Friday, October 25, 2013

Making Life Work

often find myself focused on a single aspect of my life and -- I bet you can relate -- becoming discouraged over that one aspect.

Am I spending enough time with my family? Am I growing and improving intellectually? Do I devote enough time to prayer/spiritual growth? Am I current on developments in my profession? When will I work?

And, when will I run, BABY?

You look at an author like John Grisham and realize how prolific he is. You look at the life of a saint and realize the enormous time she devotes to the service of others and to prayer. You look at your colleagues and are astounded by the hours they put in. You look at other runners and realize the amazing number of miles and hours they put in and the results they're seeing.

Then, you look at yourself. And, ouch.

But, would I want John Grisham's 5k PR? Does he even have one? I envy the active nature of a postal worker or UPS delivery person's life. But, how about all the hours they spend in a vehicle? How about the million and one other aggravations they face? I deeply admire the great ascetics of the Egyptian desert, both ancient and modern, but could I really lived in a cave with little social interaction? I regret that I cannot train like an elite marathoner, but do I want the financial and physical pressure that so many of the world's top runners live beneath?

I would love to see what I could do on 100 miles, 2-3 weight sessions and one massage per week. But with my body, work schedule, and family and community commitments, it ain't happening.

Though I read it over 20 years ago, one element of the Life of Antony stood out to me. Before he was Antony the Great, the Father of Christian Monasticism, etc., he was just an 18-year old named Antony. His biographer writes:
And at first he began to abide in places out side the village: then if he heard of a good man anywhere, like the prudent bee, he went forth and sought him, nor turned back to his own place until he had seen him; and he returned, having got from the good man as it were supplies for his journey in the way of virtue(1). 
He didn't follow one teacher, he went from one to the next, like a "prudent bee." He took from each of them and integrated into his life. 

I was reminded of this when the Hobby Jogger advised an aspiring marathoner overwhelmed by the plethora of running plans and widely-accepted books. He wrote, "I'd say read a few of the books (cover to cover, not just look at the suggested schedules) and cook your own plan based on what works for you and your life. You'll probably find more similarities than differences among them." 

In training, in prayer, in running, in all the schools and all the books, I have found "more similarities than differences among them."

The same goes for training and eating. Among the 1,000,001 "diets" (all claiming to be "lifestyles," naturally) take Fruitarianism. I am particularly impressed the accomplishments of one of its chief enthusiasts, Mike Arnstein. But, it does not work for me to spend all that money on fruit, to ask my wife to only buy fruit, and for heaven's sake only fruits and raw vegetables? Come on, man! And then there is "Paleo" and, and, and. I have learned to take the best, the overriding themes in each and integrate them into my life, my situation, my puzzle (2). 

Our lives, it seems are more like a Rubik's Cubes than 2-dimensional puzzles: You take steps to improve one area (stay up late with your family, get up earlier to run) and another one gets shoved out of joint (rest)(3). You sleep in, you miss your run and/or you're late to work.
Our lives are a lot like Rubik's Cubes

I have been working on the best habit of all: The habit of being where I am and being faithful to what is in my life. It's hard for a dreamer, you know. 

I'll give you an example of a really, really weird habit of mine, an approach to my particular Rubik's Cube. After I explain it, you will know what anyone close to me knows: I am a little crazy (4). But hey that's me, so I am gonna harness it:
If you have a desk job, you know that it wreaks havoc with your body. Whenever, you have been sitting at my desk for a while, your hips, glutes and legs begin to tighten. This has been the bane of my running life. But what can I do? I have a desk job and one that requires many hours. That's my situation and, for many reasons, I am not changing it any time soon. I do not want to spend extra time away from my family and my running to do strength work. 

So, what's an eccentric runner boy to do?

Well, I drink lots of water, and whenever I get up to go to the bathroom, I go down to the first floor, up to the fourth floor, and back down to the second floor, taking two stairs at a time. Then, I'll do a set of some kind of strength work (pushups, bridges). The whole thing takes, what, two minutes? But I have cleared my head, stayed off social media (, for the win!) and kept my body moving. You may find it a little weird but, dearly beloved, I don't care.
Breakfast of champions?
When do I learn? Mostly, in the car.
When do I run? Whenever I can. 
When do I spend time with my family? Every second I get. 
When do I pray? Ideally, always (4). 
When do I sleep? Um. 

That's my life; those are the pieces. What about yours? 

(1) Life of Antony, ch. 1., par. 3
(2) None seem to condone Taco Bell. Alas. 
(3) Speaking of marathons, Bob Hearn, who wrote a book on puzzles and runs marathons while solving Rubik's Cubes, also wrote a great summary of the prominent marathon training approaches. 
(4) And so are you. 
(5) Brother Lawrence, a 17th Century lay brother in Paris wrote in his classic, The Practice of the Presence of God, “A little lifting up of the heart suffices; a little remembrance of God, an interior act of adoration, even though made on the march and with sword in hand, are prayers which, short though they may be, are nevertheless very pleasing to God, and far from making a soldier lose his courage on the most dangerous occasions, bolster it. Let him then think of God as much as possible so that he will gradually become accustomed to this little but holy exercise; no one will notice it and nothing is easier than to repeat often during the day these little acts of interior adoration.”


Jeff Edmonds said...

You are the king of making it work, even when it doesn't work.

Keep dreaming!

Mike Girouard said...

Footnotes and everything. You're good.

I'm totally going start only using the bathrooms on the 2nd and 4th floors of my building from now on (my cube is on the 3rd.) That is when I actually go to the office which is rarely.

NaderAlfie said...

Thanks, guys!

Mikey, I'm flattered.

Jeremy said...

Classic. Good read, thanks for the inspiration, Naddy :)