Not To Be Trusted With Knives

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NaBloPoMo – Day 13 – 43 days until Christmas

I can’t believe it’s only 43 days until Christmas! When I was leaving my sister’s place this morning to head to the airport, we were all like “See you in a month!” I know I (and everyone else) says this pretty much every year, but this year has *really* flown by! I feel like I just got back from last year’s Christmas holidays! And when I think back on the last ten and half months, I don’t feel like I’ve done that much. I mean, I worked a tonne and taught a course in all three semesters, but I didn’t go on any epic trips1 and I didn’t do any epic fun projects. I also reached the end of the 1001 day for my 101 things to do in 1001 days list, but didn’t create a new list! Perhaps creating my next list will help inspire me to do something epic next year! That’s going on my ‘to do’ list… for after the end of the semester!

  1. Granted, Washington, DC was pretty fun, but it was mostly conferencing and not nearly as much exploring of the city as I would have liked. []

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Mindfulness – My Take Home Lessons

Mind Full v. MindfulThis past Monday was the last class of my 8-week mindfulness class. So I figure now is a good time to stop and reflect on what I learned.

  • Mindfulness is “intentional, accepting and non-judgemental focus of one’s attention on the emotions, thoughts and sensations occurring in the present moment, which can be trained by meditational practices.” (Wikipedia). But reading a definition of mindfulness is really hollow – in my experience, you need to actually practice mindfulness to really get what it is. Before this class, I’d read a bit about mindfulness and talked to people about mindfulness, but until this class, I hadn’t actually put any dedicated time towards doing mindfulness. And it’s really in the process of doing it that you come to understand and to get any benefits from it.
  • Speaking of which, I was *terrible* about doing my homework for this class. As I mentioned previously, I didn’t realize that there would be homework – and certainly not several hours per week for homework – and I just never managed to get dedicated blocks of time into my calendar to do a 45-minute body scan or a half hour sitting meditation or an hour of mindful yoga. I was more successful with finding brief moments in which to practice mindfulness – 5 minutes here where I would drop everything and really pay attention to playing with my cats or 10 minutes there to clear my mind of thoughts of past and future and really experience the sensations as I was out on a walk. I think this is more likely to be the way that I’m going to be able to work on mindfulness in my daily life.
  • Here’s a quote that was in our workbook that I found interesting: “We almost never directly experience what pain is because our reaction to it is so immediate that most of what we can pain is actually our experience of resistance to the phenomenon. And the resistance is usually a good deal more painful than the original sensation. In the same way, we experience our tiredness, our boredom, our fear; we experience instead our resistance to them.” (Stephen Levine, A Gradual Awakening, 1979). By anticipating and fearing pain or loneliness or boredom, we actually make it worse than it otherwise would have been!
  • Another useful tidbit: When we desire something and then we get it, we are often gratified “only in the process of moving from not-having to having […] The process of satisfying the wanting occurs not in the possession of the wanted object, but in the cessation of the painfulness of desire.” (Source: class instructor’s notes). Once we have it, we then experience the fear of losing it or of it becoming damaged. This relates to the idea of non-attachment – if we are less attached to things and understand that things are impermanent, it lessons the fear of losing that which we have and allows us to enjoy something in the moment, in and of itself. Because once we don’t have it anymore, we’ll look back and think “Why didn’t I appreciate that when I had it??”
  • While meditating, you often focus on your breathing. As my instructor put it, this is something you can do any time you notice that you are worrying about the future or brooding about the past, as a way of grounding yourself in the present because “no matter where you go, you always have your breath with you!”
  • The instructor shared this poem: Please Listen – with us.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you start giving me advice,
you have not done what I asked.

When I ask you to listen to me
and you begin to tell me why
I shouldn’t feel that way,
you are trampling on my feelings.

  • I’m sure we’ve all been on the receiving – and the giving – end of this type of behaviour. This poem was a useful reminder of the importance of really, genuinely listening to people. And then later in the poem was some good advice for helicopter parents:

When you do something for me that I can
and need to do for myself,
you contribute to my fear and
inadequacy.

  • I’m always amazed by what kids can do and I’m equally amazed when I see parents who won’t let them do things for themselves. I’m sure some are afraid to see their kids experience anything hard (so they take over) some are control freaks who think that their way is the only “right” way (and so they take over), and I’m sure there are tonnes of other reasons that I can’t even imagine as to why people do what they do. But I remember one of the profs I worked with when I first started teaching saying “Praise the students up to where you want them to be. Even if you think it’s beyond them. They will surprise you.” And I think it is similar with kids. Listen to them, let them do things for themselves – including failing! “Failing” is a great way to learn.
  • I think the most useful thing that I learned – which I have thus saved for last – is something that our class instructor shared with us from the Zen Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh. He talks about treating our “negative” emotions gently, like you would a small puppy or a baby. Often, we don’t even notice that were are experiencing our emotions as we get more and more wound up by them. Our fear or anxiety or judgmentalness grows and grows. But if you manage to be more observant and notice that you are feeling an emotion, you can hold it gently and say to yourself ‘My little anger, what do you need from me?” I’ve tried this out and it is amazing how it diffuses the spiral of emotion and helps me to think “What is underlying this feeling? What am I anger about?” or “How, if at all, does this feeling of judgmentalness serve me?”

Image Credit: Posted by Heidi Forbes Öste on Flickr with a Creative Commons license.

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Two Years

Two years ago yesterday my Dad went into brain surgery, which he didn’t survive. We wouldn’t know that he hadn’t survived for three long days, during which we sat at his bedside willing him to wake up. We didn’t know his brain had suffered too much damage during the surgery and could no longer do anything but the most basic functions to keep his body going, but even then only with the assistance of artificial life support and even with that life support, it was barely able to do that and his body started shutting down over those three days. He couldn’t hear us talking to him, he hadn’t had a thought since he’d gone into surgery, scared but hopeful that the massive tumour in his brain would be removed and he would be OK. He also hadn’t known the tumour was malignant melanoma, as on the scans that they did before the surgery, it looked decidedly like a benign meningioma, which would have meant that removing it would have made him feel better than ever. I’m generally not a believer that “ignorance is bliss”, preferring to face facts over being in the dark about things, but in this case I’m glad that the surgeon wasn’t able to tell what kind of cancer my dad had before the surgery. It would have done my dad no good to go into his surgery knowing that his cancer was incurable and that he would only have suffering, debilitation, and death ahead of him. Given that the surgery turned out to be non-survivable, I’m willing to accept that in this case, where knowledge of the stark realty would have offered no way to have done anything differently and only would have served to make my dad’s last weeks of life that much more depressing, ignorance was preferable.

Around this time of year, I can’t help but think of my dad’s death and everything that surrounded it – the diagnosis, the waiting for surgery, the surgery, sitting vigil by his bedside, the moment that he stopped breathing and then, shortly after, when his heart stopped beating, the funeral. But I don’t want his death to overshadow his life. My dad was a man who believed in living life to its fullest. He was larger than life. The life of the party. He loved his family and we loved him.

I think of the things that have happened in the past two years. I did a whole MBA. I moved into a new place with a boyfriend. And then we broke up. I got pet frogs – that I think my dad would have liked – and pet cats – that I think he wouldn’t have1. My nephew has grown from a wee baby to an energetic, hilarious little toddler. My niece has continued to blossom into an intelligent, creative, and hilarious little girl. My mom and I went to Ireland together, and we know he would have loved to hear all about our trip. So many things he never got to see. So much life he will never get to live.

Last night, his Toronto Maple Leafs played my Vancouver Canucks and for the first time in more than TEN years, the Leafs won. And I would have given anything to have gotten a phone call last night after the game for him to tease me about it.

I miss you always, Daddy.

  1. My dad liked birds, so he didn’t like cats. []

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Reflections from a Running Study Guinea Pig

Dday 189

After a run on a particularly rainy day. This was the shirt I was wearing *under* my rain jacket!

Today marked the last of the Sunday group runs for the running study (which is looking at if there are differences between males and females in overtraining injuries while training for a 10 km race) that I’ve been taking part in over the past 11 weeks. There are just three more training runs left until our 10 km “race”1. In this study, we’ve had 4 running sessions per week2 – one group run on Sundays, one track workout (which I’ve mostly done on a treadmill3, and two “easy” runs. Despite having been a runner for the past seven years, I don’t think I’ve ever consistently maintained a four day per week running schedule. I’ve also ended up doing *a lot* of my running on a treadmill, due to the fact that this has taken place in the winter, when it’s too dark to go running outside by myself before I leave for work and too dark by the time I get home from work. Luckily, I have a free gym at work so I’ve been going there three times per week before work to get my run in.

Since “reflection” is one of my themes for the year, I figured I’d take some time for few reflections on my experience as a guinea pig in a running study.

  • I really like getting in a workout before work. I feel so much more alert and ready to tackle the day after sweating it out at the gym. In the past, I’ve typically been a go-for-a-run-when-I-get-home-from-work kind of gal, but I’m starting to wonder if this before work thing isn’t what I should really be aiming for.
  • Another benefit of doing my workouts in the morning is that it forces me to be more organized.  I know that for me to have any chance to get to the gym early enough, I have to be able to roll out of bed and head out the door with minimal tasks in between, so I pack my bag – including everything I need for the gym4, my work clothes for the day, and my lunch – and layout my gym clothes before bed, so that I can just get up in the morning, throw on my gym clothes, grab my bag, and head out the door. I just don’t seem to be motivated to do that kind of prep if I’m not going to the gym in the morning, and then I end up either scrambling to get it all done or skipping things like making my lunch.
    Day 187

    After a run on the treadmill at the gym at work. I look happy because I was done running on the damn treadmill.

  • I hate treadmills. I hate them with the fire of a thousand suns. I like running when you can forget that you are running, because you are looking at the beautiful sights around you or chatting with your running partner. Staring at the clock counting down on the treadmill makes it seem to take an eternity and sucks the life out of me. I bring a towel and use it to cover up the time, but I *know* the time is counting down underneath the towel and I’m always tempted to look. Because there’s nothing else to look at! The gym I go to does have TVs, but they are quite far away so it’s difficult to read the closed captioning and there are only two TVs for the whole gym, so you don’t get a choice of what to watch. One week the TVs were broken such that the only channel they would play was showing Jerry Springer and it made me die a little inside every time I saw one woman punching another woman over some loser guy… which is about 97% of that show. I have been listening to audiobooks as I run on the treadmill and that’s helped make it doable, but just barely. This past week I actually went to the gym with a friend and she did the elliptical next to my treadmill and we chatted throughout the whole workout and it was over in no time at all.
  • I hate treadmills less when I’m doing intervals. As I mentioned, I did most of our track workouts on the treadmill and I actually found that when we had to do short intervals, like 2 minutes fast/2 minutes jogging or 400 m fast/400 m jogging, it was actually kind of fun, because it gave you something to do (turn the speed up and down) at fairly regular intervals, so you wear a bit distracted and watching the clock was useful as you frequently had to do something about the time, rather than just staring at it slowly ticking down. But nearer to the end of the training program the intervals got long (like 1600m or 2400m) and so it was back to feeling like just a regular long run (albeit at a faster pace) and I got bored again.
  • Day 178

    Heading out for a run on New Year’s Day in the new running jacket that my Uncle Harry and Aunt Arlene got me for Christmas!

  • I enjoy running with a running group. I’ve been wanting to join a running group for a while and, in fact, it was one of the things that drew me to participate in this study. I’ve never found a group that fit with my schedule before, so I’ve never done it until now. I really liked meeting up with other people who are into running, sharing tips about stretches and what races we are doing and other such fun things. As an added bonus, you get to meet new and interesting people and, as I mentioned, chatting with other people really makes the time go by that much quicker. Sadly, I didn’t meet any eligible bachelors (I was also hoping when I joined the study that there might be some), but perhaps there will be some in the next running group I join?
  • You often here that intrinsic motivators are better than extrinsic motivators, but I have to say that when it comes to running, I need my extrinsic motivators! I’ve long known that if I don’t have a race that I’m training for, I don’t run. It’s just too easy to not throw on my running gear and hit the pavement. I’ll think “I don’t know how long/far I should run today” and that will be enough of a barrier to stop me from going out at all. When I’m training for a race, I follow a training plan so that I don’t have to make any decisions about how long/far I need to run on a given day and I’m motivated by the fact that I have to be able to do a certain distance by a certain date! This study has taken it one step further in that not only do I have a training plan to follow, but I also have the extrinsic motivator that the scientists are depending on me to do all the training runs because science depends on it!
  • I really need to do more cross training. Since I’ve been going to the gym at work, I’ve been running into colleagues who go to the gym for the weights. And it’s gotten me thinking that once this running study is over, I should probably find a good weight training program to follow, because I’m doing all cardio, all the time. I’ve also been wanting to get back to yoga, as my muscles are pretty tight right now!
  • Being an athlete means doing laundry all the time. Running four times a week and playing hockey twice a week makes for a heck of a lot of laundry. I have lots of technical shirts from the various races I’ve done, but I only have a limited number of sports bras and running shorts, plus I only have one pair of shorts with a jill built in for playing hockey, so I’m really, really thankful that I have in-suite laundry.

So, in conclusion, being in this study has been great in that it’s really kickstarted my 2014 running at a much higher frequency than I’m used to, gotten me motivated to workout before work, and I’ve met some great people. A++, would science again.

  1. I put “race” in quotation marks because it’s a race that was created just for this study. []
  2. Except over the Christmas holidays, when it was just 2 runs per week. []
  3. Because the track group gets together out at UBC, which is way too far for me to want to go to on a weekday evening. []
  4. Water bottle, headphones, towel/soap/shampoo/conditioner, makeup/brush, etc. []