I can't speak for you but I am ready to admit that I'm exhausted. Something has to change, and that would be me.
Some time back Saga Supporter Nalini MacNab quietly called me on something in an email which has been niggling at my consciousness for a long time. As I write this morning, four days from my 70th birthday, I am sitting with her observation which led me to question what I have always been very proud of: my extraordinary resilience.
I see way too many folks harangue younger people for not having resilience. While some of that may be true, the other side of it is just toxic. During a long conversation with my best friend in Denver today we explored this, in that way that brave people do, by bellying up to the bar and asking how on earth does wading through tough times (like extreme injuries) feed a particular story line in my life?
That's in my face big time. While on one hand I love adventure travel, trust me that's sincere, I don't enjoy the injuries and some of the side effects I've suffered. Yet some part of me has been wise enough to find the humor in all that.
Humor is of course my super power. But is some part of that also toxic? Hard question.
The greater wisdom, though, is to question how much and whether the injuries I have suffered, and the surgeries that I am currently undergoing as a result of some of those injuries, also feed a story that I need to feel pain. I know that story; I've been going head-to-head with that all my life.
That I shouldn't have been born- and being female I should be punished. That is ingrained in my DNA, and it is a story I have been working hard to exorcise and heal.
As a clumsy student of Buddhism, I agree completely that if we are suffering, the journey is to embrace the source, to learn how to cease the suffering. The point isn't to suffer. The point is to end it, rather than feed it.
Those are big journeys. For they ask that we dive down the rabbit hole to find where the compulsion comes from. I know my sources: family, sexual assault, rape, incest. I get it. But that's not enough.
Here's the article that inspired this story today:
Two quotes from this article struck me:
But could too much resilience be a bad thing, just like too much muscle mass can be a bad thing — i.e., putting a strain on the heart? Large-scale scientific studies suggest that even adaptive competencies become maladaptive if taken to the extreme. As Rob Kaiser’s research on leadership versatility indicates, overused strengths become weaknesses. In line, it is easy to conceive of situations in which individuals could be too resilient for their own sake.
Along the same line, too much resilience could make people overly tolerant of adversity.
While Chamorro-Premuzic is addressing work here, my chosen work of the last twelve years has been adventure travel. It applies just as much. People may choose to force themselves through tough mudders and the like in a painful attempt to prove just how much pain they can tolerate to get to the finish line, much less to win.
My cycling coach from the year I climbed Kilimanjaro switched from cycle racing to marathons. The last I saw her she was competing in the Leadville 100. Not familiar?
As someone who has done some pretty badass things after sixty, I was horrified to hear how my buddy described how she would stop to vomit, keep running, collapse and vomit again. I knew she was damaging herself but she wouldn't quit.
While I admire her grit, I have come to question her motives. I know her mother told her she couldn't possibly complete a marathon.
My father told me I was a loser.
See something here?
We are all of us moved or driven by a variety of things, many of them perhaps unhealthy. My beloved friend Dr. Rosenna Bakari noted that so many of us who are sexually abused, especially as children, go on to over-achievement status, which she herself personifies. Healing that part of us can go a long way towards letting that particular story go, and with it, perhaps, the need to self-flagellate.
We do that as a nation, thanks to Christian/Calvinist values. In one of my favorite movies, Chocolat, the young priest is heard preaching that "we are born sinners", in effect, we are doomed at conception. This is a superb way of controlling by guilt. The Calvinists brought their extreme version of it to America.
All we have to do is look at how willing we are to go to extremes in so many aspects of our lives.
It's punitive. I bought into it, thanks to parents, a sick big brother, Catholic school and plenty of guilt. Inflicting pain on ourselves has a powerful religious aspect to it. As a case in point:
Congregationalist writer Sarah Osborn, (who) practiced self-flagellation in order "to remind her of her continued sin, depravity, and vileness in the eyes of God"- Wikipedia.
While that is offensive to me, I have to ask how much of my own propensity to overwork, over-train and come home on a stretcher stems from much the same feelings inculcated into us by society? Religious teachings? Bad parenting?
Truth? I don't know yet. I am asking hard questions. On one hand, I do love the travel, I do love my adventuring. The part to leave behind is the extraordinary physical pain I've endured along the way.
To wit: twenty-two concussions, a broken back, broken elbow, broken wrist, umpteen small injuries, a fractured knee, oh I could go on forever. Each time I got better and was quite literally back on the horse in six weeks. That's resilience, all right. I feel like a female Evil Kneivel.
Not only do I not need that, I don't need to cripple myself going forward from too much of it. Nobody is going to give me "hero buttons" for most injuries in one trip (sounds like a line out of Nightmare Before Christmas").
I leave for the coast for a week come Monday. There, I am continuing to heal my foot from surgery and contemplate hand surgery for February and the other foot in spring. After that, and a great deal of not particularly comfortable physical therapy, I will be unleashed back onto the world of travel in my seventies.
Well, I also read this today. Here's the "how" part promised in the title, above:
I love the timing. While I am not likely to get messy, stop meditation or quit workouts (not on your life), I can begin my next decade committing to a kinder version of adventure travel. Whether or not that works is anyone's guess. There are certain values which appeal to me around health and fitness, keeping a clean house and other habits which feed my sanity.
But I don't need insane pain to prove how tough I am. I'm not a female Bear Grylls. I can do the things I do without dragging a broken leg across twenty miles of snake-infested desert.
Happily I've not had to do that, but got closer than I want to admit.
I don't absolutely HAVE to climb another huge mountain again. When I consider the next adventure, I get to challenge whether I'm trying to prove myself, or whether I'm trying to enjoy myself. Perhaps a bit of both. However, heading into my second decade of this kind of travel, what I really want out of it is a good question.
Which brings me to this argument about true resilience:
How about joy versus a jacked-up body?
I can't speak for anyone else. Such questions are healthy as hell and they bring up stuff I would love not to have to face. But facing those issues, those big bears in the basement, is precisely the kind of battle I want. That kind of grizzly wrestling won't leave me scarred and bleeding.
It will leave me braver, and perhaps allow me to finish a trip without coming home in a brace.
Sounds good to me.
With heartfelt thanks to Nalini for her challenge, and a reminder to my readers that I really do hear you and take what you say to the deepest places of my being.
Dear Walkabout Saga Reader:
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