A few years ago a good friend of mine was kind enough to loan me a meditation cushion – a zafu. I still have it and use it at least some of the time. At first, I knew very little about what meditation might involve and, to be honest, that situation hasn’t changed an awful lot since. I had vague notions about entering some trance-like state of peacefulness and tranquility and, although my experiences since have included elements of both, I know now that I didn’t really have any meaningful understanding of the process.
One of the best analogies I’ve read concerning meditation was provided by the Rev. Jiyu Kennett, a Soto Zen Roshi when she compared meditation to swimming. To paraphrase, she described how one could stand by the side of a pool and contemplate swimming for a long time, and thereby gain some information about what happens in the water. One could also read swim-coaching manuals or get advice from expert swimmers, but none of this will prepare you for the first experience of entering the water. Although my meditation practice is patchy, my experience of sitting on the cushion has been quite different from what I had expected. So far I’ve enjoyed the process mainly because it allows me to do nothing. It was a relief to me to learn that it’s difficult to get it wrong, in the conventional sense at least. When I sit, I try not to judge myself, others or the process and that alone provides a contrast to most of the rest of my time. I think this helps me to live a less worried life. Time will tell.
On the road I get a similar sensation. There is great value for me in running without judgement and perhaps even more in running with more awareness. Of course I need to pay attention, I don’t want to drift along aimlessly, but I try not to ask myself, ‘Are we having fun yet?’ all the time. Although every competitive runner trains to some extent in continual anticipation of the next race, we cannot run tomorrow’s race today. All that we have today, is today’s run. At other times I had considered many of my training runs as a means to an end, nowadays I see each run as an end in itself. I have been very fortunate in that I have some great companions, with whom I can often run. I’m also fortunate in that they’re not always available. To lace up and hit the road, with an open mind and an hour to kill, with or without company, is perhaps the most satisfying thing I do these days.
I try to bring some of the few lessons I’ve learnt on the zafu onto the road. When I sit I try not to let my mind spin in circles of judgement and assessment and that’s my aim in training to. I still run hard, mainly because I want that feeling of being extended and exhausted that only hard training brings, but it may be that at some point I’ll be able to let go of that need as well. I still haven’t managed to make each run a completely separate event, but that might happen.
Still running through fog.