Michele Minehart

words & yoga

Month: July 2017

From those who don’t run

I finally went on a run yesterday, the first in several weeks. I felt the time off in my glutes, in my hip flexors, in my lungs. I managed to get 4 miles, but the 3rd one wasn’t pretty. For some reason, I was feeling sensitive to it all, and a truck of farmers in the distance induced a round of shame. I could envision them yelling out the window, “Go faster!” as they laughed and drove by.

The truck actually went the other direction and the scenario remained imaginary. I questioned myself on why this thought had arisen; what was behind this fear?

Then I had a greater realization: the kind of people who yell from trucks at runners are generally the kind of people who don’t run.

I know runners and the running crowd. If they’re saying something to someone propelled in a forward motion, it’s always encouragement and never shame inducing. They’ve had these kinds of mornings, where the feet slog and the lungs gasp. They’ve felt the frustration and the disappointment, which seems to multiply with humidity. When you’ve been there, you know better than to tease about it. Runners know that lacing up is always harder than sitting on the couch. There’s no shame in doing the hard thing.

arenaI’ve read Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly about 3 times now (likely, soon a 4th) and she refers to a speech by Roosevelt in 1910:

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

The voices of those driving by – often the imaginary ones – always seem to be the loudest. Words spoken as if they come from knowledge, but often a reflection of personal fears and failures. The image of knowledge comes from a generalized perception, a recitation of facts. True wisdom has legs and has walked the course, so the words are fewer and truer.

Whatever your arena, I hope you hear the difference between the voices of the critics flying by and those who have done the work. May you know which ones to value.

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The cockroach in the pasta

Imagine you’re eating a bowl of freshly made  pasta in the countryside of Italy at a cozy restaurant where grandma handed down the recipe from her own grandmother to the chef. The local wine complements the meal and the sun begins to set while dinner is prepared. The food arrives to your table, beautifully plated with basil, and you sort of want to immerse your entire face into the deliciousness of the meal.

And then a cockroach drops down from the rafters and into your personal paradise. Right onto the pesto-laden fork.

By all logical standards, your meal is ruined. If the maitre’d were to suggest you simply pluck the cockroach from the plate and continue on, I’m guessing you would demand a refund and head down the street for gelato.

As I heard on a podcast recently, this is negativity dominance. The bad of the cockroach overpowers the good of the pasta, and perhaps even the good of the wine, the sunset, and the entire evening. But why?

Well, cockroaches are gross and humans shouldn’t ingest them. Nor should we ingest anything that a cockroach has put its grubby little feet upon, because they may have walked in poo. These rules about food keep us healthy, and, for our ancestors, alive. “Don’t eat pasta that cockroaches walk in” is solid advice.

But what if that advice has a limited context? What if the badness doesn’t always ruin everything?

Often we approach life as if we have a bowl of pasta and our trials and challenges are cockroaches. We render the entire meal worthy only of the trash if a trace of badness gets into our good.

We have a home, but it gets a leaky roof or the garage door stops working? Total loss. We married a perfectly delightful human, but she refuses to scour the bathtub? Misery.  Of course, we don’t regularly give up on big things like houses and marriages because of minor inconveniences, but we do often notice only these things. The goodness in front of us has been tainted with badness and, much like our bowls of pasta, we want to render the whole thing un-stomachable.

In Jesus’ parables, he teaches about things like farming and food. One time he told people that a guy he knew planted a field full of good wheat, but in the middle of the night, the guy he beat in the 100m dash in high school thought he’d take revenge and planted a bunch of weeds in the field. It all started growing at the same time and the farmhands thought maybe they should go out and weed the whole acre. The farmer said, “Nah. We’ll sort that in the barn, after the harvest.”

Jesus said the farmer’s fear was overzealous weeding. “In pulling up the weeds, you might take out some of the wheat.” The bad grows with the good. It doesn’t have to ruin it. We have to let the good continue  to grow.

In our efforts at health and generally staying alive, a negativity dominance has been helpful. Yet as it pertains to humanity, I think less dualism – either/or, only/but thinking – might render a more meaningful and satisfying life. Things can be both terrible and wonderful. Normal and holy. A field can have weeds and wheat.

Humans are not static, cooked pasta. We’re dynamic, living beings. Pasta is what it is, changed only by outside forces. Humans grow, often bearing only a faint resemblance to how we began.  What might become bad or good is often yet to be determined, so unlike the pasta, we don’t need to throw out what is in front of us – be it that which greets you in the mirror or that which sits across the table – because of blemish or impurity.

Our lives have enough space for the good and the bad: our challenges, struggles and griefs don’t have to render the whole thing to the trash.

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The Myth of the Strengths

JJ just arrived home from an afternoon full of yardwork and football, exhausted. I flopped onto the chair after a day full of childwork and house-ness, exhausted. He, physically spent. Me, emotionally done.

Wait. Aren’t we exhausted because of the work we’re “gifted” at doing? Weren’t we doing the stuff for which we feel best suited? Why are we so utterly exhausted after a basic day’s docket?

Of course, there’s the standard theory: we did it right. We gave it our all. A case could be made in that direction. I’ll pose a co-existing, alternative idea: that whole “live your strengths” thing is more smoke than fire. (Now, now. I’m not saying to be all Even Steven in everything. If you’re not using your gifts, you’re in the wrong spot. But there’s a theory in the world that says you only do what you’re good at and forget the rest. I’m challenging that.)

You see, I recently dove into some lit reviews on the benefits and dangers of youth sports. Stick with me here. There’s great benefit to joining the local baseball team and even traveling a bit with club soccer. However, studies are pretty consistent in showing that the earlier a kid “specializes” – sticks to a single sport – the rate of injury jumps much higher, amongst other pitfalls. It seems the human shoulder wasn’t designed to throw fastballs 7 days a week beginning at age 7.

Too much of our gift invokes fatigue. Even for the things we love; our abilities, our talents.

Recruiters love a well-rounded athlete, one that can use her whole body, not just individual parts and pieces. Why would the bigger scope of our lives be any different?

Taking the half of your life that you do well and ignoring the rest isn’t living a whole life. In fact, I think that’s why we see so much burnout, even in high-level spaces. Really fantastic artists and business executives and athletes and healthcare workers still want to be whole people, perhaps with friends and children and hobbies and a service to a greater good. When they cannot fulfill that because their hours are spent doing their “gift”, they begin to suffer. Their angst doesn’t only affect the spaces they don’t inhabit. Their gifts begin to fatigue.

So while I’m not lobbying to pick up yardwork assignments in our household, I can recognize that bearing an emotional burden day in and day out takes it’s toll when it’s overused. Putting our hands into a variety of work, even when some of it is newer or more challenging, relieves the pressure of our primary assignment and begins to help us develop into stronger overall humans.

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