Wednesday, November 10, 2021

Not Searching for Happiness

 "When it's over, I want to say: all my life I was a bride married to amazement. I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms. When it's over, I don't want to wonder if I have made of my life something particular and real. I don't want to find myself sighing and frightened, or full or argument. I don't want to end up simply having visited this world."

- Mary Oliver, from her poem: When Death Comes

For so long, safety and stability have been the organizing structures of my life. Even as I pursue far-reaching goals and generative experiences, I've relied upon the ground beneath my feet to be unchanging. But lately, as the world around us appears to mirror the uncertainty of plans and the inevitability of change, I've noticed a new longing emerging at my roots. There is a part of me that yearns to feel untethered. 

11 years ago, I asked my boyfriend (Ryan) if he was interested in moving to Colorado with me. Fortunately he too felt the magnetism of the mountains and we began a new adventure together. Fresh out of college with mountains of student loans, we spent our first 3 years in a tiny basement studio apartment, and we paid more attention to what we did have than what we didn't. The wide open spaces encouraged us to breath more deeply. We felt both softened by the beauty of the land, and hardened as we carved out the edges of who we were, in particular. 

This past August, I went to San Diego to stay with Julie and train for the Ironman World Championship. Partway through our training camp, when we heard the news that the race was canceled, I recognized that I was there for a different reason. I changed my flight and stayed 2 extra days by myself, with the ocean. I asked the universe for clarity and I knew the answer in my body almost immediately, but I didn't know it in my mind until I returned home. Back in Colorado, the distance between my heart and the ocean had become explicit.  

I never used to "ask the Universe" for anything. Ever since I emerged from the soul-imprisonment of 9 years in Catholic School, I relied on nothing but my own will and determination to create the life of my dreams. I needed to prove to myself that I didn't need a guiding light - for lack of a better way to describe it. And I did that. I did the proving. The harder part was knowing when it was over and putting down my defenses.

What I've taught myself to do is to create a bridge between an old way of being and a new one with habits and practices that fill my cup and keep me afloat while the bridge is under construction. I write. I journal. I ask questions and I leave them open ended. I give myself space to put the most raw truth on paper so I can get it out of my body and it doesn't try to trick me into believing that it's scarier than it really is. It's this practice of excavating truth that has led me to my heart: the wisdom keeper. 

Every day, I renew my vow to my heart that I will pay attention to the edges. I vow to resist the devastatingly seductive urge to push away the messages that I don't feel equipped to handle or the ones that I know will lead to some sort of open-ended change. My agreement is only to pay attention. I can handle knowing about the rough edges because I've committed myself to knowing the soft ones too. 

In return for my listening, my heart teaches me about what is most true in each moment. It speaks over any conditioning which might try to fool me into believing that comfort is a higher priority than truth. 

I am happy in Colorado. Happy enough, perhaps. But while I was in California and I asked the universe for clarity, I knew that I would have to uphold my end of the bargain and truly be open to clarity - not just clarity that lives inside a box of how much change I've predetermined that I'm willing to make. That's not how it works with hearts. Shortly after, I wrote in my journal that I'm ready to live near the ocean.

When I told Ryan, he took a deep breath the way he always does when he recognizes that I'm speaking from my heart, and he started making the plans. He has never been afraid of my most raw truths and he has never shied away from their potential implications. I don't know how rare this is but I do know how special it is. 

We (Ryan) planned a 2+ week road trip, starting with Ironman California. It went a little something like this:

10/19: 11ish hour drive to Elko, Nevada, which is a town that has a dog-friendly Marriott and a gas station and is more than halfway to Sacramento. When the excited women at the front desk asked us what brought us to Elko, we didn't know what to say.

Ralph is a road trip pro.

10/20: 6ish hour drive to Sacramento for Ironman California. 

10/20 - 10/23: The days that precede an Ironman are all the exact same day meshed into one where basically nothing happens except for the relentless waiting for the gun to go off.

10/24: There was a bomb cyclone in Sacramento and the gun never actually went off. See this blog post. I ran a marathon instead. It was sad and slow.

10/25: 6ish hour drive from Sacramento to Pismo Beach, where we had planned to recover for a few days post Ironman. Along the drive, we kept our minds and our hearts open for a new place to be from. We stopped in Santa Cruz, fell in love with Carmel-by-the-Sea, and were mesmerized by the stunning radiance of Big Sur. In a temporary moment of cell service, we accepted an offer on our house in Colorado while driving down the Pacific Coast Highway. We felt the rush of being untethered, the reality that the countdown to our homelessness had just begun, and the safety of relying on nothing but each other.

Pismo Beach was the first time our dogs had ever experienced the ocean. It was the place that held our transition between belonging to Colorado and belonging to a new place. While we were there, we belonged only to ourselves. 

10/27: Another amount of hours drive from Pismo Beach to North County, San Diego. At first, we mostly felt fear and discomfort. But I've been speaking to my heart for long enough to know that those signs are my guideposts. As far as I know, discomfort is the only path to growth. 

One thing that I've learned about hearts is that they are the first to speak - before thoughts, before judgment, before analysis or rationality. It is tempting to dismiss the message because it gets covered up so quickly. That's why I write it down. Otherwise it gets lost in fear and rationality and I am tempted to convince myself that what I felt wasn't real.

We spent a few days looking at houses and we took a break to cheer on our NYX Endurance teammates at 70.3 Oceanside. We felt hopeful.  

Luna settled right into her cheering spot at 70.3 Oceanside.


10/31: We put in an offer on a house that we loved and we drove 7 hours to Sedona. We crossed our fingers and wanted to believe that it would be this easy. But underneath our hope was something stronger and more lasting. We believed that it would work out the way it was supposed to, not necessarily the way we had envisioned. And we trusted more in the uncertainty than we did in our plans. 

11/1: We didn't get that house. More importantly, it was our 7 year wedding anniversary and we were in one of our favorite places in the world. 

The desert is where I remember. Not the kind of remembering that lives inside thoughts and comes attached to stories, but the kind that is stored inside my bones. I remember nothing specific but everything essential. I remember why I am searching, and that I am searching. I feel the connection to the thing that is searching for me too - searching through me, with me, for me when I'm tired, for me when I forget. It is all so clear in the desert.  

I knew I wouldn't be able to put an offer down on another house without seeing it in person, and we both acknowledged the uncertainty of what would happen next. Old stories tried to convince us that listening to our hearts and taking risks was a bad idea, but we were already too fiercely committed to the flow and to taking the world in our arms.

11/2: We made the last long 12+ hour drive back to Colorado. Back to a home that no longer belonged to us. The tension in my body was forcing me to acknowledge that I had put us in this situation, forcing me to answer: Why do I think I'm worthy of pursuing more than happiness? I should be grateful. I can't even provide a rational explanation for why I led us here. 

My heart doesn't privy me to the explanations. It simply sends a message and asks me if I'm brave enough to listen. Brave enough to step into the unknown for a feeling I can't make sense of. But when I don't listen, my life becomes more and more out of alignment. Everything starts to feel forced. The colors begin to dull. And worst of all, if I don't listen, my heart will slowly stop speaking to me. What good is a voice without an ear to receive it?

I'm not leaving Colorado because there is something lacking for me here. As far as I can tell, grass is always green; unless of course, it's dying. 

It was easy to leave the east coast, we knew there was nothing for us there. But Colorado is the place where we became a family of 2 humans and 2 dogs. We got married here. Built our lives together here. We learned from the mountains that stillness can be just as powerful as movement.   

Moving on is not an escape but an inevitability; everything changes. Making space for change also requires making space for grief. That's why so few of us choose it. But I am not searching for happiness, so I have room in my heart for grief. 

I want to know what exists at the bottom of the well. I want to carve away everything that isn't the essence of me. I am a digger. What I'm searching for is underneath, not above. I want to know what is under the surface. I am willing to hold my breath for long enough to witness something under the surface that may not have appeared a moment earlier - something that needed me to prove that I wanted it more than I wanted air to breath. I'm searching for something simple. The revelations that take my breath away are always the ones that I knew all along, that we all knew, but have forgotten - things we may have even known in our thoughts but have forgotten in our hearts. 

11/3: We remembered that there was another house that we had liked while we were in San Diego, so we put an offer down without expecting anything to happen. Later that evening, our offer was accepted. 

Flow cannot happen when we resist change. We resist because we think only about the bad things. What could go wrong? Too often we forget to ask, what could go right? When I take action in alignment with my heart, I feel the saltwater of my body start to flow more freely. I feel my skin begin to vibrate in a new way - in an old way, that I think I might vaguely remember. When I listen to my heart, I know I won't end up simply having visited this world. 

Do You Have The Right Goals?

Many athletes are familiar with a postseason assessment and know that there is tremendous value in assessing whether or not you reached your goals. Then digging into what went right and what went wrong along the way will help you chart a better path forward for the upcoming season. 

But we might be missing a step. Before assessing whether or not you were successful at accomplishing your season goals, it's important to determine whether you set the right goals to begin with. It is tempting to select numbers/paces/outcomes that are simply the next logical step in your triathlon development, rather than asking yourself why you care and whether or not your goals are in alignment with how much sacrifice you are both willing and able to make.

When you read the line above: how much sacrifice you are willing and able to make, did you get excited because you identify as the kind of athlete who is willing to make all of the sacrifices? Or did you feel a twinge of self defeat because you think you may be unable to make enough sacrifices? The invitation here is to look at it from a different angle and investigate the nuances that will lead to your most aligned goals. 

Why Is This Important?

When your goals align with what truly matters to you, they inspire you to uphold the process. The key is that the goals are the vehicle, not the destination. Ideally, you will find something that you're so wildly passionate about that it inspires you to get up every morning and do the work. Striving towards mastery requires intentionality. There is no accidental success.

How To Investigate:

Asking why your goals matter can be a hard question to answer. The part of our brain that influences behavior and decisions does not have the capacity for language. So what's most important is to take an honest look at our goals and notice if we feel something come alive within us when we think about the pursuit. Don't answer, just notice. Your body / emotional response will come first, quickly followed by a stream of judgment and over-analysis. Pay attention to the first part. 

The Questions:

1. When you close your eyes and think about your goals, what do you see? Do you see the outcome, the glorious achievement? Or do you see the process, the relentless grind; do you see yourself doing the work that others aren't willing to do? And more importantly, how do you feel when you visualize your goals? Are you proud of yourself? Do you feel joy or relief? 

Pursuing any worthy goal will require you to get uncomfortable. Pursuing a goal that aligns with your values and desires will keep you motivated to push through the grind. It is wonderful to hold the outcome as your vision, as long as you are also in it for the process, learning opportunities, and growth that will be inevitable along the way.

2. Are your goals realistic within the context of your life? How were you able to balance the pursuit of your goals with the rest of your life? Did you prioritize mental health? Did you approach burnout and feel emptied out during the season or did you allow training to fill your mental and emotional tank?

The purpose here is not to compromise your goals. There is a way to allow your goals and your life to feed each other that is completely unique to you. Allow these questions to inspire you to think of creative solutions to any potential problems that come up. Maybe there's a more efficient way to fit your workouts in. Maybe you need to adjust the timeline of your goals. Perhaps you need to communicate more effectively with your partner/friends/boss about how to make this work for everyone.

3. What story do your goals tell about your life? Have they inspired new habits and/or thought patterns? Are they a tribute to your ambition, your perseverance, your grit? Or do your goals come from a scarcity mindset or sense of unworthiness (i.e. I'll be a real athlete when I break this time barrier; I'll be able to rationalize the time/money/energy I spend pursuing my goals if I can just accomplish this goal or validate myself with this result)?

The key here is that aligned goals will speak to who you are right now rather than who you will be when you achieve them. Tell the most inspiring story you can imagine.

Now What?

It's possible that some of these realizations will make you uncomfortable and uncertain about how to proceed. Start with acceptance. Be radically honest about where you are right now, even if it's hard to acknowledge the gap between your current reality and your bold new goals. 

In a sport where so few of us "win" in a conventional way, my invitation through this process is to redefine what winning means to you. As you reflect on some of the bigger questions, ideally you will gain a more intimate understanding of why you, specifically, are drawn to triathlon. Maybe you only have a few hours a week to dedicate to training, and winning becomes the pursuit of total immersive presence in those few hours, which leads to total immersive presence in other areas of your life. Maybe winning is less about a race result and more about how well you learn to deal with adversity. Maybe you realize that just showing up for yourself every day and making more room for the things that bring you joy is as radical and worthy of celebration as any podium placement.

Acknowledge The Journey:

Once you've settled on your goals and feel ready to begin the process towards next season, keep in mind that you will not be able to predict how this will all play out. Your why will only light the path a few feet in front of you at a time. You'll have to rely on your habits and trust that the path will not be linear. You will not get to choose the specific type of adversity that you'll face along your journey. You will have to be open, flexible, an accepting - especially when it's hard. But when you are armed with the right goals for you, anything is possible.

New Bio, who dis?

As I've witnessed myself shift and change, I've been experimenting with some new coaching strategies. Most of my athletes know that ...