Go Go Speed Racer!

Friday, February 26, 2010

“[It] felt as though he had his hand inside my chest… and he was trying to crush everything in my life that mattered to me.”

“You think you can drive a car and change the world? It doesn’t work like that!”

“As the cars take to the field, you can feel the anticipation mounting in the audience. Something is different. There’s an electricity in the air… the presence of Speed Racer has completely changed the equation.”

“It doesn’t matter if racing never changes. What matters is if we let racing change us.”

- Speed Racer (2008)

My favorite song as of late (replacing, yes, even DJ Earworm’s “United States of Pop”) is the theme song to Speed Racer. Whenever I hear it, the beat brings to mind Bangkok University Cheerleading Team-Level acrobatics and the final Grand Prix race scene in the movie, where Speed closes his eyes, finds his center, and, in finding it, rejoins the race and wins. The song gets my heart pumping and makes me feel like shifting into high gear. When it plays, I am suddenly a rocket, shooting for the sky. Amazing what a 3 1/2-minute piece of music can do.

The Olympics have been on my mind, understandably. Some people think competition is about beating other people – coming in first. At the Olympic level, though, where the difference between first and second can be three hundredths of a second, most of the competitors have already come in first – first in their class, first in their region, first in their country. When you are ALL the fastest, the competition becomes about who can, in one moment, bring the best of themselves to the table. Taking the gold becomes all about who wants it most, who has the most heart, who can look into themselves and find the champion that they have been working to be.

What I really love about competition, though, is the underdog – the Venus and Serena Williamses. The ones who come onto the scene and kick the crap – not out of their opponents, but out of our expectations. The ones who have been waiting for this moment to come into their greatness and shatter ceilings and records and boundaries. They are the ones that make you want to shout, “GO! GO! GO!” The ones who will let no one come between them and their dreams.

Here’s to being unstoppable!

 

Is it Hot in Here, or Is it Just Me?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

It occurred to me this morning, that the world teaches you something about yourself every day. I’ve been doing Bikram Yoga for a few weeks, starting off with a “10-Classes-In-10-Days New Year’s Challenge” my studio was sponsoring (presumably to “jump start” 2010), and it was sooooo hard! SO hard. But, I did it. I only missed one day of Boot Camp (yes, I did both simultaneously. no, I have not lost my mind). One of the teachers said something during class that sounded like, “Bikram says, every day the body is new,” akin to the idea that you never step in the same river twice.

Every DAY is new. Every day, the world teaches you something about yourself. But, you have to be present. Like any classroom, you have to pay attention to learn. You can’t just chew bubblegum and let your eyes glaze over.

In Bikram yoga, the room is initially so hot, you can’t listen to mind chatter and have the presence of mind to move through every pose. Some people can’t handle it. They can’t stop thinking, “itssohotitssohotitssohotimgoingtopassout…” and so, they sit down. Even I have had my moments on humid days or with teachers who really crank the thermostat up. The trick is, you have to BREATHE. It works like a charm. Antonie is my favorite teacher; she is constantly reminding us to breathe, and when a pose it over, she doesn’t say, “Change!” – she says, “RELEASE!” like a drill sergeant. BREATHE and RELEASE… could there be better advice for someone in a hot room?

When you focus on breathing, when you really pay attention to your body, Bikram becomes a journey of discovery, of listening to your muscles and your lungs and your heart, your knees and feet and ankles and shoulders. You notice your body, look at it in ways that you never get a chance to the rest of the day. This week, I got into a pose I’ve never been able to hold before… and promptly fell out of the pose after it, which I’ve rarely had trouble with. Why did I rarely have trouble with it? Because I’d never held the pose before it – by not doing that one completely, I had been inadvertently giving myself a little rest between poses! And so now, my practice (because yoga is, above all, a practice) is going to be about building the stamina to hold both poses, one after the other.

Some people don’t like Bikram because they think it is monotonous – the same poses, over and over. In fact, I think it can be a lot like life – we get up, we go to work, we come home. But, you never step into the same river twice, and your body is a different body every day. Every day, your practice becomes a new challenge, because change is the only constant. You are stepping up to the same starting line, but you are running a different race every time – a race against your last best effort.

The world will teach you something different today; pay attention.

Rebuilding, One Brick at a Time

Monday, October 12, 2009

Avik: Why do you want to bomb Dresden? 

Walter Russell: There’s a monster in a room. Once that room was filled with everything that was valuable to him. His train sets, his puppet theatre, his model planes. They’re all broken now. All that’s left untouched is his beautiful collection of Dresden china. You go into that room, you smash all his crockery, then you have broken his spirit.

I realized today that that’s what cancer did. It came into my life and, like an American B12, bombed my Dresden to hell. I was left shell-shocked, looking at the wreckage of what was left of the future I had planned, unsure of how to rebuild it all. When something is vaporized before your eyes, how can you even imagine a day when it is whole again?

What breast cancer does to women is attack them at the center of their femininity – the symbol of female nourishment, sexuality, and beauty. If they are unlucky enough to catch it late, or face aggressive chemotherapy (as I did), even more is taken away – their hair, the blush of their cheeks, their energy. When the dust settles, your ability to survive the aftermath of a cancer diagnosis depends 100% on your belief that life can be good again, that you can feel good again.

Day after day when you are fighting this disease, you feel like crap. You feel like crap for months. The treatment that is supposed to me saving your life is actually killing you – not enough to produce a system collapse, just enough to get you to the brink, because healthy cells can repair the damage, but cancer cells give up. That is how chemotherapy works – it relies on your body’s ability to rebuild itself. You must attack it sequentially, repeatedly, until every last cancer cell is destroyed, even if your healthy cells are brutalized. It’s like a Dresden bombing every week.

I have asked, nearly every day, Lord, what am I supposed to be learning from this? In moments of pain and struggle, I have wondered how losing my hair or being hospitalized or going broke could possibly be helpful to me, let alone someone else. The answer came to me over a few days of Boot Camp, crystallizing this morning when my coach and trainer pointed to the back of my T-shirt with an enthusiastic grin and said, “See? That’s what I’m talking about! SPINE sweat!”

Lou always calls the last set in a workout circuit the “Transformation Set”. It is the set where you feel like you are going to throw up, where you try to summon your strength and your muscles refuse to contract. You’re doing mountain climbers or burpees and your quads are numb, as if to say, “Yeah, sorry, kid, that is just not gonna happen.” Just five or six seconds later, though, they tighten, and you can squeeze one more rep out. That is the part where your body transforms itself, becoming stronger and more resilient, cell by cell. Ironically, am doing to my body what chemotherapy did to it: breaking it down so it can build itself back up.

Looking back in an attempt to construct a Hero’s Journey from my history, I see that Lou has been my unwitting Obi Wan. By challenging me 30, 40, or 50 seconds at a time, he has trained me in chunking it down. Taking a task one piece at time, bearing a weight one pound at a time, crawling through a tough period of my life one day at a time. It is a lesson I could never have learned without going through it, just as the lesson of “this too shall pass” could not have taken root in my heart, had I not used it every day to envision a brighter future. Lou has been my Mr. Miyagi, and I’m not even sure he realizes it.

If you can truly manage to live in the present moment, you will inevitably always either be cherishing or white-knuckling your way through life. We imagine perfect futures where there is no pain, there are no problems, and everything works out. Dreams like that make me think of a parable Bernie tells in his second book – a Congressman meets a friend for lunch and bemoans the state of the world. His friend says, “I know a place in Virginia where there are 300,000 people with no problems.” The Congressmen says, “Where is that?!” He answers, “Arlington Cemetery.”

Life is hard, but not always. The sweet tempers the bitter, the bitter tempers the sweet. I know it is easy to have a philosophical perspective when you have made it to the Other Side of tragedy. Trust me: this peace was hard-won and not easy to cultivate; it took a thousand strokes to paddle to a place where I can look back and see meaning (and even beauty!) in the destruction of so many of my dreams. What I realize now is that, with every stroke, I told myself, keep swimming and you will get there. Miraculously, I was right.

For more on this topic, see my video, “Nothing Lasts Forever,” on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AacAg3eCsCM

 

Getting to the Top

Saturday, September 5, 2009

This afternoon, I hiked the Lafayette Reservoir Rim Trail – a trail I haven’t hiked since I left California over a year ago. At 4.7 miles, it’s not that far, but it has six pretty steep hills, including one that looks almost vertical! I did the loop twice, to prepare for my Peak Hike to Mt. Tam for breast cancer at the end of the month (you can see pictures on my Twitter Page). That hike is 11.5 miles, and I want to be ready.

Alone with my thoughts on the trail, I realized something: when we fall down, and have to pick ourselves back up, the hardest part is believing that things can be okay again. We might start to think, maybe I’m not special or destined for greatness after all. Maybe I’ve just been lucky the last few years, and my luck has finally run out. When I hit my bottom in Kaua’i, I thought to myself, if all I have left to look forward to in this life is unemployment, foreclosure and bankruptcy, why am I still going to chemo? I could not even imagine myself, in just six months, employed at a job I love, surrounded by people who make me smile every day, hiking a double loop of a trail a mere 10 weeks after finishing chemotherapy. I would have missed all this, if I had allowed myself to check out of life.

I was thinking today about Persephone and Eurydice. In Greek mythology, Persephone is the daughter of Ceres. Hades, the master of Hell, falls in love with Persephone and kidnaps her to be his bride and live with him in the Underworld. In another story, Eurydice, the wife of the musician Orpheus, dies after treading on a snake. Orpheus travels to the Underworld to bring her back and plays music for Persephone, softening her heart. Persephone tells Orpheus he can lead Eurydice back to the world above, but only if he walks in front of her, and doesn’t look back. At the last moment, though, his insecurities plague him, and he turns around, only to watch Eurydice vanish forever.

When you find yourself in Hell, you must ask yourself, am I a Persephone or a Eurydice? Is your Hell a place that you think you will just have to get used to, to learn to live in? Or is it a place where, with enough love and devotion, you can climb out of? And I’m not talking about pining away, waiting for an Orpheus to come and rescue you. You must be your own Orpheus. You must rescue yourself, one step at a time.

With every step I took today, I imagined myself climbing up and into my new life, into the life that, at one time, I had no hope could even exist. I look in the mirror now and there are eyelashes that weren’t there two months ago, a body that, thanks to Lou Kristopher’s Boot Camp, is stronger and healthier than it’s ever been. For the first time in months, I can’t just see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’m there, standing on the threshold.

All I have to do, it seems, is keep moving forward, to the life that is waiting for me on the other side.

On the Run Again

Thursday, June 25, 2009

As (I hope) you know, many people diagnosed with cancer are not unhealthy, cigarette-smoking, fast-food-eating, non-gym-going laggards just waiting for a terminal disease to punish them for years of not taking care of themselves. Although a little overweight (every time I say that, I think, “Over WHAT weight?!), I considered myself pretty active at the time I was diagnosed. I went on Sierra Club hikes almost every weekend and ate pretty healthy (except for the occasional cinnamon knuckle or chocolate chip cookie). Once I got on Adriamycin and Cytoxan, though, that all went to hell.

AC, as it’s called, makes you nauseous for 3-5 days after treatment, and you’re so tired, you feel like you’ve been a) hit by a truck or b) running for two days. You’re so tired that even simple things can wipe you out, and by the time you get your appetite back, you’re so hungry you want to EAT a truck! To make matters worse, I was beset by indigestion so bad that at one point, everything I ate either made me want to throw up, or gave me heartburn (later, I found out it was my gallbladder). By the time I was done with AC, it was onto Taxol, which didn’t give me nausea, but brought with it neuropathy in my feet and its own share of tiredness.

Adriamycin has a risk of heart damage in patients treated with it, and I knew that the road back to healthy, especially after 6 months of being pretty sedentary, would be a long one. Anxious to get my healthy body back, and feeling stronger now that I could see the light at the end of the chemo tunnel, I started jogging again, halfway through Taxol. I made sure I cleared it with my doctor, of course, and began very, very slow – 3 minutes at 4 miles an hour, followed by one minute at 3 miles an hour, for about 30 minutes, on a treadmill. I remember the day I did two miles in 33 minutes – I was ecstatic! Never mind that I use to run a 5K in 33 minutes – two miles was a marathon to me, and I celebrated by telling myself, one step at a time, April.

Running has always been my favorite way to work out, second only to hiking. You don’t have to think too hard to do it; it’s not competitive, and the more you do it, the better you feel when you do! Just put one foot in front of the other, at a pace you’re comfortable at, until you’re done – that’s it! If you want to push yourself, you just pick up your pace or change your route. It’s so easy to measure your progress, too – you can work to improve how far you run or how fast you run – and at the end of the day, you only measure your success against your own performance. It’s the ultimate low-stress sport, mentally anyway.

I’ve met quite a few people, of course, who hate running – just HATE it. They say their knees are bad or their back is bad or they can’t stand being on a treadmill or working out so hard. I say, if you don’t like running, try walking or hiking. Find a nice path or loop in a safe part of your neighborhood and just go for a walk. Walking is a safe, easy way to work your way back to health after an illness. It will get you your Vitamin D for the day, a chance to breathe some fresh, clean air, and some time to just clear your head and enjoy the scenery. So often, we are either going-going-going at a breakneck speed, or crashed, still and motionless from exhaustion. Running and walking give you an opportunity to move through life at a more relaxed pace, which might put things in perspective for you.

More more info on Running and Walking, check these websites out:

Running: http://www.medicinenet.com/running/page2.htm#why

Walking: http://www.thewalkingsite.com/beginner.html