Monthly Archives: September 2012

The Space Between the Lines

I have a pair of pants–faded brown jeans, nothing special or big-name-brand or anything about them. My husband HATES them.

I love them.

He hates them for almost the same reason I love them: they are about three sizes too big. Baggy at the hips, rear, and thighs, slipping off the waist, riding dangerously low on my hips, they look like I’m wearing my dad’s pants. They would have made great hobo pants for the most popular poor-kid Halloween costume when I was a kid. He just rolls his eyes when I come out of the room wearing them. I get it. But I keep wearing them! I’m wearing them at this moment, in fact.

I remember when I bought these jeans.

I was on my way UP in sizes, and these jeans were my next step up the rack of sizes. I hated clothes shopping, because every trip to the store reminded me of how big I was, and getting bigger all the time. There were usually tears involved in these purchases, which had become inevitable as I continued to inch my way up the scale, making the last ‘biggest-ever’ skirt or blouse (or jeans, in this case) the next to go in the pile of ‘when I lose weight again’ clothes.

These jeans, mercifully for me, were made by a brand that employs generous sizing guidelines, so even though they were my next-step jeans, I reasoned, they would remain comfortable for a while (see how, long-ingrained in my thought process, was my sense of the inevitability of getting bigger?).

And for a while that was the case, until at the top of my weight gain , I found that I had popped an outside seam here on my left thigh. Climbing into my SUV eventually became a tortuous kind of guessing game: will the button hold? Will the rest of the seam give way? Will I be able to breathe?!

(Confession: it is embarrassing beyond measure to admit these things, but to do so as open-eyed and transparently as I can is part of my journey–part of owning and embracing it, understanding and feeling compassion for the person I was, and for those who are even now living this life.  You are not alone, and you are not without hope, or help!)

Which brings me to where I am: swimming, now, in these very same jeans. Why, when they serve as a reminder of the ugly place I was, do I not only hang onto them, but continue to wear them? In public?!

There has been grace, friends, in the space between the dark place where I was, and where I am now. The daylight in my pants reminds me of that grace. That’s even what I call them–my Daylight Pants!–because when I pull out the waistband, I can look all the way down my legs to my feet and the floor below.

Daylight. My feet are in a sure and solid place, and it is a new day.  The line where I was, the line where I am now, each a kind of starting line for a race, a leap–a journey. I am blessed to live in the free space in between.

An artist I heard this weekend at a bluegrass festival, Tim O’Brien, sang of a kind of quiet grace that finds and holds us “in the space between the lines“. (music begins around 1:22)

Enjoy this song, friends, and may you go strong today, in grace and light.

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Redeeming the Years: My Shot at the HKC

All the work, all the worry, all the hope and fear.  It’s done, friends.

I did it.

At the end of Saturday’s amazing workshop, I confess that I had a moment when the tears flowed. I was thinking back to the person I was not quite two years before:  not even 45 years old and already facing the prospect of serious physical problems related to obesity–already living the disastrous impact it was having on my family and relationships–considering the call for 911 assistance while on retreat–facing the prospect of “this is as good as it’s gonna get.”

Considering the possibility that there was no way out of the prison my body had become.

Among my tears, then, were residual guilt and grief, “for the years eaten by locusts” (Joel 2:25).  But mostly they were tears of happiness, gratitude, relief–so many emotions!–for the fulfillment of the promise contained in that verse.

The years eaten by locusts have been redeemed.

In all their sadness and ugliness, they brought me to this place, a sweaty padded-floor gym where I was surrounded by kettlebells and new friends, sitting on a Reebok stepper.  I’ve never been a gym rat, never been an athlete or even vaguely athletically-inclined–yet this place felt very comfortable to me.

In this tucked-away storefront gym in a corner of the Pittsburgh metro area, I had been lifted up by Master RKC Brett Jones (himself!) to the pull-up bar to face my first test–my first fear:  not just to perform the 15-second flexed-arm hang, but to do so with others watching.

You have to know, every alarm bell was ringing like mad in this cautious, failure-avoiding, risk-averse soul of mine.  I could fail.  Others would see.  They’d know me as a washed-up middle-aging desk-jockey wanna-be, and my long humiliation would be complete.

But I didn’t fail.

I let myself down from the bar after the required 15 seconds and turned to find the whole room smiling, giving me high-fives and “good job”s and shoulder pounds.  Only at that point did I start to breathe again–realizing that I had been holding my breath for a couple of weeks. And so in relief and gratitude, the day began.

I was initially disappointed that the HKC workshop did not seem as strenuous as I thought it would be (I even brought some changes of clothes, anticipating sweating through everything in the morning!).  In retrospect, though, I understand that the HKC is all about form, all about technique:  my own, in the performance of the three core moves in Pavel’s Russian Kettlebell Challenge methodology; and that of my future clients.  So instead of nonstop swinging and lifting and squatting–which I was prepared to do–instead, we’d break down each portion of a move, learn a variety of progression drills, then apply it to the skill:

  • Glutes-to-Wall Drill–then practice the hip hinge (initial movement of the kettlebell swing)
  • Shoulder-packing Drill–then practice the Turkish Get-up
  • Leg Flexion Drill–then practice the goblet squat

These are just a few of the progression drills we learned  in great detail, then practiced.  With each additional drill, we took turns coaching each other, learning how to spot, identify, and correct problems in each other’s technique.  Thus we became responsible for each other’s improvement–a mental and ethical grounding essential for the coach-client relationship.  Fascinating, too, was the way each new drill not only supported the specific move we were learning, but fed back into the moves learned earlier.  In this manner, we experienced the “layering of instruction” that is also central to Pavel’s method.

(I will say this, though:  the cumulative effect of “just 10 swings–or squats–or get-ups” over the course of EIGHT SOLID HOURS made itself known to me the next morning.  And last night.  And this morning.  Mama’s hurtin’, baby.)

The day ended with individual testing of the three core moves:  we lined up and, one by one, stepped forward in front of our instructors and fellow candidates, and performed a final set each of the kettlebell swing, Turkish get-up, and goblet squat.  Nervewracking!  Again, the alarm bells for me were going off:  I could fail, and everyone will see.

But I didn’t fail.  I passed.

And so, in gratitude and relief–and some quiet tears in my Reebok stepper corner–my day ended, a new journey began.  I don’t know where this particular road will lead me . . . but it’s been a hard, beautiful journey so far.  I’m grateful for every step and every friend along the way.

Go strong today, friends. Better:  go hardstyleIt’s the only way to go!

     (My awesome HKC partner Janelle and our even    MORE awesome Master RKC, Brett Jones! And of course, my beautiful and scary-strong RKC trainer, Cruel Jamie–who earned her HKC and RKC with Brett Jones as well!)

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Final Week . . . HKC Pittsburgh bound, baby!

It’s here.

In the busy-ness of the end of summer/beginning of the semester, I turned around, and it’s here.  HKC Pittsburgh, coming this Saturday.

I’m trying not to panic.  I think I’m ready.  All along this road, I’ve been learning to trust that feeling–and the evidence–instead of the panic.

Here’s my evidence:

  • I’m getting used to snatching the 16k (35-lb) kettlebell.  HKC certification doesn’t even test on the snatch, so in that sense I’m actually ahead of the game.  In my final work session with Cruel Jamie– awesome RKC trainer–she had me do sets of 5 16k snatches with each arm “until they fall off”.  I might be paraphrasing.
  • I’m routinely swinging the 26k (56-lb) kettlebell.  Between these two, my strength is good (and growing) on the ballistic moves.  (I’m still wonky on my feet with swings, according to Jamie, even though otherwise they’re strong.  This might get noted and corrected at HKC, but she’s not worried about it, so I won’t either.)
  • I’m good on the flexed arm hang (as long as I don’t have to retest over and over).
  • My goblet squats are golden.  Must be the mommy hips . . .
  • Turkish Get-Ups are still one of my favorites–usually my warm-up, whatever else I’m doing–and I’ve made them the framework of my HKC prep training, after the RKC Deep 6 pattern (thank you, Coach Engum!).
  • My conditioning is improving more and more:  I can go for looong stretches of heavy swings, swing ladders (increasing numbers of reps each cycle within a training session), and “pain chains” (moving up through increasing bell weights in one session).  Though I’m a frizzy, hot-mess puddle of sweat by the end of it, the fact that I consider these awesome fun instead of hellish torture must be a good sign, right?
  • THIS IS IMPORTANT.  Remember the skirt?  The one that stayed sitting when I stood up at the end of a committee meeting?  The skirt I bought to replace it–my first single-digit-sized clothing purchase in 20 years, probably!–is now beginning to slide down my hips in the same way.  I’m wearing it today at work, in fact, and I’m a leetle worried.

Note, if you will, that none of this evidence involves the scale.  Increasing strength and the resulting body changes are for me a better, more positive, LESS OBSESSIVE-MAKING barometer of my progress.

This, too, is a good sign.

I am completely rocked to have one Janelle Pica, none other than Primal Burgher Herself, as my HKC partner this weekend!!  She’s been a

partner all along–in strength development and general encouragement and awesomeness as we’ve connected online–so it’s

wonderful that we can see this thing through together.  By the way, she’s roughly half my age and twice my strength!   But

somehow the math works, as it’s added up to a great friendship as well as a mutual goal.

We got this, chica!

I want to say what a great encourager my own Sweet Baboo has been–not just putting up with this slightly daft, not-sure-what-I’ll-do-with-it-once-I-get-it goal of mine, but cheering me on along the way.  Thanks, Dear.  I’ll try not to break anything while I’m there. (>_<)

And on that note–what will I do with the certification once earned?–we’ll see.  I’m connecting with the Wellness Center folks–with the Jefferson County Parks and Recreation Center–some other fitness places already equipped with kettlebells–and with individuals who’ve seen the work I’ve been doing and the progress, and who are interested in discovering what training with kettlebells can do for them.  If you’re one of these folks, let me know!  I’m here for ya.

Heading out Friday morning for the ‘Burgh.  Watch out!

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The long and winding road

How is it possible I’ve let this blog sit for a month?!

A semester has begun, a daughter has come home to roost, and I feel I’ve been a world away.  Time to buckle down, get back to reality–certainly back to serious training, since I’m less than TWO WEEKS AWAY FROM HKC certification!!

But where have I been, you ask?  So glad you asked.

I’d mentioned, here and elsewhere, that August would be the time of the 4th Annual Pilgrimage of Peace, an occasional gathering of friends new and returning, seeking the monastic rhythms of silence, fellowship, shared work, and sung prayer in the beautiful Blue Ridge of West Virginia.  Held at Stillpoint Retreat Center, the annual event is led and shepherded by Br. Stefan Waligur, Benedictine oblate, composer, singer of chants and teller of stories.  Asker of stubborn and troubling questions.

This, in good measure, has been his life’s work–leading these retreats, gradually building this vagabond and scattered community across America and now in Ireland, where he currently lives and studies in a community of scholars known as All Hallow’s College in Dublin.  In recent years, his vocation–a word I love for its connection to the word “vocal” or “voice”–literally “a calling forth”–has come a bit clearer, during his time in Ireland:  ministering to a wounded Church.

The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has been badly damaged by the horror of priestly abuse of children.  People are broken and angry, and when they have chosen to leave the church, in good measure they have also chosen to leave God.  Br. Stefan–or Macushla, “the heartbeat of the Beloved”, a Celtic name given to him spontaneously by an elderly Irish woman–has been working to help them find a path back to God, through their own ancient songs and stories.

For centuries these grand heroic stories had been ignored or even forbidden by the church, blocking the people from a great source of their identity and strength.  In their place, the church offered the Roman Catholic identity–which, in the face of heartbreaking, unspeakable betrayal, has crumbled to dust.

Now, unable and unwilling to turn for identity and strength to a broken church, they are relearning their own story through the songs and ministry of an American expatriate, a vagabond monk:  he is telling their old tales to them, creating  and teaching them new songs crafted from the old melodies, connecting both to an essential and life-giving Gospel in a gentle teaching of simple, poetic questions and deep, holy listening.

It is a beautiful work, and for seventeen days in August, we had the opportunity to be part of it.  Through silence, Scripture, story; through chant, drumming, poetry; through shared work, meals, play–a community came together in reunion, welcomed new friends, grew together, learned and lived together.  We built a labyrinth together, blessed it, were the first to walk its rock-strewn, root-woven paths.  We laughed and swam and kayaked together; together sat in silence in the early light of dawn, the fading light of sunset, under starlight and moonlight.

And we said goodbye.  Each year is harder to leave, to return to the “reality” waiting outside and down the crazybeautiful mountain roads that lead to Stillpoint.  Each year we leave not knowing, truly, where or whether we will be able to gather again.  Stillpoint? Dayspring (an earlier and equally beloved site, in Maryland)?  Ireland itself, where this important work is happening?

We don’t know–but as in the labyrinth, we trust the path, and those who walk it, to God.

Now–back to work.

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