Saturday, December 3, 2016

Running and Presence

If you have read George Sheehan or Amby Burfoot, what follows might sound repetitive; however, reiteration begets understanding. This is nothing more than spreading the gospel of running and presence, and one would hope this doesn't come across akin to a reading directly from The Good Book. One would hope this message is seasoned with a few flakes of originality and not repackaged like last night's dinner, served cold for lunch today.

Note: Please substitute the word "running" with any interest of yours that requires full body and mind awareness to succeed at (e.g. painting, tennis, swimming, guitar, etc...). I am tempted to leave sexual exploits as separate from this discussion because, although they captivate us totally, they require submission, as well as partnership and dependency, to succeed at. But feel free to disagree with me on that one if you'd like.

I had heard of the runner's high, of course, but nothing that I had ever heard or read could have prepared me for the inner stillness that running has taught me. Obviously, it is still a work in progress, as are all things in this life, and I hate to sound bombastic, boastful, or, worse yet, fool hearty (after all, I still haven't even finished my first full marathon), but to be silent about the benefits of running would be shameful.

There is a point at the end of the warmup where the body turns on and the mind turns off. For those first ten minutes or so, the mind continues to race and body feels jerky and tight. The work feels taxing and the mind cries foul, insisting that it is not up for the demands and expectations of the workout that given day.

But the scales start to tilt in the direction of the body. The heart begins to take over as the focal point of consciousness. The mind quiets down, and something about it feels thankful for this. Like an overheating engine in dire need of a break, the brain relishes the opportunity to rest, to take a back seat and let another stakeholder take the reins.

Come to think of it, my newly acquired GPS watch has a tiny role to play in allowing the seamless transition from mind to body, from thinking to feeling, to take place. Before the watch, the mind found a place for itself in the game of training. (As much as the mind likes to take a break, it will volunteer itself at even the weakest excuse for its use. In this case, it was needed to help with pacing calculations and distance tracking.) The watch eliminated such a need and put the mind to rest once and for all.
Running with presence

As many runners know, time seems to stop while out on the road or the trail. The hips churn the legs underneath the body in a cycle of smooth symmetry. The mind may pop up to provide reminders about posture, foot placement, or hip rotation, but once in the groove, that mischief maker knows its place. It lies dormant. It knows its time to wreak havoc will come again. Just not yet.

It is remarkable to think that as my mileage increases (45 miles last week) the amount of trouble my mind is able to cause me decreases. I have spent my time at work and at home under less stress than I have ever known. All thanks to my heart and to the body that it drives. For as robotic and monotonous as it can seem to outsiders, running is the most liberating, presence-inducing tool that I have yet to encounter in life. No, it's not the same as meditation, but it teaches me that suppressing the mind isn't as hard as one would think. More profoundly, it teaches me vividly that I am not my mind. I am something much deeper, something much closer to my heart.

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