Several years ago I was part of an advanced Aikido class in which we learned some Japanese history and a bit about the samurai culture, from which comes the sword techniques that form the basis of Aikido. One day Sensei spoke about the mindset of the samurai.
“Let’s say a samurai is out walking and it begins to rain,” he said. “Ordinary people would run for cover. But a samurai keeps walking. He does not let external events – those he cannot control – disturb his serenity.”
Since then I have had many opportunities to put this principle into practice. Walking outside on a recent cold windy day, I suddenly became aware of my body posture – stooping, hunched shoulders, and scrunched-up face. It was pure reflex – a natural reaction. But was it helping anything? Not a bit. So I stood straight, dropped my shoulders and relaxed my face. I wasn’t any warmer, but I was more comfortable.
Then there’s running. Living in a four-season state, I get to train and race in all sorts of conditions, not all of which are enjoyable. But to reap the benefits of running, I must run, and treadmills just don’t do it for me. And just as important as the physical benefits, running outdoors provides a way to re-establish my sense of serenity. By working the body and clearing the mind of everyday clutter, I can find a way to enjoy the moment regardless of the weather.
I had one such moment at last summer’s Road Runner Classic 8K trail race. Part way into a one-mile warmup run, it began to rain lightly. People fled for cover. I am a samurai, I told myself, and continued my warmup. The rain continued and became a downpour. Water flooded my shoes and streamed down my hair, but I completed my mile. After all, one can only get so wet.
I returned to the staging area, looking at everyone huddled under various shelters, and was struck by how miserable they looked, all hunched in their raincoats. How did I, the one soaked from head to toe, feel? Check the photo. A little thing like a rainstorm was not going to affect my serenity. Why should it? I understood the risk of rain that day, and since I could do nothing to change the weather, getting upset about it would not have helped. So I chose to embrace the rain, and man, was it fun.
Now I’m far from being able to apply this all the time. Today (Friday), after a hectic week at work, I was looking forward to Saturday’s Bigfoot Snowshoe race in Traverse City. But I had stuff to do before I could head up north, and for a good part of last night and this morning I was tense and anxious, wondering how I’d get everything done in time. Finally, the absurdity of the situation struck me.
You’re heading up north to have fun, I thought. Why are you wasting your day off stressing out? After that, despite snow and slippery roads in the TC area, I was able to maintain my serenity. So perhaps I’m learning.
P.S. The title of this post comes from this quote: Serenity is not freedom from the storm, but peace amid the storm.