Monday, August 27, 2007

Running to Center

When I'm out on a run, there comes this point when everything just...kinda...well...clicks. It usually happens somewhere after the first fifteen minutes--that would be the first fifteen minutes in which I chronicle every ache and pain my body feels, fuss with my headphones until they "feel right," skip back and forth between songs and podcasts, wish fiercely I had downloaded that Other Album before leaving for my run, debate possible justifications for cutting the run short, and worry that I should have gone to the bathroom one last time before deciding to bounce my bladder up and down for however long this goes on for.

Yes, somewhere after that first fifteen minutes, everything clicks. My body settles into the rhythm of running so that I don't have to think about it anymore. My breathing evens out and falls into pace with my stride. I start to notice the way the sunlight glints through the leaves, the changes in the bushes beside the path, the smell of the just-cut grass around the flower beds. I nod at people as we pass each other and grin at children. I don't even notice whatever music I finally settled on--it's become part of the background. I'll come back to it every now and again when a particular phrase or refrain catches my attention. My whole body, my mind, my heart--everything relaxes and focuses in on the one activity of running. And in that single-mindedness, I find that I am thinking of everything and nothing at all. Thoughts surface and then slip away. Moments from my day replay in my mind and then fade. Emotions, worries, all the daily trials and tribulations of being me all cycle through, but don't stay for very long. As soon as I notice myself thinking about something, I end up back in this moment of running and moving and breathing.

It took me a while to realize that this is meditation. This is what we try to do in meditation--this gentle cycling of thinking and coming back to the present. Neither preventing the distractions from surfacing nor actively seeking them. Just allowing them to happen and then letting them slip away. It's being present and engaged with the moment at hand.

I've tried traditional "sitting-down" meditation off and on through my life. I always had this feeling like I wasn't doing it right. I never felt the kind of inner calm that was described by the teacher or the books. Those people with inner calm on their tranquil, radiant faces always made me feel especially irritable. I always felt fidgety and would sneak peaks at the clock. Or if there was no clock, I would get very anxious about how much time had passed (or not passed) and how would I know when to stop and when is the leader going to sound that effing gong? I would get frustrated and grumpy over my lack of inner calm and end up reprimanding myself for not being good enough at meditating. Ha! Oh, the wily mind of the perfectionist.

I've now realized a few things about meditation, two things in particular:

1) There is no 'right' way to meditate. A teacher helps, but only if you trust that teacher and only if that teacher knows their stuff. I think that part of my problem when I was younger was that my teachers didn't really know much more about meditation that I did, however certified they may have said they were. (Note: This was during a time in my life when the label "New Age" was all it took to get my complete and utter devotion.) Yes, I think a teacher can help, but I also really think that the body knows. Deep down, you know. I think that's why meditation is so powerful--because it's intrinsic to you, and on some deep cellular level, you know how to reach that state of mind all on your own. It doesn't require you to call it meditation. I think that meditation can be found whenever you give yourself wholly to a certain activity to the point where thoughts do not hook you. I feel this so strongly when running, but I've also felt it while listening to music, while kneading bread, and while serving coffee as a barista at Starbucks.

2) The other thing I've realized is that it takes practice. It's possible that traditional, sitting-down meditation is not the way for me to go about meditating. It's also possible that I just didn't keep at it long enough to develop the habit and give my body and spirit a chance to really figure it out. I've been running regularly and for gradually longer distances for about two years now. I don't feel like I'm a natural runner. I was never athletic and getting into the habit of running was really hard. For a long time, running even short distances felt like dying. It really did. I kept thinking, "This is the craziest, most sadistic thing a person could do to their bodies. How is this good?" And then some athletic somebody would whisk by me and I would think, "Well...they don't look so crazy. And DAMN look at those CALVES."

Practice practice practice. When I tried traditional meditation, I wanted to be perfect and so I got mad at myself when I got fidgety after a few minutes. When I first started running, I wanted to be perfect, so I got mad at myself whenever I had to stop and walk to catch my breath. I think the real turning point for my running came about a year ago. I don't even remember what motivated the change, but I remember saying to the Engineer, "You know, I think I'm just going to run every day. Even if it's just once around the small pond. I'm just going to do it." The Engineer raised his eyebrows at me--wanting to be supportive, of course, not disbelieving, per se, but also not entirely...sure. But I knew. I knew that there had been a shift inside me.

And somehow, deciding to run every day took the pressure off of being perfect. I no longer felt like I had to be super-awesome those two or three days when I went on BIG BAD RUNS. I mean, if I got really winded today or only made it around the small pond, no big deal. I'll be back again tomorrow. No big deal. When I started running every day, I also really started to feel the rhythm of it, the cycle of my days and my movements. Going running started to feel like returning to center.

Maybe your intention also made a difference. When I started running, I didn't set out to make it my way of meditating. It just happened. I think that if I had set out with intention of meditating, it might not have happened. Or maybe it would have--running is one of those things that you do actually have to concentrate on. If you're distracted with other things (Like clicking through every song on your iPod. Just saying), then you will inevitably trip over your own feet, get yourself slapped in the face with branches, lose your breath, step in goose poop, pull a muscle, and possibly careen into strollers or small energetic children. It's only when you give yourself over to the act of running (or biking or kneading dough or sit-down meditating) that the feeling of transcendence happens. It clicks. Everything clicks. Man, that's hard to describe. I guess that's why it's ineffable.

1 comment:

crankopotamus said...

Just reading this makes me feel clear and balanced.