Be Here Now

Gather Them While You Can...
Gather Them While You Can…

 

Those three little words – ‘In the moment’. For a long time I’ve aspired to running and living in the present tense. I have wanted to be aware of my time and place, as much and as often as possible. As Ram Dass famously put it, I wanted to ‘Be Here Now’.

Unfortunately, in most day-to-day settings, I have found it almost impossible to realise those aspirations with any degree of reliability.  Thankfully, I keep trying.

When I have been successful, I’ve found that I can add a layer of richness and appreciation to ordinary moments that escape me at all other times. When I run and notice each breath; when I hear each footfall and notice the detail of the world around me; the experience is intense and vibrant.

For a runner, achieving any kind of concentration or focus on being present seems to become even more difficult when faced with injury. We generally attempt to plot a path away from this momentary interruption to ‘normal’ and back to where we feel we ought to be – which is not here, injured.

In the process we enter runner zombie-mode. We become consumed with the process of recovery and forget to run and live. On even the most crappy, injury-ridden, backwards-stepping day, there are rosebuds to be gathered.

We just need to pause and listen to our breath.

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Chop Wood, Carry Water

Chop - Carry

I’m reading ‘One Hundred Days of Solitude’ by Jane Dobisz, and it’s a great read. Jane decided to stay in a remote woodland cabin for 100 days of intensive Zen practice and she documents some of her experiences in the book. One of the phrases that keeps on coming up, as she immerses herself in a frighteningly packed schedule of bowing, chanting, sitting and working is, ‘Chop Wood, Carry Water’. It’s a phrase I’ve come across before, but like many other Zen sayings I wasn’t really sure that I understood the message that’s being hinted at.

Jane writes easily, beautifully and honestly about her simple routine of sleep, meditation and a little work, each day for 100 consecutive days. I get the sense that she’s emphasising the importance of the routine, seemingly mundane tasks that compose all of our day-to-day lives. She seems to be confirming that complication, sophistication and complexity can inhibit our understanding, or at least are unhelpful in terms of Buddhist practice. Having perhaps over-complicated my running training in the past if feels right for me at the moment to simplify the situation and schedule my running and racing more intuitively than before.

The phrase of ‘chop wood, carry water’, has been with me as I’ve run with less intensity over the last few weeks. Although many people wouldn’t classify running as one of the more mundane activities that support our day-to-day existence, it has become so ingrained in my life that I treat it as such. As I pull on the shoes I try to remember, or stay aware of, what I’m doing To put it another way I’m trying to reconise and honour the routine.

Even if I can’t wake up, I can savour each step.

Skillful Means

Dalai Lama

As runners I think we’re generally less prone to giving away our peace of mind than many other people. When we have something that worries or upsets us we always have the option of hitting the road for some instant therapy. Over all the years that I’ve been lacing them up,  I don’t think I’ve ever felt more stressed after a run than before. Although going for a run doesn’t make my problems disappear, it seems to make them more manageable. It seems almost impossible to stay angry with someone when you arrive home exhausted after ten hard miles. Perhaps we don’t develop compassion for the people with whom we might have clashed, but at least we may shed some of our anger. In Buddhist terms, I think what we’re looking at here is a damn fine example of ‘skillful means’.

Continue reading “Skillful Means”

Behind the Ritual You’ll Find The Spiritual

 

One of the earliest running lessons that I learned was that to improve as a runner, and to enjoy my running more,  I had to make the activity of running a regular part of my daily life.  I had been given the advice that once my training became an integral part of my daily schedule that it would no longer seem unnatural or somehow feel like an inconvenience. When I put that advice into practice, I found that there was a great deal of truth in it. I think it was at around that time that I began to consider myself as a runner rather than as a person who ran.

Continue reading “Behind the Ritual You’ll Find The Spiritual”

Runners Mind, Beginners Mind

Shunryu Suzuki-roshi

“In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few.”

– Shunryu Suzuki

In the wonderful collection of talks given by  Zen teacher Shunryu Suzuki-roshi that was produced after his death, he identified how we unconsciously change or adapt our attitudes as we accumulate experience. Bearing in mind that I have only a very limited understanding of the process he was describing, I understand his message to have been that the beginner brings a freshness and an important lack of judgement to an activity that is sometimes unavailable to the expert. In roshi’s case, he was concerning himself with the teaching of Zen, but I believe the same wisdom can be applied to our experience of running.

Although meeting great runners can undoubtedly be exciting and entertaining, my most satisfying days on the road have been spent with newcomers to the sport. For many years I was in the company of beginners every time I trained or raced simply because these were the only type of runners I knew. I ran with people like myself. My running life was simple and we made up our own ‘rules’ as we ran. Our sole objective for leaving the house was to enjoy ourselves and to help others do the same. Not all paths were smooth, even at that time, and many mistakes were made, but the intention to just have funand to help others was there all the time. It was fortunate for me that I had the company of others who felt the same way and had the same intentions.

As I gather experience in running I can sometimes glimpse the wisdom in roshi’s words. Experience brings personal ambition, complication and attachment to the process. These feelings can threaten to overwhelm my experience of running and prevent me from running like a beginner.  I want all possibilities to remain open – including of the course the possibility of not running.

Today, I start again. I will run like a beginner again.