Life is *not* a marathon... or a sprint

Before you tell your life what you intend to do with it, listen for what it intends to do with you.
— Parker Palmer
 On a hike in Montreat, NC with two of my best friends on my wedding day. 

On a hike in Montreat, NC with two of my best friends on my wedding day. 

I've never been very good about being casual, especially in regards to hobbies. It came as a shock to some that having never run a mile outside of gym class, I just decided one day to run a marathon (or 3). While some would say, "Hey, I'd like to be more active... take up running... maybe a few times a week...I'll see if I like it." Instead, here's sample conversation between me and my Self--

Me: *reads marathon advertisement on a Starbucks bulletin board* I wonder if I can run 26 miles in a single 4 hour period...

Self: That sounds hard.

Me: Maybe it would help me lose weight...

Self: Not this again.

Me: I guess there's only one way to find out.  *signs up for Flying Pig Marathon in 6 months*

Self: *sigh*

To be honest, I do not know what my inner voice was thinking in that moment. I wasn't listening to find out. This "conversation" was, in reality, a monologue. The force pushing me through those long weeks of training, running through every city I lived in (or traveled to) in my twenties, was not my inner voice. Heck, I didn't even like running. (I still don't.) I remember when I auditioned for graduate schools, I was training for a race. The schedule had me running a long run on the day of my audition at the Yale School of Music. I did the audition and then ran 17 miles on a treadmill in the hotel. I was disappointed I didn't get in the full 20 the program had prescribed. Looking back on the pavement-pounding part of my life, I can still relate to that desire to be headed toward some finish line somewhere. Even now, finish lines regularly speak louder to me than my inner voice. It never occurred to me that this was a problem.

A few weeks back, we here at Lumina Arts Incubator began the deep dive into The Artist's Way, a book by Julia Cameron about creativity and spirituality. A group of artists and I meet on Tuesday nights for 12 weeks, and discuss big questions about creativity, inspiration, faith, and anything else that comes up. The weekly meetings give me energy that lasts for days on end. These ladies (this time it's all women!) are amazingly vulnerable about their process. They share intimate things about their artistic practice, their pasts, their dreams for their future, all prompted by the reading and writing we do throughout the week on our own. 3 weeks ago we were complete strangers, and now I believe we are friends. I'm lucky that my first time leading this group is with folks who really want to share and grow together around these topics. This is the part I love.

Maybe you can sense that there is a "but" coming.

Anyone who has ever been through "The Artist's Way" knows how strenuous the weekly requirements of the program can be.  Everyone in the group is required to do them, including the facilitator. The Morning Pages, which Cameron calls "the bedrock tool of creative recovery", involve writing a 3-page (long-hand!) stream of consciousness journal entry EVERY MORNING. In addition, we are each required to take ourselves on an "Artist's Date" each week, and complete other "tasks" in your journal, which vary week to week. This has shockingly felt like drudgery. It took me a minute (i.e. a couple of weeks...) to figure out why.

Inner work has no finish line. 

You may have heard people say "Life is a marathon, not a sprint." I would definitely have to disagree. What I remember most about marathoning was the exhaustion. I wish there was another word for it, because exhaustion doesn't seem to cut it. After racing, I remember feeling that someone had taken the entire storage of energy deep down in every muscle and depleted it. Sure, you learn how to pace yourself to last the whole race, and certainly the discipline of pushing through fatigue and pain. These are certainly valuable lessons, but not a metaphor for life, in my opinion. (If this is how tired we will be at the end of our lives, then I think we are doing something wrong!)

Life is a hike and the map your inner voice.

Sometimes you're walking uphill in the rain. Sometimes you come to a clearing, sit down and have a picnic. You aren't ever quite sure if the peak you reach after a long climb will be the highest one, so you savor every pinnacle and rest in every valley. There is no finish line, because it is not a race. There are many different trails, each with their own set of hikers, and it will be tempting to follow others out of fear of trusting your own map. Your map isn't something you create yourself. It is given to you. You'll need a community of others to help you read your map, but not everyone you meet along the trail will send you down the right path. Luckily, your map also holds the key to who can be trusted for this sacred task. Still, you may find the way illegible for while, requiring you to sleep under the same tree for many, many nights. Back tracking may be necessary. If you're tired you sit down. If you're bursting with energy you run a sub-8-minute-mile. The way is long and varied and full of turns and terrains. 

I think some of us who grew up in church internalized this idea that life (and specifically a life of faith) is all about that finish line. (Scriptures like Hebrews 12:1 and 1 Corinthians 9:24 come to mind.) This, combined with the individualistic and success-driven culture here in America, makes for an interesting journey through perfectionism and idolatry. I grew up thinking that listening to God's voice was the opposite of listening to my own. I am ashamed to admit that with great self-righteousness, I've completely disregarded the whisper of my inner voice in service to a voice I thought was God's.

Through the Artist's Way, I'm seeing that the more listening I do to this inner voice God gave me, the more I sense God speaking to me.

Don't get my wrong, God's voice is very different than mine. It contradicts, challenges, and urges me down unexpected trails. That is very uncomfortable at times. The act of listening and searching-- in spite of the sometimes painful and paradoxical drudgery of inner work-- that's where the connection, the healing, and the guidance occurs. We need others to help us decipher the beautiful intricacies of our maps. Thank God we do...otherwise this journey would be pretty lonely.

This week I'm thankful for my fellow hikers, who courageously share their journey as artists with me, people I've just happened to have met as we climb this ridge together. Who are those people in your life?