Saturday, October 20, 2012

Season of Slow

By Susie Crossland-Dwyer

I am in a season of change. On a short run through Ault Park today, the red leaves on the trees reminded me of what is so obviously in front of my face. I'm going from a season of pushing my limits into letting go--from green to red, from go to stop. After an injury-free, feel-good year of tough training, it is the strangest feeling. Letting go, resting, breathing deeper, and being still are much, much harder than pushing, going, pushing. But, why is this so?

In the stillness and rest, I'm finding my world to be a magical place. Instead of momentum, I have clarity. Instead of miles, I have sleep. Instead of reaching for a goal, I have space to deeply consider what's important to me. Momentum, miles and goals aren't bad things--in fact, they make my life very rich and also teach me a lot about who I am in this crazy world. But if I only had those things, without their absence, I believe they would feel more like shoulds and less like privileges.

But, really, why is it so hard to give ourselves this time of recovery from anything, at any point in the year? Nature does it year after year after year. But, NO, we are productive humans. MUST. KEEP. GOING. After only thirty two years, though, I've found that ignoring nature has its consequences. I see it all the time, not only personally, but in my profession as a trainer. Without proper rest between workouts, periodization of training within a year, or simply space in a life to stop, progress doesn't occur. Though lack of progress isn't the only consequence, monk and scholar Thomas Merton called busyness, "a pervasive form of contemporary violence." I too believe it's a form of self-violence. Nevertheless, it's a value upheld and encouraged by our culture where worth is measured in productivity.

One of the best decisions I ever made, in school or otherwise, was to study abroad in Valencia, Spain. Spain was a place and experience that ripped my world wide open. For four months, I slowed my pace to the rich, easy-going, sensual clock of this Mediterranean culture.

I can remember feeling antsy the first few weeks in my new home where the work day didn't get started until 10AM, hours for lunch and siesta were spent at home and no one anywhere seemed to be in much of a rush to do...well....anything. This wasn't just the life of a student, it was the intentional schedule of an entire people.

There is no other like Spanish coffee.
My misunderstanding about Spain's slow culture lasted for weeks. Every day I would go out to "get stuff done" during our lunch/siesta hours and be frustrated that not even the 7/11 was open. At night, I would want dinner around 6PM and didn't understand why the restaurants would let you sit at the table but refused to serve food. When I finally could get a meal at 9PM, I found it rude that the waiter would totally ignore our table and we'd have to beg for the check.

Learning to salsa dance in Valencia, 2002.
But what started as misunderstandings, quickly grew into respect for a culture that refused to change its ways to make a few bucks or appease a foreigner's frustration. What I began to see is these seemingly small mechanisms of the system allowed for space, conversation and an ease of living. There were many times built into the day to sit on a park bench, drink coffee in the sunshine, chat with friends on the metro, share wine with neighbors and wander the city without a particular task in mind. In the months to come, I learned to walk everywhere, sip hot chocolate, visit the grocery store daily for fresh food, dance, take three to four hours to eat dinner out and, definitely, to laugh often. Although Spain faces a very different economic climate today, in 2002, their lack of fast-paced ways made them no less productive than our hurried American culture.

One of my favorite places on the planet--Mallorca, Spain.

The year Chris and I got married, we returned to Spain to live with some native friends we had made while studying at the University of Valencia. After our extended visits, on both return trips to the US, I was determined to keep the slow, easy-going schedule that I had experience with such comfort while in Spain. I took measures like driving slowly, inviting friends to coffee and making sure I took a nap everyday. But, America has a way of drawing you into its hamster wheel and making sure that you stay there. Over time, I found it harder and harder to maintain the leisurely traditions in a world that was going twice the speed I desired. And, so, without the built-in slow mechanisms of a system, I gave in.

But, in the last few years I've begun to make a compromise between a world I know so well and one that I long to fully embrace. A compromise between a culture that prides itself on production versus one that values health, community and connection. I'm learning to uphold my own values (and coincidentally many of Spain's) in a world that encourages me to do otherwise. I'm creating my own universe where quality of health, community and connection rank high above money and productivity.

After a sweat-producing nine months, 2012 was the first year ever where I did not want my training to be over. It had become such a part of me and a way of life that worked marvelously for me and my husband. But with the completion of my "A" race and the fall setting in, I know it's a necessary cycle in the year.  So even though my body mostly prefers to be in a state of movement, it also knows that the goals I'm planning in 2013 can't happen without this dormancy. The leaves may be off the trees but that doesn't mean they are dead--quite the opposite. They are preparing for a spring and summer in which they will become bigger and more brilliant.