Yesterday I went out for my weekend long run, selecting the Border-to-Border (B2B) Trail running north out of the village of Chelsea. The temperature was 22 degrees and a stiff wind was blowing. A morning dusting of snow covered the path, which made things a touch slippery, but more exciting was the ice it covered over and hid from view. You’ll forgive me if I wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about a 16-miler in those conditions. Still, off I went. Got races to train for.
And something else pushed me out of my nice warm house. I’d heard on Friday night that the Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh had passed away at the age of 95 in Vietnam. There are a number of excellent biographical articles about him all over the Internet. Here’s just one.
Thich Nhat Hanh is special to me because one of his books – You Are Here – is among the few that I can definitively say changed my life. I came across it only recently, but it’s already made an impact on my approach to running, and to my entire outlook on life. Like many Buddhist writings, its focus is on achieving mindfulness, with meditation and breath control the keys to getting there. You Are Here adds one more element I’ve found very intriguing.
Instead of making the world, or yourself, a battleground for good vs. evil, embrace them both. Angry? That’s okay. Embrace your anger as a friend, or a child. Say, “I am here for you.” But don’t let it consume you. Instead, apply compassion to transform it into something better. I can do this with everything I experience on the trail. Fatigue, soreness, discomfort, impatience, weariness? I’m here for you. Let’s finish this thing together.
Every twenty-four hour day is a tremendous gift to us…I think to myself that this day is a day to live fully, and I make the vow to live each moment of it in a way that is beautiful, solid, and free…Breathe in and tell yourself that a new day has been offered to you, and you have to be here to live it.
Sorrow, fear, and depression are all a kind of garbage…You can practice in order to turn these bits of garbage into flowers.
There’s more to tell here, of course, along with principles I’ve picked up from other great teachers like Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and what I’m currently learning from reading Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi. (Don’t ask me to pronounce that.) But I’d like to finish this post with a brief account how yesterday’s run went. Because I was out there in part as a private tribute to what I’d learned from You Are Here.
The first couple of miles went like you might expect – uncomfortably cold. As I got onto the B2B path heading north, I asked myself if I really wanted to continue. I still wasn’t too far from my car and the coffee shop.
Then I reminded myself of why I’d come out here; to run, but also to practice mindfulness. Stop resisting the cold and embrace it. Live in the now – each present moment – and experience it. I relaxed and let my legs carry me along. My breathing eased. The world around me came into sharper focus; the trail, the trees, and things I passed became more vivid. And my body warmed up.
I’m a beginner at this, so at some point I slipped back onto worrying about the ice, the distance to go, lack of energy, and so on. When I caught myself doing that, I would work to get back in the flow. And I’d get there.
My assignment had included intervals of faster running. Due to the ice, and how my body felt, I’d decided to leave that part off and just get through the damn run. But on the way back I hit a clear dry patch on the trail. I eased myself “into the flow” and took off, promising myself it was just for a hundred yards. It went okay. There, at least I’d done one.
A bit later I did another. My third lasted several minutes. To my surprise I found the energy to complete them all, even late in the run. My final sprint lasted well over a mile, ending at my car at mile 16.
I have become a believer.