Friday, July 21, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Exquisite Ecstasy Edition

I can’t even…
Life is a crazy adventure. 
In The Power of Myth Joseph Campbell says in his conversation with Bill Moyers:
“My general formula for my students is ‘Follow your bliss.’ Find where it is, and don’t be afraid to follow it.”
I can’t say that I’ve always adhered strictly to this principle.  I can say that from my teen years I desperately wanted to.  I wanted to go fearless down the trail into the wilderness and find the high places of life.  I wanted to be the fullest version of myself.  Throughout the years, I’ve danced around that state of mind, brushing up against it every so often but never being fully immersed in it enough to understand why it’s even important.  Figuring out what my bliss is…where it comes from…what parts of me truly wants to come through…that’s never been easy. 
I can easily come up with a bucket list of things I want to do in life, but what’s difficult is to sort out who I want to be.  As I neared the end of my undergraduate stint whilst rushing toward the long cubicle sentence I now call my life Mandy would frequently ask me what I wanted to do with my degree.  “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was our inside joke.  I was in my mid-30s at the time.  Truth be told I didn’t want to grow up.
I never had a definite answer.  I think at some point I started giving the expected answer—a planner—and ran with it.  I mixed up a big boy career and growing up with bliss and dreams.  At some point I stopped believing that dreams mattered and felt like I had to perform to some societal standard.  I have one regret in life…
Earlier in the conversations Campbell said:
“Now, I came to this idea of bliss because in Sanskrit, which is the great spiritual language of the world, there are three terms that represent the brink, the jumping-off place to the ocean of transcendence: sat-chit-ananda. The word ‘Sat’ means being. ‘Chit’ means consciousness. ‘Ananda’ means bliss or rapture. I thought, ‘I don’t know whether my consciousness is proper consciousness or not; I don’t know whether what I know of my being is my proper being or not; but I do know where my rapture is. So let me hang on to rapture, and that will bring me both my consciousness and my being.’ I think it worked.”
My life has been a quest for bliss.  And I hope you realize that the word has a lot deeper meaning than mere happiness and it’s so much more than giddy feelings over some recent life events.  Joy, bliss, rapture…they all speak to a mental and emotional state of contentment I think.  Not so long ago Mandy asked me—in frustration—would I ever be content.  Without hesitation, I said: “I don’t think so.”
The Book of Matthew states:
“Therefore, I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  Look at the birds of the air: they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?
I think this epitomizes Christianity.  And this also speaks to my spiritual conundrum of the last few years.  I don’t see American Christianity exhibiting this mentality.  How can I reason together with people who totally dismiss this beautiful passage? 
Tuesday, I stayed home from work.  It was just a random mental health day.  I honestly didn’t need it, but I was basking in an afterglow of a weekend spent with my favorite person.  The past few weeks have been a long and deep conversation between us.  Late in the afternoon we were just sitting around, finally noses into our respective smarty smart phones, but satiated for the time being with social intercourse, and I realized I had not had a single thought all day about leaving the house, cycling, rock climbing, hiking, or doing much of anything except being in the company of my best friend.
“I’m content,” I said.  She looked up from her phone and smiled at me.  But then I think the realization of what I had said sunk in.  I explained why I had reached that conclusion.  I honestly felt at that moment that I could spend the rest of my life sitting in that room with her and not need anything else. 
There are many things in life I want to do.  I have a bucket list.  From time to time I am compelled to go ride my bike a hundred miles or spend a day swinging around on cliffs.  I like paddling down new and exciting rivers.  I want to help other people discover the strength and curiosity hiding in their minds.  I want to share the world I see with as many people as I can.  That desire has driven me since I was a kid.
What I now conclude is that my priorities have been somewhat out of whack.  I can have all of those things, follow my bliss, but unless I stayed centered on the ground at my feet I’m never going to be able to enjoy the adventures I find myself in.  Maybe life can be as simple as “follow your bliss.”  I think the difficult matter is figuring out what your bliss is.  And I think that is a worthy adventure itself.
The best of me


Saturday, July 15, 2017

The Power of Love

Saturday, July 15, 2017 
Mandy has asked me in the past questions like: “What’s your favorite memory?” or “When were you the most happiest?”  Typically I’ve been unable to conjure the memory from the deep shadows of my brain.  I have a good memory—amazing in fact—but for someone with a mind like mine trying to pin down a single memory on command can be like trying to catch a butterfly out the window of a moving car.  It’s possible… 
Today I have been married to Amanda Sue DeFilippo Chaney for seventeen years and we’ve been together for a little over eighteen.  We didn’t know each other very long before we started dating.  I was twenty-five and she was eighteen. She made the comment last night that I raised her; we’ve been together for half of her life now.
Our life together has been an adventure.  And like any good adventure story it has fencing, fighting, torture, revenge, giants, monsters, chases, escapes, true love, miracles…well, that might be a stretch, but you get the point.  We’ve fought dragons together.  We’ve trekked through dark valleys and over high lonesome passes together.  Through it all we’ve been side by side even though at times we may have grumbled at each other as any two people will on a long journey.  I don’t for a minute regret any disagreement we’ve had because her point of view has always helped me to confirm or refine my own. 
Together we’ve climbed mountains, rode our bikes thousands of miles, raised two kids and obtained two bachelor’s degrees.  We’ve endured a long series of crappy cars.  We’ve moved across country.  And back.  We’ve watched friends drift away and found new ones when we needed them most.  And we’ve done all of this together. 
Mandy skiing into Brainerd Lake.  Earlier that year (2009) we summited the peak (Audubon) in the background
Underlying the normal traffic of two lives being lived we’ve wrestled with my own debilitating mental health demons.  She held me through the long dark after I discovered I had ADHD, through diagnosis, and the ensuing decade long crisis of identity and self-worth that generated. 
When other demons reared their heads she was always there with me, taking her own wounds and giving back as well as she got.  At times I tried to pull away and fight on my own.  In retrospect it’s unclear if I was trying to protect her or myself.  We’ve always been stronger together.  While this war inside my head is not over there is a distinct lull going on right now leaving me the respite needed to regroup and take the time to acknowledge my staunchest ally. 
Prior to 2006 I was a happy-go-lucky guy.  Maybe to a fault.  I’m not saying there weren’t issues in my life, that I was perfect as a son, brother, husband, father, or friend, but for the first 33 years of my life I did my best to avoid worrying over anything or putting too much thought into the troubles of life.  I figured there were plenty of people out there worrying enough for themselves and me.
2006 was the year the storms came over the pass and started to batter us along our journey.  As storms do, they subsided and allowed us reprieve from time to time.  But to say the past ten or eleven years have been my own private Ragnarok would not be too melodramatic in a spiritual sense.
Indian Peaks Wilderness, Colorado
Your seventeenth wedding anniversary isn’t typically the significant one.  The milestone we looked forward to was fifteen.  In the first year we were married an older friend told us the first fifteen were the hardest.  She was sort of joking, and she and her husband had been married thirty at that point, but we kind of adopted that marker as the point when we knew it was going to be a successful marriage. 
It didn’t take long before we realized we had something special.  We didn’t understand why (and I must confess still don’t) but even as newlyweds and then as a “young couple” and beyond we’ve often gotten comments that our friends and acquaintances would like to have marriages like ours. 
For the most part we’ve not had to hide our marital imperfections from the world.  There haven’t been many, and those we’ve had have been reasonable.  Normal.  Typical.  Obviously there were a few years when we were getting to know each other and working things out between us.  That process wasn’t difficult for us though.  We didn’t fight about the toilet seat up or down or who got to sleep on which side of the bed.  In the beginning we were simply two best friends living together.
Then one day, not so long ago, she and I acknowledged that we’d come dangerously close to giving up.  She had been ready to walk away, and I would have let her.  The demon hordes almost overwhelmed us.  And in the heat of the battle our alliance faltered.  My mental health problems threatened the good thing we have.  The darkness almost choked out the light. 
I clung desperately to the knowledge of that castle keep we shared together where we have safe space and that we had defended valiantly together.  We were just so far from that place with no protection.  We almost lost the battle, the war, and the cause.
That was four months ago.  Four months shy of our seventeenth wedding anniversary we almost walked away from each other. 

Late last night we lay next to each other in bed talking and holding each other.  She asked me to tell her a story.  She does this frequently, and I try to oblige her, but with my crazy tangled up mind I find that trying to come up with an interesting memory to share from our past is like trying to catch a butterfly from a moving car.  Y’know how when someone asks what you’re thinking and you reply “nothing?”  We all do it.  Mandy and I have learned to respond: “Lots” because that’s true for both of us.  It doesn’t provide additional insight into someone’s state of mind, but it’s more honest.
For whatever reason I was able to conjure some good memories last night and we had a great venture into nostalgia.  Through everything we’ve remembered that our lives together have been an incredible adventure.  We recounted all of those steps taken together.  There have been amazing moments standing side by side looking out over the world and knowing that together there was nowhere we couldn’t go, nothing we couldn’t do.  And there have been the incredibly dark moments when we didn’t know how we were going to survive or if we’d ever be happy again.  We talked about all of that as we lay in each other’s arms.  
I told her on a whim I had bought two lottery tickets that afternoon.  I’m not sure why.  It’s not something I do.  I never had before.  For whatever reason I felt really lucky that day.  I felt like if someone was going to win something, or find the power to help others to the tune of $155 million it was going to be me (spoiler: I didn't win).  That led to talking about the Ingrid Michaelson song You and I. You know which one I mean…the one that goes: 
“Oh, let's get rich and buy our parents
Homes in the South of France
Let's get rich and give everybody nice sweaters
And teach them how to dance
Let's get rich and build our house on a mountain
Making everybody look like ants”

She played the song and sung along to it and I felt an incredible deep and profound love for her.  It wasn’t necessarily any stronger than I had ever felt before, but it welled up and I found myself grinning into her hair and just as happy as I could be.

It was when she picked up her phone and cued up “our song” (Dreams by the Cranberries) that I was overwhelmed by pure emotion.  There were no words and will never be words to describe what I felt.  I began to feel my chest swell.  My throat locked up.  I couldn’t say what I was feeling.  I stared at the ceiling stroking her hair and losing myself to a wave of infinite joy.  I couldn’t stop the tears streaming down my face.
When she sensed it she pulled back and looked at me.  Her expression was naked concern, but I could not tell her what was going on.  My body failed me at that moment, and I was utterly trapped within a prison of joy.  I was finally able to convey that I was happy, and she laid her head back on my chest.  I could only stare in wonder at the ceiling.  Existence became a point in the universe where every thread of our lives together touched defying space and time.  At that moment eighteen years of human history recorded in the mind of a being self-identified as Chris Chaney were in that room and spread out like a map on the table of the world and it was beautiful.
When I could finally speak I could only say “wow.” 
It took a few minutes to come back from the exquisite oblivion of that moment.  I can’t quite explain everything that contributed to my state of mind to you, but without a doubt I know if I could bottle that feeling and sell it I’d be rich, but I would never sell it.  I’d have to give it away freely.
When we’d both recovered from my moment of spiritual obliteration we talked more.  Of course we revisited some of the dark times along the path in recent months.  We’ve been fighting ahead out of duty more than passion for more than a while, and since May we’ve found a second wind neither of us expected and from unlikely sources.
Mandy apologized for the umpteenth time for not being able to help me when I needed help the most.  I keep reassuring her that no apologies are necessary.  I know it pains her deeply that on the darkest day of my life she let me walk away alone.  We both made a mistake that day, but those mistakes were made in good faith based on the understandings we had at the time of what was going on.  She had no idea that instead of a mental health day out hiking in the woods that I needed professional help.  I had no idea that the escape I sought was final.  If you know me at all you need to know this: I almost walked off a cliff that day.  Now, when I need strength to get through I look back to that day, as dark as it was, because I was somehow able to stave off the dragon alone.  By all accounts I should not have been able to.
She told me she’s glad we’re at this place now.   I was lost to her, but I’m back.  I told her I’m sorry I let the darkness dim her light in my life.  For now there is a tentative peace.  Not between us—that alliance is firm and resounding—but the cease fire between us and the demon horde.  The chemical structures in my brain have not changed.  My wiring is still tangled.  I’m still me, and I’ll never be able to escape me.  For now I don’t mind being where I am.  For now we have the high ground and the view is incredible.    
Love is an incredible mystery, and I am blessed with a love unlike anything I could have imagined up until this very day.  But I’ll let you in on a little secret…love works best and grows the most when you get out of the way and let it.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Ramming Speed Friday: Full Speed Ahead Edition

I feel great.  I’d be lying if I said I was 100%, but being able to say I feel great and realize I still have some work to do makes me realize how bad I had gotten over the past year.  My maladies were both in body and in mind.  We’ve come a long way, baby!  I’m looking forward to the continuation of the journey.  It’s a journey that felt stalled on the side of the road in the middle of the desert for so long.  And now we’re humming along with the music blaring again.
Let’s start with the body and I’ll point out the mental landmarks during the tour.  Lemme take you back to 2010.  That was before I started obsessing over endurance mountain bike races.  That was the first year I cracked 5,000 miles on my bike.  Maybe I wasn’t eating well, but I was consistently getting more than 200% of the recommended daily activity and I felt pretty good.  We bought a house in Arvada, Colorado, and despite the troubles in the cubicle it finally felt like we were settling into life in the West.
Into 2011 I began yearning to race my mountain bike.  I started “training.”  At first all was good, but then I wrecked on the wet train tracks next to the Coors Brewery in Golden and tore the AC ligament in my left shoulder.  From a cycling standpoint, this was a minor hiccup, and I was back on the bike in no time.  What I didn’t realize at the time was that only an idiot ignores the doctor’s recommendation to follow through with physical therapy and get healed up right.
The next year I raced my first Leadville 100.  I had a good run up to the day of, and then it seemed like things fell apart.  I believed myself bulletproof even after DNFing around mile 87, but the reality is that I didn’t train well.  I didn’t change my diet, and I didn’t really know how to prepare my body for the grueling effort of riding a mountain bike over rough terrain for one hundred miles above 10,000’. 
After failing in the mountains west of Leadville, Colorado I kept pushing into 2013, through the stress and turmoil of a 1,200 mile move and career change, through family upheaval, spiritual crisis, and the realities of getting older.  I rode a lot and I rode as hard as a could all the time.  And yet on my second attempt in Leadville—while I crossed the red carpet and the finish line—I didn’t succeed in my quest.  I weighed the same, I was eating the same crap, and I was training in the same wretched manner.  The stresses of life kept mounting.  Through suicidal thoughts, deep depression, anxiety, and despair I kept on trying to find my footing and figure out a path to take in life.  It was dark, cloudy, and without the support of my amazing wife and companion I don’t think I would have made it through to the other side intact.
Somewhere as I headed over that dark pass I decided trail running was a good idea.  I threw myself into it in 2014 and kept trudging ahead into 2015 until my body had more than it could take.  I quit cold turkey after the Rough Trail 50k.  I wanted to keep doing it, but I knew my body couldn’t withstand the pounding I was putting it through.  I had fully focused on running for over a year and the bikes rusted and tires began to dry rot in the basement. 
I’ve slowly gotten back into mountain biking, though a return to road cycling at the levels I used to maintain is unlikely any time soon.  I aspire to get fully back into rock climbing, but I knew before I could venture into the vertical realm again I have to get my physical house in order.  But there I’ve sat broken down on the side of a desert highway for two years.  My back, knees, and other joints have frozen with rust.  My battery has drained and won’t hold a charge.  The gas tank is almost empty.  The cars that pass seem to be going too fast to want to help, or going the wrong way, and all that I can do is listen to the radio as the last few joules seep from the battery into the washed-out sky.
After debating it for some time and putting it off for no good reason week after week, I finally signed Mandy and myself up for community acupuncture with Wendy Bentley at Natural Bridge Acupuncture.  Wendy and her husband Craig own Red River Outdoors, which is the business my family established way back in the mid-90s and sold (I believe) in 2006.  Wendy runs her natural health center on the property at Red River Outdoors.

A little over a month ago, I found myself reclined in a chair in a yurt in Slade, Kentucky.  The scythe-shaped two-bladed fan caused the light coming through the center hole to flickered on the back of my brain.  I didn’t feel the needles in my body, but I felt the tension draining from me and a deep relaxation set in, softened my bones, and for the first time in years I felt like a human being again.
At first I think I was hesitant that revisiting Red River Outdoors.  It's a place for me that had been caught up in a dream that I consciously let go of.  But that first visit with Wendy and my first experience with acupuncture was the beginning of good feelings and a turnabout in my life.
There is a lot I’m not telling you (and not going to tell you) that has been going on in my life these past few weeks, but I think my physical healing has been supported by some emotional and spiritual healing as well.  After a couple of visits Wendy recommended that I come in for a full private acupuncture session, and I agreed that if community sessions were making me feel as good as they were then I was all in for a private session.
The first full session was great.  She focused on my knees and my back problems.  It was when she did cupping that (at least from my perspective) the real revelation came.  She’d put the cups on, and after only a couple of minutes she touched my left shoulder and asked if I had an injury there.  And because I had considered it healed it hadn’t occurred to me to mention the years old AC ligament injury until then.  A few days earlier in the midst of a really bad day of back pain and knotty-ness Mandy was using the massager on me and showed me a diagram of the muscles in the back asking where it was tight and I saw the direct connection between where my shoulder was injured and the spot on the opposite side of my back that gives me the most trouble.  Between that and the amazingly purple bruise left over after my cupping session in the same area of my shoulder I realized that the shoulder had affected me long after I counted it healed.
That was the week before we went to Colorado.  I felt quite a bit better that week despite being in the car a lot.  This week I signed up for Wendy’s Yogalign class.  I have the most atrocious posture, and I can say for certain that has contributed to my lack of core support and a lot of my persistent back problems as well.  Or at least my suffering is exacerbated by my posture.
Monday I took ol’ Fatter Than Average (my mountain bike) to Veterans Park.  Within a few pedal strokes, I felt stronger on the bike than I had in a long time.  The day after my knee didn’t hurt much, and it didn’t feel weak at all.  I rode again Wednesday and felt even stronger, though technically I was slower that day.  But on Wednesday it was much warmer and humid.  However, on Wednesday my limiting factor was cardiovascular, and not in my legs and knee.
This week we’ve also been working around the house.  We put in paving stones for a walkway and over the past three days we built an 8’x12’ deck in our front yard.  For the past two years, I’ve avoided doing these things because my body revolted when I even thought about carrying tools from the basement to the yard to begin work.  I’ve been piddling at trail building for the past two years.  Through everything I’ve felt as if I were falling apart.  But it wasn’t all the king’s horses and all the king’s men this time.  I’m not one to heap praise, but I have to say I think Wendy is finding the root of my physical problems and her treatments are helping.  And I’m a skeptic.  I’m one of those people that must be convinced something really works before I’ll endorse it.  This is one of those times when I feel strongly enough about something that it seems important to share.
I feel a difference in my body.  I can’t even begin going into where my headspace is these days, but it is on track with the improvements in my physical strength and stamina. 
What this all means is that for the first time in a long time I feel like I’m back on track for the future.  At this point I don’t even know where I’m headed, but I know I’m headed there and away from that spot on the side of the road where I’ve been sitting miserable for so long.  That’s all that matters.

Monday, July 10, 2017

Playing Cat Soup

I’m still here.  I’ll always be here.  It’s not that I haven’t had plenty to write about, but that I’ve not had time to sit down and write.  I’ve been traveling the world.  Seeing the sites.  Experiencing life.  It’s been good.
The depression has been dormant for some time now.  Mandy and I have been going to acupuncture for about six weeks now minus the week we were in Mountain Time Zone and that pretty well corresponds to my improved mood and outlook, I can’t say one hundred percent that the acupuncture is responsible, but I’m definitely feeling better in muscle and bone so it follows that maybe the pokies have had an influence on my noggin as well.
Instead of giving you a blow by blow of our recent trip to Colorado I’m going to real fast hit the high points.  First, even before we reached the mountainous state where once we abode we were discussing the possibility of moving back.  I think we would both love to move back.  We also realize the benefit to staying in Kentucky where the cost of living is so much cheaper.  But there are other pros and cons to weigh in that discussion, and I don’t really want to dwell too deeply in them right now.  Suffice it to say we’re not packing boxes right now and likely won’t for some time if ever.
The drive out went well.  Our two monkeys and the Giant Nephew endured twenty hours of road tripping well.  We rolled into Denver on Sunday morning.  It was good because we were able to attend church where we used to go and see old friends again.  Quickly our schedule began filling up with dinner dates for the week we were going to be there.
On Monday I woke up feeling the hard effects of altitude.  It took a couple of hours and a decent breakfast burrito before I felt up to moving around.  Mandy and our spawn hung around town and visited a museum while I took the Giant up to Boulder where we rented two full suspension Specialized Cambers and took them first to Betasso Preserve and then finished up the day at Valmont Bike Park until we were just too tired to pedal anymore.
Minds reeling at Betasso Preserve

Old Towne Arvada

Clear Creek Whitewater Park, Golden

On Tuesday we drove up to Rocky Mountain National Park.  We bought an annual park pass and drove up Trail Ridge Road.  We reenacted the infamous Marshmallow Cream Incident but with mayonnaise.  You try purchasing a whipped or fluffy food product at sea level and then opening it above 10,000’ and you’ll totally understand.
Buying the pass felt like a political statement.  It rankles that it does, but if that’s what it takes…
RMNP view

Hiking at Flatirons Vista
On Wednesday my conference in downtown Denver started and while the family slummed around the Greater Denver area I rode the light rail (finally!) from Golden into Denver and hit the sessions.
We made the most of a whirlwind trip as we are wont to do.  I didn’t take as many photos as I usually would on such a trip.  That was mainly because I have gigs of digital images of the area and while there was a lot of new stuff to see nothing jumped out much as being photoworthy.  I was distracted anyway.
We had a good time and the kids seemed to as well.  We took the long way home.  I had always wanted to drop south into New Mexico and come across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas and Tennessee.  The longer drive turned longer and longer, but it was a good deviation and we’re glad we did it. 
Memphis, TN

Nashville, TN

Cadillac Ranch outside Amarillo, TX
Last week was hectic and short with the holiday.  I don’t feel like I accomplished much at work even though I was pretty busy hitting meetings around the district.  I’m hopefully in the office most of this week and can make progress on things I really need to get done.

Fireworks on 4th of July at Patriot Days in Clay City
And speaking of…the RRGMTB100 is creeping up on us.  I’m trying to get pieces moved closer to being in place and trying to work through things.  I had a brief moment of panic over the weekend, but I swallowed it down with the resolve to get busy and make it work.
I had been despairing on my efforts in Bald Rock, but after a meeting with the BOD of the Climbers Coalition I feel much better.  Another (alternate really) option for new trail development has opened up, and I look forward to exploring the terrain after the race has passed and the seasons cool.
There’s so much I want to write about but can’t.  Schemes.  Life developments.  Ponderances.  Just not now.  It’s better that way.