How Do You Eat an Elephant?

The physical therapy notes that changed my life

 

As I did my physical therapy routine on the track three mornings ago, I thought about writing.  Between running a home with a husband and children, volunteering at my children’s schools, and my business teaching HypnoBirthing and life coaching, my days are completely full.  I am always doing!  But writing is important to me.  More than that, I feel I am a writer in the same way that I am a mother, a wife, a reader, a coach. . . it’s just who I am.  I feel sure that writing is how I’m meant to contribute.  But can I say I’m a writer if I don’t have a writing practice?  The discrepancy between what I wanted to do and what I was actually doing nagged at me, especially as this is something I help my coaching clients with every day!

My mind is always searching for patterns and meaning, so I tried to understand why I wasn’t making this thing I love a priority.  Why say yes to everything else but no to it?  Trying to answer my own question, I thought, “Maybe now is just not the time.  Maybe it would it be better to wait until the children have left home.  I don’t want to miss a thing with them, and I’ll have a lifetime to write once they’re grown!  Maybe I should focus on building up the practical skills required by my work and write when I ‘have more to say.’”  There may have been some truth in these conclusions, but they did not make me feel any better.  I returned my focus to running.

I love being able to run again.  Not only does it feel good to my body, it is excellent time to let my mind roam.  Such good ideas come effortlessly when I run, ideas I can’t force just sitting at the computer.  I missed it when I had to stop because of an injury in June.  I pulled my Achilles tendon.  I rested it for about a month, then, eager to believe I was “healed enough,” I tried running again. But, alas, it was too soon.  In my haste to not be injured anymore, I hurt it even more.

I am committed to spiritual growth, and as I mentioned, my mind is always searching for meaning.  So I took my injury as a sign from the Universe that I needed to learn to be okay with resting instead of constant movement that comes from juggling work and home life.  A naturopath once told me it was important to balance running with something slow like yoga.  While that seemed logical, I never took the advice.  Now it seemed I was being forced to slow down!  I spent the summer elevating my foot every chance I got.  I hardly even walked.  I read.  I watched web casts.  I played board games with my kids.  My husband did the housework and errands.  I noticed it was a really nice summer! The world did not fall apart because I sat down.

But unfortunately the pain in my foot remained.  Wanting to test it, I took the dog for a walk and within five minutes was hobbling home. This drove me to finally take my husband’s advice to go to see the physical therapist.  I had resisted because I had my existential theory of this injury and didn’t believe a Western medical practitioner could help me!  I went to my appointment with low expectations.  How silly I had been!  The physical therapist was very bright and professional and spoke with authority about my injury.  She taught me some stretches and exercises to strengthen the foot.  They were simple and few and so I did them.  Within a month the pain was gone.  G-O-N-E. Gone.

I was so impressed that I kept my follow up appointment with her, during which time she matter-of-factly gave me a plan for beginning to run again.  “Really?” I asked, incredulous.  It seemed so bold!  Though her exercises had strengthened my foot, I was nervous about re-injury.  To be completely honest, I was a little superstitious about whether or not I’d learned the Lesson the Universe Was Teaching Me about slowing down.  That was the lesson, right?

But as before, her plan was simple and unintimidating, so I did it.  First, there was a five-minute walk to warm up.  Then there were five minute increments of running and walking: the first week I would run for one minute, walk for four; the second week I would run for two minutes, walk for three, etc.  Then I’d end with a five-minute walk to cool down.  Once I could run comfortably for 20 minutes on a flat surface, I could re-integrate hills into my routine.

I am now doing three minutes of running with two minutes of walking and I feel great!  As I reflect on my accomplishment it occurs to me as obvious that I could apply the lessons of physical therapy to my writing practice:

Start small.

Do something every day.

It will add up.

You will get stronger.

My teacher Martha Beck says, “How you do anything is how you do everything.”  I felt the truth of that as I reflected on my attitude toward healing my foot and becoming a good writer.  I had put all my eggs in the metaphysical basket.  I believed that if I cleared away internal barriers, what I wanted – be it the healing of my foot or a thriving blog – would flow to me effortlessly.  Lovely theory!  And maybe true sometimes.  But when the magic is not happening, a little sweat, every day, might do the trick.  This is what Martha calls “turtle steps.”  How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.  I knew this intellectually.  But it took an injury and taking small but consistent actions to heal it for me to understand it.  That’s the real lesson!

It may not sound like much, but this is the third day in a row that I have made writing my priority, the number one item on my To Do list.  It feels really good, like a lifeline to the future.  But the truth is, it’s a lifeline to myself — to who I am now and who I will become.  I am a writer who writes.  And that’s enough.

What’s your experience with taking “turtle steps”?  Is there an area in your life that you’d like to build up but don’t know how to start? How do you overcome internal resistance?

 

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