Friday, May 25, 2012

THE RACE: Hey, What's Your Symbol...

I recently read about how the Buddhists have something called "Eight Auspicious Symbols."  In Sanskrit, these symbols are known as "Ashtamangala," meaning "auspicious," which is an adjective meaning opportune or promising success.  Although I'm not Buddhist, I'm intrigued by many of their teachings and find it to be a beautiful religion.  Plus, my lucky number is 8 and I totally love symbolism, so this was right up my alley....

The Eight Auspicious Symbols (as described by Buddhanet - which cracks me up) are:

1.  The Right Coiled Conch
(symbolizing a melodious sound that awakens our nature from a slumber of ignorance and urges us to accomplish our own and others welfare)

2.  Precious Umbrella
(symbolizes preserving beings from illness, harmful forces, and obstacles)

3.  Victory Banner
(symbolizing the victory of activity of one's own and others body, speech, and mind over obstacles and negativities)

4.  Golden Fish
(symbolizing the fortunate nature of all living beings of "fearlessness, without danger of drowning in the ocean of sufferings, and migrating from place to place freely and spontaneously")

5.  Dharma Wheel
(symbolizing the ability to enable all beings to experience the joy of "wholesome deeds and liberation")

6.  Auspicious Drawing
(symbolizing the "union of wisdom and great compassion")

7.  Lotus Flower
(symbolizing the "complete purification of the defilements of the body, speech, and mind, and the full blossoming of wholesome deeds in blissful liberation")

8.  Vase of Treasure
(symbolizing "an endless rain of long life, wealth, and prosperity")

Now those are some empowering symbols!!  No wonder Buddhists are so happy!  

These symbols got me thinking:  What are my symbols?  What do I want to hold up as my banners of empowerment?  What encapsulates me?  As athletes, most of us have our weird little superstitions, pre-race routines, inspirational quotes, and lucky charms.  So why not add some symbols to the list of things to which we look for that added spark of determination, fearlessness, encouragement, grounding....

Here are the Eight Empowering Symbols that I've picked for myself:  

1.  Deer:  I tend to see a lot of deer, especially when I'm feeling a little low, am at a particular crossroads, or actually lost in the woods.  (Actually my favorite book growing up was Bambi Gets Lost, so maybe that's where the deer-thing comes from).  The deer symbolizes so many awesome qualities.  It represents the powers of nature that are not easily subdued.  Deer are adaptable (as they are found on every continent except Australia); they are light and agile on their feet (even when navigating boulders and rocks); they represent energy, independence and regeneration (as their antlers grow back each year); and they tell us to trust our gut instincts.  The spirt of the deer has many sides:  powerful, feisty, cautious, adventurous, and protective.  The deer is the runner in me.  

2.  Gerber Daisy:  This is my favorite flower.  The gerber daisy symbolizes innocence, purity, and cheerfulness.  Although I'm far from innocent and pure, this will remind me to approach every workout with a new, cheerful perspective, as if it's the first workout I've done, or the last one I may do.

3.  The Number 8:  A little redundant in the Eight Empowering Symbols, but since high school, 8 has been the lucky number of my best friend Brenda and me.  In volleyball we had "the power of 8" (although we both pretty much sucked at volleyball).  But the number 8, importantly, is like the infinity symbol - no beginning, no end.  There's power in the infinite loop of life and that power has no bounds when you have people to support you.  The number 8 reminds of the undying strength I can find in my friends and family to accomplish anything I want.  

4.  The Claddagh:  The Claddagh ring symbolizes love (the heart), friendship (the two hands), and loyalty (the crown).  I've worn a Claddagh ring since my best friend Brenda gave it to me many years ago.  It reminds me of the love and friendship I've been so blessed to have in my life and the many people for whom I want to stay healthy.  Plus, it's a symbol of my Irish heritage (that I hope to trace back some day) and reminds me that I represent all of my relatives who've come before me...without them, I wouldn't be here.    

Claddagh ring
5.  The Word "If":  I'll admit that I'm ripping this one off from the 4-time Ironman World Champion Chrissie Wellington.  I'm reading her book, A Life Without Limits (which I'll review in a couple weeks) and there's a picture of her in there before a race, sitting quietly with a water bottle in front of her.  The caption says that on the water bottle she wrote the words to the poem "If" by Rudyard Kipling.  I thought that was an awesome idea.  The poem is one of my favorites.  But instead of writing out the whole poem, all I need to remember is "if"...that one word says so much.  "If" I just try.  "If" I succeed.  "If" is boundless; it hold limitless potential.  Just like me....  

6.  Ladybug:  Like the deer, the ladybuy has many meanings.  Ladybugs always seem to find me and I try to protect them when they do.  Ladybugs can symbolize luck, love, and protection...all things that serve us well as athletes.  

7.  The Four Directions:  North, south, east, and west mean many things in different cultures. In ancient Celtic symbolism, for example, North meant earth or home; South meant energy or passion; East meant new beginnings; and West meant water or movement.  I've always felt pulled in many directions because of where my friends and family are - and that's a good thing. I feel that I can call any place home and any direction in which I travel will bring me love and new opportunities.  My mom instilled a sense of direction in me from a very young age, making sure I knew which way was north, south, east, and west.  As long as I know my directions, I can always find my way home.  

8.  A Glass of Beer:  At the end of a long day, a hard workout, or to celebrate some accomplishment, an ice cold glass of beer is the perfect complement.  It's good to remember that we need to raise a glass to celebrate life. And sometimes, the thought of a cold beer on a long hot run, is just the motivation I need!  

Maybe I'll find images for all of these and put them on a t-shirt.  Maybe I'll just draw one or two of them on the inside of my wrist before a workout or race - something to speak to me and remind me what I'm made of and what I'm working for when the going gets tough.  Sometimes all you need is a little symbolic reminder of what you're made of and why you're doing this....

What symbol or symbols would you choose?  You don't have to pick 8, but pick what encapsulates or motivates you.  Put them on a water bottle, a t-shirt, your wrist...something to give you a little spark of motivation when you need it.  

Thursday, May 24, 2012

THE RACE: Running Away to Come Back

I guess at some point you have to pull yourself up by your bootstraps...or in the athlete's case - by your running shoes.  It's been a little over two weeks since I said good-bye to my beloved Bailey and it'd be an understatement of epic proportions to say that the adjustment of life without him has been difficult.   

You know how running can perk you up when you've had a bad day?  Or inspire some thoughts when you've had a mental block?  Or just re-invigorate your spirit in addition to your body?  Well, I've tried to run a bit in the past couple weeks.  It's helped get me out of the house and get my mind on something else.  I even ran another 10k at Prince William Forest Park this past Saturday, which included over 4 miles of trails.  I managed not to fall down, ran my heart out, and finished in about the same time as the 10k I did on St. Patrick's Day.  I was glad that I finished at all given that this was my longest run since recovering from my Pneumonia/bronchitis Crud of 2012 a little over a month ago.  My lungs were screaming the entire time and I was huffing and puffing so bad that I think people thought I was going to have a heart attack.  And I still didn't do that great compared to the other women in my age group...I was 9th out of 10 women in the 40-49 category.  A little disappointing to run so hard you feel like your lungs are going to explode and then still come in next to last in your age group....

At any rate, at least I was running, and running helped deal with some of the emotions I've had the past couple weeks.  But on a grander scale, ever since losing Bailey, all I've wanted to do is run away - literally...get the hell outta town.  And I'd planned on doing that starting the day after Memorial Day so that I'd have a nice long week off.  But given all the other annual leave I have to take this year for various trips, it looks like it's not going to happen.  So I've been pretty bummed because my insides are screaming for a break...

Fortunately or unfortunately, I didn't inherit my parents or grandparents desire to work, work, work with little or no vacation.  My generation - maybe viewed as more spoiled or less hard working in some respects than past generations - likes our vacations.  And I don't think that's a bad thing.  I think that God has given us a vast, diverse, beautiful, awe-inspiring planet to see, and we'd damn well better see as much of it as we can during our short time here.  There's more to life than work, or triathlons, for that matter.  

So I know myself well enough to know when I desperately need to hit the re-set button with a vacation.  I actually start to feel like there's a little creature in my chest trying to force it's way out.  My temper grows much shorter than usual.  My motivation starts to wane.  And I start questioning a lot of things in my life....Basically, when the number of people I flip off or snap at during the day outnumbers those at whom I smile during the day, it's time to run away for awhile....  

Several years ago, when I was getting too bogged down by day-to-day crap, the "city-life," the monotony of work, etc., I ran away for a few days to the mountains of West Virginia...with Bailey of course, because he was my travelin' buddy.  I was instantly re-invigorated.  

I'd never been to West Virginia.  But I ended up going back several times, each time to a different part, trying to work my way down the various parts of Monongahela National Forest and New River areas.  Being in the gorgeous mountains and forests, surrounded by nature, was exactly what I needed to re-boot.  It always did the trick.  For me, nature holds the cure to whatever ails me.  

So I've been rather miffed the past couple days when the rationale side of my brain has overtaken the emotional side of my brain and told me that I'll suck all my annual leave dry if I go to West Virginia for a week.  My re-set button feels like it's going to be stuck for awhile...

But then I came home tonite and had in the mail a flyer from the Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary outside Woodstock, New York.  I know about this place and have wanted to go there for a long time...They've recently renovated an old house on the farm and are renting it out as a B&B.  It looks gorgeous, the hundreds of farm animals are adorable, and to top it all off, if you volunteer for 4 hours a day on the farm, you get 20% off of your stay.  

So I've decided that to save on some of my annual leave, I'll combine a trip to Woodstock, New York with a trip to Woodstock, Connecticut (where I was planning to go anyway) to visit my boyfriend.  I can kill two Woodstocks with one road trip!  

But better than that, I think I'm even more excited about going to spend a few days at the Woodstock Sanctuary than I am about going to West Virginia.  One of the things I've been struggling with lately is the "greater good" - what am I doing on a daily basis for the "greater good?"  I heard a wonderful quote the other day along the lines of saying that only through giving can you truly find out who you are.  That fits me perfectly.  The primary and most important way that I feel good about myself is by doing for others.  

By spending a few days at a sanctuary with innocent animals who were saved from a gruesome fate and helping take care of them, I think I'll actually be able to hit the re-set button.  Just like when you go out for a run, oftentimes everything seems to function a little smoother - both mentally and physically - when you come back.  So running away -whether it's a couple miles or a hundred miles - isn't always a bad thing...especially if it at the end of it you've come back to yourself....

Do you have a favorite place you like to run away to when you need to hit the re-set button - whether it's on a run or longer trip?  If not, think you can find one? 

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Saying Good-Bye to My Best Little Buddy

Hello to my handful of faithful readers...I just wanted to let you know that I may be MIA for awhile.  This past Saturday I had to say good-bye to my best little buddy, Bailey - my  companion for over 14 years.

Bailey in his younger years....

Bailey was 15 1/2 years old and had certainly lost a lot of the spring in his step.  So it was time to do the kindest thing for him and his poor little body.  It was the most painful decision I've ever had to make and the reality of being without him is the most difficult thing I've had to go through.  He was with me nearly every day for over 14 years.  He was dependent on me 100%.  He loved me unconditionally.  He forgave me without question.  He wanted nothing more than to be by my side every single minute.  He, like all animals, was totally innocent.  So it's going to take awhile for me to adjust to not seeing his cute little face every day.

I know that this too shall pass...But I'm not going to blow through the grieving process...So until I start to feel a little more spring in my step, it's hard to get pumped up to try to write much of anything...

Hopefully I'll be back soon...I thank you for your loyal readership....

If you have a little furry buddy of your own, make sure to give him/her love every single day...Be very grateful for their unconditional love and the fact that to them, you are the entire world...

I miss my little buddy...