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Harmony and challenge


Sometimes, two desires take up the same amount of space and energy, pulling my brain and heart along two different, cold windy roads onto warm, sunlit vistas, and yet, they never quite meet in the middle. That has been happening with me in these last couple of weeks as I’ve imagined my new, retired life as one in which I can relax more and give myself permission to be done with things that scare me or cause me anxiety. In practically the same moment, I know deeply that challenging myself emotionally and physically is the key to remaining strong and resilient.

These are ideas I understand from experience when it comes to my body. In the last two weeks, when the holidays were rising to the tops of everyone’s to-do lists, I took more days off from running than I have in a long time. In a normal week, I get out there at least five times, if not six. During the week of Christmas, I made it out the door three whole times. The start and stop nature of this left my knees stiffer and my overall condition less energetic. This morning I felt as if I had never run before. Use it or lose it is an annoying phrase, but it’s true.

I’ve known this for a long time when it comes to exercise, but I haven’t always applied it to my mental and emotional conditioning. In fact, I’ve made an art form out of seeking emotional peace, likening it to a nirvana in which I’ve solved all my problems—and everyone else’s—and now I can just rest. Besides the fact that this technique never actually worked, I realized today that seeking a life in which my brain and heart are not challenged is like reaching for a lifetime spent at a long, boring movie. I’ve spent so many hours in my life worrying about what might happen that I’ve missed a million current moments and have fervently wished away the challenge that comes from facing something tough and getting to the other side.

I realized today that seeking a life in which my brain and heart are not challenged is like reaching for a lifetime spent at a long, boring movie.

Instead of seeing it like the Sunday New York Times Crossword Puzzle, which often makes me swear and throw the magazine across the room even though I know how good it is for my brain to get through it, I’ve been giving myself permission to give up. Or at least I’ve let myself think that being in my comfort zone was better for me than staying in top condition and just facing the difficult moments when they arrive.

I’ve been at cross purposes in a certain way, wishing to remain youthful and energetic and creative, but also wanting to give myself a break from the hard work. Somehow today, realizing that those two paths don’t actually meet somewhere out in the distance, I get it that peace and quiet outside of me is not really what I need to be seeking. As cliché as it sounds, it’s really an inside job. The strength, confidence and ingenuity to meet whatever comes my way may sound like a lot of effort to achieve and maintain, but true harmony comes from befriending the discomfort and knowing I can meet whatever comes my way.