Monday, January 18, 2010

Running with crows

When I finally started out on my long run late yesterday afternoon, my head and heart were so busy, I found it almost impossible to focus on the world around me. Fortunately, as is so often the case, by the time I'd run four or five kilometres, I was beginning to establish a steady rhythm and slowly but surely regaining some connection with the present moment.

My route took me across the Experimental Farm. Usually, I meet dozens of people and dogs on the farm, but yesterday I had the place to myself. It felt strange to be so alone as dusk approached but I enjoyed the solitude. The air, heavy with moisture, created a blue-grey filter that emphasized the deep winteriness of the day.

Turning towards home, the solitude was broken suddenly by the caws of crows overhead. The light had faded to the point that I could make out only black silhouettes against a silver grey sky, but they were still an impressive sight -- hundreds of crows converging to head back to their roost for the night. Hearing their loud, animated calls, I found myself imagining their conversations. Surely they were describing the day's adventures, sharing tips on where to find the best meals, and exchanging updates up on the younger and weaker members of their extended families!

Some people don't care much for crows but I find them endlessly fascinating. They are -- like many of the people I most admire -- strong, smart, creative extroverts who look out for one another. Witnessing their journey, I was grateful that running had offered me the chance to be present in my life long enough to see and appreciate them.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Then and now

I took a rather uncomfortable walk down memory lane today when I found myself looking at high school and college yearbooks and reading old letters from friends. It struck me that I have very few accurate memories of who I was all those years ago -- or at least that the person reflected in the letters and photos isn't the one I remember being. How did that happen?

And, if the young woman in those photos and letters ever really existed, how did she become me? It's hard to reconstruct all the forks in the road that lead me here but surely I should at least be able to figure out which were the most important.

Maybe it doesn't matter. After all, I can't change the past and regret is nothing but a waste of time and energy. On the other hand, things that happened along the way sometimes resonate many years later in unexpected ways. Like most people, my perceptions of reality are deeply affected by past experiences.

For example, many of my closest friends are people I met when I was 17 years old -- more than 30 years ago. How would I feel about them if met them today for the first time? I'm sure I'd still admire and respect them, and might even want to get to know them better -- but it is all those years of shared memories and experience that really bind us together.

Whatever the truth of who we all were -- I can't help feeling sad that my memories are so unreliable, and that I so rarely feel the same hope, joy and optimism I felt back then.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Wonder of Creativity

Riding the bus to work yesterday morning, I was listening to the music of one of my favourite singer-songwriters, Rose Cousins, and was reminded of the first time I heard music played through a set of headphones.

It was the autumn of 1981. I was 19 years old and travelling around Europe on my own. On a train trip between Oslo and Bergen, Norway, I met a blond-haired, blue-eyed Californian named Scott Yoder who was listening to a cassette recording of Dan Fogelberg’s “The Innocent Age” on his Sony walkman. We struck up a conversation, and Scott offered to let me listen to the music for awhile. I was awestruck by how beautiful it was.

Of course, technology has come a long way since so I doubt if I'd be as impressed by the quality of the sound today as I was back then – but in 1981 Fogelberg’s music as heard through those headphones seemed almost miraculous, and the wonder of that moment has resonated with me ever since.

The memory was perhaps more poignant because the day before I watched a terrific video entitled “Everyday Creativity” by Dewitt Jones, an accomplished free-lance photographer and motivational speaker. In the video, he defines creativity as the ability to look at the ordinary and see the extraordinary. And he goes on to describe his understanding of the creative process and to suggest that it can be applied in all areas of one’s personal and professional life.

A key aspect of the creative process, Jones says, is simply to pay attention and change perspectives often so that we are more likely to recognize the extraordinary that is all around us. I'd put it another way and say that creativity requires us to remain present in our lives and to be open to the wonder that comes with experiencing things for the first time – the kind of wonder I experienced hearing Fogelberg's music through a set of headphones all those years ago.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

A New Year's Wake-up Call

One of the things I like about running – and marathon training in particular – is how strong it makes me feel – both mentally and physically. I draw confidence and comfort from the thought that my running makes me better able to deal with whatever life has in store for me. But I had a bit of a wake-up call this holiday season when a series of minor health issues left me feeling ill and unable to run for more than a week. It was amazing how quickly my confidence evaporated when my body let me down.

I say it was a wake-up call because, of course, I am reaching the point in my life where I must expect to face occasional health issues. To this point, I’ve been remarkably fortunate. The only time I’ve been hospitalized was for a tonsillectomy when I was 6 years old. I’ve never broken a bone – except maybe my baby toe (I didn’t have it x-rayed so I can’t be sure), never had a life-threatening illness, and have no significant chronic health issues. Even travelling in Asia where I ate food prepared by local street vendors for weeks, the worst I suffered was a few belly cramps.

Maybe because I’ve been so healthy, I found it incredibly unsettling to be laid low last week. It made me realize just how fragile my sense of wellbeing is. It also made me realize that I’d better focus on developing coping skills beyond running and working out. Going for a run to clear my head won’t be an option if the stress in my life is the result of some serious injury or illness. I’m going to need other things to fall back on – writing, meditation, close friends, family, and/or faith. Definitely something to think more about as I head into 2010.