“I’m going to let you practice relaxing. I’ll be back in about 20 minutes”. My acupuncturist closes the door, leaving me lying on a table with tiny acupuncture needles sticking out of various parts of my body, like a human pin cushion. Ambient, spa-like music softly plays in the darkened room, lit only by a small, orange crystal-shaped lamp. I close my eyes, slowing inhaling and exhaling, willing myself to relax, while feeling that familiar pang of panic and chattering mind:
I can’t move my body for 20 whole minutes?
Oh. my. god.
C’mon – 20 minutes isn’t that long. And this is a gift you get to give yourself. It’s easy…just relax, take a rest. Quiet your mind.
Ouch! I think adjusting my arm tweaked that needle out of place and now it’s pinching a little.
Ok, just stop moving. Breath. Relax. Just reLAX! This is a GIFT.
THIS IS A F*CKING GIFT!!!
Has it been 20 minutes yet??
I had mentioned earlier in a conversation with my acupuncturist about how I had trouble being still. My husband always jokes that I am “terrible at relaxing”.
And here I was voluntarily back on the acupuncture table, for another round of treatment. Perhaps more than seeking treatment for allergies and a host of other physical issues, I was seeking an enforced stillness — something I struggled with but knew I needed.
I wanted to learn how to find stillness in a busy, spinning world (something I had been seeking for years). I thought back to a lesson learned in a coaching training, where I found the image of a tree to be a powerful metaphor for that paradox of stillness and movement co-existing. The tree appears solid and still, but there is constant growth and movement happening throughout the roots to the tips of the branches.
I picture a tree and feel myself relaxing more deeply, my eyelids and body feeling heavier. I drift into a dreamlike state. As my body quiets, I gradually feel my mind quieting, too.
It was only 7 am, but already the August sun felt blazing on the black surface of the track. My heart pounding and arms pumping, I rounded the track for another lap. I vacillated between feeling strong-tough-unstoppable and exhausted-flabby-winded. What was I even doing here heaving my way through a series of self-inflicted intervals on our local track early on a Saturday morning? Was this some weird, mid-life, re-living my high school track days thing?
The half-marathon training workout plan I was following (from the wonderful site Another Mother Runner) that had me running these intervals seemed pretty realistic for someone who was raising kids, balancing part-time work and trying to squeeze in trainings in the corners of life. I had originally liked the flexible approach to the training, and the lighthearted tone, but starting on my next 400, I was beginning to reconsider.
A flashback of a lesson learned doing speed work during my high school track days hit me: I remember a coach telling me to imagine holding a potato chip between your thumb and finger while sprinting. You don’t want to break the chip, but you don’t want to drop it.
And here lies the juicy challenge: how do you stay relaxed when you are pushing yourself to the extreme? It feels like some sort of zen koan. It’s about the #1 rule of improv, “yes, and”.
It’s about holding something, but holding it lightly.
“Take all the time you need. I’ll wait outside.” The soft-spoken vet with the midwestern accent closed the front door, leaving us huddled around our 6-month-old kitten, Jelly. Our little family all stroked Jelly’s soft gray fur, saying our tearful good-byes.
Several days prior, Jelly had been diagnosed by our vet with FIP, a rare and terminal feline disease. We were told Jelly would go downhill very quickly, in a matter of days, probably. It was up to us when we thought it was time to euthanize him.
Those days were hard ones, watching this sweetest of kittens get weaker every day. Watching his brother and littermate, Obi, curl protectively around him while they slept. Deliberating every day if it was time. Grieving for a pet who was dying far before his time, and supporting my kids while they grieved, trying to make sense of something that doesn’t make any sense.
And then one of Jelly’s last days, while he lay curled up next to me as I gently pet his frail body, it hit me: I was holding him lightly. I was loving him and being with him, while knowing that I was also letting him go.
I get it. I get why I was doing those intervals on the track. I get why I’m really doing acupuncture. That lesson I’m learning over and over from life, love and parenting – catching and releasing, loving and letting go.
I get it, Universe.