Sunday, May 31, 2009

Being patient with tangles--in hair, in people, in oneself, in life

First, an update about my running or should I say lack thereof:

In case any reader wonders whatever happened to my planned marathon, I developed plantar fasciitis. Not wanting to give up hope, I got a cortisone shot, which helped somewhat and by race day, I decided to take a chance on running it. Got to five miles, and the foot while not feeling awful, was beginning to act up in a way that told me I'd be unwise to continue. Since I've finished marathons before, I wasn't going to be a "hero" at the cost of possibly doing further damage.

However, I returned to racing probably too soon and although the foot was improving, the attempt at more racing set it back severely, so that for the past five months, I've barely been able to run. Just as the plantar fasciitis was beginning to resolve, and I had hope of running again, the ankle began to hurt, and it's back to ice and more rest--well, not exactly rest. I am stretching and strengthening, plus swimming and yoga. I've begun to set some swimming goals--modest ones for now, but who knows.... Two years ago, I did the Maggie Fischer Memorial Cross-Bay Swim (5.25 miles) and wrote the story in the Fire Island News.

Time and money haven't allowed me to do the kind of training I did for that swim, but I'm increasing my distance in the pool now for an open water swim or two later in the summer, as well as the Senior Games swim events. If possible, I'd like to at least get to Fire Island to help out at the Cross-Bay Swim this year. Next year, I'd like to return to swim and see if I can improve on my time!, and here's where the tangle part comes in...

On Sundays, I double up on workouts, with a swim at my Y, then yoga. Despite shampoo and conditioner, my hair has a will of its own, but time doesn't allow for gently unraveling tangles, so I become impatient, ram the hairbrush through the stubborn knots--what if they break? I have to get dressed from swimming and head upstairs to yoga.

There's something oddly contradictory about being so impatient to get to a class that's all about patience and breathing and de-stressing (while the body trembles from holding plank position but still...). All the same, there's not a lot of time to work with and my type A post-swim workout self--thinking of how my freestyle could use some tweaking, etc. etc.--also nervously glances at the clock... Stow swim gear in locker, grab hair dryer, blow dry hair.... pull it back, run upstairs (often late), grab mat... and then settle mind down. But that's later. The hair is now.

Yet today, just as I again yanked the brush across an unyielding knot, it occurred to me that I was listening to the messages that I (and many others) receive about our literal and metaphorical tangles: "You're not in control." "Your hair's a mess." "YOU are a mess." But this swim and the yoga class that followed are things I am doing to help heal myself, to center myself. Why carry the baggage of failure, of unforgiveness, of impatience on my back? (Could this explain the back pain today?)

In a corporate world recently tangled in so many stock market failures, workers learn to live in fear of tangles. Dress for success; women, no runs in stockings; men, ties on straight, etc. etc. Be careful about revealing your age. Don't mention reading glasses. But being young doesn't get you off the hook either. Don't mention small children at home. They can get sick. Be careful what you put on Facebook and Myspace (well, there are good reasons to be careful in any case, given the strangeness that takes place online, but that's for another day). Be careful, period. And if your life shows tangles, be afraid. Be very afraid.... Or... be frayed. Be very frayed as you make sure to rid your life of them, lest others point them out.

Stay under the radar, out of the limelight, make no noise, show no irregularities, no passions, no needs, no desires. Be careful what you think because one of these days, computers will track your thoughts, the ones you had thought were safely hidden under your tangled hair but which, eventually, have been observed by satellite, so that having arisen, groggy and still living in your dreams, at 5 a.m., fed all your kids breakfast, gone running, and returned to shower and comb your now untangled hair, you arrive at work promptly at 8:00 a.m., ready for the presentation you're due to give that morning (the one you stayed up past midnight working on), your boss will ask you why you were so reluctant to get up when you got a whole four and a half hours of sleep--and what do you think this says about your usefulness as an employee?

Okay, so all this is pure fantasy, (I know, I know... you were wondering if I'd lost my mind. Absolutely not. I may misplace it sometimes, but I still have it.)

Back real stuff: Are you living in fear of what the rest of the world will think of your tangles? The time has come to treat yourself and those around you, those with tangles in hair and in life, with compassion. Love the tangles, the way in which your body sets its own timetable--and your soul too. Self-flagellation has been out for some time. The tangles will come out soon enough.

There are ways to coax them gently, as there are ways to coax yourself gently through yoga class. Find ways to keep peace with not being able to hold "down dog" for the full breath cycle. Strive for it, yes, but recognize that yoga and many other things besides, don't have to have rigid deadlines.

I have found even when pushing myself through a hard swim workout that I don't have to get my target time for each repeat, just keep on reaching for it. Some days it's there, some days not. Same with running. I hope one day to be back again, even if my times are about 30 seconds to a minute slower than they were in the 400s and 800s I love to do. That too is all right. I continue to love the chase.

Sometimes people try to tell you to yank the brush fast through your tangles, because they don't want to deal with their own tangles. But as I learned from "chi-running," there's the principle of "gradual progress," and if anyone tries to rush progress that should not be rushed, it slows things down even further.

We are who we are. Tangles and all.