Tuesday, 26 February 2013

Pulling power

My new year's training schedule is going, very nearly, to plan.  I've not clocked up quite as many hours, or lengths, as I'd hoped to, but this is no more than a simple reminder of my sometimes unrealistic targets.  On the whole, and half term now behind us, things are going alright.  This occurred to me shortly after a recent training session, during which my energy levels seemed to see me through a longer swim than I'd anticipated, whilst maintaining a good pace throughout.  As with so many things in life, there seems little point in trying to figure out how or why, but to simply enjoy the experience for what it was.

"Small change, small wonders - these are the currency 
of my endurance, and ultimately of my life."
Barbara Kingsolver

As human beings we are, I think, programmed to analyse and calculate.  We want to figure it out.  Sometimes this leads to a sense of reward, profit or achievement but, from experience, more often than not, it reaps nought and I am left exactly where I was before I digressed on the circuitous tangent.  I am learning to accept more, and worry less.  I admire the sentiment "don't sweat the small stuff" because, whilst perhaps profoundly trans-Atlantic, the sentiment carries with it a seemingly important suggestion.  There are, I find, too many unknowns begging answers, yet few adventures into the so-called solutions will yield the same serenity that simply allowing things to be exactly as they are, trusting that all is as it should be. 

This, it seems to me, might represent something of a cornerstone when it comes to resilience - a quality to which I have been giving a modicum of serious consideration.  Given that all of our energies are, whether we like it or not, finite, we would be well advised to be more selective as to their direction.  I have a complex relationship with swimming.  I struggle to get to the pool, but once I'm there, it's as though I never left.  Whilst I am swimming something truly remarkable can sometimes take place.  I achieve peace; I think beautifully clearly, about very little.

And so, when I am not battling to achieve the unrealistic, the magic happens.  All by itself.  

Going the distance involves far more than pure physical effort and ability.  Real pulling power is about endurance, but it is also about surrender.  For it is only when I don't seek to count the lengths, that I am actually truly swimming them.  One of the reasons I am so interested in the benefits of exercise in recovery is because I know them for myself.  Real resilience, that stands us in good stead when we most need it, is both physical and psychological.  There is no duality.  Certainly not you're underwater, anyway.         

"Excellence is not a single act, but a habit.  We are what we repeatedly do."
Shaquille O'Neal

"Endurance is one of the most difficult disciplines, 
but it is to one who endures that the final victory comes."

Saturday, 23 February 2013

A proper education

It was an honour and a privilege to attend a Parents' dinner at the Oxford college where a dear friend's son began as a fresher in October. I went in my status as 'honorary auntie' (rather than fairy godmother), and appreciated very deeply the opportunity to reconnect with my own beginnings in Higher Education as an undergraduate, and also see things in parallel, from a different angle - through the eyes of a parent. 

The short evensong service was spot on - two of my all-time favourite hymns and a marvellous homily acknowledging the role played by parents shaping our earliest education, and the two way teaching-learning cycle; highlighting how much, as parents, we can (and should look to) learn from our children.  I left after a delicious dinner feeling nourished on each and every level. 

Conversation at High Table included many revelations.  It was a gift to be in an environment so evocative prompting several planned and unplanned reminiscences.  The feast of formality, which gave way to the forging of new friendships.  The confidence of age old ritual preserving the dignity of the educational establishment that is, in every other way, the epitome of modern excellence.  

It was a tremendous evening and one of the several highlights was this simple little poem so full of heart by the inspirational Diane Loomans, with whom I share a passionate interest in the innate human potential.  

“If I had my child to raise all over again,
I’d finger paint more, and point the finger less.
I’d do less correcting, and more connecting.
I’d take my eyes off my watch, and watch with my eyes.
I would care to know less, and know to care more.
I’d take more hikes and fly more kites.
I’d stop playing serious, and seriously play.
I’d run through more fields, and gaze at more stars.
I’d do more hugging, and less tugging.
I would be firm less often, and affirm much more.
I’d build self esteem first, and the house later.
I’d teach less about the love of power, and more about the power of love.”
Diane Loomans 

Wednesday, 20 February 2013

Les Misérables (2012)

Was extraordinary.  I had intended to see it from the moment I saw the trailer for the first time.  The bold strapline 'Fight. Dream. Hope. Love' had caught my attention.  The BAFTA winning screenplay far exceeded any expectations I had had, based on the musical I had seen at Cambridge Circus some time ago. 
What struck me most was that, at its heart, this film beautifully encapsulates what it is to be human.  It comes alive.  There is a wonderful love story, but this is not just about love.  To love is to risk being hurt, and we are not spared any emotion.  We are introduced to the heaviness of shame, which we see emerge from shackles only to be transported through a lifetime. 

Survivors guilt is brilliantly portrayed by Eddie Redmayne whose brothers fall whilst he Marius saved, and we feel the chronic pain of Éponine's unreciprocated feeling.  We experience great richness in the lives of the downtrodden, and can feel the strength of the bonds formed between those who find themselves working, slaving and campaigning side by side.  To describe it as inspiring would be somewhat of a pathetic understatement as the film is capable of so much more besides.  It speaks to anyone who has ever pushed themselves beyond what they previously thought possible.  It acknowledges the struggle, and the battle to overcome our demons.  It heralds the triumph but does not forget the adversity travelled through along the way. 
This is a big movie.  With massive performances.  And huge emotion.    

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Beet me to it

Apparently, beetroot is the new hit.  Organic, of course.  I learnt this from friends who know a thing or two about stamina and one of whom currently receives a beetroot each week in her delivery from Abel & Cole.  So now we know what to do with it.  In fact, she attributes her victory in Sussex a fortnight ago to the delightfully 'earthy' tasting deep claret coloured juice.  That and a steady regimen of turbo training over the winter months.  
Not bad for someone who was recovering from post chemo surgery just 5 months ago.  Watch out ladies on two wheels, with the supercharged power of nitrates Charlotte will be unstoppable.

I could have used some beetroot this morning.  My clockwise laps round Richmond Park required much effort.  My legs seem to have forgotten how to move, and I got overtaken by more than my usual share of cyclists on their leisurely weekend outings.  

Beetroot juice has been shown to boost performance.  The secret weapon lies in the nitrates which improves the efficiency of a rider's muscles and cardio-vascular system resulting in higher power output for the same level of effort against a non beetroot juice drinking control rider.  Tests carried out at Exeter University showed that, on average, the beetroot powered riders were 11 seconds quicker over the 4k distance and 45 seconds faster over 16km. 

How it works...  The nitrates have two physiological effects.  They widen blood vessels reducing blood pressure and allowing enhanced blood flow.  Secondly, it affects muscle tissue, reducing the amount of oxygen required by muscles during activity.  The combined effects have significant impacts on performing physical tasks, regardless of the intensity of effort.    

So, bring out the beetroot.  Sam's sure to be on it tomorrow.  

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Sugar and Spice...

...and all things nice!

Having been asked what she might like to eat by her mother, or perhaps au pair, she paused and studied the chiller cabinet, and requested a cheese toastie.  No, she was to have something sweet.  Why, I wondered, could she not be allowed to elect a savoury option.  A flapjack was produced.  A poor substitute for the toasted cheese sandwich she might already have got a taste for, as you sometimes do, simply on thinking about what you are about to eat.

The flapjack was, maybe predictably, shared. 

This was not, I realised, about entertaining a choice, but about enabling the older member of the party get what she wanted in that moment.

I wonder whether gender played any significance in this moment that was (I feel sure) unlikely to have produced any further thought, and consequently what else might have been ingested by the little one together with her flapjack.

Gender is between your ears, not your legs.  Chastity Bono

As far as I'm concerned, being any gender is a drag.  Patti Smith

 I love to be individual, to step beyond gender.  Annie Lennox

Monday, 11 February 2013

Shattered yet whole

You tell all the boys "No"
Makes you feel good, yeah
I know you're out of my league
But that won't scare me away, oh, no

You've carried on so long
You couldn't stop if you tried it
You've built your wall so high
That no one could climb it
But I'm gonna try

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?
Would you let me see beneath your perfect?
Take it off now, girl, take it off now, girl
I wanna see inside
Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight?

You let all the girls go
Makes you feel good, don't it?
Behind your Broadway show
I heard a boy say, "Please, don't hurt me"

You've carried on so long
You couldn't stop if you tried it.
You've built your wall so high
That no one could climb it.
But I'm gonna try

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?
Would you let me see beneath your perfect?
Take it off now, boy, take it off now, boy
I wanna see inside
Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight, oh, tonight?

See beneath, see beneath,

I'm gonna climb on top your ivory tower
I'll hold your hand and then we'll jump right out
We'll be falling, falling but that's OK
'Cause I'll be right here
I just wanna know

Would you let me see beneath your beautiful?
Would you let me see beneath your perfect?
Take it off now, girl, take it off now, girl (take it off now, boy,take it off now, boy)
'Cause I wanna see inside
Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight, oh, oh, oh, tonight?
See beneath your beautiful, oh, tonight.
We ain't perfect, we ain't perfect, no.
Would you let me see beneath your beautiful tonight?

Labrinth's lyrics spoke to me rather louder than they might have done last week.  A good reminder of the fluidity of my own sense of self which changes like the weather, most days.  My studious weekend spent largely with colleagues considering the origins and risks to self esteem had prompted me to consider the fragility of self confidence, and how we construct this (if at all) and where therapy might fit within a reparative experience to discover and/or enhance it.   
We are each of us walking miracles.  Given how much we all weather, for the most part we are, it seems, incredibly resilient.  Where does this come from?  How is it that we survive the wounds we do, and bounce back from the most awful of injuries? 
Self esteem has, for some time, held something of a fascination for me.  Conceptually it hides, so as to require persistent revisiting, but never fully disappears into the shadows so as to totally baffle.  I think I know just about to know that I don't really know very much.  Which was why it was brilliant to remain quizzical amongst similarly interested colleagues.   
I learn best within a group context.  I am also challenged hardest in a group learning environment.  I both love and fear the word experiential.  And the key to my growth has certainly been exposure.  But this itself involves a risk.  The realisation on arrival that we were to be a closed group, already known to one another, invoked a sense of relief that I don't mind owning and certainly helped me get the most from the interactive workshop.

Thinking about where we get our self esteem from, what it looks and feels like when we have it, and where it goes was fantastically useful in thinking more about clients I have worked with whose primary presentation has stemmed from issues relating to self worth and self confidence - how they relate to themselves, and to the world.  Nature and nurture might have their part to play, but so too do how we engage with the social context in which we find ourselves.  The seemingly unbreakable pattern of ill fitting and thus unhappy relationships may well in part be co-created, including the painful games of rejection and abandonment. 

We none of us are perfect.  We are all beautiful.  We will all of us get rejected at different times.  This is part and parcel of life.  We need to be able to take it in our stride, and move on from these inevitable knock backs.  Locating and internalising our true strength is a lifetime's work that can, I believe, only take place in the context of a relationship.  Therapy can be a space in which crucial repair work can happen.  Shifts can and do take place, and cycles of re-enactments interrupted.  But this entails commitment and courage on both our parts... 


Thursday, 7 February 2013

A is for Acceptance

I couldn't help but recall a discussion I had at a meeting after a meeting recently.  There I was, happily swimming along, minding my own business (and tuned in to my tunes) only to notice him prepare to join my lane.  He had the choice of 4 others, but plumbed for the central lane where I was (and had been for over 2k).  Mindless perhaps.  Irritating beyond belief.  Unforgivable, I'd say.

This is not the first time that I've encountered such an invasion.  There is, I think, no coincidence with the fact that I swim in the lane that is often marked 'Fast'.  It attracts a certain type of swimmer.  Me, for one.  I head for the middle lane, especially when the pool is less than busy.  It's the fastest way to swim.  Theoretically, there's less turbulence.

It was going to plan.  

Until he got in.  

My Thursday swim was cruelly interrupted.  It didn't take much, but I lost my stroke, and then my breathing. There was nothing for it, but to stop.  Which wasn't the worst thing in the world.  I was greeted by my Lucozade, and was able to check my progress.  

There was no stopping the splasher.  Big dramatic turns.  He had arrived.  And I had a choice...

I could continue to swim.  Or I could get out slightly prematurely.

I chose to swim.

In a different lane.  

He brought to life something I know to be true.  I am powerless over people, places and things.  I am, of course, grateful for the reminder.  And then there's the bigger picture.  In the grand scheme of things, the difficulties I encounter today whilst trying to do 'life on life's terms' pale into insignificance and will, if all goes to plan (and a swift inventory is taken followed by a gratitude list), be forgotten about by the time I return to take the plunge.  I might even grow to like swimming alongside the wall.  

"And acceptance is the answer to all my problems today.  When I am disturbed, it is because I find some person, place, thing or situation - some fact of my life - unacceptable to me, and I can find no serenity until I accept that person, place, thing or situation as being exactly the way it is supposed to be at this moment...  

Nothing, absolutely nothing happens by mistake.  Unless I accept life completely on life's terms, I cannot be happy.  I need to concentrate not so much on what needs to be changed in the world as on what needs to be changed in me and in my attitudes."
From the Big Book, the Basic Text of Alcoholics Anonymous (4th edition) p. 417


Friday, 1 February 2013

just whelmed

To feel overwhelmed is usually uncomfortable.  To feel underwhelmed is usually uncomfortable.  But what about the space in between?  I enjoy exploring the space in between, and sometime this week it occurred to me that I have rarely encountered the alternative to either overwhelmed or underwhelmed.  

Might we start to describe ourselves as 'whelmed' to indicate neutrality?  

In fact, 'underwhelmed' started life as a joke based on overwhelmed, and in language terms is relatively recent — it was first recorded in 1956, but became popular only a decade or so later. It seems to have become well established having entered common parlance, and filling a need for a single word to communicate the concept of failing to impress.

The verb whelm does exist, though there are very few examples to be found in modern prose.  But it was, at one time, common.  It started as a medieval English sea term meaning to capsize — it’s related to the even older whelve, meaning to overturn.  It could also mean to turn a hollow vessel upside down to cover something.  It also came to mean, as an extension of the capsizing sense, being covered by water or drowning.  One might once have talked about the whelm of the tide, which covers the shore as it rises.  

Beautifully archaic having fallen out of use, perhaps whelm will require something of a renaissance.  It may not be plain sailing.