Finding Your Inner Voice

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Last Week, I had the opportunity to speak to one of my idols, the Los Angeles based writer Luis Rodriguez.

Luis Rodriguez is well known for his autobiography Always Running. In this remarkable book, Luis details his life growing up in LA VIDA LOCA, the life of gangs, drugs, and prison. And how, he escaped this destructive web to become a well known poet, writer, and community activist. He now runs a cultural center, Tia Chuchas in the valley, where he offers many workshops to empower people such as dancing, music, poetry, art, etc.

He has written books of poetry, short stories, novels, and many articles for magazines/newspapers. He speaks to troubled youth at schools and prisons. He has made the difference in so many people’s lives through this most ancient and beautiful practice of ….
words.

My dear Aunt Beryl recently passed away. And I lost my uncle Kevin last year. Some of my best friends have lost parents recently. And this has brought the thought of death to me. What is important in this life? What will I be thinking about on my death bed? I know it won’t be my possessions. Jeez, lately I can’t give them away fast enough. (Don’t worry, I’m just trying to walk lighter on this earth.) I mean all these things we collect, just become someone else’s junk when we move on.

I was asked to write poems for both my aunt and uncle. And those poems were read at their funerals in England. Strange. These words of mine. The power that these fingers typing on a keyboard can have to inspire, heal, and touch.

Many of you don’t know this, but I do have a day job. I work as a community college reading instructor. I teach people of all ages to read better…kids…dyslexics…but mainly urban youth with poor reading skills. And to be honest with you, the work is difficult. I’m faced with learning disabilities, language interferences, malnourished minds, products of a failing urban school system, and kids whose only reading practice is the text messages on their phones and MySpace.

Recently, I burned out. Quite normal for us in the teaching profession.

I’d had enough. I wanted to run away from the classroom, crawl up into the hills, teach yoga, teach chirunning, and just write and meditate. I almost didn’t return from a recent trip to Asia.

But something brought me back. Seeing and speaking to Luis Rodriguez reminded me of what that was.

I’ve used ALWAYS RUNNING for years in my classes. Kids who say they don’t like to read like this book. Once you expose young people to good books they can relate to…surprise…surprise now they say they like reading.

Its like learning to run with ChiRunning. I speak to so many people who say “I don’t like running” or “I’m no good at running”. Then you show them how to run softly, easily, mindfully, spiritually, and injury free and surprise…surprise now they say they like running.

Luis Rodriguez empowered himself from his messed up destructive gang life by reading book after book in the public libraries. Even while he was homeless. And he began writing. Poetry. Snippits of an autobiography. Ideas. Experiences. He just began sharing that rich emotional inner world that we all feel every day. He began turning his memories into this most precious of possessions…Words.

The first chance I had to speak to him came a year ago in San Pedro. I was having a cup of coffee in a coffee shop down the street where he was speaking that evening. I looked over from my computer and there he was. I introduced myself and we spoke for 30 minutes on our love of books and reading. He stressed how important it was for young people to read so that they may get the words and ideas to express themselves. We both shared our intense love of books and words. It was a highlight of my life.

If you haven’t noticed, I love to write. It’s my inner secret desire, to live a life of writing, public speaking, and teaching. This website is giving me an avenue to do this. And Rodriguez has taught me many things which is helping this journey. He taught me to share the images of my life, the beautiful ones and the ugly ones. To share the gritty details of existance, especially some of my pains and secrets. The stuff you don’t share in regular conversation. The language of the heart. That’s what resonates in your readers.

So that’s why you’ll hear me share how I am not an uber/elite athlete. I’m just like all of you. I struggle to stay fit. I’ve been overweight. I used to smoke cigarettes. I love pastries and chocolate. I’ve fought and continue to fight the demons of booze/drugs, sloth, and procrastination.
But I have a clear image in my mind of where I’m going. I spent time every week visualizing the difficult races I want to do in life. I look for every opportunity to workout with others because it is just easier to do that.

The road to fitness for me has been a journey. Filled with mentors, coaches, failures, lessons, distractions…I’m on the road then off the road. But I seem to find a way to keep getting back on quicker and quicker when I detour off. And the more I work at it, the road starts turning into a broad highway, with lots of open lanes for me to travel easily.

The one thing that has been huge for me in the last two years to keep me motivated is this writing/blogging practice. Lots of studies have pointed out the effectiveness of teaching as the best way to learn. That when we teach material, it helps us master the material, that when we teach knowledge, we embody knowledge, so it becomes wisdom. That’s why I didn’t just go to a ChiRunning workshop, I became an instructor. That’s why I didn’t just practice yoga, I went through the instructor training. The more I teach, the more I share, the more I put these experiences into WORDS, the more I learn. The more I stay motivated.

Maybe some of you have hit those health lows. Those moments looking at yourself in the mirror saying “this is not the body I want”. Those moments that force you to change. Those moments that you never want to go back to. Those moments that urge you to put on your shoes, get out of your house, and DO THE WORK.

And the journey to fitness can be lonely. Hours spent on trails by yourself. Hours spent on a treadmill. Hours on a yoga mat. Hours on a bike. Hours walking/running the streets around your neighborhood. I’ve spent so much time by myself on this journey. Hours with just the wind, birds, plants, and God as my company. All time well worth spent. A Beach Runner asked me one day how I can be so happy when out there running…and I didn’t have a good answer for her at the time…but in reflecting back on this I realized that I’m so happy because I have come so far in my fitness…and that I’ve spent so much time entertaining myself on long solitary runs…that to run in the company of fellow Beach Runners is an uplifting inspiring pleasure that I just can’t help but to smile.

So I share all this language of my heart in honor of Luis Rodriguez. Last Thursday I had the pleasure of seeing him speak to an auditorium of middle school and college students in Santa Monica. The students had the best questions for him. And he spoke like I’m speaking now, holding back no punches. You see the youth of today are desperate for KNOWLEDGE and WISDOM. For thousands of years, the elders have initiated youth through rituals, story telling, mentoring, and work. And this sacred necessary connection is disappearing in our society. The crisis of youth is a crisis of lost connection. And when this guidance is missing, youth will be pulled into the structures that will guide them such as gangs, drug life, and subcultures.

And Luis Rodriguez stood there as testiment to making connections with youth. Of sharing his pain and journey. Sharing what made him strong and continues to empower him. Sharing his journey because ultimately thats what matters in life. His WORDS will be around forever. All that he sees, feels, thinks will be left in books and the memories of youth.

I guess that’s why I write this on this blog. I just might write a word one day that will make a difference in someone’s life. Something that will be around when I move on to tell the world what Gary thought and experienced in this most glorious and spectacular of sacred lives.
If there’s some ACTION STEPS here it would be…

1. Start writing about your marathoning/fitness journey. Start by joining our community running site http://www.socalrunning.com/members then do the following steps…

a. put up a photo
b. write a blog post telling your running story
c. write regularly about your journey/running experiences
I was speaking to ultramarathoner Sandy and she said how much her friends were inspired by reading her race report. I mean doing a tough race is one thing, but to really get the most out of this fitness journey, you should write about it also. WORDS have power to change lives.

2. Find a way to begin sharing your knowledge with the youth of the world. Go speak at a school. Talk to your nieces and nephews. Teach a class. Whatever it takes to get in front of young people and share your experience. They are desperate for the real knowledge of this world. They know that school is not the be all and end of their lives. So we need to quit faking like their academic performance is the key to their whole future. Life is so much more than that.

Hopefully you all can get something out of this long post today. These are all words that have been floating around in my mind for a while and needed to be shared.

Gary

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