When I used to train for long distance races, I was always amazed at how much my body could actually endure. My cross country coach, along with the running articles I would read, would always remind me that the endurance game is primarily mental. I believe the ratio is something like 90% mental and 10% physical. Though that might differ for each of us, I came to realize that the mental aspect took up the majority of my training. It was always a mental battle. Some days more than others.
We entered a second state of emergency this month here in Ontario. I remember, post Christmas, knowing logically that though the vaccines were coming out, that it would be a while yet before things began to re-open. A while before hugging and brushing shoulders with colleagues would become a daily occurrence again. Yet, when the announcement came out, it was more jarring than the first one last March. It felt like we had taken about a hundred steps backwards and the air had just been punched out of me. It was disheartening and deflating. And a part of me thought, “Okay, how can we keep going?”
The word that has continued to come to me is Endurance. This one word that holds a glimpse of hope and strength. A word that carries in it a calling forth of energy, and also, a bowing down type of energy. A sitting close to the wall, curled up and cradled in the dark until the storm passes.
Endurance is not just the running you do every other day trying to meet your goal. It is not just strengthening the targeted muscles or stretching the arms and legs. Endurance includes those things, absolutely. We cannot continue on if we have not been tending to, or strengthening the muscles we need to carry us for the long haul. But, something we often forget is all the small and subtle in-between things that are absolutely necessary: the amount of water you drink each day, what you are putting in your body, how much sleep you get, the rest days that are essential, the mental strengthening that is required (self-compassion, pep talks from friends, encouragement from loved ones, meditation, spiritual rituals, vegging out and not thinking about the “thing” you are training for at all — letting yourself relax etc.)
I suppose I have been thinking of this pandemic as a true ultra marathon. Something I did not think my body and mind could do, again, this year. And yet, I am doing it. You are doing it. We are doing it. It requires some major endurance. Getting through this requires a great deal of, well, all of those things mentioned above. Some days it may require more intentional strengthening of your body — getting into your body and going for walks, running, working out, cooking a nice meal, using your hands and body to exert energy that has been pent up. Some days, it may look like crying, writing out your feelings, creating your art, screaming in a field covered in snow, lying in bed until noon. Some nights it may look like watching hours of Netflix or being physically intimate again, or for the first time in a long time. It may look like hashing out difficult conversations you know you have needed to have with the people in your life. It may look like asking for help or being the helper. It may be purely survival.
All of this is cultivating endurance. All of this is invitation. An invitation perhaps we would not have desired, but it is here, reaching out for us to take. Our job is to take it, and then listen for ourselves, how it is we want to respond each day, how it is our bodies are speaking to us. There is no wrong way. So, let’s settle in, just for a little longer. Let’s remind one another that on the days that you are doing the running and pushing yourself to our own edge, there is a sideline of people rooting for you and cheering you on. And when it is their turn, to exert and push and run, well, then we show up, lining the course with our voices and rooting for them each step of the way.
For One Who Is Exhausted
by John O’ Donohue
When the rhythm of the heart becomes hectic,
Time takes on the strain until it breaks;
Then all the unattended stress falls in
On the mind like an endless, increasing weight.
The light in the mind becomes dim.
Things you could take in your stride before
Now become laborsome events of will.
Weariness invades your spirit.
Gravity begins falling inside you,
Dragging down every bone.
The tide you never valued has gone out.
And you are marooned on unsure ground.
Something within you has closed down;
And you cannot push yourself back to life.
You have been forced to enter empty time.
The desire that drove you has relinquished.
There is nothing else to do now but rest
And patiently learn to receive the self
You have forsaken in the race of days.
At first your thinking will darken
And sadness take over like listless weather.
The flow of unwept tears will frighten you.
You have traveled too fast over false ground;
Now your soul has come to take you back.
Take refuge in your senses, open up
To all the small miracles you rushed through.
Become inclined to watch the way of rain
When it falls slow and free.
Imitate the habit of twilight,
Taking time to open the well of color
That fostered the brightness of day.
Draw alongside the silence of stone
Until its calmness can claim you.
Be excessively gentle with yourself.
Stay clear of those vexed in spirit.
Learn to linger around someone of ease
Who feels they have all the time in the world.
Gradually, you will return to yourself,
Having learned a new respect for your heart
And the joy that dwells far within slow time.