The “S” in SHINE

Jan 13
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Conversations, Reflections
Sorry for being MIA here on 7marathons7continents, friends. As I got home from Chile, I hit the ground running with work. I do plan to post some additional reflections on re-entry and adjustment, but in the meantime, here is a re-print of my latest newsletter with some thoughts about what I learned while I was away from home and details of what I’m up to.
Before I let you read on, let me just say that Bill and I both appreciate all of you who read along as I posted during our five months away. Thanks to all of you who have written notes or Facebook posts or come up to us in the community to say welcome home. And to my friends in Conce… know that I miss you. You’re forever in my heart. xo
Newsletter:
As I promised in my last newsletter, I’m reflecting on some of the lessons I learned while I was away from home in Concepcion, Chile, for the past five months. I summarized these lessons with the acronym “SHINE.”

See the world through the eyes of a foreigner.
Hold your experience gently.
Invest wisely in relationships.
Nurture your core self.
Expect Life to support you.

In the next weeks, I’ll be writing an introduction to each of these ideas and then, at the end of February, I will be starting a 7-week group coaching session for anyone who would like to go deeper with me into the practices I’ve been developing based on these principles (see details about the group below). Let’s get started:

The “S” in SHINE

See the world through the eyes of a foreigner.

The Buddhists call this “beginner’s mind.”

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.” Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind: Informal Talks on Zen Meditation and Practice.

Most of the time in this life, I (and I daresay I’m not the only one) walk about knowing—or believing I know—what I’m doing. I mean, I get up in the mornings and make my coffee the same way every day. I can do (and have done) it with my eyes closed. And from my morning coffee forward there are many tasks I complete that I can put on autopilot. Driving my car, for example, is like breathing: shift into first gear, let up on the clutch, push down on the gas. And then I’m in motion.
Furthermore, I grew up as the oldest sister with three younger brothers, a sibling position that gave me something of an expert complex early in life. Then I became a teacher, a therapist, a writer, and a coach. All of these roles have led me to feel I’m responsible for knowing what I’m talking about—or at least for putting on a good show AS IF I know what I’m talking about.
So it isn’t surprising that although I’ve been reading about Buddhist ideas for years and have appreciated many of the concepts and incorporated them into my life, the principle of “beginners mind” has always been a little bit elusive to me. I’ve struggled with how to bring an open curiosity and wonder to my daily life.
This last episode of travel cured that for me. When you go to a foreign land, you can’t expect anything to be as you knew it back home. Whether you like or not, everything is new. Toilets flush differently, the rules of traffic are different, time and timeliness function differently, and people don’t relate to each other using the same paradigms you rely on.
Here’s a concrete example (pun intended): The first morning I walked out my door in Concepcion, the rain was coming down hard. Even though rain irritates me, it is also oddly comforting. As someone who grew up in the Pacific Northwest, rain is familiar, centering even. “Just like home,” I said to my husband Bill that first day.
But as we walked the two blocks from our new apartment to the university where Bill would be working on his Fulbright duties, I saw that I was wrong. Walking in rainy Concepcion was not like taking a walk in our hometown.
The streets of Concepcion are flanked by sidewalks just as most city streets are around the world, but the sidewalks we treaded on at that moment buckled in places, crumbled in others, left off existing altogether here and there. Concepcion was the epicenter of one of South America’s largest earthquakes only a few years ago, after all. Though much has been rebuilt and reconstructed, the evidence of the big “terremoto” is still visible if you but look down.
Right away I could see that walking around town was going to require the concentration of trail running if I didn’t want to fall and break my nose.
Here is another example, more to the point: Because I possess a very limited vocabulary in Spanish, leaving our little apartment was at first anxiety provoking. What if the concierge, Julio, asked me something I didn’t understand? I had some shame about not being able to speak Spanish, so I worried about what Julio thought of me. How would I manage to communicate enough so that he would let me go on my way and stop requiring me to stand there looking like an uneducated, insensitive foreigner?
But in fact, my relationship with Julio is what helped me truly catch on to the concept of beginner’s mind. I pushed through my shame, and day after day, Julio and I stood at the gate and literally made up a means of communicating with one another. He is a kind, patient man who was willing to spend as long as it took to help me catch his meaning. We often started with charades and graduated to drawings. If all else failed, I ran inside to google how to say something in Spanish, wrote it down, and went back outside to read my scribbles to Julio. We sometimes laughed at our misunderstandings and at my mispronunciation.
I was a beginner. But Julio did not approach our conversations like an expert waiting for me to get up to speed; he attended to my imperfect and garbled language as if my way of communicating was every bit as legitimate as his was. Being on the other side of his patience taught me how to be a beginner with a sense of humor and a dose of nonjudgment. I began to feel free to make mistakes and experiment with new words because of Julio’s attitude.

To see the world through the eyes of a foreigner, or a beginner, we have to remember that we really aren’t experts at living—we are experimenters. We aren’t expected to know what we don’t know, to understand what we don’t understand, or to have an edge on anyone else. And this is oddly both disconcerting and freeing.
I want to continue to practice seeing the world through new eyes now that I’m home. I want to bring the same curiosity and openness to my life and relationships that I exercised when trying to figure out how to say, “Can I buy a token for the dryer?” And I’d like to invite you to join me in this practice.
I made a decision during my first month in Chile to suspend judgment; it was the only way to stay sane in a place so different from home. Even when frustrated by confusion over an interaction or a different way of doing something, I began to tell myself, “Don’t decide what anything means. Just let it be what it is.”
We are meaning-making creatures, all of us. When something happens, we try to toggle it into some place in our schemas that helps us to make sense of it. We do it all day every day. Someone pulls into the parking space we planned to pull into and we decide he is a “jerk.” Someone lights a cigarette on the trail we run on every morning and we decide she is insensitive. But when you are a foreigner in a foreign land where you don’t make the rules, you have to suspend this meaning-making.
Staying open frees us up from misery because we aren’t clinging to how things ought to be, to how they do or don’t fit into our expectations. We simply notice what actually IS.

I encourage you to embrace a “foreigner’s mind” this week. What kind of space might open up in your mind and heart if everything you looked at was new to you? If you didn’t try to quickly categorize events and people into your familiar internal filing system?

In the 7-week SHINE program I will be talking about howpeace of mind is directly linked to the practice ofbeginner’s mind. We will do two powerful exercises that will shift the pressure we feel to be experts in so many areas of life (challenging perfectionism and shame), and we’ll create a statement of intention to move us toward an experience of real joy (even without knowing what the future holds).

SHINE program details:
When: Seven Thursdays, beginning February 25. 4:00-5:30pm PST (with an additional 30 minutes afterwards for discussion applicable especially for writers).
Where: On the phone. Conference call-in numbers provided to participants.
What: Lecture, opportunities to be coached, homework assignments, bonus writing assignments.
Cost: $99

To sign up go here.

The Soundtrack of Experience

Nov 24
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Reflections, Travel log

I’ve never been a very sophisticated music connoisseur. Just to give you an example, my high school boyfriend tried to introduce me to Peter Gabriel back in the day, but I eschewed his attempts to educate my taste and stubbornly continued to listen to Air Supply—until MANY years later when my life-long friend Jason made me a CD of his favorite Peter Gabriel songs and I finally understood what I had been missing. (Sorry I was so unreceptive, T.H., if you’re out there anywhere.)

Even as the simpleton I am, music is still important to me. Years ago I compiled a running play list that has been my steadfast companion through 25 (ish) marathons and God-only-knows how many other races and training runs. And I’ve used that same list for so long I can almost tell you what mile I’m on based on the song that’s playing. There is great security in knowing what comes next (in running and in life).

Just before coming to South America, I updated all my technology to Mac products and, because I didn’t have a ton of time to figure out how to use iTunes (which, by the way, I find decidedly NON-intuitive), I simply loaded my running list and a few of my favorite CDs onto my iPhone. This is what I’ve been listening to for four months. Partly because I already have all my old CDs on my old computer, I didn’t want to invest in buying much music digitally while I was traveling, so I made do with what I had for the most part—favorites to be sure, but not the music that I would have chosen as the soundtrack to my experience—in Concepcion, especially.

The music I brought with me was music for other times in my life:

Supertramp1.  Supertramp, Breakfast in America. This was the music for the first time a boy ever put his arm around me. I was eleven-years-old. Daniel was fourteen, and his family was visiting one of my neighbors. We had a campfire in the neighbor’s back yard one summer evening, and I distinctly remember The Logical Song coming on the radio at the same moment Daniel surreptitiously slipped his arm around my waist. I’ve loved Supertramp ever since!

 

 

David grey2.  David Grey, White Ladder. David Grey was the music of my divorce. I got White Ladder almost the same week I separated from my ex-husband. Grey’s mourning tone and deeply honest lyrics made me cry for what I was losing—both in terms of self and other. You’d think I might not love the CD because it evokes the memory of a difficult time in my life, but divorce for me was as revolutionary as it was sad. It upset the narrative of who I was to such a degree that it opened up possibilities I could have never foreseen.

 

 

DMB3.  Dave Matthews Band, Everyday. DMB originally came into my life at the same time as David Grey but called to a different something inside of me. The band, with Dave’s sexy voice, Boyd Tinsley’s violin (OMG!), and LeRoi Moore’s saxophone (RIP), evoked sensuality for me and in me, a sense that I could/should stop and let the breeze brush against my skin rather than bundling up tight to protect myself from the cold. DMB cracked me and opened me up.

But none of this music is fresh to me now. And as I listened to these three albums over and over for the past four months, I started longing for something new, but what? As I said, I’m not a refined music consumer. So as our travel time wraps up, I’m ready to expose my ears to something new. Looking forward to heading home, I can see that I have the chance to push a reset button on many aspects of my life. I’d like to have some background music for the next chapter. And I’m receptive to suggestions. What do you love right now? What is meaningful to you? You know my email (clostman@live.com) if you have ideas (or you can comment on this post).

 

And PS: I will buy a pitcher of beer for anyone who can teach me how to use iTunes more efficiently.

When Things Don’t Go As Planned

Nov 16
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014

1Cami with the continents

I’ve traveled to about 20 different countries on this planet so far in my life (most of those to pursue my love of running), and—although it seems rather like a miracle—I have never, ever missed a train, plane, or bus due to my own mistake. Oh sure, there have been delays due to weather or airline issues, but I’ve always been on time for my departures, waiting, ready to load my carry-on luggage and to climb aboard.

This week my record ended.

Bill and I were waiting in the living room of our hostel to take an overnight bus from the Lakes District in Chile up to Santiago, where we then planned to take a subway to the Brazilian consulate to pick up our passports and visas for the next leg of our travel adventures across the South American continent. It was 9:00pm. I was reading to stay occupied, unworried about anything because we had another hour before we needed to take the five-minute walk to the bus station.

Bill, always managing details and keeping us on track, said, “Hey Cami, you have the tickets, right?”

Bus

I did. I put my e-reader down to pull the tickets out of my bag and was disappointed to notice that we were to have been aboard that bus at 20:20. That’s 8:20pm, amigos. We had both mistakenly read the time as 10:20, an easy mistake since we don’t use the twenty-four hour clock in the United States very often.

 

There were a number of immediate consequences to our mistake.

  1. We lost more than $120 in bus fare/sleeping quarters that night.
  2. Because we couldn’t get another bus until the morning, we had to stay one more night at the hostel we’d been lodging at.
  3. We had to spend the next day on the bus and to get a room in Santiago the following night (bringing the extra money spent to over $200—in addition to the $120 in lost bus fare).
  4. The cap was that the day we ACTUALLY went to get our visas (as opposed to the day we were SUPPOSED to have gotten them), the metros malfunctioned in the whole city and we hot-footed eight miles through crowded streets to pick them up (and yes, it is a good thing we’re runners and can do eight miles without batting an eye).

IMG_1547Later that day, passports in hand, worn out and waiting for yet another bus, Bill and I, not surprisingly, got into a heated discussion. He contended that once we’d missed the bus, everything had subsequently gone wrong over the past two days. I contended, that everything had gone perfectly—that we’d had an exciting two days we would have missed out on if we’d caught our original bus on time. Two perspectives. Story of our lives.

My take on our events was more than just a Pollyanna outlook. The thing is, for a long time, I have had this sneaking suspicion that wrong turns, missed opportunities, screw-ups, accidents, even strike-outs, divorces, and mistakes of all kinds are really opportunities for me to grow up and rise to the best of who I can be. And when I show up as my best self, I feel pretty good—even in messy situations. Don’t mishear me. I’m not saying, “When God closes a door, S/He opens a window.” I don’t know that I necessarily believe every accident leads to a happy ending. I also don’t always have the energy or wherewithal to bring my best self to difficult scenarios, but it’s my goal.

A few weeks ago I was talking to my youngest brother about a difficult time he’s been going through in his life—a really, really hard time. My heart was breaking over the way life was slamming him, but I’d been thinking about this idea that struggles—small or big—are chances to grow, and I asked him about it. “What if this whole crazy hard time is your best chance to become everything you always hoped you could be?” I asked him.

Without missing a beat, he said. “I think it is.” And I was glad to hear him say so, because then I knew he would be okay.

Believing you can make something meaningful for yourself in a difficult situation is empowering. Victor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” He’s right, right? We have to look at what we have power over: Sometimes only ourselves. Especially the older we get, as we realize we don’t have forever to grab hold of life and REALLY live it, we have to make the ecosystem of our inner life a healthy place to live.

I have to give Bill credit. He eventually agreed that “wrong” was the “wrong” word and that “not as planned” was an adequate description of our foibles. And I allowed that a bit of disappointment was certainly in order before we had to look at the bright side of things. Shifting perspectives. Story of our lives.

To the Top of Villarrica

Nov 12
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Travel log

My senior class in high school voted me “friendliest” and “sunniest smile” the year we graduated. One thing they most certainly did not vote me was “most likely to participate in adventure/extreme sports.” And, although I think of myself as an extreme runner, I’ve never been interested in mountain sports. (Bellinghamsters forgive me for what I’m about to say.) For example, I’ve never skied, never snow-boarded or snow-shoed, never even gone sledding or inner-tubing down a mountain as an adult. The fact is, I’m not a big fan of snow, and where I live, that’s sort of a crime.

But when I saw Villarrica (Chile’s most active volcano whose steam you can see from a distance every day) here in Pucon, Chile, I said, “I’ve gotta climb that.”

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I’m not sure why. Bill has repeatedly asked me back home to climb Mount Baker with him and I’ve always said, “Naw, you go ahead.” This time, though, I felt compelled—partly because we’re here in Chile. Somehow in your own backyard you know you can take advantage of natural beauty anytime. But here in my temporary home, I’d better jump at my chances to live out loud while the jumping is good.

We started our day by being outfitted for the weather conditions

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and then made our way to the base of the volcano by 8am where we began our climb to the summit (at 2860 meters/9,380 ft) with the help of three competent, good-natured guides who taught us how to use our equipment and watched out for our safety with diligence (thanks VolcAn Villarica!).

Our lead guide fastening my crampons.

Our lead guide fastening my crampons.

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This was my first time, as I said, to spend the day on the snow and I was anxious—though confident that if making it to the top was a matter of endurance, I could do it. I’m nothing if not patient with my body’s ability to take me the distance.

The first part of the ascent was on soft snow that cooperated nicely with our slow-stepping up the incline. Our guides were patient and careful to make sure everyone was using his/her equipment properly, so my confidence grew that if the average tourist could make it to the top with such instruction, I could too.

On the way up, we trudged. This climb reminded me of marathon running in a way. For one thing, the whole climb would take more than five hours—my average marathon finishing time. For another thing, I was alone, even though I wasn’t. We all walked in one long single-file line,

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so I didn’t have the chance to talk to anyone while we were picking our way to the summit. That meant that I was in my head with my thoughts.

I reflected on how much endurance activities are compact versions of big-scale life. First you decide to take something on, then you get started, then you get tired and consider quitting. Finally you decide to push to the end and you finish the task.

Four of the people who started with us chose to abort their climb at the last rest stop. I don’t have any judgment of people who give things a try and then quit them. I’ve done it myself and probably will do it again. You can’t always know when you start something if it’s for you (this is true for almost anything: a job, a new hobby, even love affairs). Yesterday, I thought about quitting too. “Yeah, there’s the top. I get the idea. No need to put in the last 45 minutes. I’ve proven my point,” I thought—for about 10 seconds. Then I pushed the idea of turning back out of my mind and pressed on.

At about 1:30, Bill and I summited along with five other people.

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Looking back toward Pucon from the top.

P1060199

Looking into the volcanic crater.

 

 

Getting down the volcano was the fun part. We trekked back over the hard packed snow and ice for less than an hour and then used plastic sleds to cruise down the wet snow for the better part of the distance.

Weeeee.

I wish my senior class had the chance to vote again for who I would turn out to be!

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What? Is it over??

Oct 26
Posted by Cami Ostman Filed in Chile 2014, Race Reports, Reflections

I can truly not believe that we are at the end of our time in Concepcion. Three months can shift a person’s perspective, change a mindset. I’m not even really sure how to reflect on this experience in a coherent way, but I’m going to give it shot. I’ll warn you now this’ll be a long blog post (longer than the recommended 800 words).

 

First, “our” students:

Bill and I have met something like 200 students in the English department at Universidad de Concepcion. Most of those whom we have met were in classes that Bill led through an essay-writing project (with me assisting). The assignment was to write a seven-paragraph opinion essay based on interviews students did with four interviewees. The topics were meant to be about issues that they were genuinely interested in, things they talk about with their friends over beer. We hope that students learned something from us, but we know we learned from them (see previous post for topics the students covered).

As important to me as the educational aspect of our time with students, however, is the time we had to get to know students on a personal level. Most recently, the Pedagogia Department put on an English Week Congress that really let students and instructors alike shine. I, for one, sat with a lot of warm feelings in my heart as I listened to instructors talk to students with genuine collegiality as they discussed their doctoral dissertations and/or successful projects they’ve done in classes. And students shared their gifts with faculty and classmates in the form of poster sessions and artistic performances. I’m only grateful that Bill’s Fulbright was granted during a time when we could have the opportunity to see the accomplishment of this congress.

Once the congress was over, so were Bill’s official duties. Students from third year threw us a party.

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And now we’ve had a chance to hang out with a few students individually.

 

Smoothies with Remigio and Paulina.

Smoothies with Remigio and Paulina.

 

With (R to L): Bob, Camila, Soledad, Leiko, Bill, mio, Conny, & German. Thank you all for teaching us about the Huascar and for spending the day with us!!

With (R to L): Bob, Camila, Soledad, Leiko, Bill, moi, Conny, & German. Thank you all for teaching us about the Huascar and for spending the day with us!!

 

And now I’m feeling bereft that we haven’t had the chance to get to know each person in the English Teaching career in a personal way. Dear students, we will never forget you (and if you want to make certain of that, “friend” me on Facebook). I hope you know what a special group you are. Please don’t take for granted the effort your teachers put into helping you grow and learn. They have created an environment unlike any you’ll ever be a part of again, so be sure you truly take advantage of it. In fact, we know you are doing just that because we’ve watched you put yourselves into your studies and your relationships in the department with a whole-hearted commitment. Thank you for welcoming us into your community and for trusting us to be your teachers for a short time, too.

 

Next, our friends:

I know I speak for both Bill and me when I say that we’ve cherished our time with new friends. I plan to say thanks individually to those of you who have made this experience meaningful (partly because I’m not sure everyone in the world—especially the professors in the department—wants their name publicly put up on someone’s blog), but one thing I want to say here is that leaving is going to be painful. At the moment, I can barely think about the fact that we only have six days left in Concepcion. How can a place become your home so quickly? How can it climb into your heart so you know it will stay there your whole life? It can happen because people take the time to invite you to coffee or to have lunch with you. Because they take the time to let you sit in their offices and talk about the weekend. It can happen because people trust you with the tender things in their lives; they tell you about themselves and believe that you’ll be kind, that you’ll respect where they are on life’s journey.

During this time in Conce, we have been invited into the lives of those we now think of as friends. Thank you.

 

Now, the Running Community:

Bill ran his first race about three days after we arrived here in Conce. Before we came down here, we tried to find out if there was a running club we could connect with, but Google didn’t direct us to anything useful. Once we got down here however, we discovered Conce Running, Talcahuano Runners, Full Runners, Club Atlético Chiguayante, among other groups. In the last three weeks alone, I’ve done four races (Bill did the first three).

October 12—The Gran Concepcion Half Marathon.

Before the race with Juan, Tania, moi, and Bill

Before the race with Juan, Tania, moi, and Bill

 

October 19—The BioBio Half Marathon in Los Angeles.

 

Bill on the podium in Los Angeles, of course!

Bill on the podium in Los Angeles, of course!

Yesterday—The Desafio a la Reserva Nacional Nonguen (the National Reserve Challenge): A monster 10K that kicked my ass and took me two hours to complete. Straight UP. Straight DOWN. That is all.

Bill uphil climbCami in Chiguayante

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Today—The Corrida Estadio Espanol Chiguayante, 5K (Bill did the 20K yesterday and had blisters too nasty to let him consider running today.)

 

Last race in Chile.  ;(

Last race in Chile. ;(

 

Bill's brother (Bob) and sister-in-law (Leiko) are visiting us in Chile. They are runners, too!!

Bill’s brother (Bob) and sister-in-law (Leiko) are visiting us in Chile. They are runners, too!!

 

What we have learned by doing these races is what we already knew. Runners rock. No matter that we could scarcely understand anything they said, the runners we saw over and over at each race greeted us like old friends with high fives and thumbs up. Runners, if you find your way to my blog, all I have to say is: “Bill y yo queremos agradecer a todos los corredores en el Gran Concepción por su apoyo y amistad. Salimos de Concepción el sábado después de tres meses maravillosos aquí . Si vienes a correr una carrera en el estado de Washington ( en los EE.UU.) , por favor llame a nosotros.”

 

Bill with his prime "competition" after the crazy 20K trail race.

Bill with Benjamin, his prime “competition” who fearlessly flies down hills, after the crazy 20K trail race.

 

With our new friend Hanss before the trail run.

With our new friend Hanss before the trail run.

 

Finally, the places we’ve visited:

Concepcion is not a tourist town. This is a place where people live and work and study (and run!). With the exception of three short trips (to Santiago, Punta Arenas, and Los Angeles/Temuco), I’ve stayed in the greater Concepcion area—and made the most of what Gran Concepcion has to offer. Bill and I regularly hopped on busses to get to nearby communities. Talcuahano is my favorite local town—maybe because this is where I ran my first Chilean race, did my first pre-race Zumba, and won my first third-place medal. We also visited Dichato, Tome, Penco, San Pedro, Nonguen, Chiguayante, Hualpen, Coronel, Lota, Lenga, and Tumbes (for pics of these places, you’ll have to come see my slide show when I get back).

 

And finally, finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my communication experts. Rodrigo met with me twice a week and tried indefatigably to teach me Spanish syntax and pronunciation. In the end, he says I have improved, though I can hardly see it.

My Spanish classmates and our teacher, Elena, have done their best to support me in the journey to be able to function.

But perhaps my best teacher has been Julio, the caretaker at our apartment house. Patiently, and with a lot of good humor, he has interacted with me without a stitch of frustration even when all I can say is, “Lo siento, Julio. No entiendo.”

Geez, is it really time to leave? Fortunately, I plan to come back at the beginning of December to say goodbye one more time.

Concepcion, I love you.