We get used to feeling slightly crappy until less than, becomes our new normal. Less sleep. Less energy. Less joy. The maintenance of blah to speak. Soon enough we forget laughing and vitality is the natural state of being.
Fully embracing sags, wrinkles and grays is for the more enlightened among us.
Mind you I’m not having a nervous breakdown over aging either, yet. I’m 47. Tell your age. I beg you. No one can change The Number so let’s strip The Number of shame.
My overriding principle is that figuring out what makes us happy makes those around us happier. The much maligned selfish molecule has a higher if not immediately seen purpose.
While I’m new-age with yoga, baked tofu, greens and chia seeds, I’ll continue to live the impractical of bad habits: spiked-heels, soft Brie, great red wine, filets, occasional french fries and Twizzlers.
I’m an unapologetic hedonist because I wouldn’t be nice as an apologetic martyr. I’m also not dishonest enough to pretend my vanity is fading with aging acceptance. In fact, it’s just getting started.
I hate to diet, love to exercise. I figure what I’ve lost in muscle tone, I’ve gained in tenacity to feel good, in wisdom about who and what is worth the sweat. This seems a reasonable trade-off until I see Megan Fox in a string bikini and then I’m not so convinced inner peace doesn’t include table top abs, upright breasts and a toned butt.
More than anything I believe joy comes from adjusting the reigns of our own heart, hands and mind. No doctor, friend, employer, spouse, parent or child can steer our happiness; they can only come along for the ride.
I recall years back Oprah had a woman on her show who talked about the Zen of honoring day-to-day to-dos, that we can decide to appreciate the mundane and become consciously aware of ourselves in the moment of doing even the most “trivial” tasks.
She gave an example of doing laundry and trying to find the happy place with that. Well okay yes, even folding socks and undies can bring some to a calming place — I imagine.
Maybe not so much for me so my husband does his own laundry. This often stuns people, like laundry is reserved girl work. I’m pretty sure it’s not, exclusivity on girl work remains with baby making and breastfeeding. That’s about it. Men know how to sort. And if they don’t, the first time they mix and match and end up with pink drawers they learn the art of separation pretty fast. I also taught my teen girl how to do laundry. It’s novel now, eventually she might hate it. Either way, it’s hers. Read more…
Watch: September 11th Survivor Tree Story. (1 minute 53 seconds)
This summer my family and I visited the September 11th Memorial. It was quiet, stirring, reverent and beautiful, surprisingly not laden with overwhelming sadness. It was instead, tinged with it. The place felt for me, like stages of death acceptance when disbelief, anger and grief move from the how-can-we-go-on wrenching place, to a glimpse of peace.
I’m of course, injecting my own feeling into the footprint memorial of a once mountainous horror.
We inject our own meaning into what we want to feel.
This year I choose to avoid the burning images and the reading of the deceased. I’ve seen. I’ve heard. Hundreds of hours. We all did. I still gasp in my mind at the images in Life of bodies jumping out. That image, perhaps more than any, is seared.
To choose death over burning alive is a “choice” beyond understanding, and so our mind will not rest.
Humans are programmed to understand, to survive.
I hold echos of that day, smudges of ash remain, but now I want the ashes to blow away. I honor and respect the memory of our lost Americans and their surviving families, but re-visiting the horror, at least today, no longer serves me — and so I say good-bye.
In this moving video the Memorial guide escorting widow Alice Martin lovingly refers to the Survivor tree as “her.”
“She’s” a natural living treasure who sprouted new limbs from her injured tree elbows. Survivor produces lovely white flowers every April, a celebration of flourishing, despite. The Memorial team, the guide explains, may propagate saplings. I think that would be fitting.
Baby trees born from their Survivor mom, saplings with no memory or history of September 11th, their roots untouched by the Unimaginable.
Tree of Life. Tree of Perseverance. She is a Survivor.
P.s. I appreciate that I happened to watch the video just after I happen to read the definition of “existentialism” on Wikipedia, which I think I get, and I think I identity with.
It’s been a while since I read The Metamorphosis in English class. The notion of transformation via waking up a roach is an image I want to avoid. A butterfly, a loved dog, fine. I can’t even look at our Florida-famous Palmetto bug (aka big roach) without literally screaming “eek” and going into a fetal ball.
I wonder, do philosophical ideas like existentialism come pre-loaded with head-scratching reactions? I think therefore, I am confused.
I appreciate as well that I saw the Survivor Tree video after I hit the Wiki link about “nihilism,” a concept regularly confused with existentialism. Apparently Nietzsche wrote of both philosophies so the two ideas were erroneously placed together.
I reject Nihilism. ”Life has no intrinsic meaning or value.” Blek on that. Life has meaning alright, even if I’m the one placing the meaning.
Survivor Tree knows life has meaning. She breathed long and gasping under burning rubble just so she could come back to tell us.
It astounds me how many people today are desperate for help to manage their long-time anxiety and depression.
Many people have been caught, some for decades, in a medication loop with their doctors. Numerous physicians with the best intentions, simply practice what they know — conventional symptom-based medicine, rather than applying a functional, holistic and integrative approach to treating their patients.
We are complex beings, mind and body. You can NOT separate the two for how they affect each other. It is I believe, impossible.
Because most doctors based on their schooling, focus on conventional treatments rather than integrative approaches, patients suffer needlessly for years. Their health, job and relationships spiral down, and in the most severe cases of mood disorders — suicide sometimes becomes the final solution.
A firm belief you deserve to feel good is the best springboard toward finding answers, towards solving any problem.
Woman desperate for help off the anti-anxiety medication rollercoaster
Recently a woman from Canada named Lisa emailed me. She explained that she’s been on a roller-coaster of anxiety-depression medication for years. She had great success managing her anxiety with cognitive therapy but due to life stresses, Lisa had setbacks. Over time she gained 150 pounds and was at the end of her rope. Today, back on track, she’s 26 pounds away from her goal weight, weaning off two medications and in search of a natural approach to help her replace the GABA meds long relied on. She told me one of her doctors had her stop her benzodiazepine meds cold turkey, a dangerous protocol that sent her brain into a serious tailspin.
After reading a few of my GABA articles, Lisa asked me in an email, for my advice. I told her I wasn’t a doctor; I don’t claim to have the answers to managing mood disorders or that my answers are vetted for 100% accuracy, but I do extensively research what I write from peer-reviewed sources (Pub-med etc).
And more, I offer what I’ve learned through my own experience. Ultimately however, people have to do their own homework.
My advice to anyone trying to recover from anxiety, panic, depression and insomnia
Wow. It sounds like you’ve been through it.
Of course I’m not a doctor but I have spent a fair amount of time, over 10 years, researching natural mood and hormone balancing, largely because I suffered with fibromyalgia (no longer) and monthly mood swings (PMS, PMDD) the result of a long-time benign pituitary disorder and other factors.
More recently I came out of a very serious bout of unexplained insomnia that led to panic, mild depression and overall misery. The bottom line for what steers my work is I believe we are supposed to feel good. Anything less is unacceptable.
I try so hard to find answers, to steer my own well-being rather than “accept” from doctors quasi-solutions — as so many of us have come to expect, particularly as we age.
Brain “hiccups” or imbalances are the result of the interplay of one or several hereditary, chemical, environmental (food allergies etc.), and psychological factors (stress, bad childhood, trauma), and I might add recovery is also contingent upon — attitude.
We breed what we believe.
The combination of all these factors can have a complex and cascading effect on your health. Yet, any imbalance can be cured or at least managed with more effective and safer treatment protocols than long-term meds — or “learning to live with it.”
The traditional approach of trying various medications is often a band-aid until the underlying causative factors are uncovered and addressed:
- Neuroendocrine (hormones – neurotransmitters, the Hypothalmic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA axis) feedback system)
- Psychological stressors (work, relationships, childhood trauma, crisis)
- Environmental (food sensitivities, chemical, pollen etc.) U subscribe to a holistic approach for healing and in some cases to integrative healing (low dose traditional meds in conjunction with natural therapies).
As an aside, the mind-gut connection is regularly ignored as a potential contributor to mood disorders. Food sensitivities, chronic gut inflammation, can wreak havoc on the brain. A good probiotic is useful (Jarrow etc.) as well as digestive enzymes — but food sensitivity or allergen avoidance is ideal.
When I was suffering from insomnia it threw me into a panic, the result of my brain getting out of whack from severe sleep deprivation, high cortisol and an adrenal imbalance. After weeks of doing extensive (and desperate!) research I found a website called Integrative Psychiatry, a company located in Sarasota, Florida.
IP offers tests for various functions involved in mood, sleep and cognitive/attention issues. Many companies offer self-testing that includes a print out to explain your results, but IP also offers a one hour consult over the phone with a Physician’s Assistant who explains implications and suggested treatments.
Admittedly, their solutions are tied to purchasing their products but I trust the company’s recommendations I received – it worked.
IP’s testing and supplements are expensive, unfortunately, but if you contact IP they’ll help you pinpoint which test(s) can address your specific issues, and you can shop the supplements online in search of better value.
Lisa, shame on the doctor who told you to cold turkey benzo’s, that advice wasn’t only ignorant — it was irresponsible. The nurse at IP suggested I take a low dose of Klonapin to sleep and while I only took it for for two weeks she told me to wean off it gradually.
Kavinace supplement for anxiety, panic, sleep and to wean off benzodiazepene drugs
Among other things, she suggested I try Kavinace which contains a derivative of GABA found to be more effective than straight GABA supplements or L-theanine. It also contains Taurine. It’s non-addictive and non-habit-forming, although I suspect all supplements have at least some potential to habituate. I can’t say if that’s the case for Kavinace.
Kudos to you for practicing yoga. Yoga’s been proven to increase GABA in the brain so it’s a great idea to incorporate this ancient practice into your mind-body balancing journey.
Holistic healing requires a gradual sleuthing process to pinpoint causes. Once you nail down the underlying causes (not the least of which is a belief that you CAN recover and that you DESERVE to feel good) recovery is INEVITABLE.
Lisa, I hope some of my suggestions help. Holistic healing can sometimes take longer than a shot-gun approach of rotating medications but holistic and integrative medicine offers an effective, safer, LONG term approach to healing and well-being.
I suggest you:
a) Test for underlying causes
b) Taper your benzos using 1-2 capsules of Kavinace as needed
c) Get an IP consultation to discuss your test results
d) Don’t underestimate the potential for a food sensitivity which increases inflammation in the body, elevates histamine in the brain (an excitatory neurotransmitter) and can contribute to or exacerbate an anxious state.
e) Continue with cognitive therapies and mind-body work (yoga).
f) Perhaps find a belief system that resonates within you — mine is Law of Attraction. Whether it is God, nature, or some spiritual force, having a belief in a good and divine power can be quite comforting and empowering.
All the best. To feeling good.
I’m not one for making lists of resolutions because I think if you want to change, today is as good a time as any. But, when January 1st nears it’s ingrained to think about resolutions, to use the date as our deadline to get going, or at least start simmering ideas for what to improve, change, add, drop or enhance.
Having recently come out the other side of some pretty severe “chronic” insomnia (I don’t believe anything has to be chronic) that wreaked absolute hell on my mind and body (and poor husband), I can finally focus on what I want the New Year to look like.
Before Christmas, I was too self-absorbed in my exhaustion and misery (sleep deprivation was used as torture for soldiers — I now know why) to think too much about transformation and goal-setting.
My singular goal was to fall asleep, to stay asleep and to feel like the person I once knew, void of the wretched anxiety and depression that crept in every day and night (the side effect of the mind and body not getting regular REM sleep, and the despair of spending hundreds, gulp thousands? on supplements, sleep medications, a pricey sleep lab and insomnia books to figure out what was keeping me up — only to come up empty and tired). After I did about 200 hours of research and ordered my own tests the answers came (adrenal fatigue and gluten-intolerance, more posts to come on that topic).
Health is wealth might be a trite saying but it is irrefutably true.
When you’re swimming in the middle of physical or emotional pain, any state of unbalance in your mind and body, most everything and everyone around you dims and fades to the background. Pain of any kind is all-consuming and selfish, because chronic pain takes you into its clutches and moves all other facets of your life to the periphery.
You forget about better days even when you know from years of your own attitude adjustments and experience and from loved ones that crappy stuff eventually changes. When you’re stuck in a mud hole and you’ve tried countless ways to dig out you tend to forget you can get out.
The excitement of possibility, your child’s cool project and silly laugh, your husband’s latest joke, a visit from a good friend, a jog in a brilliant sunset, a girl’s night out, stellar pizza, that ridiculous Will Ferrell movie — none if it feels like much but white noise. For weeks, what used to easily tune me into life’s vibrancy felt like constant interruptions to what I was obsessively trying to figure out — how to sleep.
Is there anything right now interrupting your joy?
And if you feel joy after you came out from despair, please share. The most inspirational and contagious stories are those that detail triumph.
Everything can improve. Everyone can prevail.
We’re empowered as humans, we’re programmed to survive and evolve.
We sometimes forget this in the eye of pain, with our bills, loss, envy, ills, pills, the nightly news, economic forecasts, political mudslinging, unemployment rates.
So turn off the bad news, and look for, search and dig hard — for the good.
Look for what it is you want to see.
And if you haven’t found your answers yet, keep looking. The answers will come. Keep asking, and asking, and asking, and asking and asking……..If a doctor tells you something you don’t want to hear, find a new doctor, a holistic practitioner who will help you find the healing that is waiting for you. If a friend makes you feel worse when you’re around her, find a new “friend.” If someone tells you the world is going to hell in a hand basket, tell them — only if they want it to.
To your new year and new you –
Fourteen years ago my husband and I had a child. I wanted her more than anything in the world and was consumed with getting pregnant. After my daughter was born my husband and I felt filled, completed by the three of us and so we didn’t have any more kids.
Early on a few of my friends after hearing my motherhood horror stories decided the reason I wanted only one child was because I had postpartum depression, because I didn’t love being a stay at home mom despite being grateful that I had the choice in the first place, because my labor and delivery was long and off the charts painful, but that next time, they said – things would be different.
But hoping for different doesn’t feel like the best reason to have a child, does it?
The Duggar Family: What size is the right size?
When I think about the controversy with the Duggar family, (“19 and Counting”) I wonder, beyond the obvious issue of overpopulation why people feel so strongly about how many kids is the right amount?
Most people agree that bringing little ones into the world if parents can’t love and care for them to the highest level isn’t in a child’s best interest — but barring that, how many kids should someone have?
Is there some exact recipe like if you don’t add enough salt to your soup it’s missing something, add too much and you’ve ruined the whole batch?
When my daughter was around three, the age when people begin to ask when number two is coming, the questions about why we weren’t growing our family were for the most part few and far between. People nowadays generally assume a singleton family stays that way because a couple can’t have more kids — not because they choose to.
Women who have one child by choice don’t readily admit it although I have many times because it’s just simply part of who I am. I think it’s hard for some people to wrap their head around the idea that having one child can be just as motherly and nurturing and fulfilling as having two. Maybe it looks like we’ve left some unfinished business or that we’ve thumbed our noses at our biological imperative women have.
But with deeper inspection behind the argument that bringing more and more kids into a stable loving home is the mark of selflessness, I feel compelled to point out that having kids, biologically or adopting for the right reason is what gets my selfless vote, that is – having kids because you have an unquenchable desire to add the love of a child to your already stable and loving relationship.
Michelle Duggar keeps having kids, I’m happy with one.
Our extremes defy the norm for what some people think is best for kids which is seems like at least one sibling but not too many.
People assume an only child misses out on what only a sibling can give (it’s true they do) and that each subsequent Duggar is exponentially less likely to receive the same amount of parental attention (that’s true too).
But kids can get love and attention from the “village” that surrounds them whether they’re short on siblings or short on parent time.
I won’t debate why the Duggars shun birth control and insist on having so many kids, I understand it’s for religious reasons. Despite our very, very different points of view on who should orchestrate reproduction, the Duggar’s seem remarkably happy. Either they fake it well or the show’s editor is masterful at depicting a balanced family.
Admittedly the Duggars get proceeds from the show, and exploitation is a fair argument against having reality shows with kids, but from my sense this group is no more dysfunctional than the average family, and some might say, they seem even happier.
I prefer, which is not to say I’m right, having kids be mostly well thought-out, but I’d never suggest “surprise” kids aren’t loved as deeply as planned ones.
But what we mostly ignore when we say want want only the best for kids as a whole is that the best is first an issue of intention.
Intention is best for kids.
It’s the purpose behind having twenty children, one or none that honors kids. Do we have kids to fill ourselves, to mend a marriage to heal an emotional void? Or do we have kids to add exponential beauty to what is already healthy in our lives?
We’re still new at sorting out what having children means in this country. Our identity as women is still largely informed by our biological ability to have kids, to have one or to have six. Making babies has been hard-wired into our human survival so I understand it might take another half century or so to evolve to the point where we won’t feel our species is threatened if a percentage of the female population opts out entirely, or has one child.
But I have to think there’s no set formula for what makes a woman maternal enough. Women who want kids get their fill with different amounts of mothering– but there is a clear and painfully obvious formula for what makes an entirely bad mother.
One child or twenty
My husband and I started our family when I turned 31. I knew when I was 19 I’d need some form of infertility intervention, diagnosed at the time with a benign pituitary disorder called Empty Sella Syndrome. This meant Mother Nature would need a little kick in the pants (or in my case injections in the butt) with super hormones if I wanted to have kids. Not one to hail from the school of “if kids ares meant to be they will be” I decided, my child WOULD be — no matter what.
Carl and I went to my long time endocrinologist and after hormone injections and regular monitoring I got pregnant the first month — record time by infertility standards. In our first consultation I asked the doctor what my chances were of conceiving if I wanted one or two kids and he said it was as high or nearly as high as any woman’s on any given month.
Because I was adopted and never met my biological parents my craving to have a child of my own flesh was primal and ferocious. Whatever it took, for however long, for whatever amount of money in whatever country, I would do anything legal to have my own, and given my mindset at the time I probably would have skated on the legal fringes if it came down to it.
Failing wasn’t an option — while I totally supported adoption for other people, there was no plan B. There’s a kind of blind madness behind maternal drive, and yet women who don’t have this in my opinion, aren’t mad. Our conviction to opt out of having kids, to have one or twenty is equally irrepressible, equally non-negotiable.
Michelle Duggar and I: Two different moms, same love
The first time I watched the Duggars on their reality show “17 and Counting” (at the time) I remember wondering beyond the obvious head-scratcher why a woman would ever want to go through childbirth seventeen times and raise that many kids. I self-righteously assumed such an enormous group of kids from parents who clearly bred offspring like puppies had to be really messed up.
But to assume a family as big as the Duggars is seething with emotionally neglected kids and middle-child syndromes is as prejudicial as believing a family with one child is missing something.
Extreme family sizes make us want to re-calibrate to the middle, to adjust the dimensions of another parent’s life to come closer to ours, and so reinforce what we think to be right.
Years back a friend of mine was grocery shopping and saw a frantic mother trying to get her three kids who were running between the aisles to settle down. My friend remarked that she totally understood because she had three of her own at home, the woman said, “Yeah, it’s like those moms with one child aren’t really parents.”
Is it because of the discomfort of our mixed emotions, that squirrely motherhood ambivalence — that we adore our kids but hate the grind, that we sling arrows at a family that doesn’t match ours?
The number of children Michelle Duggar and I have are driven by the same intention — because of what defines us, because of what we feel kids deserve, both of us immune to the parameters society sets.
I’d guess Michelle and I both feel kids spring from a powerful power — mine from a spiritual place within that’s been quenched by my daughter, hers from a force above that perhaps wants more.
At first I was drawn to the Duggar family because I was fascinated with their bizarre world, and then because I liked watching them. What goes on in their lives when the camera’s aren’t watching, what level of function or dysfunction sits in their family compared to mine is impossible to say, but small family or enormous — the intention is the love that fills the household.
No matter what your beliefs, whether you are a Christian, atheist, Jew, Buddhist, New Age, Hindu or other, inspiration and humility transcend that we call our own…
Friday I listened to an extraordinary person share his message in a non-extraordinary way, that is with humility, quietly, without boom or voice projection, without a style that would announce he was a particularly dynamic speaker, but for his brilliant smile and mind-blowing story.
He stammered through because he admitted, his passion and faith took over his voice, more familiar with sharing his physical hurdles than his faith, a message my YMCA, the host for the event, welcomed and encouraged.
Despite being a sought after and renowned speaker, being interviewed by CNN’s Dr. Sanjay Gupta, that the city of Orlando dedicated a “Rajesh Durbal” day, Raj, as his friends call him, remained humble through every word, grateful to God, grateful to come our YMCA event and speak to our smallish room of 150.
Rajesh was born with bones missing in both his legs and with a right arm only partially developed. By one year old doctors amputated both legs leaving him a full body cast for 3 months. Following his recovery, he was fitted for leg prosthetics and began the grueling process of learning how to do what most people don’t give a second thought – walk.
This was reason enough to lay low I thought, to find excuses not to exercise vigorously beyond the requisite physical therapy or to put himself through anything that caused him more pain.
But Rajesh became the world’s first triple amputee to compete and finish the Hawaii Iron Man, an event most fully-limbed people can’t enter, never mind crossing the finish line without collapsing. Rajesh Durbal’s website – Live-free.net
In 2009, Rajesh took, writes the bio on his website live-free.net, “his first leap of faith by running in the City of Orlando corporate 5k. He didn’t even come close to finishing first, but he finished. That inspired him to challenge himself even further. He decided to do something no one had ever attempted. He was going to compete in the Ford 2010 World Iron Man. His peers did not believe it was safe for him to do. But Rajesh was determined to prove that all things were possible through Christ that strengthened him. He trained day and night, hours at a time running, biking and swimming. He spent the late nights building his running shoes from an old pair of Nike sneakers. Four versions later of the same sneaker he was able to run a Half Marathon race on his walking legs. Determined to progress, he visited Home Depot to build his own bike legs, often spending multiple hours on the floor in the aisle piecing together his creation.”
One year after beginning his journey, Rajesh qualified to enter the Olympics of the Ironman, the Kona Hawaii Ironman World championships. Swimming 2.4 miles in the ocean, biking 112 miles through rugged lava field terrain and running 26.2 miles run through the lava fields, finishing in 14 hours 19 minutes and 12 seconds.
I’m exhausted just thinking about it.
Whenever I watch the best of the best perform or people overcome seriously tough circumstances, I’m awed into silence (a rare event) and stirred by the humility of some. Given what they achieved, the astronomical hurdles they jumped and surpassed, they have a pass, I feel, to show some visible pride, and when they don’t, when they show merely quiet confidence, I’m floored.
The same day I saw Rajesh I attended a lecture from a yoga master who survived a serious accident years back, told she’d never walk she found yoga and other holistic therapies that brought her legs back to life. After numerous surgeries and therapies she committed herself to the lifestyle and practice of yoga. Since, she’s written books and opened her own studio.
Through her guided breathing and lecture I melted easily into relaxation, later telling us briefly about the yoga sutras. I was pulled in by her mastery and commitment to this ancient practice, by her calming voice and positive reinforcement that flowed easily. Yet there was one moment, a flash when she told us she was extremely busy but made the time to create a customized lecture for us because her friend (also a yoga teacher) asked her to come, because she wanted to share the knowledge she’d gained over twenty years that transformed her life.
In that moment and it was just a moment; I didn’t feel her humility.
And while it sounds like I’m doing exactly what the inspirational speaker Wayne Dyer warns people against (“don’t seek to be offended”) and I wasn’t offended exactly, I felt she asked us to be indebted, grateful for her time.
Yet I don’t think genuine humility ever tells people why we’re so lucky to hear their story. Genuine humility conveys that without words.
Rajesh was glaringly humble, his personal pride beamed only by his testament of faith, by who he credited that morning for all his success (Jesus).
Standing tall and handsome on his prosthetics, he was on such low simmer about his accomplishments that the local Chief Financial Officer of the Y, Mark, a bold, confident, New-Yorkish guy who easily holds a crowd, came up to the podium after Raj finished and announced that while he wasn’t scheduled to talk, he felt compelled to say a few words.
He told us how he competed in races over the years, with finish times that have slowed down the result of new aches, that during one event, (I don’t recall if it was an Ironman or another), he was struggling, hurting, and then he saw someone run by him with two prosthetic legs.
Rajesh beamed a smile and continued running.
Standing at the podium Rajesh’s quiet testimony framed his loud triumphs, his words resonated with Mark, with me, without the usual pomp and circumstance that generally vibrates a room with inspirational speakers, the message and humility alone were energizing.
Sitting at my table my friend Alicia looked transfixed and moved, her own story likely weighing on her heart. A personal trainer who runs a triathlon training business, Alicia finished an Ironman in Florida years back, coming in so much faster than she expected that her family, taking a break to go to dinner, missed her finish.
Training and motivating her clients through her own stories, Alicia tells her group how before her first tri she didn’t know how to swim and had to take lessons, that when she entered the race she was the last person out of the water, her son standing at the shoreline witnessing his mother’s struggle. It’s a powerful preface for her first time triathletes that seems to resonate with newbies, with me, and I’ve never entered a race beyond the easy 5k walks for cures, preferring just to exercise daily and not compete.
Alicia was diagnosed last year with a slow muscle-wasting neuropathy and can no longer run, nor can she bike the full 80 miles that was one of her rituals, her feet go numb, her balance is occasionally off. Deeply aware what the disease could take, some days she struggles, although to me, she looks vibrant, healthy and strong, a full-time mother going to school, running a business, inspiring people to achieve their fitness goals.
After Rajesh finished speaking Alicia told me she was going to her car to get one of her tri company shirts because she hoped Rajesh would “do her the honor” and wear it during one of his events. A few minutes later she waved me down, the shirt bunched up in her hand, her face like mine focused, excited and nervous, the emotions that likely give mental fuel to athletes during a race.
When we walked up to Rajesh he was intently listening to a man talk about some business deal. Raj’s expression was focused and polite although it was probably the thousandth time he’d heard a pitch about someone hoping to promote this or that. When the man was done talking Alicia stepped forward and introduced herself, explaining how she was a certified tri trainer, how she hoped he would do her the honor of one day wearing her shirt during a race, delivering her words in breathy, nervous rapid fire.
With a dead pan expression Rajesh answered, “No sorry, I only wear extra small.”
Alicia looked a little startled and then muttered something about how it was fine, she could get him another size, but by then my exalted view of the triple amputee Ironman started to fade, “Even a person in a wheelchair can be a total a-hole,” I once told my husband to announce one of my many self-created philosophies about humanity, “No one is entirely off the hook because they’re handicapped. They just get more wiggle room.”
“I’m just kidding,” Rajesh said laughing easily, and the pedestal I put him on lowered, putting him within my reach.
I moved in, shaking his hand, thanking him for his talk, ready to pour out the requisite gushing that his accomplishments earned but I sensed Rajesh’s humility asking me not to.
Alicia’s humility is no less convincing.
Hers is also tucked inside powerful determination, countless hours of painful training, through endless prayers and tears and misery, I imagined, through eventual finish lines and faster times, all this, the total package racing delivers, must energize even the most timid, the most out of shape who wonder if they have the stuff to finish a race. I feel surges of this force whenever I jog, swim or bike infinitely farther than I feel I have.
As Alicia paused, like Mark, I sensed a gap, that more needed to be said.
“She finished her own Ironman in Florida,” I told Rajesh. ”Alicia is really amazing and inspires her clients all the time. And, I won’t go into her personal health issues that’s her business, but she has some health stuff going on and she still perseveres. “
Rajesh already had his “knowing” I sensed, about possibility winning out, despite dark challenges.
His peace came after the many years he crouched in prayer he said, after enormous physical and emotional pain growing up where he never fit in with his peers. Rajesh, through his faith, through hundreds of hours of training and multiple finish lines now knew his life would not only move forward, but that it would get better, exalted to a level he never imagined.
It ‘s in this place I think Rajesh’s brilliant white smile can so quickly and easily erupt for others.
But I wasn’t sure where Alicia stood with her illness yet, although she never complained, private and protected, preferring not to discuss the disease or to attract conversation around herself; I imagined she wondered whether symptoms would erode what she held deeply as part of her identity – that she trained, that she competed, that she moved unencumbered with family and friends.
As I gushed Alicia smiled and shook her head, brushing away the compliments. Standing behind me one of her clients seemed to appear. She told Rajesh that yes, Alicia was a great trainer and motivator, how so many appreciated her inspiration.
Inspiration is viral like that, it infects hearts and spreads as dominate to our being, compelling people to act without embarrassment or a second thought.
And then Alicia started to cry, saying through quiet tears that this “wasn’t about her.”
The levity of Rajesh’s joking overlapped with the vulnerability of Alicia’s tears, by his story, by her friend who trained with her, by me because I’ve been awed by her accomplishments from the outside looking in. Rajesh’s story organically entangled with Alicia’s, an unspoken connection between people who have pushed past what they thought was unreachable.
The day before my 13 year old daughter asked me to videotape Rajesh or take his picture, but I said I’d play it by ear because asking him to pose for a picture might make him feel like a novelty I’m sharing with friends. But Rajesh had no hostile defenses for cameras, for the curiosity and staring and picture-taking and so I asked him after I was done gushing about Alicia, mumbling that it was for my daughter, that I wanted her to come but teenagers don’t like to get up early, chattering through that awkward moment when strangers lean in and take a picture.
Rajesh laughed and muttered softly that the only way to get a teenager up in the morning was to throw water on them.
Authentic humility seems immensely paradoxical to me, that it sits on the same plane as the fierce confidence and nearly manic determination great athletes like Rajesh must surely possess. This is I believe, is also the mark of a great leader, someone who draws people toward them and at the same time pushes them away towards their own glory.
This duality is what inexplicably draws me to the Dalai Lama with ridiculous adoration and my Western understanding of Buddhism, to Oprah who owns the moon but makes sure her guests forget it during interviews. It’s a tragic story turned into pitiless confidence held together by the skin of spirit, grace and humility that grabs me every time.
I’m drawn to simpler versions of greatness as well, towards friends who when the chance to brag or put down others to elevate their own ego for gossip always, always choose to let the moment fade.
These people earned or possess an innate sense that humility and compassion aren’t the antithesis to success, to confidence, to courage, to pride or to great things, but are instead, the drivers behind the quietest and yet loudest grandeur humans can ever achieve, to know our own glory, yet let others feel theirs.
Through our despair and hurt and pain rises a light that burns brighter than the darkest moment we ever felt, ever saw, ever feared. The light of hope and faith and compassion and love are the strongest forces in the universe that will prevail up against the very worst they try to do.
We will always rise, we will always expand to greater levels, we will always stand in victory, and then — we will smile once again, so loudly that our hearts will drown the sorrow that once shadowed our lives and leave in its healing wake, the glistening drops of peace. My tribute for September 11th. – Laura O.