It gets dark just after 4pm now. By the time I’ve eaten dinner and done a little of this and that around the house, I feel like it’s bedtime. I look at the clock — it’s 5:30pm. During any other season of the year, I’d be beside myself, giddy with the idea of found time (like waking up in the middle of the night and realizing that you still have, like, 6 hours before your alarm goes off), but now I grudgingly admit to myself that it’s too early — even for me — to actually crawl between the sheets.

I’m one of the lucky ones; because I start work at 6am (that’s not actually the lucky part), I’m done and clocking out of the office while it’s still light (that’s the lucky part), even in the midst of the darkest time of the year. Most people don’t see daylight except through their office windows or at lunchtime forays back out into the world. My work days almost always start in the dark (there is about a precious month in the middle of summer where the sun is almost up while I’m commuting in) and end in the light so it always feels like a normal work day, no matter the time of year, if that makes sense.

But now it feels like it’s time to go into hibernation mode. The thing foremost on my mind once I get home from work? Dinner and bed. Of course, I (almost) never do that — even as someone with a ridiculously early bedtime, 5:30pm is still, you know, late afternoon. At best, early evening. I push myself to work out, even though it’s a little disconcerting to go into the basement while it’s light and come up the stairs to a pitch-black house. I try not to turn on the TV just to have some light and noise filtering through the house (I tend to lose this battle more often than not). It’s not like I don’t have things to keep myself busy — there are always books that I’m excited to read and writing that I want to do — but all of those things pale in comparison to the thought of snuggling into bed.

It’s not like I don’t have this same amount of time during the summer, but it’s somehow different. I’m not going to head out for a walk before bed. I’m not going to sit out on my patio, reading a book, enjoying a beverage. I’m less likely to want to make mid-week plans with friends, feeling like even before the evening has begun, it’s past my bedtime.

Instead my instinct is to hunker down with blankets and the dog, passing time until it’s okay to head to bed.

I don’t think I’m alone in this (right?).

So, instead, I try and use my bear-like attitude to my advantage.

I use the time to turn inward and start preparing myself for the rush of the holidays and then both the starkness and sense of renewal that comes with January and February. I start to dream about possibilities, awakening myself to potential much like I look forward to the coming of warmer weather. In the midst of this dark, there’s a rebirth happening beneath the surface. I begin writing out plans to give me purpose during those first few months of the year when there might not otherwise be a lot of look forward to.

I often wonder if those people who live in perpetually sunny and warm places go through the same thing? Over the years, I’ve found that my life moves in the same rhythm as the seasons, slowing down once the winter snow and cold arrives and then gearing back up when the warm weather graces us again. Not a complete hibernation, but a time to regroup, relax, regenerate. Ideas have time to be noodled around, percolating on the back burners of my mind while going about my regular business. There’s still forward progress, but it’s with an ease and unhurried nature that will disappear once the birds start singing again.

I’m sure I’ll be one of those whiny people complaining about the snow and cold soon enough, but right now I’m taking the time to appreciate the slow down that comes with this time of year (well, at least once the holidays are over with). Less daylight, more sleep, time for new ideas and fresh insights.

 

 

So, yesterday I did my third trail race of 2016.

The first was in February — it was a muddy, very long slog that was one of those awful/awesome experiences. I finished, but it took every last bit of willpower to keep going at times. Once it was done, though, it was all awesome and very little of the awful. Kind of like I hear childbirth is.

Then, last week I did a trail race out at Palos Forest Preserve, on trails on which I usually bike rather than run on. The fall colors were out in full force — like a technicolor movie after watching only black and white. I spent a lot of the race wanting to just stop and take it all in, but running there with my friend Mary just felt right. Felt like that’s what I was supposed to be doing, right at that particular moment.

And then yesterday I did another trail race, a whim of a last-minute decision, and enjoyed another beautiful trail out at New Salem. I ran by myself this time, and though I started out taking it easy, it wasn’t long before I found myself welcoming back those old competitive juices and while I’m still not speedy, I worked as hard as I could to do as well as I could. I felt a glimmer of that feeling that I always chased while running — this weird, elusive, empowering, I-can-do-anything attitude.

In my training, I haven’t really gotten to the point where running feels good. It’s always something to get through more than something I enjoy. And now I’m wondering: maybe I’m just doing my training in the wrong place. I spend my time on asphalt trails or sidewalks through subdivisions or on a treadmill — little to get excited about. It’s convenient, for sure, but not inspiring.

I can still close my eyes and picture the hilltop during the Palos run where the trees were blazing yellow, the ground was a carpet of yellow leaves; it felt like an otherworld. The overwhelming feeling is one of peace and oneness, where appreciating both the awesome beauty of the place and my body’s ability to run comes easy.

And you know what? That “otherworld” is a short 35 minute drive from my house. Seems to me that I should spend a little more time rustling through the leaves (and then slogging through the snow) and enjoying the nature that’s not far from my front door.

It’s funny how just taking an activity and moving it to a different environment can make a world of difference. For as long as I can remember, I’ve always wanted to move west, move to the mountains, and while that’s not in my near-term future, I needed these runs to remind me that I’ve got some pretty cool places right here in Illinois. Maybe it’s not Utah or Colorado, but it’s more than enough for now. I mean, just look at it – you can’t tell me it isn’t beautiful.

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My own special perk — an advanced copy that I got to read and highlight and tag before everyone else.

Jonathan Fields, author of The Good Life Project and the podcaster responsible for hundreds of interviews with fascinating and inspiring people, ends every podcast with this question for his guest: “so, what does it mean to you to live a good life?”

The answers are as varied as his guests, but with one underlying commonality: there’s this urgent but impassioned attitude that living life to its fullest potential might be one of the most important things that we, as humans, do. This necessarily takes different forms for different people, but finding those things that spark and light you up are the difference between merely being and truly living.

And to address this desire to live the best life possible, Fields wrote a book chock full of lessons and ideas to inspire. A little about the book:

How to Live a Good Life is a practical and provocative modern-day manual for a life well-lived. Drawn from the intersection of science, spirituality, and Jonathan Fields’ years-long quest to learn at the feet of world-renowned masters from nearly every tradition, this book offers a simple, yet stunningly powerful tool for life, the “Good Life Buckets.”

It then walks you through 30-days of fun, yet powerful mini-challenges, designed to rekindle deep, loving, and compassionate relationships; cultivate vitality, radiance, and graceful ease; and leave you feeling lit up by the way you contribute to the world. No need for blind faith or surrender of intelligence; everything you’ll discover is immediately actionable and subject to validation through your own experience.

How to Live a Good Life is not just a book to be read; it’s a path to possibility, to be walked, then lived.

I became a student of Fields awhile ago, taking in his podcasts in big gulps and still wanted more. When he announced his book, I knew I wanted to be along for the ride — I opted to become a Good Life Ambassador and spread the Good Life love. One of the perks? I have a case of 10 books that I want to give away (admit it, I just became your favorite person, didn’t I?).

So, how would you like to spend the next few months hanging out with me and other like-minded folks, exploring the book, becoming each other’s accountability partners and amping up your life while you’re at it? I want to start an action-oriented book club where we read the book together, covering the challenges and discussing them in a private Facebook group. Once past the initial few chapters that explain Fields’ Good Life Buckets theory, each challenge is only a few pages of reading and then some amount of doing — sometimes requiring a few minutes, sometimes more, but always worth the time spent.

I’ve got that case of books to give away and will be happy to send one out to the first 10 people who say that they’re interested — the only thing I ask is in return that you commit to being an involved member of our group while we work our way through the 30 days of challenges.

Of course, anyone who’d like to be involved is more than welcome — the more the merrier! So, go ahead and share this post, invite your friends and the first 10 get the book for free! What more could you ask for? A free book AND a group of awesome people to talk about it with. Life doesn’t really get better than that, does it?

I plan on starting this the first full week in December and hitting maybe 2-3 challenges a week, giving everyone plenty of time. Of course, nothing is set in stone and we have all the flexibility in the world to change things up to make it work better for everyone. If you’re interested, comment either here or on the Facebook post and I’ll get in touch with you to get an address to send the book to.

If you’re looking for more information before you commit…

Here’s a link to the first chapter of the book — you can read it without even having to provide an email. Go to the website, scroll down a bit and then just click the button and it’ll appear on your screen.

Here’s one of my favorite episodes of his Good Life podcast, with guest Elizabeth Gilbert.

And here are some of Jonathan Field’s essays to enjoy, if you’re still, for some weird reason, not convinced that this book club will be the most awesome thing you’ll ever join.