Friday, August 30, 2013

Cultivation of One's Self

“The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor man perfected without trials.” ~ Confucius

As much as I hate to admit it, life can sometimes get in the way of doing the things I love to do.  When life throws me a curve ball, or two, or three, I know my tendency is to place everything on hold while I attempt to work through said curve balls.  This is exactly why I have not posted anything on my blog in the last few weeks.  I let circumstances get the better of me and I have neglected my writing.  To an extent, I have neglected my running.  Oh, for sure, I have been out there putting in the miles, whether on the trail or the road, but my heart hasn’t been in it.  Running has felt laborious.  It has felt draining.  My legs have felt like dead weight.  It just has not felt enjoyable like it had been before I started dodging curve balls.  And, I want that enjoyment back.  I want to feel great out there.  I want to feel the pleasure of running.  But, how do I get back there?  That is an answer I don’t have at this point.

Because I am still within the first six months of my training as a runner, I don’t know how this will turn out.  I don’t know how long it will take to regain my love of running; my looking forward to putting in long distances.  It’s as though I just have too much time to think.  Too much time to ponder.  Too much time to wonder.  I reach points out there where I feel okay.  I feel lighter and gain a better understanding of myself.  But, I still don’t find any pleasure or resolution.  Too much exists outside of my control.  And, that is the real issue for me.  I feel vulnerable when my perception is that I do not have control over the situation.  In reality, we never really have control over our environment, only ourselves.  We cannot possibly know what others are going to do or say at any given moment.  We can’t know their thoughts or motivations.  We can’t control the weather.  We can’t control how others see us or what they think about us.  We can only take stock of the situation and control how we will view it and respond to it; how we will perceive and respond to others.  In the words of Sir Roger L'estrange, “It is not the place, nor the condition, but the mind alone that can make anyone happy or miserable.”

I have been working diligently for the past week to do just this.  When I feel myself spiraling into negative thought patterns and questions of “Why me?” or “What if this or that?,” I then ask myself, “So what?  Is there anything I can do to change the situation?’’  If there is, I do it.  If there isn’t, I stop ruminating over it and focus my energy in the present moment.  Is this easy?  No.  Absolutely not.  I am changing lifelong patterns of relating and it is hard.  It is uncomfortable.  But, it is worth it.  Instead of feeling anxious and fearful, I feel more calm and relaxed, more often.  I feel more confident in my own abilities.  I am learning to believe in myself and trust myself.

So, maybe my discomfort with writing and running is not so bad after all.  I am learning a lot about myself.  I am growing and developing into a stronger, more confident woman, which is what my journey has been all about and will continue to be all about.  With comfort comes complacency.  Moving outside that comfort zone cultivates growth and development.  As frightening as it may be at times, I think I’ll keep pushing those boundaries and limits.  I will keep running.  I will keep writing.  I will keep growing.  I will keep developing.  I will keep on keeping on.  And, I will remind myself of the words of Huanchu Daoren…“Happiness in comfort is not real happiness. Happiness in the midst of hardship, one sees the true potential of the mind.”

Monday, August 12, 2013

Homemade Energy Bars: A Preservative-Free Alternative

I have had several requests now for my energy bar recipe, so it is time to share it.  I have several variations I make and I change it up almost as often as I make it.  This is one of those recipes you can have a lot of fun with and make your own by adding ingredients you might like while taking out others you may not.  To keep these healthy, do not add sugar in place of the honey and molasses.  You will get enough natural sugars from the dates and dried fruits; the honey and molasses both have health benefits that table sugar does not.  Also, do not use already chopped dates in place of whole dates because chopped dates have added preservatives to keep the fruit “fresh.”  If you change up the recipe, I’d love to hear from you in the comments section about the changes you made and how you liked the bars.  The recipe I am including is the most recent version I made.

Nixon Energy Bars

20 Medjool dates
¾-1 c. almonds
¾-1 c. pecans
¼ c. unsweetened coconut flakes
2 Tbsp. 100% cocoa powder
1½ Tbsp. ground or whole bean coffee
2 tsp. sea salt
1 tsp. cinnamon
4 Tbsp. virgin coconut oil
2 Tbsp. pure blackstrap molasses
2 Tbsp. local honey
1½ oz. dried cherries
1½ oz. dried blueberries

Any aspect of the recipe requiring the use of your hands to mix the ingredients is best done by putting some oil or butter on your hands so the mixture does not stick to you.  You may need to put the oil on your hands a few times throughout the process.

Remove the pits from the dates and place the dates in a large bowl.  Either process the dates in a food processor (if you have a high-end food processor-otherwise you risk ruining it) or mash them with your hands until the fruit is well blended.  Grind the almonds and pecans, as fine or as course as you like, and place in a separate bowl.  Grind the coffee to a very fine texture (even if it is already ground) and add to the almond/pecan meal.  Add the coconut, cocoa, sea salt, and cinnamon to the almond/pecan meal and mix well.

Combine the dates and the almond mixture until mixed well.  It will be a coarse consistency until the rest of the ingredients are added.  Add the coconut oil, molasses, and honey to the mixture and combine until all dry ingredients are incorporated and the texture is very thick.  Using your hands, work in the dried cherries and blueberries.

Line a large pan with wax paper and begin forming the bars.  Thickness should be about 1 inch.  You have several options in this: one large bar that you can then cut into pieces, separate bars sized to your liking (no bigger than 1 inch x 3 inches, though, unless you want a lot of unnecessary calories-these bars are very satisfying after just a few bites), or shape into small, bite-sized pieces.  Cover the bars with another sheet of wax paper and fold over the edges so the bars are not exposed to the air.  Place in the refrigerator or freezer (frozen bars on hot days are a nice treat) until cold.  Once cold, if you chose to make one large bar, cut the bar into smaller pieces.  Transfer the bars in the wax paper to a Ziploc bag and keep refrigerated or frozen.  Eat when you need a quick burst of energy or before and/or after a workout.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Lessons and Choices

The past couple of weeks, my husband and I have taken to the trails, shifting our focus slightly from road running to trail running.  Don’t get me wrong…we still run the roads, but we are really enjoying getting off the pavement and onto packed earth.  It feels great on our joints and our feet.  Let me tell you, though, it is much more difficult running on natural trails.  Climbs are steeper and longer, and the terrain is rolling with very little reprieve.  Even the downhill portions can start to feel somewhat difficult, depending on the severity of the decline, because of the natural braking action that occurs as you run downhill.

Despite the difficulty, though, one of my favorite aspects of trail running is the downhill running.  There is something incredibly rewarding about cresting a climb and entering a descent, where I can extend my stride and let gravity take over just a little.  A subtle line exists between controlling your descent and losing utter control of that descent.  I have come scarily close to crossing that line.  In that closeness, though, I have experienced a sense of freedom like no other.  It is my choice to either rein in my body and slow it down or allow myself to continue running, right there on the edge.  I decide how far to keep pushing it, developing and increasing the skills necessary to become a good descending runner.  I choose the level of control I am willing to sacrifice to build my endurance and my skill set.  I make the decision when enough is enough.

Like all things in life, I know there is a good chance at some point I will misjudge the level of control I actually have in the situation and make a less than stellar decision.  I know the opposite is true as well.  I know as I become more confident in my abilities, I will make more informed decisions based on my true capabilities.  I know much of my learning will come from mistakes and from pushing the limits a little too far.  One such lesson came yesterday.

The direction we took on the trails yesterday included some seriously long, difficult climbs, at least for our level of fitness up to this point.  The climbs kicked my heart rate up and I could feel the burn coursing through my muscles, searing to the bone long before reaching the crest.  I pushed through, though, knowing I had some good descents coming up and that the descents would offer some relief.  Topping out on the crests, I stretched it out into the descents, feeling the wind in my hair and on my face as I gathered speed.  Focus was extremely important, as the trail has many rocks and tree roots jutting up out of the ground, ready to reach up and grab a foot.  With each descent, my bravery (or maybe it was bravado) increased and I pushed just a little more, upping my pace slightly, allowing gravity just a little more control.

And, then, it happened.  One of those rocks or tree roots reached up and hooked a toe, sending my body flying in multiple directions.  I don’t know how I managed to keep myself upright because I was as close as I had ever been to losing complete control.  I did maintain control, however, despite how close I was to losing to it.  It took a few steps to regain composure and I had a flash of what could have been had I gone down.  I know it would have hurt, worse than any spills I have taken off a bicycle or when running on the road.  I don’t know how great the extent of injury could have been, but I know it could have been severe.  And, the fear set in.  All I could think about was how close I had come.  How much it could have hurt.  The damage I could have done.  And I slowed down.  I began picking my way down the descents, jogging instead of running.  I shortened my stride and carefully chose my path.  I knew, after two more descents, I had a decision to make.  I could continue running based on my fear of the “what ifs,” or I could trust myself and run the way I have been learning to run, knowing the risks, taking steps to minimize those risks, and then running openly and freely.  I chose the latter, making the decision to rein it in just a wee bit, while still pushing that line of control, instead of running fearfully and staying within a prescribed “safety” zone.  Instead of choosing the comfort of the known, the comfort of staying within borders, I chose the discomfort of the unknown, of pushing the boundaries and my perceived limitations.

It was worth it.  I proved to myself once again that limitations are, indeed, perceived and they are movable.  Boundaries can be widened, borders moved.  And such is life, right?  The lessons of yesterday are not limited to running.  They are applicable in everyday life, in the decisions we make on a daily basis.  In everything we do, we have a choice.  In fact, we have choices.  We can stay in our comfort zone and make decisions based on what keeps us comfortable, what feels safe.  Or, we can make decisions based on what helps us grow and develop; what pushes us beyond our perceived boundaries and limitations.  What will you choose to base your decisions on today?