inspirational tools to create life balance in your everyday

2008 – finding everyday balance in september


I am writing today as the heat sweeps the city. September has crept up and sounded a lullaby to the wind and fog leaving bright hot dry days. Thinking summer had past me by under a blanket of fog, I wake up feeling like I’m stealing these summer days. In the middle of San Francisco, where we have lived for past fortnight, these balmy dry desert days appear like puppets popped up from behind a stage and the sound of city can’t help but be stilled with awe.

But I’ve found that even beyond this heat, the city sounds to a very different beat than that of the long mountain curves where my parents live or the straight salty stretch of beach at Narrabeen where we lived for years. There is movement and colour and energy streaming in wide strokes up and down these streets of the Mission neighborhood where we are housesitting. The grocery stores and French bakeries and flower shops and ice creameries dangle lazy summer lines out of their doorways like birthday ribbons. People chat and shout and shutter and huddle and hug in a myriad of languages. Emotions are worn out loud and the differences between the individual lives lived here beat out brightly like paintings on an opening night.

I am more alone and at the same time more at home amongst this realness of city streets where the pressure to be any one thing disappears in the presence of everything. However, in the days that have past, my old friend fear crept up quite suddenly. The unfamiliar streets, the lack of routine, the not knowing how this year will unfold all combined and what emerged every so slowly, but every so loudly was fear. Quite dramatically, I felt the bottom drop out of my day to day calm leaving me new corners to round.

I tried, as my husband encouraged me, to simply let the fear wash over me. To feel it and let it move. This is much more difficult than stuffing it somewhere underneath those red Chinese couch cushions. Yet, I have the time to observe right now, so I experimented with letting fear sit with me on my meditation cushion, trying hard to let the judgment pass for feeling the fear at all. Last week, I really sat with it. I allowed that cloak of fear to wrap around me, to truly feel its weight on my shoulders. Normally this is something that I would try with all my might to avoid. I would busy myself, move towards more productive thoughts. It was strange to just feel the fear of everything. The fear of not having a job, of not knowing where home will emerge and mostly of not knowing if some of the things I longed for in my life would come. Someone very wise once taught me that what isn’t in our consciousness, controls us. I was inviting what I was afraid of to be on stage so that it couldn’t control the scene from behind the curtains.

I wrote about what I was afraid of and all the stories I had in my mind about their unfolding. I let this fear have its place in my life. And you know what? It helped. The wonderful thing about impermanence is that everything is changing and moving all the time. My fear having been allowed its moment on center stage, seemed pacified and then just like that it eased. I woke up one morning and looked around for the cloak I had been wearing and it was gone. As I got dressed that morning, I noticed that not only was it gone, but that it had been replaced with a deeper kind of joy, simply for the act of really feeling it. Fear is a such strange feeling. It can be debilitating and motivating. We sometimes feel frozen by fear and at other times are incredibly moved by it. The fear of not being happy might motivate us to pursue new activities or connections with the people we love. In contrast, the fear of change might leave us frozen in a set of circumstances we’re not happy in for years. I know that fear will again return, as all things do, but I’m hoping that I’ll be brave enough again to allow it to have its dance.

In August, watching the Olympics, I was incredibly inspired by how the athletes faced their fears. On the biggest stage in the world standing with feet dug into a dirt track, poised under the net waiting for the serve of a ball, balanced on top of a set of uneven bars or standing at the edge of a diving board, they embraced the moment and fled past their fears. Their courage made me want to try harder, to find what I was capable of that I had not yet found. I began looking around my life for a bit of courage that I could apply to something I had always wanted to conquer and that I could feel proud of.

Naturally after watching the Olympics, I thought of physical activity. I mean really compared to the grueling schedules these athletes were achieving, I wondered what was I doing with my time?” Surely, a set of push ups or pull ups could be tucked in somewhere in my waking hours. I thought back on the Olympics and what had felt particularly inspiring to me. Two moments of the Olympics really stand out for me and they both took place underwater. Appearing first that week was Micheal Phelps, a young swimmer I had never heard of. It was incredible to watch his heart lead him through the eight races he swam. At the beginning, I remember thinking it will be amazing if he wins even half of the races that he is aiming to swim. As he continued through the week, it seemed that lining his lanes, there was just a little bit of magic. Of all the circumstances that these athletes face, in every race, it is incredible that his legs kicked, his mind sought and his heart stretched to reach for gold every time.

Later in the week, I watched another swimming race. This time the pool was set naturally for the rawness of the open water marathon. What was incredible to me was swimmer Natalie du Toit. Natalie is a twenty-four year old swimmer from South Africa. Seven years ago, while riding her scooter to school, she was run into by a car. As people rushed to help, she said she knew, what eventually became true, that she had lost one of her legs at the knee. Natalie narrowly missed qualifying for the Olympics in Athens in 2004 and then went on to become the only amputee who qualified to swim the open water marathon in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She is one of the world’s fastest distance swimmers. Watching her swim in this race and carry the South African flag into the stadium, I felt my heart wide open. Her commitment and passion for the path she had chosen in her life, despite enormous challenges, overcame her fear. She inspired me to remember that in our own lives, each day we can choose one small step toward overcoming our catalog of fears.

It isn’t a coincidence that the swimming was the most inspiring part of the Olympics to me. While other things have come naturally to me, swimming has always been something I’ve struggled with. In fact as a child my first swimming debut was the first instance in my life that I can concretely remembering having to work with my own fear. At the age of four, my mom signed me up for swim lessons with my best friend from my play group, Amy Berger. Fittingly, today it is at Amy’s house that I am living in while she is watching the Olympics in China. Amy, who is five months older than me, has always been someone I’ve looked up to. She was a great swimmer from the very start of swim lessons. Even the owner of the pool recognised this and mentioned to her mom how amazing her stroke and breath were for someone at the age of five. Being her best friend from the age of three, I of course I wanted to be a great swimmer as well. The swim lessons at The Anne Curtis Pool were pretty standard. They were set over the summer months so parents could enjoy a break and just aiming to get kids to breath and kick and float, but there was one thing different about these lessons, there was a prize.

As we all know, every kid loves a prize. At the end of this particular batch of swim lessons, each child that jumped off the diving board was awarded a fabric “Ann Curtis Swim Patch” that your parent could sew on to your swim suit. Now in those days, you kept your swim suits for a few summers if you didn’t grow out of it. It was passed down to siblings and generally held in the family for some time. Each morning of swim lessons, I dreamt of the legacy of my light blue swimsuit having that patch in the corner. This patch was the gold medal of those summer lessons and Amy and I looked towards it with anticipation. At the end of swim lessons each day, we were given the opportunity to jump off the diving board and swim to the side of the diving pool. The diving pool was set a part from where we had our stroke lessons and was a deep square pool without a shallow end.

On the first day that we had the chance, many of us lined up, intent on our prize and one by one each of the kids jumped. I remember shivering in the line, my legs starting to shake, and letting other kids go in front of me. I remember watching Amy confidently jumping and the splashing as she made her victory swim towards the side of the pool. I remember my feet on the steps up to the board and the wet sandpaper feel of each step, the smell of the chlorine filled pool, the slippery warm sun screen streaked metal bars at the top and then that long pale blue board stretching out over the deep end of the pool. Towards the end of the board there were no railings to hold on to. And I remember each day that week, stepping back down those little white steps and finally being able to breathe as my feet shakily felt the hot concrete beneath them. It was pretty awful. I really wanted that patch. I had no idea that a fear of heights runs strongly in my family. This was why I had tantrums at the top of escalators and why my Mom passes out in glass elevators. So the diving board for this four year old wasn’t looking good. However, I was a pretty determined kid.

On the last day of swim lessons, I knew it was my last chance until the following year. I don’t remember how I got myself up those stairs or how I faced that thick wall of fear. I do remember the splash as I clumsily fell off the board into the deep end. I remember I sunk pretty far, took in a lot of water and then coughing kicked with all my might back to the concrete side. I remember my hands feeling that gorgeous summer sun sinking into the concrete. I also remember the way my patch looked beautiful when my mom promptly sewed it on my swimsuit that night and how it was years before I asked for it to be replaced.

Recently, I found out that Anne Curtis who owned the pool was an Olympian. She won two Gold medal’s in the 1948 Olympics in London. In the 4 by 100 relay she came from behind to win for the USA and then set up her swim school in Marin. I have no idea how at four years old I found a way to overcome my still active fear of heights, but maybe their was a little magic in the water at The Anne Curtis pool that made you want to keep trying for your own personal gold. Years later when I look back on that situation, I’m reminded that we all find our own unique way to our goals.

A week ago, I found out that one of the only public pools in the city sits at the end of Amy’s street here in the Mission District of San Francisco. It is shaded by a graceful Eucalyptus Tree and tucked behind high stone walls covered in a colourful mural of men, women and a child bathing in sunlight. These amazing murals colour many walls in this area of town. The building doesn’t look very flash, litter lining its lawn and graffiti here and there. The first day that I entered the pool, I brought my kick board, goggles, towel, and both my fear of swimming and of doing new things. I hadn’t swum laps for years, yet the vision of Natalie du Toit made me want to try.

Over the past week, walking down to the Mission Street Pool each day, I have carried with me the passion of all of the athletes that I’ve watched these Olympic games. I haved step gingerly into the slow lane and kicked awkwardly down the length of the pool. I’ve been surrounded by people of all different backgrounds, colours, strengths and goals. We’ve all manage to coordinate our laps around each other. One woman keeps her head down with a bright blue snorkel on for the whole time I’m there. She never moves her arms, just kicks up and down. An Asian man with a wide smile waits for several minutes at each end of the pool after every lap ushering people in front of him with a wide grin as he adjusts his second pair of goggles. A larger man in red swim trunks labors up and back and then comes out with his own personal cheer for himself. We seem to have our own club in the slow lane and as I’ve swum with my own lopsided stroke, sometimes clutching to my yellow kick board, feeling the fog kissing my cheeks and the sirens singing in the neighborhood around me, I have to smile to myself just for getting back into the pool.

This month I invite you to meet one of your fears. Invite it out of the closet and on to the page. Like sheets stuck at the back of the closet, fears sometimes need to be taken out and given a good shake. What helps to remember is that we all have so many fears in common. Sometimes it is the fear of learning something new, sometimes it the fear of taking on a new role, other times it is the fear of owning how you truly feel. The categories of fears are endless, but the reality is that they are always shared. If you feel alone in your fears, often the best remedy is simply to talk to a friend, a loved one or counselor. Chances are they will understand where you have arrived to.

To work with this exercise, create a safe environment in your home. Choose a day when your feeling strong in yourself and put on your favourite music. Take the pen to the page and give yourself the time to write down one thing that you are afraid of. Let the details pour out. Write down the times you have felt this in the past and the worst case scenario. Shake out all the corners of this fear. Then close your journal and take yourself on a brisk walk. Breathe in the fresh air and as you breathe out visualize yourself letting go of your fear. Feel your feet against the earth knowing that with each step forward you are grounded and consciously facing your fear. Open yourself to the resources in your community to support you in facing this fear. When you return from your walk, write down five tiny steps that you can take towards clearing this feeling of fear. If your fear is of going back to school, you might ring and have a course catalog sent to your house. If you are afraid you have lost a friend, try writing that person a letter. If you are afraid of a physical ailment, look for ways you can ease your pain.

Often times we may find ourselves in fear simply because we don’t have all the facts. A way to combat that fear is simply to get more information about what your afraid of. This may involve doing some research or speaking to an expert. When we are afraid, we tend to fill in the blanks with less than savory ideas. By getting more information we can know exactly what we are facing and therefore be more likely to take steps in the direction of a solution. And sometimes, as in my situation a couple weeks ago, when there isn’t a concrete solution available, you can simply invite that fear up. Let it wash over you and really get to know it. The feelings that we avoid have a way of popping up after we stuff them down. By simply sitting with whatever it is we are afraid of, we give ourselves the chance to feel it and lessen the impact it may be having on our day to day lives.

In Amy’s office where I type this piece, I just turned the calender page to September. The new page has a picture of the Chinese symbol for change. It explains that “the symbol for change began as a pictograph of a lizard, an animal that changes colour as the light changes. It is similar in meaning to the Chinese cosmology of yin and yang-that there are two opposing universal forces, one of light and one of dark, that constantly battle each other, causing all the changes that occur in life.” Our fear is simply that, a universal force that we all have in common balanced by the universal force of love. So tread lightly this month, inquire into your fear with a sense of love. Take with you the courage and the grace of the Olympians, who all faced their fear in their own individual way, taking home their unique medal of gold simply for showing up.

This is a monthly inspiration piece brought to you by author Christina Adler at ‘everyday balance’. If you would like to share your experience with these tools or subscribe to this inspiration piece each month, please send your name and email address to chrisadler@everydaybalance.net or visit this website in the first week of each month. For information regarding life coaching appointments in person, by telephone or online, send an email to the above address with your name and phone number or visit the contacts section of this website. Photo by Peter Moore of the San Francisco Mission Pool Building on 19th Street.

posted under 2008 life balance