Dancing in the Rain…Snow

There’s quite a bit of snow falling in Ontario today. Not too atypical for mid-November this far North. I can’t help but look outside and think back to mid-November in Arizona last year. While the valley surrounding the Phoenix area was still t-shirt friendly, places in the higher altitudes were preparing for some colder weather.

I was receiving my in-service training, as per usual, on a warm Wednesday morning in Mesa, Arizona. We were preparing to depart for our regular eight day shift in the high desert, however, the mood felt different from the accustomed excitement and cheer. I had not checked the weather forecast but it seemed everyone else had, and they were mentally preparing for a stormy week. I remember arriving after a four hour drive into the wilderness, and quoting a line from a hostel bathroom stall.

‘We are all going to get wet anyways, so why not dance in the rain?’

Dancing in the rain is a fun concept. It involves throwing away all the little inconveniences that come from wetness, and transforming those elements into the means of deriving pleasure… It is also usually followed up by a warm shower and dry clothes. A luxury that we would not be afforded in the next eight days.

It was hard to shake the feeling of impending doom that day. It seems that we were carrying metaphorical storm clouds over our heads, by choice. I remember going to my sleeping bag in the rain on our second night with a group of eight young teenagers. I wasn’t quite dancing, but I was content with the state of things. I wasn’t aware that my environment was about to be turned upside down.

What happened over the next three days tested our concept of comfort, and at times our survival was in question. A foot of snow would proceed to dump from the sky, and we were left with nothing more than our tarps, ropes, and sweaters. How does one even light a fire, in the middle of a snowstorm? Your best guess was as good as mine, I had never done it before. It was during this time that I realized how sheltered our experiences with the natural world really are. I was the only Canadian in the group so it was assumed that I was the expert in the field of all things white and fluffy, however, my snowy outings were always time-limited and followed by mugs of hot chocolate. I had rarely been uncomfortable in a snowy environment, if I ever was, I simply withdrew from it.

I started having visions of my thermostat in the hallway, set to room temperature as the exterior of my Canadian home clung to frozen water molecules. Sure I’m Canadian, but that doesn’t mean I live in the snow. I was born into a culture that doesn’t worry about survival on a day-to-day basis, our biggest concern is usually our level of comfort. Just think of the magnificent comfort boxes that we’ve created to defy the elements, the ones we call home. Perfectly adjusted temperatures, dimmer-switches to adjust the lighting, fabrics and thread-counts, soft cushioned perches. We aren’t merely surviving in our day-to-day lives; we’re achieving a state of ease, as frequently as possible.

Now I’m squatted over a six inch deep hole, moving my bowels into the frozen earth. I look around at the beauty of my environment, with my pants at my ankles. The snow is providing a pure blanket for the the juniper and sycamore trees that surround us. In that moment, out of site from the desperate faces around the fire, I feel at peace with the situation. I can’t help but smile, after wiping with some ice cold white stuff. The feeling of warmth is growing within me, even though it’s not getting any less snowy outside.

I remember convincing one of the young ones that it was time to build a snowman. I gave him my sweater so he would not freeze during his time away from the fire. We were racing back and forth trying to thaw our frozen hands over the flame, after rolling them back into the sticky snow. Standing there in nothing but my thermal top, I felt as warm as I needed to be…even if I was ‘freezing’ by the fire a couple hours earlier.

Isn’t it funny how two people can walk the same path and have two very different experiences? Isn’t it strange that our own perceptions can change so rapidly, even if our environments do not?

I don’t think I was ready to dance in the rain when I spoke those words to my worried peers. But I know the meaning of those words now, and I know I will need to relearn them again one day.

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State of Recovery

It’s been a full week since I finished a combination of three medications (for a second time) to combat a recurring parasitic infection. It wasn’t easy, and at times it felt like the medications were making me more sick than the infection they were treating. For the time being, I can only hope that the parasite has been completely eradicated, and enjoy the rise to better health. I now find myself at a very physically compromised state. Four months ago, I was climbing mountains many times a week. As of late, the climb to my bedroom upstairs has seemed mountainous enough. I have dropped from 160 pounds, to a brittle 138; my strength and stamina showing the signs of a body in repair.

Simply living off the accomplishments of my past isn’t going to make me any stronger in the present. I decided that today would mark the first day of my ascent, that’s all it took, one decision. I loaded up my swim gear and headed to the local community center, my destination being the 25 meter pool. I didn’t hesitate to jump in and start swimming, knowing the longer I spent on the edge, the more time I would have to talk myself down. Sometime after 300 meters of swimming, I was already experiencing the aching of sore muscles, and an internal dialogue that involved the word ‘quit’.

I thought back to my first experience with competitive swimming, thirteen years ago. I remembered joining a team of athletes when I was very much, not yet an athlete. When I was thirteen years old I joined a very competitive swim team, housing athletes who were competing in the PAN American games. I had never swam competitively before, and my only experience came from passing several swimming lessons. The coach expressed to me that there were no try-outs for the team, but if I wanted to, I could stay for the evening and practice with the team. The Vaughan Aquatic Club swam anywhere between two to three kilometers, every evening, six days a week. I had once passed an endurance swim requirement in one of my lessons, a grueling 400 meter swim…

I remember throwing up in the white tiled bathroom, between laps. I remember every muscle in my body cramping to the point that I became stiff as concrete. I remember the coach telling me to keep swimming, though I couldn’t hear much over the pounding migrane that was forming in my head. There is only one detail I do not remember from that painful evening: how many laps did I swim? Surely it was more than 400 meters…

Here I am over a decade later, hitting that wall of exhaustion and pushing past it. Today I swam a full kilometer, that is 40 laps of a competitive length pool. I almost quit twelve laps in, but would go on to nearly triple that seemingly insurmountable effort. Too often in my life have I heard people exclaim ‘I can’t do it’, when approaching a challenge. Sometimes we are mistaken. There is a difference between what we’re uncomfortable doing, and what we are incapable of doing. Those last 700 meters of my swim were uncomfortable, but not impossible.

If I never pushed my limits, I would have never found them. Why live in a box that is smaller than it needs to be? I know that during this time of ascension, I am going to redefine my boundaries many times. This is my commitment to a better me.

Unconscious-Subconscious-Conscious

First, allow me to make a few assumptions to begin my entry. It is my understanding that desire, anger, frustration, are forms of attachment. For the most part, these elements of the human psyche keep us bound to some negative state of being. Desire breeds discontentment, anger propagates more anger, and frustration induces stress. Sometimes these feelings are present without our awareness. Yet many of us hold onto these feelings even with the awareness of their presence.

As I become more aware of my inner-state of affairs, the line between my choices and consequences seems to dissipate. I become present with the feelings that underlie my actions and thoughts. As this process continues, it becomes increasingly difficult to live with any forms of negativity. Previous faults and missteps are swept from the corners to the forefront (under a microscope of introspection), becoming opportunities for learning and growth. They become the instigators for change.

Isn’t it interesting how these previously unwelcome intruders can be the most inspiring guests? I wonder what happens when all the dark corners have had a light cast upon them, when all the guests become welcome.

(I was thinking of filling this space with more, but I like how that question looks as a final thought)

Journal Excerpts on Choice

My choices define my environment.

My environment helps define me.

I try and change my environment.

When I should try and change me.
When reflecting on the past, I chuckle at the me who thought there was no future. So consumed by the present that he forgot his past, and was blind to his future. Taking in every detail of the landscape with hyper-sensitivity. Attached to the importance of every moment, while leaving time’s arrangement to chance. A coward who revels in his indecision will never understand; time travels forward, even when he chooses to stand. So take part in shaping the landscape, you’re going to walk it anyway. If you make sound choices, tomorrow will be a better today.

Time Capsuled Musings

Welcome, to my first official blog post.

As some of you know, I have been battling with parasitic infections for the last four months. During the most difficult of times, my ability to work or function at a productive capacity has been greatly reduced. I’m now on the fourth day of a very strong treatment plan that gives me hope for a full recovery. I had decided to spend most of the recovery time resting, however; as my strength starts to accumulate, so does my need to apply it. In the hopes of keeping busy for a day, I started a task that seemed simple and monotonous… cleaning my room. But I was soon to find out that such a task may not be as simple as I imagined.

You see, although I moved out of my parents house nine years ago, I never fully moved out. I am one of the fortunate ones, in a family who has kept my childhood space sacred and unused in my absence. Two decades of my life are crammed into the cracks and crevices of every available space, even though it appears neat upon first glance. This space was the only constant in my life, in a time when everything about me was abrupt and disruptive. Even as I returned from a year in Arizona, and look forward to a long stay in Hawaii, the intermediate is spent in this room.

Report cards, birthday wishes, letters from friends, textbooks, tax forms, school pictures, journals, drawings, sports equipment, and everything you could imagine are all being unearthed. My goal is to trim my life down so that it all fits nicely into a box or two. Keep what is sacred, keep what has value, and toss, burn, donate the rest. This process implies a certain degree of classification, how does one determine what holds value? With this in mind, I have been weighing every sheet of paper, and every item. Bits of forgotten identity are resurfacing all around me as I near the close of this project. I’ve had to make choices on what no longer resonates with my personal being, which has transformed greatly in the last twenty years.

One collection of papers that struck me deeply was my high-school report cards. I read through grade nine to twelve and there seemed to be a general theme. Late, disinterested, lack of application, no effort. They could say it a hundred different ways; I did not care for what I was learning. As I read the comments of my teachers, I could remember how desperately frustrating they were for a fifteen year old me. I remembered years of anger, frustration, hopelessness, and how it would all affect my self-worth. At around the same time as my marks decreased, the birthday notes turned into pleas for a better son and brother. The journal writing turned bleak. It seems as though I had two options: do well in school and be happy, or do poorly and be sad. I guess I chose sadness, but why? How did I not realize that I was committing to a downward spiral of unhappiness with every choice I made?

Fast forward to the present. I’ve returned from a year of working for the Anasazi Foundation, a wilderness therapy program in Arizona. During my working hours I constantly searched for ways to apply myself more efficiently, I sought to be a springboard for positive momentum. I spent all of my days off climbing mountains, swimming across lakes, and applying myself fully. My travels took me to Arizona, British Columbia, Oregon, Washington, California, New Mexico, Utah, Colorado, Texas, and several Mexican states. I did all of this while maintaining my full-time job, and even working overtime. Does this sound like someone who is lazy or disinterested to you?

Life can seem like a chore if you’re not applying yourself to what you’re doing. But it can also be frustrating to apply yourself to do something that you do not love. I now spend every moment of every day looking for that next ascent, for the next peak. Although there will be tough moments during my climb, at least I know I’m not climbing without a reason. I’m climbing because I want to ascend, I’m heading to a destination that I want to arrive at. So I invite anyone reading this to find and define what they love, and startwalking towards it. My messy past is proof that change is just a choice away.

Warmth,
Andrew ‘Topher’ Finelli