The dime dropped. The synapses fired. The message finally sunk in. It was, as always, a combination of factors. Freud claimed things are over-determined, that if we look carefully we can see multiple causes for everything—we discover a thousand reasons for every event or action or decision. This may, however, be more a feature of our associative minds than of reality itself.
Take any two random objects—say a pencil and a …… and a what? Everything I can think of is already associated with pencil – school, newspaper, OK – a pencil and a mountain. The brain can make an association, a connection between these two seemingly random things. Since school is now on my mind, I can think of one room schoolhouses in the mountains of Nepal where students are delighted to have the privilege of learning to write and where pencils and papers are treated with great reverence. Or the graphite that is the business part of the pencil and how that comes (I’m guessing) from beneath the mountains. Or the trees that make the wooden part of the pencil that grow on the mountains. Or the poets through the ages that have written about mountains with their pencils and pens. Anyway you get the point, the mind has the amazing capacity to makes things into mental objects that it can manipulate. Give it any two objects (or three or four) and it can create a story of how they are all linked. The mind was designed to make connections to make up stories. It’s a wonderful and a terrible thing.
So here’s my story:
Since December 1 I’ve been exercising at least 30 minutes a day. Now by ‘exercising’, I really mean ‘moving my body’ – because I’m walking, doing yoga and qi gong, using an indoor rowing machine, doing core strengthening exercises, even dancing in my own silly way. The point is to just to move.
I’ve known for about twenty years that this would be a good thing for me to do, but I’ve never been able to sustain it for this length of time before.
I was wonderfully active up through my twenties, I loved to play outside, do sports, be active, dance. I’ve always loved to move. Regular exercise was part of my life without even trying. But as I got older, my exercise became more sporadic – weekend paddles, occasional mountain bike rides and hikes. It was never a problem as I was always in good enough shape to enjoy whatever we did.
But beginning about four years ago, I began to be more prone to hurting myself as I threw myself energetically into these occasional physical activities. The fourteen mile backpacking trip I took one weekend with no preparation was wonderful but left me limping for months from a sore knee. And the wild and galloping horse ride I took last February on the beach in Costa Rica left me breathing shallowly for weeks.
So there have been lots of reasons for me to exercise regularly. And I’ve started many times. There have been several New Year’s membership at the YMCA followed by four or five regular trips to the swimming pool, followed by weeks of guilt for not going to the swimming pool, followed by total forgetting as the many things of my life intervened to distract and enchant me. Some summers I have had several weeks in a row where I have been on my bike or out on the water in a single scull two or three times a week with the intention of continuing. But then a trip comes or I get sick, or I get especially busy. I fall out of the newly formed habit and then I fall into guilt that I’m not doing it anymore. And the guilt is followed (mercifully?) by a forgetfulness where other issues and urgencies occupy the very limited space of my conscious awareness.
But this time is different. (I feel like someone who has fallen in love for the umpteenth time and is loudly proclaiming to the world that this time is different. I have finally found true love. I am suspicious of myself.) Or at least it is beginning differently. So as someone who is in the business of change – as a life coach and Zen teacher – I wonder what the difference has been. What has allowed me to move into action in this new and important way? (to be continued…)
Shepherded by museum guards
we wait in a zig-zag clump
to be allowed into the inner sanctum.
Like eager travelers at airport security,
we quietly hope to be transported somewhere else.
This time, our vehicles are squiggly shapes
of colored paper gathered in
rectangular arrangements on the wall.
Our captain and water-lily Hallmark card
luminary: uber-artist Henri Matisse.
to file through as supplicants,
paying homage to the relentless
production of his fecund scissors.
Horses and sword swallowers,
endless repeating and precisely
carefree seaweed shapes –
silly blobs of color and women’s bodies
that had taken up residence in his mind,
now cut in colored paper –
floating in multitudinous relationship –
Technicolor windows into worlds of wonder.
A walking-through teenager,
whose first choice for his day in New York City
certainly did not include this MoMa Matisse show,
pronounced to his mother who only had
his best interests at heart: ‘I could make
these things in my sleep.’
He’s right, but the hard part
is to be awake enough when you are asleep
to function clearly and then to care
enough to continue following
something you can never fully understand.
his fierce attention expressed again and again.
Caring for a lifetime whether the blue blob
tilts to the left or the right –
is cut from medium or light blue –
devotedly tending these brilliant shapes
that now illuminate the walls of these crowded halls.
With grand scissors,
he labored in old age
to cut the slender woman
out of the blue sky of his mind.
but I bought three—
white diner mugs
from the antique dealer
in the big barn that
we hoped had a bathroom
along the long road to
We didn’t intend to
but these were a bargain.
Lovely lessons in early industrial design
for only ten dollars each
(and one on sale for eight.)
I loved their sloping sides and chubby handles—
the fat lips that promised to meet mine
with unapologetic thickness.
The grace of unrestrained function.
Designed for demanding conditions—
big hands and thoughtless treatment
from men more natural than me
sitting on stools nourished
with greasy eggs, sausage links and
coffee without self-consciousness.
three mugs seem like too many.
They vie for space in the crowded cupboard
with others equally worthy—
one on top of the next
like tumbling ceramic acrobats
caught in dangerous moments of balance.
I must stop
bringing home stray mugs
from every roadside attraction.
Someone’s bound to get hurt
in the jumble of everyday use
unless I sort through them sometime
but I’ll probably just find
another shelf somewhere so
I don’t have to decide—
don’t have to let go
of any fat or skinny handles
we threw acorns
into the lake of my childhood—
my mother and I.
Both of us old enough
not to be persuaded
I had come to help,
but we paused from the packing
at her insistence
the small round missiles
from the blue bucket
into arc and splash.
at our shared silliness,
then turned from the
back toward our now separate journeys
when we might be together
again throwing acorns
into their perfect circles—
radiating and diminishing like us,
that we have gown old
in this place
where once we were young.