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Friday, January 29, 2010

Admitting a Difficult Truth

Well, it finally happened. I am officially old. I didn't have a birthday. I didn't wake up one morning to a head of totally gray hair.

I try to take good care of myself, control my weight and exercise a lot. People tell me I look a lot younger than I really am. But this week I decided it was time to give up running, something I have done for more than 30 years. It wasn't the grinding sound in one knee (x-rays showed no structural problems), and it wasn't the bursitis in my hips (clear x-rays there, too). It was something far more insidious, to my way of thinking. I have run out of energy. To me, that's a sure sign of old age creeping up on me. Actually, old age didn't creep up on me. It ambushed me.

I typically run at 5:30 a.m., after feeding and walking my dogs. But lately, not only have I not had the energy to run, I haven't had the energy to resist going back to bed for an hour or so. Even running after work one day found me with no energy. So very reluctantly, I decided to hang up my running shoes. A friend told me that it's probably a good thing to quit now, before my knees and hips wear out. He may be right, but that doesn't make this decision any easier.

Now I'm going through withdrawal. I miss the heart-pounding rush of running, and the way it helps control my weight. I like being able to get in some good exercise in less than 30 minutes. I miss being able to run off my stress.

Yes, I walk about 4 miles a day, but it isn't the same. It isn't aerobic. It's boring. And when I walk my dogs, they want to stop and sniff every light pole and tree along the route. And at age 11, Mila doesn't move too quickly anyway.

So now I feel that I have officially entered old age. With less exercise, I'll probably have even less energy and gain weight. Where does it end? In nicer weather, I'll try to do more bike riding. I hope I will have the energy for that. I find myself wanting to spend more time sleeping, enjoying my very comfortable mattress. What's next? Granny shoes? Blue hair? Dentures?

Realizing that I'm now old is a hard fact to accept. In many ways, I still feel like a much younger person, rather than someone who will be old enough to collect Social Security in less than 2 years. Another friend told me recently that I have a young mind and a young body. My mind does still feel young, but I'm not so sure about my body any more.

Giving up something I've done, and done well (I have several medals and trophies from winning my age group in various races), is a real challenge. Admitting that time and gravity are winning the battle is sobering. I think it's going to take a while to come to terms with this latest realization.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

A Visit to Zion

Recently, I was fortunate in being able to spend some time (but not enough) visiting Zion National Park in southern Utah. I had spent a few days there on a hiking trip several years ago, but the park is even more beautiful than I remembered it. The natural beauty of this park, especially in winter when there are few people visiting, literally brought me to the verge of tears.

The soaring peaks, the turquoise water, the beautiful red Navajo sandstone and the geometric patterns of some of the rock formations are beyond description. My daughter and I walked a paved trail along the river, looking up at the blue sky and towering rock formations, and listening to the rushing river nearby. We didn't have time to do any real hiking, but our brief foray into the park afforded us some quiet time to talk and just be together. And of course, we couldn't resist taking some pictures, although no photograph imaginable could capture the awesome beauty of this place.

A couple of days later, on a somewhat cold and cloudy day, we returned to the park. This time we stayed in the car and drove through the park. There weren't a lot of places to pull over for picture-taking, but I stopped wherever I could. In one place, the red sandstone formed a variety of geometric patterns. Nearby, pine trees clung to the rocky face of vertical rock formations. How their roots managed to establish themselves on the bare rock remains an unanswered question. We also stopped to gaze upon the Checkerboard Mesa, whose white rocks were criss-crossed with vertical and horizontal lines that gave the mesa its name.

Utah is blessed with several awe-inspiring national parks: Zion, Bryce Canyon, Arches, Canyonlands and others. I hope to visit these natural wonders in the coming years. The sheer beauty of the red cliffs is overwhelming. Spending even a few hours in this magnificent national park reminded me yet again how much I value the beauty and grandeur of nature, and how important the opportunity to spend time outdoors is to my mental well-being.

These brief visits to Zion gave me priceless memories, a feeling of renewal, a sense of being at one with nature in a place where cell phones don't work, and an opportunity to spend quiet time with my teenage daughter. The price of admission: $25 (good for an entire week). The benefits of spending time in the park: priceless. To learn more about Zion, visit http://www.nps.gov/Zion/index.htm

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Finding Joy

As I was running today, I stopped to catch my breath and watch a couple of dogs play in the large grassy area behind a nearby school. Their play showed total joy, unencumbered by worry about daily life or looking silly or problems at home. Dogs are like that; they live in the moment. Worry is not part of their being. They find joy in the smallest things. My dogs are as happy to see me when I've been gone 10 minutes as when I've been away for 8 hours.

All of this started me thinking about joy. What is joy, anyway? One dictionary defines joy as "the emotion of great delight or happiness caused by something exceptionally good or satisfying; keen pleasure; elation."

For me, joy isn't found in possessions, but in experiences and feelings. I like having nice possessions, but while they may provide comfort, they don't bring me joy.

My definition of joy is:

Getting up at 5 a.m. on a cold Sunday morning, feeding the dogs, then going back to bed and being consciously aware of feeling warm under the blankets, appreciating my wonderful mattress, and knowing that I can stay in bed as long as I want to.

Putting on my robe, drinking a cup of hot tea and reading the Sunday paper, holding the world at a distance for even a short time.

My bicycle tour of southwestern Ireland nearly 6 years ago. I could stop at will and take pictures of ancient castles or sheep grazing on the greenest fields I have ever seen. Even today, looking at my pictures of clouds reflected in a window or boats atop a glassy inlet just after dawn, or streets lined with colorful buildings brings back not only memories, but joy. Eating 3 hearty meals every day and not gaining any weight was joyful. Realizing at the end of the day that I had ridden 25 or 35 or even 45 miles brought me joy. I was pushing myself physically, riding well, and felt really good about my accomplishments at the end of the day.

Taking crazy pictures with my daughter, and laughing so hard I had tears in my eyes.

Listening to a favorite piece of music over and over again because hearing it once just isn't enough.

Studying a beautiful photograph and trying to learn how to improve my own photos.

Listening to Leontyne Price or Charlotte Church hit those incredibly high notes in some of their songs and being in awe at the magnificence of their voices.

Working on a piece of writing, manipulating the sentences and individual words until it's just right.

Taking a photograph and seeing that I got it just as I had envisioned it.

Watching dogs running and playing, ears flapping, tongues hanging out as they chase after each other.

These experiences can't be bought for any amount of money. They are priceless.

Each of us has a personal definition of what brings us joy. I hope I can do a better job of being aware of the joyful possibilities around me, in simple activities, in the beauty of nature or in the creations of humans blessed with a magnificent voice or the skills to compose music or take an awe-inspiring photograph. I can learn from the actions of my dogs, who don't carry grudges, who are always happy to see me, who jump up each morning ready to greet a new day, and who get excited at the preparations for a walk, no matter we have walked that route hundreds of times already.

Joy can be found all around us. We just need to look for it and open ourselves to its presence.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Looking Back on This Blog

I started this blog in October 2009. Since then, I have published 58 posts. That's an incredible number of things to write about for a not-so-creative person who leads a pretty hum-drum life. My readership is small, but people from a variety of countries: the U.S., Canada, England, Russia, South Korea, Croatia, Slovenia, the Netherlands and several other locales, have read this blog at least once. I now have an even dozen followers. I would love to see that number grow in 2011.

I appreciate everyone who takes the time to read my blog, and I value and appreciate every comment and e-mail people send. People have said that they have found encouragement and inspiration in my posts. Sometimes it feels that nobody cares or reads the blog, but your encouragement and feedback are very appreciated.

Sometimes I wonder where I will continue to find ideas about which to write, but my sources of inspiration are widespread: a newspaper ad, a word in an article or on-line posting, a thought while walking, a feeling or experience. I also have a few posts in rough drafts awaiting completion and the right time to post them.

Sometimes I write when I feel strongly about something. Sometimes I just want to share something fun or neat that has happened, such as getting to spend time with a large but very friendly timber wolf. And sometimes I write simply for the sheer pleasure of writing.

So because I really enjoy writing, I plan to continue sharing my thoughts, whatever they are worth, with my readership, small though it may be. I hope my readers find this blog to be interesting, that it encourages people to examine their attitudes and lives, and that it provides at least some fodder for thought and action.

Thank you for taking time to read about red rocks and sunflowers. Feel free to share the link with others, to sign up as a follower, and to give me feedback and suggestions.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Just for Today

As the new year begins, I have been giving some thought to how I want to live my life in 2010, and I have decided on some guiding principles. There is nothing new about these principles, as others also have written about their importance in their lives. So I have decided to try my best to live life in 2010 with mindfulness of simplicity, gratitude and peace.

Actually, two of these principles aren't new to me. In 2009, I compiled a list of 100 items for which I am grateful. And with a major move coming up in a few months, I have been trying to simplify my life by getting rid of extraneous 'stuff' from my house. Just last night I posted my last 35mm film camera and a nice oak entertainment unit on freecycle.org. Both items now have new homes. I have been cleaning out drawers in my file cabinet and searching for other ways to simplify and declutter my life. I have donated countless bags of books, clothing and household items. But I'm not through yet. There is still too much clutter in my life and in my home.

All this is not to say that I plan to live as a monk. I still have a big-screen television, three digital cameras, a BlackBerry and high-speed Internet service. But I am trying to rid my home of things I no longer use, including a balalaika I never learned to play, and a 1933 Philco console radio. I also have been trying to find a new home for a wonderful collection of a dozen or so bronze whales, pieces of art that I no longer enjoy.

Gratitude is a bit of a struggle at this moment, as I am continuing to battle a cold, although I am grateful that I don't feel terribly bad, the sun is shining, and I have started running again after a 6-week break. And I was pleased to note that I started 2010 11 pounds lighter and a size smaller than I began 2009.

I recently bought an inexpensive ring that was mounted on a card that said "Simplicity." The ring is in the shape of a leaf, and it has many of the same colors as one of my Native American-made rings. So of course I had to buy it, to serve as a reminder to simplify my life whenever and wherever possible.

Neither conscious gratitude nor simplicity come easily to me. It took a great deal of work and thought to complete the 100-item gratitude list. Simplicity, too, takes a lot of effort. Purging oneself and one's home of 'things' isn't easy.

The greatest challenge for me in 2010 will be to live at peace -- at peace with myself, at peace with the world and at peace in the midst of the chaos that sometimes swirls around me. Living at peace and raising a teenager seem to be antithetical. But so far, three days into 2010, I have been successful. I have yet to be angry or upset about anything.

The best I can do is to pledge to take this endeavor one day at a time. As Ann Landers wrote in her column many years ago,

"Just for Today

Just for today I will live through the next 12 hours and not tackle my whole life's problems at once.

Just for today I will improve my mind. I will learn something useful. I will read something that requires effort, thought and concentration.

Just for today I will be agreeable, I will look my best, speak in a well-modulated voice, be courteous and considerate.

Just for today I will not find fault with friend, relative or colleague. I will not try to change or improve anyone but myself.

Just for today I will have a program. I might not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two enemies — hurry and indecision.

Just for today I will exercise my character in three ways. I will do a good turn and keep it a secret. If anyone finds out, it won't count.

Just for today I will do two things I don't want to do, just for exercise.

Just for today I will be unafraid. Especially will I be unafraid to enjoy what is beautiful and believe that as I give to the world, the world will give to me."

Those are my goals for 2010: to live in gratitude, to simplify my life, and to be at peace...just for today.