Running the Spiritual Path

It's when I can't run that I think about my ability to run. Because when I can run, I tend to take it for granted. Like many things, running takes time, investment, training, focus, passion. It must be nurtured and sustained to remain purposeful and meaningful. Yet, because it's been present in my life for almost 30 years now, I don't think about how amazing it is that I am able to run. It is simply part of the fabric of my life.

I thought about this sentiment lately, because there is so much in the day-to-day that becomes invisible, lost in the ambient (and often very busy) conditions of life, infused in the everyday, invisible because of redundancy or familiarity. I think sometimes about how amazing it would be if every now and then, we could color-code our lives at will, so that all the invisible-becoming-things that start to fade from our vision suddenly show up in bright, popping colors. Then perhaps all the novel and new things that tend to take our attention, along with the urgent things that need immediate attention and fill our vision whether we want them to or not, might recede back into gray and stop taking up so much mental and visual space. Wouldn't that be neat. But wouldn't you know it. We have to filter what we see--and make sense of it--through our own eyes and ways of seeing. Shucks. That is so much harder.

When I am running, I think about life. When I think about life, I consider gratitude. When I consider (and deeply feel) gratitude, I think about spirit.

Of course, it doesn't all happen quite like that.

Anatomy of a Run

Pre-run: I should go running. But I'm so (pressed for time, stressed, tired, fill in blank). Just go, you know you'll feel better. But it's (raining, snowing, icy, hot, dark, fill in blank). Go anyway.

In the fullness of life, often the hardest part of the run is actually getting out the door.

Mile 1: I am outside.
I notice only the most immediate smells, the feel of being outdoors, the sensations that come with stepping into a different environment. I think: It is (cold, hot, muggy, fill in blank). My head is full of chaotic, indecipherable noise. Work thoughts. Motherhood thoughts. Jonah thoughts. Anxious thoughts. Fears. Worries. It's all there, a jumble of knots in my mind. I feel ungrounded.

Mile 2-3: Getting warm.
As I get older, it takes longer and longer to feel warmed up. During the first few miles, I think things like this: I'm stiff. Why does that hurt. Why am I running. I must be crazy. Once past the sheer physical immediacy of starting a run, the noise in my mind starts to subside, and it begins to coalesce into separate and discrete thoughts and ideas.

Mile 3-4: Warm.
I no longer feel or notice the physicality of my environment, nor do I feel the physicality of my own body. Instead, I get lost in thought. I consider each thought, turn it over a bit, and either store it away or let it go. The letting go part has taken 30 years of running to nurture.

Mile 5 and beyond: NOW I am running.
It only took five miles to get here. Ha!

But I am not the same person I was when I stepped out the door.

What exists is NOW.
This moment.
Nothing more, nothing less.

All I know is NOW.

  1. I notice my breath.
  2. I take time to realize: I am alive. (Not just alive, but colorfully, beautifully, amazingly alive.)
  3. I can hear/feel my heart beating.
  4. I hear, see and smell things that I didn't notice earlier, when the mental noise was in the way: the wind and how it sounds different moment to moment; the abundance of living things around me, evident in countless visible and audible clues, even in winter; the light and the quality of its particular sheen this day, this moment; the nuances of scent surrounding me and changing as my legs take me through different places.
  5. I realize that suddenly, I can see.

I have found a way to create my own color-coding and way to make the invisible-becoming-things visible again.

I've learned over time that seeing clearly and seeking to live a grounded life aren't things to attain; rather, they are things to strive toward, with mindful choices and actions.

Grounding myself is cyclic. I am constantly grounded and ungrounded. Sometimes within seconds or minutes, sometimes from day to day, sometimes from year to year. Each day I find that I ground myself in countless large and small ways, and each day, I unground myself in small and large ways. At the end of the day/month/year, sometimes the balance is shifted one way or another, and regardless of where that balance falls, I am still seeking.

Running has taught me this very simple fact:

The act of seeking, searching and striving IS what grounds my life.

For me, running is far more than part of a healthy lifestyle. It is the centralizing place, a haven, upon which I recalibrate, reground, rejuvenate, and reevaluate. In doing so, I hope to reenter the world a more mindful, discerning, thoughtful person.

Running provides a foundation upon which I can step outside of myself to feel gratitude for things beyond me: God, spirit, nature, beauty, the mystifying abundance of things to notice, if one is but looking.

And as always, I live by the personal adage: "The brighter the running shoes, the better the run."

What grounds you?