January is “Explore” Month!

Skiing at Merrits

This is not the kind of skiing I'll be trying out. (Image via Wikipedia)

If I’m an Eeyore when it comes to fun, I’m something of a Piglet when it comes to trying new things. While it really is hard to be brave when you’re such a very small creature (I’m 5’2″ tall), I recognize that a lot of my fears are rather overblown. It’s about time that I try to face some of them.

In some people’s estimation, I’m fairly brave. I don’t hesitate to pull up stakes and relocate every few years. I’ll give birth at home any day of the week. But these things aren’t scary to me, so they don’t really require bravery. Some things that require bravery for me:

  • asking an employee at a store where the bathroom is
  • walking into a hospital (even if I’m not the patient)
  • sending food back in a restaurant
  • driving in the mountains in the wintertime
  • flying on planes
  • attending baby showers
  • planning my children’s birthday parties
  • dancing in front of other people
  • speaking in front of groups
  • visiting new religious congregations

See what I mean? A total Piglet.

So “Explore” month isn’t going to involve skydiving or ski jumps or eating undercooked eggs (at least I don’t think it will). But it will involve me pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone just a tad so I can see if I can expand the limits of what I find fun and what brings me joy.

With that in mind, here’s the plan:

January 2011 – Explore
Focus: Go out on a bit of a limb and try some things I haven’t done before.

-Go cross-country skiing. I’ve never been skiing, but I’m terrified of it. My friend shared a quote by Erma Bombeck with me the other day that captures my sentiments fairly well: “I do not participate in any sport with ambulances at the bottom of the hill.” I found another quote that fits well, too:

There are really only three things to learn in skiing:  how to put on your skis, how to slide downhill, and how to walk along the hospital corridor.  ~Lord Mancroft, A Chinaman in my Bath, 1974

So although I’m going to face my fear of skiing, it will not involve any downhill skiing. I’ve got it all planned out. A friend is going to drive me out to Mountain Dell next Saturday after my son’s Music Together class (because I’m afraid of even driving to skiing). There are free lessons that day and a chance to try out new gear. We’re going to get there late and the lessons are first-come, first-served, so it’s possible I’ll not get to try out skis that day. There are also snowshoe lessons that involve a guided nature walk. I’ve never been snowshoeing, either, so if that’s all that’s left, I’ll still be able to try something new. My friend says snowshoeing is lame, but I think lame might be just about my speed.

Go dancing. In public. There’s a Sacred Dance Fusion class on Tuesday nights at Avenues Yoga here in town. I think I’ll try that out. There’s also contra dancing on the 22nd in town here. I’ve been contra dancing once. I did my best to avoid actually dancing. If I went this time, I would challenge myself to dance. There’s a beginner session at 7:30 and then the dance proper from 8-11. Maybe that first half-hour would be enough to build my confidence. I have friends who absolutely love contra dancing (not in Utah. These are friends in North Carolina, where I tried contra dancing before), so I figure I might give it a try.

Try a martial art. This one involves a fear similar to the one I have around dancing in public. I’m just looking for something to help me feel more at home in my body, and I want to try out a couple of different things to try to meet this goal. I think I’m going to sign up for either Tae Kwon Do or Aikido. I’m leaning towards Aikido because it seems more meditative and less combative. The only thing still drawing me to Tae Kwon Do over Aikido is that I had a friend in high school who was, like, some state champion at Tae Kwon Do or something, and she had the most amazing thighs. Although we were 17 years old at the time, and I’m fairly certain that 17 years and two children have pretty much eliminated all possibility of me ever having thighs like hers were then.

This is going to be a rather more active month, compared to the more cerebral months I’ve had so far. Which is all part of the “Explore” piece, since I’m way more comfy in my brain than I am in my body.

I’m cautiously optimistic about this month. I think it’s a little too scary for me to be very excited about it, but cautious optimism isn’t too bad. And it’s more positive than the mood with which I usually approach a new year, which I think is better described as cautious pessimism.

Joyfully Moving

I got to attend the Monday night step class at my gym tonight, which I’ve only done once before, even though I loved it that one time I went. I’ve got the babysitter from 2-5 on Mondays and the class is at 5:30. Every time I think of how much I want to go to that step class and start to reason through how I can make it work to attend the class, I stop myself. It’s bad enough to take time away from my kids to go to the gym. I should just work out while the babysitter’s there and not try to take any more evening time. It’s too much trouble for my husband, it’s too much time away from the kids, it’ll mess up dinner time.

I recognized this attempt to avoid doing something for myself in the section of Marion Woodman’s Addiction to Perfection that I read last night:

For the perfectionist who has trained herself to do, simply being sounds like a euphemism for nothingness, or ceasing to exist. When the energy that has gone into trying to justify her existence is redirected into discovering herself and loving herself, intense insecurities surface. Abysmal emptiness questions whether she is here at all . . . To cease to give is to cease to mother, and where the ego is identified with mothering it doesn’t know at first what to do. It is so used to giving that it doesn’t believe it is worthy to receive, or else thinks that receiving is demeaning or selfish.

I smiled as I recognized myself in this passage. Then I took a pad of paper and wrote a note to my husband (who was already in bed) explaining that I was going to stick around home and clean out closets and get dinner ready while the babysitter was here, and then I was going to go to the 5:30 step class.

During the morning, I did manage to do some prep work for dinner (including making two batches of GF/CF pita bread, one that turned out more like GF/CF hockey pucks and the other that was softer but for some reason didn’t form the little pocket in the middle). But I ended up spending the entire three hours that the sitter was here on two closets, and I didn’t get any more done on dinner. I considered scrapping the step class idea, but in the end, I stuck with the plan and left my husband with a recipe book open to the falafel recipe and a bowl full of soaked garbanzo beans.

Waiting for the step class to begin, I scrutinized my image in the mirror (especially the tummy pooch I still have because I cannot seem to get my abdominal muscles to close up since they separated while I was pregnant with my son), compared myself to the other attendees, wondered if I should have worn long pants instead of shorts or a short-sleeved top instead of a tank top or if I was lame for having only one riser under each end of my step rather than two like most of the rest of the class had. But as the class began, I let these thoughts pass and focused on the beat of the music and my breath and the rhythm of my feet. I found that I was able to keep up with the cues better when I didn’t think about them. There were a number of times when I got to the end of a sequence and realized with surprise that I was actually on the same foot as the instructor and facing the same direction as the rest of the class without consciously trying. I also enjoyed watching how the instructor clearly enjoyed leading the class. I decided I really liked him, and I really liked my gym and Salt Lake City and my kids and my husband. I spent the class filled with love and joy, and I had just a great deal of fun.

I worry sometimes that the step class isn’t as intense or well-rounded a workout as my regular workout. As a result, I tend to consider it a treat to only take part in once in a while rather than as a core element of my exercise regimen. If I start going to the class regularly, I wonder if I’ll experience what Woodman describes: “once that forgotten energy begins to flow through dancing, painting, singing, joy is not experienced as selfish or luxurious, but as an absolute need.”

Woodman also writes about a lecture by Northrup Frye in which he points out that the word “rejoicing” in a passage from Proverbs is translated from the root word for “play.” One of the churches I’m planning to visit has this note on their website:

We Worship God Through Movement As Well As Words
Our bodies are God’s own creation through Jesus.  God knows what it is to be human.  Movement can be a way of giving ourselves back to God.  You will see many people crossing themselves, bowing, and kneeling at certain times.  When you come to worship try movement and see if your experience of God is made greater.  Movement, though, is not required. You may find it perfectly fulfilling without it.

I noticed that when I first read this, I felt a little uncomfortable. It seemed kind of hokey to me, and I felt a little nervous about what the service would be like with everyone moving around and giving themselves to God. But now I’m wondering if this could just be the reaction of that part of myself that is more comfortable with the “masculine” and resists any shift towards the more “feminine,” which would include the physical body rather than just the intellect. Maybe I feel more loving when I’m moving with the music in step class because I’m more complete and therefore more open to the spiritual. Maybe I’m rejoicing through play.

This morning while mixing up the first batch of pita dough, I put Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat Major, Op. 53, on the CD player. The baby smiled up at me and started dancing. He ran his little feet, flapped his arms, spun in circles until he fell down, and laughed when I joined him and danced across the kitchen. I remember dancing with my daughter when she was around this age. Her favorite was Bing Crosby singing Jingle Bells. I wonder if kids are born knowing how to rejoice through unselfconscious movement and we—well, some of us—just lose it as we grow older. Maybe we’re all born with the masculine and feminine fully integrated within us, and as adults, it’s simply a matter of rediscovering that balance.