelenting insomnia. My brain just would not stop thinking. Many friends commiserated with my nocturnal woes that night. Even in the silence of midnight, I/we could not escape the noise. At least not the noise in our own heads. You know that old line “What does it take to get some peace and quiet (and sleep) around here?” In pondering that question, I was reminded that I had the power to give those gifts to myself. A colleague shared that she had made the radical decision to get off of Facebook and all other social media. She had been advising clients that social media contributes to depression. She wanted to make a healthier choice for herself and model what she was teaching. Her declaration gave me courage to try something new. I decided to take a one week break from Facebook.
One week of fasting turned into two. I felt good. More centered. I noticed that I had a little more time margin than usual. So, in the spirit of treating life as a series of experiments, I decided to extend the Facebook fast through the summer. At the same time, I registered for an Eight-week Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Class with Mindfulness in the Heartland. In reality, the class spanned ten weeks. To be precise, there was an introductory class on Mother’s Day, during which we engaged in the simple practice of breathing. There were eight Sunday classes comprised of two hours of formal meditation instruction. Mid-summer, there was a six-hour silent meditation retreat. (Not easy, folks!) The course curriculum also challenged students to devote an hour per day to meditating, in addition to practicing other meditative exercises such as mindful eating, mindful communication, and journaling about pleasant and unpleasant experiences. I engaged the homework not with perfection, but with genuine intention. I soon discovered that the noise was quieting, the anxiety was calming, and the knotted rope binding my soul to unhelpful thoughts was loosening.
The Rooting Down
Thus, with little advance planning, I found myself embarking on a summer journey that would be different than any other I had known. I pulled back from posting, commenting, writing blogs, and all “public” outlets for expressing my thoughts and feelings (an essential need for Enneagram Fours!). At the same time, I significantly reduced my intake of noise. I purposely opened myself to more silent time attending to my inner experience–deepening awareness of 1) the mental chatter in my own head; 2) the feeling states that arise when I am still; and 3) the body sensations that accompany both. I think of it as the summer that I rooted down. By that I mean that I rooted down into my body, my inner world, my home, and the earth. I consciously decided not to schedule a vacation, knowing it would create a distraction. I did volunteer one week as a church camp counselor, but even there I tried to meditate every day, including the bus ride with 50 teenagers! I spent some time organizing my basement. I spent time sitting in silence on my deck. I spent time on my yoga mat, and I spent time in slow, meditative walking. In meditation, simply being present with life as it is, not what I wish it might be in any given moment, was my objective.
Embracing New Risk
The summer Facebook fast also gave birth to the decision to register for my second full marathon. I have run a number of half-marathons and running is part of my lifestyle. However, it had been five years since I completed my first full marathon, and although “Marathon 2” was on my bucket list, I was not sure I could do it again. It was the early stages of the Facebook when my spirit was prompted to commit to the dream. Because of the fast, announcing my decision was not an option. As it turned out, NOT announcing the decision felt okay to me. I have been known to delay announcing a big goal until I am 150% sure I can achieve it. The last time I trained for a full marathon, I waited to transfer my half registration to full only after completing TWO twenty mile training runs, even when one would have been adequate. Confidence is a hard fought commodity for me in certain realms of life, particularly athletics. I had to be doubly sure I could do it before I was willing to risk failure (um, I reluctantly admit to having an Enneagram 3 Wing). But this time around, the fear was less pronounced. Perhaps the mindfulness training helped me loosen the grip of anxiety. And silence on the subject actually seemed like a welcome friend. Indeed, to my delight, one effect of the Facebook fast was that I got to treasure a private goal for a while, only sharing with a few close family and friends. (I would later join Team World Vision and post my training progress as I raised money for global clean water initiatives.)
What I confirmed in the time of Facebook fasting is that running for me is a gift in and of itself. It is a space in which my spiritual, physical, and emotional growth has flourished, and it is intrinsically motivating. Most runners love to share their achievements and experiences. It is both an individual and a community sport. Completing a good run, a scenic run, a run where you exceeded a personal goal is a joyful moment made even more joyful by sharing it with friends and family who are cheering for you. Most runners do not do this to be obnoxious braggarts. Truly. They are simply living out the principle that joy shared is doubled, pain shared is halved. The summer of running but not telling anyone about it only deepened my love for it.(Caveat: I always tell my husband about my mileage or timing or new running adventures, but that’s just intimacy. He shares the same with me.) In not sharing my running ups and downs, in not posting pictures of the scenery or the inspirations that bubbled up during training runs, I learned that running remains precious to me in any and all circumstances. It is not tied to being a particular weight, as I have run at many different sizes. It is not all about races, as most of my running is done alone, preferably on a trail, in total solitude. And the fast confirmed for me that it is not, primarily, an image to maintain (Enneagram w3 tendencies aside). However, I do confess that there is something wonderfully freeing about releasing the old, false narrative of myself as physically weak — a shame story formed in too many Physical Education classes where I felt woefully unathletic and incapable of doing anything skillful with a ball. And while we are on the subject, who else remembers that President’s Physical Fitness test with the dreaded pull ups?? Maybe that shame story feeds image management, but at this stage of life I think the journey is more about feeling empowered, strong, and capable in your own skin. In short, I have finally come to realize that it is not a fluke that I have enjoyed longevity as a runner. I am a runner, plain and simple, and would be even in a selfie-free world.
Rediscovering Running as Relationship and a Gift
Running in solitude reminds me that running is a relationship– with my heart, with my body, and with God. My appreciation for what running has given me continues to deepen. It is a part of me, it has shaped my story, and it has informed my counseling work with clients. I experience and receive running as a gift from my Creator, and every layer of truth that I discover while running is a love letter from Him. His love letters remind me that the shame arrows that cause us to mistrust our bodies are lies. In my work I see this with both men and women. I see shame and embarrassment and a sense of body betrayal that has been carried for decades, entire lifetimes. I long to help others reclaim their bodies and heal their relationships with themselves. The love letters from God tell me that my body (and yours!) is intricately made, wonderfully, fearfully, beautifully good, that my (our) potential is usually untapped if we can only free our minds of limiting beliefs. The letters tell me that each day of our lives–and each time our feet hit the pavement (or we hop on our bikes, or go for a swim, or meet our yoga mat) — is pregnant with new possibilities. For me, there is freedom and mystery involved in every single run. There is confidant expectation for new discoveries about myself and about nature and about God’s presence in the world. And, as my counselor Elizabeth has helped me understand, some day when my legs or my feet or my lungs may fail, His power will still be made known in my weakness. There is simply no more room for shame. Only glory.
And, finally, a word on glory that was made more real to me in my Facebook fast. Glory is not just found in God’s strength working in us, but also in His delight in giving us good gifts. “God made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure” are words once spoken by Eric Liddell, Olympic runner and subject of the movie Chariots of Fire. For me, I most certainly cannot say that my body was built to run in the way of an elite Olympian, but I do know that the whole of my being is beckoned to run and to meditate on the deeper meaning of movement, nature, and the marvelous human body. My passion is to live in and to write about these experiences and, hopefully, to inspire someone else toward joyful movement, toward deep personal reflection, and toward awe-filled encounters with the Divine. In this then, I can say that when I run, and when I breathe, and when I put words to those symphonies of experience, I too feel God’s pleasure. If it takes a Facebook fast to remember this, then it is a spiritual discipline worth doing more often.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12: 1-2