Monday, September 19, 2011

Who's the Winner?

Yesterday, with virtually three training sessions under my belt-- two lake swims and one summer jog, I did my second triathlon. A sprint triathlon, it's called-- half a mile swim, twelve miles bike, and a quick 5K run. I loved doing the same triathlon last year but, with limited time (or interest) and one more bucket list item scratched off, I decided that I could skip this year's event.

Here's the thing-- in my primary exercise, yoga, I am generally successful at being non-competitive. But, despite the fact that, as a yoga teacher and student, I spend my work life teaching people (and myself) to let go of competition, perfection, performance, I am a deeply competitive person. Being a twin is surely relevant, but I can't really say why, and to be honest, I don't want to open the psychological Pandora's box of my twin status. For whatever reason, I'm competitive.

So, when my friend Kate who I did a triathlon with last summer told me that she was doing it again, my hackles went up. If you know dogs at all, you know that's a sign of being on high alert. Goddammit, if Kate was doing it, I was going to do it! Kate is a person who I perceive to be non-competitive. She's open, giving, neutral. So why was I competing? Was I competing with her? With myself? I'm still not sure but I hope I get some clarity through the writing of this blog post.

Yesterday morning at six o'clock am, four of us convened at Kate's house to load our bikes and drive down to the lake for our race. The temperature was 54. It was pouring. And my hands were half-way numb. Kate's dark figure, already soaked from getting the bikes out of the garage, emerged and I jokingly blamed her for getting me into this horribly cold, wet situation. Kate, quick-wit that she is laughingly replied, "Maybe this will temper your competitive edge Culberg!"

Our bikes safely racked on top of the car, we all piled into Kate's car and warmed ourselves as much as we could on the drive down to the lake. It stopped raining by the time we arrived to the race site and, like lost girl-scouts finally finding the path out of the dark forest, we were all optimistic about the weather and our impending adventure. As the sun came up on Lake Washington and we prepped our little spaces with our bikes and helmets, running shoes, and water bottles, I looked around at Kate and my other friends. We were coaching each other out of our nervousness, advising one another about goggle usage, sharing snacks. There were at least a thousand other women in the park around us doing the same thing. Only a handful were clearly uber-athletes, "elite" athletes they call them. They were sizing up the competition, in it to win it.

But not us. And not me. I honestly didn't feel it. No hackles, just cold, wet fur. We walked down to the lake in our separate groups to start our swim. I got my cap on, made the final adjustments to my goggles, did two sets of Pranayama breathing to calm myself down, and dove. And, as I swam, it wasn't the winning that motivated me, it was that we were all doing this together, all one thousand of us, elite and novice, old and young. And I loved it. Same thing with the bike and the run. The allure of this thing was simply in doing it, not in winning it.

Maybe I have figured it out. Being a twin, you are always part of something bigger than yourself. Even in the womb. Katherine (my twin) and I used to say, "we're wombmates." Even when we are each alone, our fundamental frame of reference is being with someone else. Being part of something bigger than oneself. So, while I admit that I'm still competitive, it's not the whole story.

Maybe I'll figure it out at next year's triathlon. I sure hope the weather's better.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Why are you going to the bakery for broccoli?

The other day on the phone, my twin sister Katherine asked me, like only a twin sister can, "Laura, why do you keep going to the bakery for broccoli?" The issue Katherine was addressing in that conversation is related to ancient childhood history, but hearing those words made me feel suddenly like I could deal, not just with that specific issue, but with every problem in my life, by just figuring out what the bakery actually sold.

This question has been on my mind for days. It's one of those Peter Sellers, "Being There" comments that can mean everything and nothing simultaneously. It means not expecting my six-year-old to actually unload the dishwasher when I really need it. It means not expecting my neighbor to give me an honest answer about what he really thinks about my hedges. It means being reasonable and thoughtful about what to expect from a partner, a parent, a friend.

It's kind of depressing, but liberating at the same time-- the more we know someone, the better able we are to temper expectations of that person. For example, I have a friend who inadvertently (or subconsciously) makes little jabs at projects I am involved with. Really subtle, maybe funny, but they're jabs. I could say, "Screw her, I'm done with this friendship" or I could say, "She's got issues, man, they're not mine" and make a mental note to not involve her with projects I love.

It seems like the bakery/broccoli question is everywhere I turn. Except yoga. I realized it today in practice as I drifted in and out of the question... "What is the bakery/broccoli part of my practice?" I turned it over seventeen different ways, but no matter the angle, it just didn't fit. What a relief! The yoga room, my sanctuary from the everyday, is the one place where I don't assume anything, so I never have to adjust my expectations. Now I just have to sort out the rest of my life.