Tracks and Visions

Winter does not have to be a cold dormant time. Winter can be a time where you see your “tracks” more easily in the sense you can see where you have been. You can also have a vision for where you’re heading.

Cross-country skiing lets me see what is both physically behind and ahead of me. It has been more challenging to do the last couple of years more due to climate change than anything health oriented. There hasn’t been enough snow. If there was enough snow, then the Wisconsin temperatures were too frigid to endure outdoor recreational winter fun. My schedule factors into plans as well. A lot has to align for me to make skiing happen. Finally, one of those aligned days happened. Even though the snow wasn’t perfect, there was what I hoped would be just enough to make it possible. Who knew when another opportunity would come along? I gathered my gear and made the short drive to the arboretum and ventured out.

My intentions on this day were to enjoy being outside getting fresh air and see how I did on skis. I went slower than a turtle and never got the gliding motion going that I love feeling on skis. Had a turtle come along, it would have easily beaten me. I managed to stay upright the entire time and that thrilled me, especially since there were wobbly moments where I momentarily lost my balance and quickly caught myself. I noticed these times were when I looked up or turned my head to the side to see something. Well, I decided not to make those movements and just stay super focused on my careful and deliberate movements forward.

It was as I reversed the route and was heading back to my starting point that I realized I had a wonderful opportunity to work on balance in action. Very slowly, I began to work on turning my head from left to right while continuing to ski forward. Then I would intentionally move my head up to look at the treetops and back down so my eyes were straight ahead. I did it over and over again and built up my confidence while I worked on making my balance better.

Being out there also made me think a lot about life balance. My body needs to move and my spirit needs to have moments in nature in order for me to feel well. I am in a very fortunate position where I don’t need to work around a work schedule. I have created new work and purpose for myself. I am now in control of where and how I want to direct that meaningful work. My life is more balanced than it used to be.

Last week I got out skiing again. I am still astonishingly slow and was passed by an older gentleman. Somehow he passed me twice. Slow and steady worked well for me. I stayed out for over an hour which was twice as long as I planned due to a decision I made to go a little farther which turned out to be much farther. I had plenty of time to think about how my tracks showed me where I’ve been and the vision I have for where I want to go.

A few of my thoughts included:

Looking back to see where I’ve been has its merits. I see my accomplishments. I can linger over happy memories. I also see if anyone is trying to pass me for a third time! However, the direction I want to go is forward so I need to focus on the path ahead of me and notice where it branches out.

I realized I looked down at my feet an awful lot to ensure I wasn’t hitting an icy patch. It seemed like I needed my gaze downward to keep my bearings. I can be just as safe looking up and looking forward, if not safer. There’s more to see. There is trust involved. I plan to continue looking forward.

One of the reasons I like cross-country skiing is because I don’t have to go down hills. I enjoyed downhill skiing in younger days. Not sure how that would work for me now. Cross-country skiing can still have hilly segments. I purposely choose flat routes. There inevitably are stretches where the trail slopes downward ever so slightly so that you take a break and coast. I usually fight these sections and actively attempt to slow myself down so that I don’t lose my balance and fall. It’s more work to fight these changes than to coast. This time I gave myself over to coasting. Less work felt good. I was safe and had nothing to fear. I plan to work smarter, not harder. Coasting may enable me to pick up speed and give me more energy.

Changing my route allows me to explore a new path. I thought I knew how I was changing my route but I miscalculated the distance. Life is exactly like this. There are miscalculations. None of us really knows how long we’ll stay on our current path before it changes. I love seeing paths turn ahead of me. It adds a little mystery to my walk, hike, or whatever. The path is revealed slowly as I move along.

I am about to mark my eighth year living with metastatic breast cancer. I can reflect on these years by comparing them to time on a ski trail. There have been paths where I’ve been wobbly. I’ve been sprawled out flat on my back hoping someone would happen by to help me up when I couldn’t get myself situated to do it on my own. I figured it out eventually. I’ve never liked relying on someone else to fix things for me that I should be able to manage on my own. Some paths have been straight, flat, and easy to navigate. It was easier to coast in younger days. There have been twists and turns I didn’t see coming. I didn’t know where I was going but it was clear I’d be on a specific route longer than I had planned and I had to keep moving forward. Sometimes I could backtrack and retrace my route. Sometimes I hoped I was closer to finishing and turning back would make things longer and harder. I can’t go back and retrace my steps with cancer. My hope is that the bit around the next turn I can’t see is a beautiful part of the trail that works well for me.

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A favorite trail in a favorite place

Ralph Waldo Emerson said it best – “What lies behind you and what lies in front of you, pales in comparison to what lies inside of you.”

My past and future, those tracks and visions, are influenced by my inner voice. What I see is dictated by how I interpret what I see and experience. My tracks, vision, and inner voice are all tied together into one intricately woven path leading forward. Onward!

Fires, Tigers, and Trees

One way I have thought about my life has been to picture myself walking along a well-worn path that I know well. I know where various landmarks are, benches, scenic overlooks, my favorite trees, and where the path leads. While walking, I discover a blazing fire in front of me that blocks my way. I can see through the fire to where I want to be, but I can’t get there. There also is a saber tooth tiger off to the side, growling and gnashing its teeth. Looks fierce as saber tooth tigers do. I can’t get past the fire or the tiger.

I have come to see the fire as medical obstacles I encounter that I seem to regularly be up against (tests, side effects, policies that are in place for no patient centered good reason, etc.). Seemingly forever changing government restrictions placed on me surrounding disability are the saber tooth tiger. Let’s throw a downed tree across the path for good measure because sometimes (always) other events develop if only to keep me on my toes.

After countless times running right up against these and being burned, scratched, and blocked, I am tired of using my essential energy in attempts to break through to the other side of these obstacles to live what I saw as the life I was supposed to have. My life is different from that vision. After repeated attempts, I’ve noticed a path far, far off to the side that I didn’t notice at first. Where did it come from? Had it always been there?

Although I don’t know where it exactly leads, it may very well be

a . . . .

perfectly . . .

good . . .

path.

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Hmmmm. No fire. No tigers. No downed trees. I may walk happily and go the distance on this path. Perhaps it is even a better path. Now that’s a surprising thought. The best decision for me is to walk over to it and make it my own. And so I have.

Where my attention goes is where my energy flows. I want to focus on more affirming thoughts and words about my health, my relationships, and my future. My energy goes to walking on this path.

Creating a personal mission statement helps form a vision of where I see myself heading in the next five years.

A personal vision or mission statement combines purpose with your own set of abilities, strengths, and talents. My new mission needs to incorporate good health, some kind of teaching component, and my values. It’s a challenge to narrow it down to one sentence, but keeping it simple strips it down to what’s most important. Here’s my sentence: I must be healthy so I can teach through example and live my values joyfully, sharing my gifts with people to make a positive difference.

Where do you see yourself five years from now?

To create your own personal mission statement, you need to explore your core values. Answer the following questions to provide a framework for developing a mission statement of your own:

  • What are my top three core values?
  • Whose work or profession do I admire?
  • If I could afford to work without pay, what would I do?
  • What are my natural talents?
  • What did I love to do as a child?

Sometimes what comes to mind first isn’t always the right answer. As a child, I loved to climb the big locust tree in the front yard. There was adventure and a little risk. If I climbed high enough and stood on precariously thin branches, I could see Lake Mendota in the distance. Yet, I never considered becoming a professional tree climber. Thank goodness! Being in nature is something I still enjoy. I would happily spend time hiking wooded trails and wouldn’t need to be paid so much as a dime to do so. I also loved going to school and then playing school when I got home. Teaching fit. It included core values and encompassed natural talents. I became a teacher.

My path is different from what I thought it would be. What each of us can do is to walk whatever our path is with courage, dignity, and grace. I believe there is a lot of choice in terms of how we walk. Look for a beautiful path where there aren’t too many obstacles in your way. If there are, it may be time to find another path.