But first I want to reflect on the word I chose last year. It was HEART. Not a word you want to come across too often in a collection of poetry lest you begin to suspect the poet of being a) in need of a thesaurus; or b) someone who missed her calling as a composer of greeting cards. Yup. It’s a word with the potential to be shallow, sentimental, Valentine-shaped. And yet it’s also a word with muscle, quite literally. And that is how I used the word (or how it chose to be used by me) this past year.
When I chose HEART, I was thinking of yoga’s chest-opening exercises, of being more open and more loving and kind. But instead I found myself, over and over again, thinking of the noun, of my actual pumping heart. This past year I made my heart work harder than it ever has before. I asked it to power me through training and races at distances I’d never imagined enduring. And my heart adapted. I don’t know the mechanics of long-term training, but somehow over many months my body became more efficient at moving and using oxygen. When I began training, I didn’t know what endurance really meant; all I knew was that I didn’t have it. Over the course of the past year, I learned that endurance is mostly about the ability to recover quickly. In fact, as I’ve experienced it, endurance means many quick recoveries amidst ongoing hard effort. This is best understood in the context of a race, but if you’re a naturally competitive person, like I am, you’ll get a taste for it during every run, every swim, every bike ride. It means feeling spent, and discovering another layer of strength.
All of which also means that my word of the year was taken awfully literally. And that wasn’t what I’d intended.
Surely there’s a cliche in here somewhere, something we could put on a poster, perhaps? Yes, if I dig just a little deeper, I think there is. Because it came to me this morning that while strengthening my literal HEART, I learned about courage. I learned to see myself as courageous (on a small scale), capable of enduring despite momentary doubt or pain; and that in turn gave me courage–to dream bigger, push harder, attempt more, and above all, to trust myself. I may feel spent–speaking metaphorically–but if instead of giving up or giving in to the feeling I let myself breathe for a moment, I will find another layer of strength. How often do I feel discouraged? Tired? Doubtful? Uncertain? These are every day emotions. They aren’t necessarily enormous or overwhelming, but even on a small scale, anxiety or doubt can nibble away at resolve. To live a full life, I want to take chances, to push the pace, to try things I’ve never tried before. I want to answer that voice in my head that is whispering “Can I do this??” with “I don’t know, but I’m going to try.”
I might fail. I might run out of steam and stagger across the finish line. It might not work out this time. But if I’ve tried, I’ve learned more than if I hadn’t.
That’s where HEART took me this year. So I suppose it has been an opening exercise.