Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Searching for Zen

This coming Saturday I will be doing a triathlon. I actually paid good money to participate in an activity that requires me to swim 1.5k (just under one mile), ride a bike 40k (about 25 miles) and run a 10k (6.2 miles). I do not mention this here as a way to brag about my athletic prowess or to identify myself in any way with the general gnarly-ness implied by the word “triathlete.” I simply mention it as a preface to the following statement: I don’t want to do it. Kind of. In a way. Kind of in a way, I’d like to sleep in Saturday morning, eat a big breakfast, drink lots of coffee, relax. In a way, I don’t really want to wake up at 5:00am and cart myself and my bike and all its inherent gear and my running shoes and a variety of electrolyte replacement drinks over to a local lake and spend the next several hours anxiously awaiting, then actually doing, the swim, bike, run. In a way, though, I do. I just can’t seem to stop myself from constantly wrestling with this impulse to skip it.

I’m kind of a perennial quitter. There are many things in life, both big and small, which I have just up and quit. Sometimes, I feel bad about quitting, like the time I paid for a 10-week photography class at the community college and then quit after 4 weeks when I realized how lame and pretentious my photos of stop signs were and how I really just wanted to go snap photos of my adorable 2-year nephew. I learned to live with it, though. In other instances, I really don’t see that it made one bit of difference, like the time I quit my part-time job serving frozen yogurt at Au Bon Pain when I was a 24-year old college graduate and I was sick of my pinhead boss scolding me for not achieving a streak-free clean when wiping down the counter windows. That was awesome. In the middle of my shift I took a 15-minute break (and was scolded once again for helping myself to a free lemonade, which I was told does not fall under the category of “soft drink”), grabbed my belongings and found a public restroom where I could ditch the black polyester pants and jaunty beret of my uniform. I almost wish I could do that again. There was one instance in particular, when I dropped out of graduate school after one year of a social work program, where I do still believe that quitting was the best thing to do. Besides, I was switching gears, not quitting. I spent a major part of the four years of college wishing I could quit, but somehow managed to suck it up and finish. After years of competitive swimming, I quit the college swim team mid-junior year, mid-practice, mid-set… just climbed out of the pool and left one day. Maybe I like the freedom to oppose invisible parameters, arbitrary starting and stopping points. Well, I guess I’ve never invented my own starting point (a possible future aspiration?), just a lot of stopping points. I hate having others tell me what to do. I like to demonstrate to myself that I am not bound by anything other than my own individual wishes.

(To my credit, I have, thus far, stuck with the more important life endeavors such as marriage, motherhood and dog-ownership. For this, I give myself a huge pat on the back. Yea for me!)

But still, I am perplexed by my aversion to this impending race. I signed up for it during the dead of winter and spent many months eagerly anticipating the chance to perform. I have spent huge amounts of time and energy (and money) preparing. Some days I felt so excited about doing it, it was like I was ready to jump up and run to the lake right then and there. I couldn’t wait. Why now do I feel so disinterested, so annoyed by this obligation? Is it burn-out? Is it the nagging minor injuries that plague me every time I try to run? Is it a more serious character flaw? Is there someone else I can blame for it?

What I feel I need is some Zen. My attitude needs a little dose of Zen, or maybe a whole bunch of Zen, a heapin’ helpin’ of Zen. I would like to tune out all the deliberations in my head, the worries, the perception that I have to do this for any other reason than just because I want to. I need to tune out the thoughts of how long it will take to do each leg of the race, how slow I might be running and how 6.2 miles can look like a cross-country trek when you are shuffling along so slowly you feel like you might be going backwards. Basically I’d like to tune out pretty much all thought and just enter auto pilot. Anyone have any suggestions?

It’s not that I worry I can’t finish it. I know I can do it. And I adore my friends who have encouraged me and told me I’ll be great. Without you I probably would not be bothering with this at all. But right now, it’s more like I’m looking for some serenity and serenity is hard to come by when you are thrashing through the water in a mob of arms and legs, hard to come by when you are wheeling along on your bike and your thoughts are constantly interrupted by the image of a big truck whacking into you at the next intersection, hard to come by when your ass (aka: hamstring) is screaming in pain every time you move your left leg. I mean, I’ve been working hard to quiet all these things in one way or another, but I would really appreciate it if Buddha would give me some kind of blessing, cast a little spell on me to make me numb to these intrusions.

So here goes… four days and counting. And for everyone else who is undertaking their own trials and tribulations, performing their own feats of strength and endurance in their own private ways, I wish you, too, a little serenity, a little Zen. Or a heapin’ helpin’, whichever you need. Peace.

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