06 February 2008
When I first started running about five and a half years ago, I never expected that it would become such a part of my weekly life and that I'd still be doing it years later. I never enjoyed it in school and figured I'd never do it again afterward, but thanks to a little inspiration from someone close to me, I tried it in the confines of a gym, then took it outside, and never looked back. I've had my ups and downs as a runner since then, but have seen it through and have been richly rewarded for it in mind, body, and spirit.
One thing I certainly never envisioned in those early days was willingly waking up early and going out in freezing temperatures to run around in cold winds and snow. Winter's always been the most difficult time for me to be consistent about running; after a long day at work or a too-short night's sleep, the idea of such discomfort can be daunting. It's been far and away the most irregular time of year for my running, and will probably always be so.
But after a break over the holidays, I've been getting back to it and have been pretty regular about it, despite the roller-coaster weather we've been having. (Finding some great thinly-woven wool layers to wear has helped.) And, as I do with each other season, I find something magical about the experience that makes the rigmarole worthwhile.
Last Friday was an excellent example. We'd had a snowfall the night before, just enough to blanket the landscape with a few inches but not enough to require, say, snowshoes, grappling hooks, or flare guns. After leaving work, I headed out to the trail as the sun was starting to settle into the horizon. The trail was deserted and quiet in the way that's only possible with snow--a gently muffled hush. Under my feet, the snow was soft yet supportive, a firm bed that felt luxurious to move across even as it required a bit more from legs to move through it.
That wonderful paradox continued throughout the run, as my eyes were dazzled by the rolling, snowy cloud-covered bluffs and forests around me and my mind and imagination fired by the alternating audiobook and music filtering through my rigged-up earmuff/headphone combo. Initial chill turned to internal warmth as the miles slowly slipped by, and the added difficulty of breathing the cold air was a wonderfully alive feeling. As I progressed, all these components merged into one experience of striving, heaving, frolicking, exploring, and just being.
Toward the end of my run, rather than wearing down, I felt a delicious surge of energy and strength in my legs--a thank-you of sorts for the forgiving snowy running surface, perhaps--and finished at a good, strong pace. Though a shorter run than what I might peak at in warm weather, the feeling of satisfaction after navigating those wintry elements is second to none, and what at first seemed like adversarial conditions soon became friendly, generous, and awakening.
I'm grateful for these moments, and the ready availability of a different physical, emotional, and spiritual journey every time I look over at those running shoes and decide that okay, it's time to pull them on and go.
14 October 2007
Endangered Species 5K
Yesterday I ran my second-ever competitive race, the Endangered Species Walk/Run 5K, described thusly: "co-hosted by the Department of Conservation, the Department of Natural Resources, the Department of Health and Senior Services, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the Jefferson City Parks, Recreation, and Forestry Department. The event raises funds to help restore habitat, conduct research and support education projects for endangered animals and plants in Missouri."
I've always been more of a meditative runner than a competitive one; for me, there's nothing better than a long, empty trail under a brooding sky with an intriguing mix on my MP3 player, and no one else in sight. Racing was fun when I was a kid--I was pretty darn good at the 50-yard dash back in the day--but has never interested me since. But once in a while I suffer from the temporary insanity of wanting to do it, maybe as a barometer of whether I'm as healthy as I think I am. The availability of an event nearby that benefitted something important to me made it the right choice.
It turned out to be a great time, and despite the lack of any focused training on my part (I'd been running a couple days a week and biking 3 or more days a week over the last few months), went like clockwork, almost surprisingly so. I think it was a combination of just enough good choices leading up to and during the race:
- I typically run on the Hinkson trail, which has no distance markers--which is good for a distraction-free run, but bad for having any idea how well I'm running, speed-wise. Earlier this week I did an extra run back on my old stomping grounds of the MKT trail, and timed my miles in a simulated 5K. My first mile was terrible--I was dragging badly--my second mile was great, and my third was somewhere in between. This run gave me something to beat and told me where my biggest weakness was: in the early stages.
- Made an effort to eat nutritionally and heartily and get good nights' sleep in the few days before the race. Mixed success, but good overall.
- I hardly ever drink coffee, but I decided to follow some advice I read on Runnersworld.com to drink a bit of coffee 30-60 minutes before a race, based on the idea that caffeine prepares the nervous system for exercise.
- I asked Ann Marie, herself a cross-country star in high school, what her pre-race prep was in her racing days. She emphasized a long warm-up, even to the extent of running the whole race course before the real race. While I didn't think I was up for quite that much, her advice made immediate sense with what I had experienced just a few days earlier--hitting a wall in my first mile that mentally dragged me down for the rest of the run. So when we got to the race site, in addition to my usual alternating 1-minute-jog/1-minute-walk warmup repeats, I ran a good six minutes non-stop at just below race pace. During that run I hit that draggy, breathing-hard wall, but did not hit it during the actual race, so this turned out to be critical and I'm now sold on the longer-warmup approach.
- I ended up being in a surprisingly good, practical frame of mind during the race itself. I'd thought through a few things ahead of time to avoid getting surprised, and switched between multiple mindsets throughout the race: checking in on myself to make sure I was at a comfortable pace, and then bumping it up a notch; looking around at the lovely morning sky and countryside; thinking about things I'm working on outside of the race; checking out the cute girl in front of me and then passing her (hey, motivation is motivation); and even zoning out altogether at a few points. The first mindset, which I kept coming back to regularly, was the most important; I think I underestimated myself a little early on, and was able to steadily increase my pace through the race, ending with the last 100 meters or so in a sprint.
See a few photos documenting my race-day experience.
03 June 2007
I headed out with my story tucked into my hand
But the wind in the leaves told me I didn't need it
So I left my headphones behind
And chose instead the dialogue between the panoramic hissing of tree-walls
(is a cathedral anything more than a forest-replica of stone?)
birds, bugs, humans, dogs
and my own breath, crunching of limestone under feet, heartbeat.
The path, so tranquil
yet swarmed with a crashing wave of life
The turtle making its way up to the edge of the trail
only the closest herald of millions of strugglings all around me
In sound and movement, all around me the successes
in stillness and silence the inevitable failings.
Along a north-facing tree-wall on the edge of a clearing,
a part of the forest made into a regular home by the bright blue buntings
In my short time spent getting to know this place,
they've become a welcome part of the landscape, a seasonal visitor
(more likely I'm the visitor to their home)
I wonder how they regard me,
this great, red-capped, blue-clad creature
like some bluebird-god who walks the edges of their land
with no flight, no song.
Out here I'm no trouble.
Out here my empty hand wants to be sought out, but
is happy to not be holding anyone
where they don't want to be.
Out here there's no one to disappoint.
An older man and woman,
he thin and careful of movement, tanned, balding, bespectacled, quiet of voice
she heavier, a shock of white curls crowning her head, yet bright in eye
and clear and ringing in voice
spend the time I run more than three miles
walking slowly, carefully, methodically within a circle of a dozen yards.
They move carefully, respectfully, agog
pausing at bloom, leaf, stem,
considering, sharing, smelling, relishing
finding joy in things as they are.
A simple, plain white canvas bag is slung over his shoulder
It looks old but cared for
cut like a backpack, with thin straps and a one-button flap over the top opening
only the words "Save a tree" printed on the back of it.
In that small thing is a simplicity, an innocence, a clarity
it strikes me as a landmark of an earlier part of the journey
when we knew enough.
We know too much now.
We are spoiled, cynical, ruined.
Across our digital threshold are infinite possibilities
and no humanity.
We struggled with our heavy plastic boxes, flickering displays, tape reels
We cobbled together life out of voltages and filters
And finally achieved our goal when our creation could do anything
without moving at all.
I can do anything with these tools, yet none of it feels real anymore.
There is no place for this in this world.
And so I keep going back to the cathedral
and hope I'll understand
what its voice is telling me.
26 April 2007
There are few things that bring me more peace than the sight of a deserted trail stretching in front of me. Every step I take out onto it becomes such an intimate thing--a soft, hushed application of my weight, muted to silence by the awe of sprawling life all around me. I cross the bridge, emerge from the first canopy and breathe in the vast, open expanse of field beyond, and suddenly it's as though the teeming acquirocracy I left only minutes before no longer exists, and never did.
Then there's thudding breath, a beat of footfalls, entwining muscles clenching and releasing, body chemicals coursing, rushing, stories and songs rolling through my head, struggle and freedom at the same time.
Occasionally I crouch and pluck a fat, squirming worm from its spot in the dusty, gravelly trail—the poor inchoate sensor having stranded itself in the powdery suffocation from which it wouldn't escape—and place it gently down on a nearby spot of bare, damp, cool ground. Then I straighten up and go back to the joyous struggle.
At the end, I almost don't but then do pick up some cast-off filth from near my car—the random debris that only careless humans can create, the kind that poisons while being made and poisons after being discarded. And only because of that extra few seconds' work am I still there when you arrive, and though I came for silent, solitary meditation, I am glad to see you and speaking with you makes me happy. And I leave thinking that somewhere in these few simple moments is most everything I need to know about life. I know I'll forget it soon. And remember it again sometime after that. And so it goes.
05 November 2006
Did a 4-mile, or a little over four miles probably, non-stop run this weekend. That's a high-water mark since I ran into bad trouble with shin splints a couple years back. It took me some time to get back out on the trails at all; the splints were a lingering problem and I was pretty paranoid about re-aggravating things.
Finally, when I began truly regular running again earlier this year, I told myself that I wouldn't worry at all about distance or shooting for some artificial standard--my goal was simply to do it on a regular basis again, to work it back into my lifestyle and regain it as a regular test of will and discipline. So when I started up again, I was content with short distances and short amounts of time. Each run was no longer a boundary-pushing struggle--instead, my test became consistency and motivation. Don't worry about meeting my old standards of distance--just keep doing it. Bad run one day, legs felt leaden, couldn't manage to quite reach last time's distance? No worries--just keep doing it.
That approach has really been paying off for me this year. I've taken off the weight I put on over last winter, and in conjunction with regular (but also non-straining) weight work at home, I'm enjoying good health and some good physique-development--I'm within a few pounds of my target weight and my blood pressure and cholesterol are both terrific.
I don't know if I'll make it back to my glory days of 6-mile runs or not; I know I'd be able to run that distance if I wanted to, but I don't want to overdo it again. I'd rather slowly and steadily develop, as I have over the last 6 months or so, and have running in my life, than hurt myself needlessly.
I'm no world-class runner, and I imagine one day I'll have to hang it up to protect one body part or another, but for now I'm happy with my work and my persistence.
So 4 miles sounds pretty great to me. Here's to, hopefully, hundreds more to come.
20 May 2006
Weird old world/Sisyphus Saturday
Late, overcast morning after a late night. Get the day started then go for a run later, or go for a run now?
Go for a run now. Eat later. First, swap out the tunes on the old MP3 player.
Driving along up Old 63 on the way to Hinkson, slightly zoning out and singing along to Tales From Topographic Oceans by Yes. Suddenly time seems to grind to a halt as I see a small, dark gray shape struggling across the road ahead of me, in the other lane.
In a flash I realize what's happening: a cat (presumably a mother cat) is hauling a tiny black kitten across this busy road by the scruff of its little neck. She's got it over to the side of the narrow road and is trying to lift it up and over the curb, but she can't manage it. Meanwhile, cars are coming from both directions. I'm the lead car coming up from Broadway, while there's another stream of them coming downhill from the south. As the cars rapidly approach, the mother cat panics and bolts away, leaving the little black kitten sprawled helplessly in the road, directly where the oncoming cars are headed.
This whole thing is happening in seconds. Literally--in about 2 seconds I realize what's going on, and then everything that follows happens in only a few seconds more.
In the middle of Old 63, traffic behind me and oncoming in the other lane, I stop the car, throw on the parking brake, hit the hazard lights, jump out the door, and run across into the other lane, scooping up the kitten and carrying it a safe distance past the road, setting it down in some brush near where the mother has bolted. She's staring at me from a few yards away, alarmed and hissing; I crouch down and try to coax her over but she's too tense.
All kinds of thoughts run through my head at that moment--what to do about them? I glance around; there's no immediate sign of where they might have come from or are going to. Do I try to corral the mother and take them somewhere? She's fast and the surrounding brush is thick, and she's still pretty panicky--I worry that if I try, it'll just chase her off and leave the kitten alone again. So quickly I decide to leave them for the moment, where they're at least together and safely off the road.
Then I stand up and it dawns on me that my car is still sitting in the road. I turn around and see that a long line of cars has formed behind it, and as it's a narrow road with no-passing stripes, there's nowhere for people to go. So with an unspoken, "ah, crap" I dash back out into the road, hop in the car, and then pull over into a parking lot near where I left the cats.
They've moved on, down the hill into the dense brush and tree cover. I can spy them several yards in, and I puzzle over what to do. But it seems that my chance at spiriting them away has passed. The mother cat is still on alert, watching me as I try and step lightly through the dense foliage, but there's no good inlet. Before I would take a few steps, she could be long gone, and I don't want to have the kitten deserted or left behind in a panic again.
So, feeling beaten and insufficient, I leave them and head back to the car. To what fate, I wonder--run over somewhere else, later, or scavenging for survival? Or maybe headed toward their home? Picked up by someone if they approach a home for food or shelter? I don't know. But I'm stymied.
Within a half-minute of driving on, I get a call on my cell, pick it up, and hear a girl say, "happy birthday!" Flustered as I am, I actually have to take a second to check my brain for any facts I might be missing here. (My birthday's in October. Check.) I gently assure her that she has the wrong number, and drive on.
This is starting out to be a weird day.
On the trail, aside from some expected stiffness, running starts well. First song is the utterly fantastic "Chemistry" by Semisonic (surely one of the best pop songs of the decade). As its Hall & Oates-like staccato piano driving-eighths give me an emotional boost that surprises even me, the clouds open up and suddenly it's sunny. And for a moment I'm brushed by a sensation hinting at many fine days of running over the last few years, pleasant imagery and feelings of other sunny days, other trails. The same thing happens again later in the run, when the returned clouds part again during the fast/driving second half of "Ballavanich" by Celtic/rock band Wolfstone.
After the run I continue what's become a post-run ritual: picking up whatever trash I can see offhand around the trail head. It amazes me every time that people will carelessly dump so much random junk when there's a trash can just a few yards away. Pathetic. Today's haul includes a pile of corroding AA batteries (did the idiot who dumped them think they'd just evaporate harmlessly?), lots of random pieces of plastic & cigarette packaging, cups & straws, and a few aluminum cans which I take with me to recycle. Sickening. I think to myself that I need to return here late some night (when I imagine this stuff is getting dumped) and scandalize whoever's doing it. As I'm driving back home (no sign of the cats), I'm reminded how I fill my 100% biodegradable kitchen trash bag with non-biodegrading empty cereal bags, soy-food wrappers, etc., and I have to wonder what good I'm doing, really.
Though as I'm rinsing out the cans back at home and reading their labels, I do get the chance to learn something that I'd suspected but probably wouldn't know otherwise--that Cherry Vanilla Dr. Pepper contains neither cherry nor vanilla. Just sugar and chemicals.
And I'm reminded of Steve Kilbey's old song, "Weird Old World" :
We talk about this city and all of its lies
That's a joke, we're a cog in its wheel
And we're rolling on down to the end of the hill
And never stopping to feel.
07 May 2006
A moment at the creek
My first impression of the Hinkson trail, after my first run on it a few weeks back, was that it wasn't as scenic/attractive as my old haunts on the MKT trail, but how much closer it was to me--making runs quicker and easier to schedule, and saving me on gas--made it worthwhile. In the time since, I've changed my tune and have found many small and not-so-small things in which to delight.
After another nice run on Saturday, I felt a compulsion to linger a little longer and wander around a bit. So, after stretching, I walked across the gently rolling hillocks surrounding the trailhead, taking the rocky path down to the creek. With no one else in sight, I felt a pleasing sense of reverence in the aloneness with this untroubled nature. Walking down to the creek's edge, I crouched down and just watched, and listened. What little noise there was from the nearest road was quickly forgotten in the quiet of the moment.
Looking over the gently rushing water (the area I'd walked down to is fairly rocky, providing much surface for whooshing and babbling of the brook), I spotted what looked like a piece of paper wrapped around a rock, plastered against it by the force of the water. Thinking that it probably wasn't doing much harm but was still an interference to anything green growing on the rock's surface, I grabbed the nearest fallen branch-piece, reached out over the water, and set about trying to loose it from its lamination. After several tries, I was finally able to peel it off and lift it out of the water.
That it was so tidily intact should have tipped me off, but I found that it was not paper but instead plastic. Specifically, a plastic bag from a child's birthday party. There are a hundred ways it could have gotten in the stream, but I was just glad that I'd gotten it out. It's simple presence as a foreign pollutant is clear to anyone, but lately I've been reminded of how dangerous plastics can be to the ecosystem through reading articles like the recent ocean study in Mother Jones magazine.
After pulling it ashore and setting it down next to me, I returned to my meditation over the gently rippling water-sounds. Then I noticed, just a couple yards upstream, a small bird alight on a low branch overhanging the stream. (I think it was an Eastern Phoebe, but it may have been an Eastern Kingbird; my bird IDing skills are woefully poor.)
Keeping quiet and still, I was treated to a delightful show by the little one; a series of looping dips down into the water, then swooping back up to the branch to wash itself and shake itself dry. Mixed into this cleaning ritual were a few cursory above-water swoops, presumably to snag the occasional insect. I waited long enough for the bird to finish and move a little further downstream before getting up and walking back up to the car.
Another reminder that most of my fondest memories, those that stay with me and emerge in the most thoughtful and meaningful times, don't involve concrete.
(This journal entry typed to the accompaniment of Bert Jansch's lovely and pastoral 1980 album, Avocet.)
04 May 2006
Just for the fun of it, a random snapshot of some of the current tunes on my old MP3 player that I'm listening to while running. (iTunes, download, or informational links provided where available.)
Sufjan Stevens, Dear Mr. Supercomputer
I tend to like starting runs with a bright, thoughtful tune with enough solid propulsion to get things off to a good start. Stevens weaves a clicking, beeping, thumping mover with a web of staccato acoustic sounds--drums, horns, layered vocals, vibraphone.
Wolfmother, White Unicorn and Dimension
This raging new young band from Australia wears their classic-rock influences on their sleeves, but boy do they rock. They mix in just enough oddness, pulp-fantasy lyrical whimsy, and prog-rock flourishes to take their straightahead sound up a notch. 'White Unicorn' is all wide-screen drama (you can almost see the smoke machines during its hazy breakdown), good for distractions during the toughest early part of my run, and 'Dimension' is just a pounding, driving rocker that helps me keep pushing.
Michael Moorcock's Deep Fix, Time Centre
This instrumental oddity from a musical project between legendary fantasy author Moorcock and members of Hawkwind is a semi-hypnotic, cyclical build up from early-80s synth and drums to big bass guitar that for some reason, has been a standby of my running tunes. One of those that just works--never the center of my workout, but always a good go-to tune.
Genesis, Watcher of the Skies (live)
Wrapping up this segment of prog-rock is this early classic from Genesis, back when Peter Gabriel was the lead singer, wearing dresses and fox-head costumes on stage. Starting off with airy mellotron full of daybreak yearning and portent, it slips into great, rolling rhythms and terrific bass hooks from Mike Rutherford. A musical short story, with peaks, valleys, and a rousing finale. The version I'm listening to is a rare uncut version left off of their classic Genesis Live album from 1973. And it's long enough that I can run a whole mile to it!
Kasabian, Club Foot
Coming back to the present day with this seething, driving, edgy tune from these British alterna-rockers. Big dancy beat, buzzing guitar, and urgent vocals create a great running vibe.
King's X, Fly
This song has what I love most about this hugely underrated band--massive, propulsive riffs, alternately soulful and soaring vocals filled with harmony, and oodles of energy. A great spark of energy that just seems to make the clouds open up.
Broken Social Scene, 7/4 (Shoreline)
The odd time signature creates movement under a churning bed of restrained tension that breaks out all over the place as the song builds. Great load vocal and harmony by Leslie Feist, terrifically woven instrumentation. Maybe the best indie-pop since The Replacements.
The Rolling Stones, Don't Stop
Just a great, catchy, yearning-with-a-wink, love/lust-sick tune from the Stones. Obviously the chorus is a good message when trying to finish a run!
Nawang Khechog, Leading the Path of Non-Violence
Stark, beautiful Tibetan flute is a great complement to the lush greenery, big skies and rolling hills surrounding the trail, and a soothing balm at the end of a satisfying run.
29 April 2006
Ode to Hinkson
Soft damp bed of green
Soaking up step-sounds
Mushed dust of old mountains
Crackles gently underfoot
Deep rusted red herald
A hoary halo overlooks comers, goers
In the soaked gray air it's deepened
I give a salute of auburn curls, underby
Alone and surrounded
Echoing, chirping, rustling life abounds
Slithers, flutters, hops, buzzes, whispers
In a language too slow for me to catch
A lightness fills me
Stands me up, lifts me along
As my legs stretch around solitary bends
And a fleeting connectedness washes through
The curves create friction
The inclines spark surges
The resistance replied with a sweaty push
Hot breath and hammer-heart
Retreating to their canopy
Human ruin a muted presence at the fringe
All come and go in the closest thing to peace.
13 March 2005
Back on the Trails
As I'm just starting to get this long-dormant site rolling again, it's only fitting that I start tracking the ol' running again. I'm good about doing it, but bad about tracking it--it seems counterintuitive, since my greatest motivations for running aren't outwardly competitive or related to a set training program; rather, they're about meditation, self-challenging, and developing a discipline and consistency.
So, then, a recap. After the shin splints which sidelined me last summer, I slowly made forays back into semi-regular running in the fall, starting out with short runs and lots of recovery time to avoid reinjury. I've never managed to run regularly all the way through the winter in past years, but did manage to run on and off all the way through this time. Granted, the runs weren't as frequent or as long as my traditional average, but I felt so good simply being out there again that measurement wasn't a concern to me. I knew that with time and patience, I'd get back to where I'd been last year, and so I went about it methodically, focusing on re-experiencing the sensations of being out in the various seasonal settings, each time with its own unique challenges and rewards, and looked forward to getting a little better each time.
Now, at last, I seem to be getting back into the regular swing of things. Back to cresting three miles each run, running up to three times each week, though this time I'm being more forgiving to my body through more emphasis on warming up & cooling down, stretching, and restraining myself from adding too much distance. I feel better and breathe better at the end of a run than at the start, which creates a temptation to keep going, but when I hit that point I just remind myself of what's best, smile inwardly in gratitude, and shift into the cool-down walk. It was great fun pushing myself up to 6 mile runs last spring, but I'd rather experience the slow joy of consistency and progress than overdo it again through rushing. Now that I better know my strengths & weaknesses, and am more savvy through the study I did during my time off, I know that I have a lot to look forward to.
09 May 2004
The Transcending Trail Redux
Songs of the Day: Phish - "Bouncing Around the Room" (live), Kula Shaker - "Govinda", Incredible Bongo Band - "Apache".
The Transcending Trail Redux: I ran 6 miles on the trail again today, and as before it brought up a lot of pleasant sensations. At the 6 mile mark my body was kind of humming, or buzzing. In moments like that, the smallest things are richer and more meaningful--breathing deeply, feeling the breeze, listening to the whispering leaves far over me, the warmth of the sun stippling through the green canopy.
It also took me back to my first memory of a transcendental experience with music. As a kid I was an enthusiastic, if ignorant, music listener (in recent years I've dug up a lot of brilliant music from that time and think, "so that wonderful stuff was out there while I was just listening to top 40 radio?"). But in spite of all the time I spent enjoying music, my first memory of really being transported elsewhere by it, in a fundamental way, is from 1986. I was 14 years old and on a little jaunt with my family out to a place some friends of ours had out somewhere in the country. I was off by myself, walking through the woods, listening to the soundtrack to the movie Legend on my clunky old cassette walkman. It was the song "Loved by the Sun", by Tangerine Dream with Jon Anderson singing. It was early autumn, leaves still on the trees but swirling on the ground as well, the dense tree canopy creating a pontillistic effect with sunlight. As the lush swells of sound blended with this gentle, leafy backdrop and Anderson's wistful, yearning vocals stirred me, I felt myself carried away. It was a moment of singularity--everything else beyond the little clearing I was in just vanished and it was though I was a million miles from home or anyone else at all. This symbiosis of sound, sights, and feelings was overwhelming, and I felt myself break down and soar at the same time. At that moment a little window opened up and I was connected to a greater beauty I didn't understand at all on an intellectual level, but which felt like the ultimate answer at an instinctual, visceral level. I'd had many moments of minor ecstasy listening to music before that, but that day changed my understanding of what music could do--what its own voice could say, and what greater things it could transport you to. I've never been the same since.
02 May 2004
The Zen of running
Songs of the Day: Yes - 'Machine Messiah', Jethro Tull - 'Teacher', Charles Lloyd - 'Voice in the Night'.
The Zen of Running. Running has a way of surprising me every time I do it, which reminds me of how valuable it is. Having laid off for most of the winter and getting back into it this spring, I've been surprised by both my limitations and my capacity. Aside from the fact that you're moving, straining, it's very much like meditation--it's a focused, repetitive activity that can take you up and out of the limitations you struggle against each day. Like meditation, it's done best with an open attitude and without needlessly lingering on the mundane stresses around you, or more importantly within you. When these basic elements are in place, it can result in a natural, unforced interaction with the now, which can paradoxically make you feel a kind of power through powerlessness. Or maybe it's not such a paradox, because the power you feel isn't a power over other things, but a greater power derived from the sum total of everything in and around you, together. When I approached mile 3 on the trail today, I felt a kind of energy symbiosis with my body, the music I was listening to, the warmth of the sun, the sight of the tree-canopied path ahead surrounded by the vast, open green plain. When I reached mile 6, I felt a kind of transcendence, where my usual sharp awareness of exactly where I was kind of dissolved and I was just there, in that moment, with the dirt under me and leaves above. I could feel it happening and was aware of it, and my rational instinct was to snap back into sharper awareness, but I held back and just reveled in that state of ambiguity, smiling as it washed over me, before finally settling back into a more conscious state as I reached the end of the trail. To quote an old Jethro Tull song, it was a real 'Dharma for One'!