After months of preparation, I was finally heading to Spain. And not a moment too soon. I’d been longing to travel abroad in order to regain my equilibrium.
Events of the previous several months had ungrounded me. Not only was I deeply affected by the political upheaval and rising social unrest in the U.S., but many things where shifting personally, too. I had been pushing the limits of my mental and physical endurance in the name of getting more done. It was time for a break.
I was in Spain for the Costa Brava Running + Wellness Retreat, during which I’d spend seven days running along the Mediterranean Sea. On this, my third time to Catalonia, I wondered if it would hold the same magic it had for me on my first visit in 2011, while on an assignment for Trail Runner magazine.
Sinking into the seat on my Barcelona-bound flight, I gazed out the window and exhaled deeply, knowing there was nothing I needed to do for the next nine hours. I looked forward to a whole week of indulging in what best rejuvenates my energy, improves my perspective and calms my nerves: trail running, travel, sunshine and the company of great women.
It wasn’t long after our meeting in Girona, where the retreat began, that I felt the connection with these eight strangers around our shared appreciation for running and traveling.
As Pablo, our locally based running guide, led us through the labyrinthine streets of Girona’s ancient Jewish Quarter, some of the women shared stories of their present transitions such as selling a business, quitting a job and ending a relationship. Whatever the source of the upheaval, all were grateful for the opportunity to notice how these shifts were affecting their daily lives and selves in small yet significant ways.
The next day’s run brought us to a seaside overlook and our first view of the Mediterranean Sea. Running along the stone pathway, we encountered a child with sun-bleached hair and bronzed face seated at a makeshift table, handing out fresh-picked wildflowers and tiny cups of cold, sweet liquid. The refreshment fueled the proceeding miles along sea cliffs and beaches to small resort town of Calella de Palafrugell.
On day 3 we departed our hotel on foot to continue our journey northward, following pathways and traversing golden beaches to the fishing village of Tamarú. From here we headed inland, working our way to the medieval village of Pals. Home to restored Gothic towers and rice fields, it’s also where our local hosts show us where to feast on some of the region’s best seafood Paella and sangria.
On day four we ran to Cadequés, a jewel of a seaside town nestled deep within the stark, rocky landscape of Cap de Creus Parc Naturel. This artists’ community has long attracted creatives and visionary types from around the world, and today, thanks to its seclusion, Cadequés remains a culturally and architecturally diverse blend of cultures and time periods.
That afternoon, a member of our group, Heather Lee of Boulder, Colorado, who is leading this September’s Costa Brava retreat and specializes in coaching women through midlife transitions, led us through a wellness workshop.
“Times of transition are so uncomfortable and disruptive because change leads to a loss of control,” says Heather. “Your perception of a situation creates an internal dialogue, or story, you tell yourself, which usually repeats over and over in your mind day after day.”
Through no fault of our own, this story tends to be negative, undermining our ability to cope with the change in a constructive way. So Heather’s assignment was for us to write an affirmation to help us change that internal dialogue into something more positive.
I’ll be the first to admit that I have a hard time buying into a positive statement about a challenging situation. I fear it would make me only more aware of how things were not the way I wanted them to be. “But there are so many things I want to change and improve that I can’t narrow it down to just one statement,” I said.
“That’s means you’re focusing on how to fix things,” Heather explained. “Your affirmation isn’t meant to be a solution or something you want to acquire, rather, it’s about how you are to simply be with the way things are right now. Think of your affirmation as your voice of reason, of deeper knowing that you trust completely.”
That’s it when it clicked. Rather than expend so much energy researching solutions and working to exhaustion to fix things, I needed to receive the solutions that were already right before me.
So I wrote my affirmation as: When I relax and open my heart, I receive the guidance and support I need.
I felt so relieved from that point on, accepting that I didn’t have control over the outcome. It turns out that letting go is the best way to get through.
It’s certainly true in running. During the retreat’s mindful running workshops, we’d been practicing noticing and releasing tension in our body that might be interfering with a fluid and efficient stride.
Your mental state affects the body and how we move, including running. “Muscling” your way through the running gait is an exhausting way to run. Similarly, in life, the more I try to control things, the more physical tension shows up in my running in the form of clenched fists, hunched shoulders and rapid, shallow breaths.
During the retreat’s final few days, as we ran through other parts of Cap de Creus to Port de La Selva, I focused on remembering to relax, allowing my arms swinging loosely forward and back from the shoulders and make each inhalation slow and deep.
As a result, instead of feeling like I was struggling to ascend an invisible, never-ending uphill, it felt like I was cruising along a slight downhill grade with the wind at my back and strong, powerful legs gliding through each step.
Now home from Spain, I sit at my desk facing the familiar overflowing inbox and long to-do list that tempts me to slip back into my pre-retreat state of mind. I pause to recall my affirmation: When I relax and open my heart, I receive the guidance and support I need.
Getting more done isn’t going to satisfy my drive to be “on top of things.” Recalling the sensation of running along the Mediterranean Sea, smelling flowers, seeing the sunlight sparkle on the waves and hearing the sea gulls squawk overhead, I can see how to approach things in a way that isn’t so exhausting and overwhelming, yet allows me to fulfill my important roles as business owner, coach, wife and mom.
Each day is simply a practice in choosing to be more mindful, just as each run is practice in connecting me to that wiser, deeper part of myself.