Category Archives: mental exercise

Let Go with a Limp

hiking with Springloaded technology braceA few months back I wrote about my experience in letting go of running.  You can read about it here.  One thing I should make clear is that the physician who diagnosed the osteoarthritis in my right knee talked about me not running marathons again, but she did not rule running out entirely.  She prescribed an off-loading knee brace and said, “You might be able to run with it; I don’t know.”

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The Breg Fusion® OA Plus Osteoarthritis Knee Brace that I have. 

In early December I was fitted with the brace and started using it.  I noticed that I had a slight limp or hitch in my walk as I use it.  I mostly wear it when I go on longer walks of three to four miles. Also I have worn it on occasion at the gym, using it with an elliptical trainer and walking on a treadmill.  I have not as yet tried to run with it.  Partly because it is winter in Minnesota and I fear slipping on some patch of snow or ice.  Partly because I want my body to adjust to wearing the brace during walking.  This spring, when I feel the urge, I will try a short run.

For now, at this moment, I have set running aside.  I may be able to run in the future, but for now I am not.  What mindfulness continues to teach me is to live in this moment, accepting as life is, not as I would like it to be.  In the past I have wasted a lot of mental and emotional energy regretting some event or yearning for something different.  Learning to live in this moment is challenging.  My mind seems to have a default mental state (sometimes referred to as the default mode network) that likes to ruminate about some past event or fret about some future challenge or problem.

Jesus warned about the danger of future worries in Matthew 6:34

So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.

Centering Prayer is retraining my mind to let go of these ruminations and worries while coming back to the simple awareness of God’s presence.  As one sits in centering prayer, one may notice the mind wandering to some thought, feeling or judgment. When one notices the mind moving off on this mental tangent, whether it be some joyful anticipation or some anxious though,  the practice of centering prayer is to gently let go of whatever thought or feeling my mind is following and return to my chosen sacred word.  I may do this dozens of times during my twenty minute session. It is the continual practice of letting go and turning to God that is the exercise portion of centering prayer.  (You can read more about centering prayer here.)

Like walking with my brace, my practice of centering prayer still feels like it has a pronounced limp. Yet my trust is not in my feelings during centering prayer, but in the fruit of the Spirit that has come with the practice in my daily life.  I have discovered that I am more consistent in letting go of my worries and my attachments, such as my fixation on running.  At least for the moment, which is sufficient for today.

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PCT Day 1and 2: Seeing the Forest for the Trees

I confess: I am a biased hiker. The high alpine country above timberline is where I prefer to hike.  The sweeping vista of snow-capped peaks and the dazzling array of alpine flowers strike the sweet spot in my backpacking experience.  I was exposed to this as a young child, making the annual family trek from sea level to ski level on the seventeen mile road from Port Angeles to Hurricane Ridge.  The Olympic Mountains remain spectacular in my humble opinion.

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

Hurricane Ridge in Olympic National Park

 

Start of the trail

Start of the trail

Still to reach timberline, one often needs to hike through timber.  This was the case in August when I hike my third section of the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) in southern Washington.  The trail is aptly named in that it seeks to follow the crest line of the Cascade Mountains of Oregon and Washington.  Often the crest is above tree line, but not always.

For this portion of the PCT I decided to skip the first forty miles as it climbs through the thick forest of the Columbia River Gorge (the border of Washington and Oregon).  I started just south of the Indian Heaven Wilderness where a forest service road crossed the trail.  After my brother Robert snapped my picture, I plunged into the forest.

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I soon discovered that the wilderness area named Indian Heaven is not my personal vision of heaven.  Though dotted with dozens of small lakes, the trail was all below timberline.  Occasionally the trail climbed a small ridge where one could glimpse some of the distant peaks.  But mostly, for the first two and half days and 35 miles, I walked through a multi-green tunnel.

As I hiked through the forest, I explored my mental bias.  I recognized that forest hiking is part of long distant hiking.  Just as in life, one cannot always choose the surroundings one may prefer.  I also discovered that forest walking is a great place to practice both intercessory prayer and mindfulness.  As I walked I prayed for my family, friends and for my congregation.  I used a simple prayer of compassion.  For example, my prayer for Resurrection Lutheran Church was

May Resurrection be filled with loving kindness.
May Resurrection be filled with peace.
May Resurrection be strong and vibrant
May Resurrection live as children of God.

I would repeat the prayer several dozen times, as I breathed in and out.  A peace and purpose came with the prayer.

IMG_20140822_162010_988I also practiced mindfulness, dwelling in the present moment, experiencing each footfall and each touch of my trekking poles.  I try not to race ahead mentally to when I would reach the high country.  Rather let this moment in the forest be my experience.

It was not easy.   My mind still likes to jump around, bouncing from one habitual thought to the next.  Yet the more I practice, the more I see the reward of simply being in the moment, even when surrounded by a green tunnel.  And truly God is in the forest valley as much as the high country.

I was reminded of Psalm 1 as I hiked:

Happy are those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or take the path that sinners tread, or sit in the seat of scoffers;  but their delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law they meditate day and night.  They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

An abandoned saddle resting in a trail-side tree

And if one keeps one’s eyes and mind alert, strange sights can be encountered.   One can imagine all kinds of story on how a saddle ended up in a tree.

 

Lord Jesus, keep me alert to your constant presence.

 

Next, Reaching High Country.

Superior Hiking Trail – Day Two

On day two of my hike I awoke to clear skies.  I climbed out of my tiny new tent and prepared a breakfast of granola, mocha and an energy bar.  By 6:30 I was on the trail and climbing onto Blueberry Ridge.   I was feeling strong and prepared to push my limits.  “Perhaps a twenty-mile hike today,” I thought.

IMG_20130529_090022_559By midmorning I was hiking  upstream along the west bank of Split Rock River in sunshine.  There are many cascades and falls along this section so I stopped several times to soak in the view.

IMG_20130529_095152_488I reached the bridge that crossed the river before noon, pausing to take a few pictures.  The trail continued back downstream beside the river for a mile or two and then turned east.   I stopped for several trail mix snack breaks.

As I climbed another ridge I spotted the Split Rock Lighthouse for the first time. By now I was starting to feel fatigued and wondered if my twenty-mile goal was such a great idea.  My ankle was sore and my back was tightening up as well.   I still had miles go to reach a campsite, so I picked up the pack and pushed on.   Along this section of trail, I passed four other backpackers heading west. They would be the final people I would see on the trail during my trip.

The trail guide describes this 11 mile section,

SHT croppedThere are many steep ascents and descents that take one through a wide variety of forests – much birch, maple, and aspen as well as impressive stands of cedars and white pines. The section also traverses part of the Merrill Grade, one of the historic logging railroads. Many sections of the SHT traverse long ridges of table rock, or follow long outcroppings which form walls for the SHT.

In other words, it was a lot of up, down, up, down, up, down sort of hiking.  I took a long lunch break in a pine forest, lying on a bed of moss.  A short nap ensued.

When I started hiking again, I knew I faced a choice.  I could try to push it to Beaver River campsites which would give me 19 miles or I could call it a day when I reached Fault Line Creek campsite at 14 miles.  There were no other campsites in between.

IMG_20130530_063237_398I reached Fault Line about 4:30 in the afternoon.  Even though it sat by a beaver pond, it was not a very scenic campsite.  There was still plenty of sunlight and even at a slow 1.5 mile/hour  pace I could have reached Beaver River by 8:00 pm, plenty of time to set up camp.

During the day I had sung, On Eagle’s Wings and remembered the verse, but they who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31).  I noted that waiting on the Lord came before the renewal of strength.

So I decided not to push on.   I listened to my body for once.   With my fatigue, it was much easier to stumble and fall, causing possible injury. I pitched my tent at Fault Line.

That night it rained.

Strong Peace

A favorite scripture verse of mine is Philippians 4:7 “The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Like many in this crazy, stressed-out, constantly-running-to-catch-up world, I long for peace. Peace that will last not just for a moment, but for days, months, years. Peace that will calm my stormy seas.

Paul describes God’s peace in some unique ways. First, he states that God’s peace will surpass human knowledge or understanding. This means that God’s peaces comes even when I have not figured everything out or have everything under my control. The future may seem very fuzzy and relationships may be very rocky, still God’s peace can rule. After all it is God’s peace, not mine.

Second he testifies that God’s peace is strong, because it guards us. Paul recognizes that there will be many struggles and conflicts in our daily life. The evil one will harass us. Yet God’s peace is a rock or fortress that guards our hearts and minds from the assaults

Third, God’s peace guards both our hearts and our minds. The heart is the seat of our emotions and the mind is the home of our thoughts. God’s peace is to rule in our emotional and intellectual lives, our feelings and our thoughts.

Finally God’s peace directs us to Jesus Christ. Jesus was a model of peace to his disciples, sleeping in the boat when the stormy sea threatened (Mark 4:35-41). God’s peace is not found in the absence of problems, but with the presence of Jesus.

Right now, as you read this, take a moment to close your eyes and visualize God’s loving, peaceful arms surrounding you. Perhaps you can visualize yourself floating in the peaceful river above. Take a deep breath and say, “God’s Peace surrounds me.” Take another deep breath and say it again, “God’s peace surrounds me.” Practice that breath prayer and discover God’s abiding peace is always near.

Lord Jesus, breathe into me your peace.

Praying the Lord’s Prayer (Part One)

Jesus instructed his disciples to pray. He modeled a life of prayer, taking time to pray early in the morning (Mark 1:35). After a time of prayer, his disciples asked him to teach them to pray and he taught them the familiar words of the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven. . .”

I grew up in a traditional Lutheran home and memorized the familiar words of the prayer at a young age. My confirmation instructor, Pastor Crawford, unpacked the meaning of each petition. I learned about God’s kingdom, daily bread, forgiving trespasses and deliverance from evil. Every Sunday during worship, the congregation would recite the familiar words that seemed to become stronger as we finished, “For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever and ever. AMEN!”

The traditional words and phrases stayed with me into adulthood. I found great comfort with it, but I also noticed that I often recited the prayer rather than consciously praying it. I would catch my mind starting to drift and realized that though my lips were saying the sacred words, my heart was not in synch. Partly it was the speed at which we “prayed” it, partly it was my own inattentiveness.

In seminary I was introduced to some of the newer translations of the prayer. The replacement of “thy” and “thine” with “your,” made perfect sense to me. Prayer need not be some formal exercise of old language. Prayer is conversation with God.  At the same time I knew that switching to the new language/translation would be very difficult. The Lord’s Prayer was deeply imprinted in our minds and souls, a kind of rock in the chaotic sea of spirituality.

My first twenty-five years of ministry was in a congregation whose worship stripped away several liturgical practices of traditional Lutheran worship: the Kyrie, the Great Thanksgiving, but we continued to use the traditional wording of the Lord’s Prayer. Intellectually I believed that someday the words would need to change, but emotionally I liked being able to guide a family at a graveside service in praying the familiar words, “Our Father who art in heaven. . .”

When I came to Resurrection I immediately discovered that in worship, the congregation had embraced the new translation, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.”  I embraced the change intellectually, but found myself stumbling over the new wording as my heart and soul tried to catch up. The deep imprint of memorization would not quickly adapt.

Now two years later, I can recite the words without too much difficulty, but I also discovered something else. I sense that I am more often “praying” the prayer, truly connecting with the words. I am more conscious that I am asking God to save me from the time of trial and to protect me from the evil one. The bumpy transition and the new translation has pushed me out of my rut into a deeper appreciation of what Jesus is teaching us.

Lord Jesus, teach us to pray.

Marathon Challenge Completed (for now)

Sunday I finished my eleventh marathon, my first in over two years. As forecasted, the weather was cold at the start. Many runners were shivering in the starting chutes. Fortunately for me my son Jonathan came to support me and took my warm-ups a few minutes prior to the start. I even took one shirt back after tossing it to him. Cold muscles do not function well. Later at mile five I handed him my gloves, ear band and warm-up shirt, finally warm enough to run comfortably in shorts and t-shirt.

The marathon has sometimes been described as a twenty-mile warm-up and a six-mile race. By mile twenty the leg muscles are often depleted of glycogen and overall fatigue sets in. The description is especially appropriate for the Twin Cities Marathon, since after mile twenty the race course climbs out of the Mississippi River Valley towards the hills by Macalester College and St. Paul Cathedral.

Through mile twenty my race had gone well with no big surprises. I did discover that I did not need to drink as much Powerade as I had during hot summer runs. Fortunately there were plenty of porta-potties along the way. I also discovered that I had not practiced enough specific pace workouts, in which I practice running the specific pace I planned for the marathon. I wanted to run 8:46 mile pace, but as I checked my watch at each mile I learned that I did some miles in 8:20 and some at 9:15 (stops at porta-potties did not help). As I have written before, each marathon has something new to teach me.

At mile twenty, the real challenge began. My legs, especially my hamstrings and quadriceps became heavy and sore. My run became more like a fast shuffle.  As I approached the hill at Summit Avenue my pace slowed. My lofty goal of 3:50 had already slipped away and my secondary goal of 3:55 (my Boston Qualifier) was in doubt.

Jonathan supported me in 2003 TCM

But that is when helped arrived. My son Jonathan met me at mile 21 to run the last 5.2 miles with me. He has done this in my past two marathons when I had really struggled at the end and had to walk a lot. This time his strong words of encouragement and support kept me moving forward at a 9:20 pace. He reminded me that “This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:25) and “The joy of the Lord is our strength” (Nehemiah 8:10). Though I felt this overwhelming urge to walk I knew that my goal of 3:55 was in doubt and any walking breaks would kill it. We powered on.

At mile 22 I heard above the many cheering spectators the loud strong voice of Tim Torgerson as he bicycled the course, shouting encouragement to me and others. “Relax your jaw, keep your arms pumping, stay strong.” He would not let me stop, but pushed me to do my best.

I am reminded of Hebrews 12:1-2 where the writer reminds us of “we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us.” In the preceding chapter the writers highlighted the heroes of faith in the Old Testament that now cheer for us in our race to Jesus. I felt like Jonathan and Tim were my own unique witnesses who gave me the specific words I needed to accomplish my task.

As I pushed the final mile to the finish line, I knew it would be close to 3:55. As I stopped my watch, it read 3:53:53. I had finished with 1:07 to spare.* I had my BQ!  A decade-old dream of running the oldest, perhaps most prestigious marathon is now possible.

My next challenge will be to prepare well and to stay injury free for the Boston Marathon in April, 2014. I just hope I have a similar cloud of witnesses that day.

Lord Jesus, thank you for being with me in the challenges of life.

*My official chip-time was 3:53:54.  I must have been a little fast with my watch.

The Marathon Challenge

My first marathon was Twin Cities in 1999. Like this year, the forecast was for a cold start, around 35-40 degrees. Having run mostly in warm weather, I panicked and rushed out to buy my first pair of running tights a couple of days before the race. I used them and never felt very comfortable the whole race. I also made other rookie mistakes, like surging ahead at mile 15 when I was feeling great, only to hit the wall at mile 22. I finished in just over four hours, thinking “that was TOUGH.”

 
What if the Marathon was in January?

Many runners finish their first marathon and think, “Okay, I’ve done that. Don’t need to go through the pain, struggle and adversity again. Once is enough.” For me, the race had the opposite effect. I saw it as a great puzzle or challenge that I still have not figured out. Not that I think I will ever “solve” the marathon puzzle, but the combination of physical, mental and spiritual challenges continues to intrigue me. The challenge pushed me to run year round, even in Minnesota winters.  Plus I still have that elusive goal of qualifying to run the Boston Marathon.

This Sunday, I may be a bit cold when I approach the start line in Minneapolis, wearing shorts and t-shirt, hat and gloves. I will also have an old long-sleeve t-shirt that I will toss aside after warming up during the first couple of miles. After finishing ten marathons, I will know not to surge at mile 15, but wait for the real challenge at mile 21 and beyond. My marathon mantra, “The joy of the Lord is my strength” (Neh. 8:10) will be on my lips and the encouraging words of my friends and family will be in my ears. The chill of marathon morning will quickly pass as my body, mind and spirit rise to the challenge.  The finish is only 26.2 miles away.

Lord Jesus, let me meet the challenges of this day with your strength and joy.