The daily urge I have to throw my iPhone at the wall is mitigated only by the fear of losing my lifeline to the rest of the world during these times of quarantine and isolation. Yet, it seems that every time I glance at the media or open my email, it is filled with repetitive, frustrating headlines and suggestions on how to manage the ‘novel coronavirus’ that, quite frankly, I do not find helpful, let alone novel, at all.
Set a schedule, but let your time be free. Do not worry about being productive, but make sure you are doing something. Stay at home, but buy a new pair of shoes. Do not stress about what you eat, but take more supplements. Read a book, but numb your brain with tv.
This endless stream of contradicting propositions has jarred the endurance athlete in me, particularly when I think about how we are going to get through this as sane humans. Or, as one would say in athletic terms — how we are going to find our stride.
The concept of finding a stride began with horse racing, there referred to as hitting a stride. It crossed over into music in the 1920s, in terms of strong and weak beats being played simultaneously, one by each hand, within jazz. In sports, the notion of stride permeates through the style of strokes while swimming, the length of the breath in yoga, the type of curves skiing down a slope, and even into the rhythm of boxing on the bag. And, most of all, running.
Finding one’s stride is essential to completing any and every course. The proper stride most often comes subconsciously, an inadvertent reaction to prior knowledge of the challenge ahead. In order for this to happen, you first and foremost must have practiced, and furthermore know three things — the route, its texture, and the pace, or the appropriate speed for the length and texture of said route. Without this information, it is virtually impossible to land in the appropriate stride, consciously or not.
Today, we have none of these variables — not how long this will last, nor how fast we should go, nor what roadblocks, potholes or inclines lay ahead. And we most definitely have not practiced. Which is why we are approaching getting through this period of time all wrong.
The pandemic is a course we do not know, down a route that cannot be defined, with an elusive finish line that wavers like a mirage. None of this is normal — and pretending it is, and even worse, trying to normalize it and impose an artificial stride to get through it, simply does not and will not work. Hence our angst. Or at least my angst.
Due to a family crisis, I have actually been living socially distanced and on a version of lock down at my parents home in California for almost six months now, all while my husband, career and life continue on in New York. It is this “head start” that has fueled my aforementioned frustration, while also giving me a unique vantage point that may be able to help us get through it all.
The way I have lived it, there are six mental stages that arise before you can even conceive of finding your stride. First comes shock, then panic, then depression. Anxiety inevitably kicks in, which leads to exhaustion. Then, tired, dazed, and confused, you finally acquiesce to the fact that what you are living is in no way normal; this is when you find your stride.
Stride stems from the word, stridan, in Old English, which means straddle or mount, and from etreiten in Old German, which means a struggle or fight. From the 1300s on, it came figuratively to mean to advance rapidly or make progress with a grounding pace. Inherent in the very notion of stride is struggle, but also progress. The former is what we are used to, the latter what we long for, and fast.
But how do we head grounded into the unknown while advancing through a battle with the unseen? What is the appropriate stride for this particular adventure we are all on?
Our combined enemy, the virus, and our collective nemesis, our minds, are both invisible to the naked eye. The stride they demand is unseen as well; it is a stride based on intent.
Intent is the imperceptible and too often uncelebrated force that has the capacity to guide us to, and keep us on, our stride. It is the aim, goal, or underlying purpose behind everything we think, say, and do, acknowledged or not.
As athletes, artists, writers and many others know, finding your stride, hitting that groove, reaching the ‘flow state’, is often a sudden and involuntary click that both allows you to get lost and also fly ecstatically through to the other side. It just happens. Yet, today’s real life circumstances have paralyzed our natural instincts. And, as counterintuitive as it may seem, implementing external forces and suggestions to find a stride only takes us farther away from the stride actually needed, while taking a conscious step within brings us closer.
To find our stride for today’s times, we need to focus on the underlying intent of each thing we do. It is no longer about how much you accomplish, or how far you get down your list, but instead about the why of each comment, action, and reaction.
Intent need not be lofty, spiritual, or metaphysical. It can simply be showing up on time to the zoom, making a meal you think your partner would truly enjoy, or not upsetting yourself, or dare we say, someone else, in the moment. Remember, intent is simply the unspoken purpose behind each action. And in today’s world, the purpose for all of us is mental and physical survival.
As athletes in the sport that is life, we must accept that the road, life today, is not normal. Pretending it is will only keep us flailing, just as taking “normal life” cues to create a stride will only make us feel more lost. Artificially imposed strides will not work; intent driven ones will.
Intent is the pulse that will anchor us and the force that will move us forward. It is the cure and the cause for the stride that will set us free.