Crystallized

What I love about winter is how everyday scenes can become beautiful, under different conditions.

Here are some photos I took off of my porch after last week’s storm.  It snowed all day, and then stopped right before sunset.  I have lived here for almost a year, and I had never seen these colors.

I love these photos, because they remind me to stay open to the beauty all around me.

Beauty can be everyday– but you have to be receptive to it.  Stay in the moment; keep your eyes open.

It’s there– you just have to remember to look.

Even the ordinary can be beautiful.

 

 

 

 

Sense of Place

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Ironically, I have a feeling this is going to be somewhat of a meandering post… because I have a lot of thoughts I want to share on the topic of staying in place.

I moved somewhat recently (last spring) after living with family for several years. I didn’t move far (still in the suburbs of Boston, only closer to the city now).

However, it’s been a time of big change for me, because I’ve been trying to figure out how to do a lot more things for myself rather than relying on my family. This is true of things that everyone has to learn to deal with at some point (for example, putting my own furniture together; installing my own curtain rod). Just those boring, annoying adult things.

For me, there is an added layer of difficulty, because of my sacroiliac joint issues. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I am doing better than I was a few years ago, but I know from past experience that times of change are when I’m more likely to inadvertently push myself too far, and have a setback. It takes time to adapt to a new place, to a new routine; to figure out what works for me, and what I should avoid.

It’s been my grand experiment. It hasn’t always been pretty.

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One of the questions I’ve asked myself is, what is family? For so long, I relied on my family members for help, assuming they were the only ones who would be willing to help me with the kinds of favors most people don’t have to ask for.

My friends knew about my struggles, but I mostly tried to avoid asking for help, except for the times when it couldn’t be avoided.

However, I am not a scared and confused 20-year-old anymore. I am 30. (And no, 30 is not old. I feel amazing, and so excited about the future!). But it’s time to start branching out– to find new ways to do things, and new ways to relate to the people in my life.

Can friends be family? Or, in other words, can I redefine my relationships with my friends, and come to count on them the way I have counted on my family?

I definitely have not done it perfectly. It’s been a learning experience.

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Something I’ve learned is how far people will go out of their way to avoid hurting your feelings. They’ll do things that ultimately hurt you more– they’ll talk behind your back, they’ll plan a trip that involves a lot of walking, and won’t invite you– anything other than tell you to your face.

I’ve had to get better at reading between the lines. I’ve found it to be helpful if I can just take a guess at what might be wrong and offer an apology, even if the person insists everything is fine. I’ve had to get better at clearing the air; at addressing the problem as promptly as I can rather than letting it fester.

Things get awkward sometimes, because I can’t always repay a favor the way people would normally expect. For example, if one of my friends comes over and helps me carry my new mattress inside, I can’t go over the next week and help her move her couch. I have to find another way to contribute to the relationship.

Obviously, people do things out of the goodness of their hearts. It’s not as though, the very first time someone does me a favor, they expect something in return.

But over time, it’s important to show that you are also willing to help, and how much you care. There have been times where I thought I was doing a good job of this, only to realize that in some cases, my efforts weren’t really noticed.

It’s been frustrating for me, because the truth is that I put a lot of time and dedication into my friendships– to be there for people, to listen to them. I’ve come to find out the hard way that this effort isn’t always recognized.

I think it’s partly because listening comes so naturally to me. I actually love sitting down with people and sorting out their problems (it’s why, when I was in college, I wanted to be a psychotherapist). Because I enjoy it so much, and (let’s face it) I’m good at it, people don’t always realize that it can be excruciatingly hard work at the same time.

So, I’ve had to learn how to communicate better. To let people know how and when I am putting in effort, because they don’t always see it on their own. It’s all about being open, honest, and direct, while maintaining a non-confrontational stance.

What I’ve learned is that you can redefine your relationships with people. You can become closer to people, and ask more of them. But you have to be willing to put in more effort yourself– and to be prepared for people not to notice it, especially if it’s not in a form they’d expect. When that happens, you’ll need to find a graceful way to point it out.

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Although this post is about people more than it is than geographic location, “Sense of Place” is the only title that makes sense to me. After all, it’s other people that form so much of our sense of place– the feeling that we belong, the knowledge that we will be okay.

But I do love the area I moved to– I am somehow still surrounded by conservation land, trails, and parks, am yet much closer to the city than I used to be. I love it– the hustle and bustle of life around me, yet against a backdrop of so much natural beauty.

As I’ve mentioned previously, over the course of the past few years that I haven’t been able to run, I’ve learned to find peace in standing still. So, over the past few months, when I’ve felt overwhelmed, I’ve turned to the natural beauty around me, and drunk it in.

When things haven’t gone my way, when I’ve felt that my “sense of place” in the personal sense was still under construction, I’ve always had my internal connection to the natural world, and that has been my anchor.

It took a while– to learn the area, to feel at home, to re-evaluate my connections with the other people in my life. It’s a work in progress, but it’s working out.

 

 

I only understood myself…

A few days ago, I went for a walk around this beautiful historical estate that’s practically next to where I live now.

I’ve been making some big changes in my life recently, and some of them have been pretty difficult.  This park feels like home to me, so I went there to clear my head.

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I walked around for a little while, and then stopped to lie down on the grass.  It was so peaceful, in the warm sun.  I just wanted to take in the moment.

And then I looked up, and saw this view:

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Suddenly, it hit me.

I thought back to the days in high school, before I got compartment syndrome, when I would have been here running.

Rushing, rushing, hurrying, going as fast as I could.  A high-intensity day. Three miles, in as little time as I could.

Or maybe it would have been an endurance day, and I’d be purposely holding myself back for the first few miles, so that I could stretch my run out to six or seven.

I loved running.  I loved pushing myself, the freedom.

But you know what I wouldn’t have been doing?  Looking around me.

Looking up, specifically.

You can’t really look up when you’re running, at least not when you’re outside.  You have to look at the ground almost constantly, to make sure an awkwardly-placed tree root doesn’t leave you on crutches for the next two months.

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I loved running.  Everything about it– the thrill of pushing myself, the endorphin rush, the adventure of being outside.

But it was always a blur.   Even when I ran through my favorite places– and I knew some beautiful trails– I was never able to stop and enjoy it.   In my head, it was keep going, keep going.  You have to burn calories.  You’re going to get fat.

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I could never pause, never rest.  Even on Sundays, when my coaches made all of us promise not to run… I tried to go for walks, but I just wanted to be running.

I’d be in the middle of the most beautiful nature scenes, and all I’d be able to think about was how hungry I was.  And how fat I was going to get from not running that day, from the meager calories I’d decided to allow myself.

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Things are so different now.

I can’t do the same things with my body that I used to, but I can look up.

I can go to a beautiful place, without having to spend almost the entire time staring at the ground.  I can stop if I want to; I can pause.

Don’t get me wrong; I will always love running, and exercise in general.  I love a good endorphin buzz even more than I love coffee in the morning.

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But I exercise now because I want to; not because I’m afraid of what will happen if I take a day off.

It’s such a crazy feeling, and I don’t know if anyone who hasn’t been through it themselves can know what I mean.

I know what it’s like to have the ability to pause, because at one point I lost it.

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(Check her out, she’s an amazing writer!  http://sadeandriazabala.com/)

Do we feel more pain when we’re alone?

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Ruby seemed to have a lot of energy this morning, so I decided to take her for a walk at our favorite spot.  We walked for about half an hour– me all bundled up, and Ruby wearing her nice new $45 coat (oy!).

The path was a bit slippery following yesterday’s snow storm.  There was a thin layer of snow on top of another thin layer of ice.  But we plodded along, me enjoying the sunlight and Ruby enjoying the way the snow had trapped the smells of everyone else who had come along.

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I hope I don’t look like a terrible dog-owner… the water is only an inch deep!

After about twenty minutes, Ruby turned around and faced the direction we had come in (her way of signaling that she’s ready to go back to the car).  I wasn’t really ready to stop walking yet, so I helped her back in the car and then set off for one last loop of the field.

But with Ruby gone, it just wasn’t the same.  Suddenly, I noticed how cold I was.  My hat didn’t completely cover my ears.  My boots didn’t really fit.  My knees hurt.   It was like everything that had been tuned out by Ruby’s company had come back into focus.

The moment had clearly been lost, so I just gave up and went back to the car.

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This is something I’ve often noticed over the past few years—how much better I feel when others are around.

And it can’t just be anyone.  For example—I don’t want to air any dirty laundry here—it doesn’t work so well with people I’m not as comfortable with, aka certain individuals who are not exactly sympathetic about my being in pain.  With them, the pain stays the way it is.

But with close friends, or beloved animals, my mind just doesn’t seem to focus on the pain as much.  It’s like my mind’s eye is a camera, and having friends around presses the “zoom out” button.

I’ve been told time and time again that my nervous system focuses on the pain too much, as though it’s permanently stuck on the “zoom in” setting.  I wonder if the way I feel when others are around is the way it’s supposed to be, the way it is for other people.   If the deluge of sensations I got once Ruby was back in the car– hat not covering my ears; boots not fitting perfectly; knees aching slightly— was my nervous system zooming back in, and I was once again feelings things that most people wouldn’t notice.

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I’ve had more than one Saturday where I limped around during the day, with either my ankle hurting, or my knee.  Where I’m afraid to walk fast, or drive fast; afraid to step down off a curb.

But then I go out with my friends that night, and slowly the pain melts away. (And it’s not because I drink—I never feel like drinking when I’m already not feeling well).  After a day of limping, I might find that by the end of the night I’m walking normally down the sidewalk.

I used to be embarrassed by these experiences, and felt like I needed to keep them a secret.   It was too close to what people said—that I’m physically capable of doing much more than I think; that it’s all in my head.

But I can’t help the way I’m wired.  Now that I’m older and a bit more secure in myself, I figure I might as well build upon what I’ve learned and use it to my own advantage.

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I’m certainly not the first person to say this, but I don’t think that our contemporary, isolated society is really the best thing for human nature.  We were built to stay together; to live together, to work together.

When you’re out in the wilderness, you have to be on the lookout for predators.  For enemies.  And for physical dangers and natural disasters.   Obviously, there’s safety in numbers; all of these things are easier to deal with when there’s another person (or animal) by your side.

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Thank you to CaptPiper on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/piper/

I think that, on some level, our perceptions of pain and bodily discomfort are tied into our overall perception of threats.  Obviously, my ears being cold and my knees hurting are not as much of an immediate danger as a wild animal, but from an evolutionary perspective, cold weather and musculoskeletal injuries both have the potential to affect our chances of survival.

I think our bodies use the same “alert system” to respond to all of these different types of threats.  And, with all of these threats, we are more likely to survive when we have other members of our “group” around.

It might be ok to relax a little bit and let your guard down when you’re surrounded by your “tribe,” but once you start to walk into the woods by yourself, everything is ten times more dangerous.  So your nervous system must be ten times more alert.

This is why, when I put Ruby back into the car, my sensations were heightened.  It’s not really that Ruby would be much help against any kind of enemy or hungry predator.  It’s more about what’s happening on a neurological level; that I recognize her as a member of my “tribe.”  That I am not completely alone.

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Who says dogs can’t be any help? Credit to Oakley Originals on Flickr http://www.flickr.com/photos/oakleyoriginals/

One last thing I would add to this post is that, when I’m with Ruby, I have a very nurturing mindset.  My own needs and discomforts are overshadowed by the needs of the creature I am taking care of, so my mind doesn’t focus on the pain as much.

From an evolutionary mindset, our ability to nurture and put the needs of another before our own developed through raising children and passing on our genes.  Obviously, I’m not passing on any genetic material through Ruby, but I think if you were to put my brain in an fMRI, you would see that, when I’m caring for Ruby, I’m tapping into the same brain system.

The reason why I didn’t focus on this as much in this post is that doesn’t have as much to do with why I feel less pain when I’m with my friends.   I don’t really nuture my friends (at least, not in the way I would nurture a child!)  I certainly try to be a good listener, though.

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I’m curious to know what you, my readers, think.  Has this ever happened to you?  Are there certain people, or animals, whose presence simply causes you to feel less pain?  And do you agree with my evolutionary theories?  Disagree?  Let me know!

The Camping Trip

One of my best memories from last summer is the camping trip I decided to go on at the last minute over Labor Day weekend.

I’ve had to turn down a lot of invitations over the years.  My friends have invited me countless times to go camping, hiking, and skiing, and most of the time I say no.  Even at times in my life where I have been doing relatively well in terms of getting around and even exercising, I’ve been reluctant to join my very in-shape friends on a 6 hour hike.  I just don’t want to be the person who slows them down.

But last year, at the very end of August, a few of my friends decided to plan a Labor Day weekend camping trip.  Even though they’d tried to talk me into it, I wasn’t planning to go.  I was really worried about my hip issues.  I could barely get around in my house, let alone follow my friends through the woods.

But the Thursday night before the trip, my friend CA stopped by around 10 pm to pick up something she’d left at my house.

Something about how excited she was inspired me.  I started asking questions about the trip.  I said I had second thoughts about my decision not to go.

“That’s it,” CA said.  “You’re coming.”

We talked a little bit more about the details of the trip.  Although my friends had booked the campground for four days, there were actually going to be people coming and going throughout the trip because everyone had various commitments to juggle.  One person was only coming for one night; another was only coming for two.  In other words, I wasn’t stuck there.  I could leave at any time.

That reassured me.  How bad could one night be?  The campground was only two hours away.  I could go for one night, try it out, and come home the next day if it was horrible.

Well, here is what happened.  It was amazing.  I ended up staying all three nights.

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The view on the way to breakfast one morning.
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Dusk at the lake where we went swimming.
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Jon taking a nap after a four-hour hike.
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Max and Jon on Max’s motorcycle.

Why did it work out so well?

  • My hips actually ended up feeling *better* than they did at home.  I don’t know exactly why this is; I think a big part of it was that in the woods, I didn’t have to go up and down any steps.  Being distracted by my friends helped too, of course.
  • I usually have a ton of trouble sleeping away from home.  My body always has a horrible time adjusting to a new bed.  But for some reason, the air mattress I shared with  CA was perfect.
  • My friends took good care of me.  No one pressured me to do anything that I was nervous about doing.  Every morning we left the campsite, went out and got breakfast, and then explored the area.  A few times my friends decided to go hiking, so CA would leave me the keys to her car and I would drive around and look at various tourist attractions before returning to pick them up at a designated time.

I’m telling this story right now because I needed a bit of a pick me up.  Whenever I have felt slightly down over the course of this winter, I’ve thought about this amazing camping trip.  I was so nervous about spending even one night there, yet I stayed for all three.  I’m so glad I decided to go.  Sometimes, taking a risk pays off.

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Max and the three-pronged hot-dog roasting stick.
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Beautiful sky over the parking lot at Stop and Shop, where we bought hot dogs for our last night.
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The campfire.