A few months ago a couple of friends tricked me into running with them. Tricked. It’s more of a jog, really, they said. Hucksters.
I am many things, but athletic is not one of them and the times I was forced to run in gym class were some of the darkest, most tortured, most terrible twenty minutes of my life. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. But I took the bait from my friends. I ran. I lived. I even found that I liked it….enough. Let me be clear: I did not like feeling as if my heart were galloping alongside me; I did not like thinking about what I suspected I looked like galumphing along on the trail, slightly hunched over, red faced while my friends and others we passed careened effortlessly along like majestic Gazelles. Zero exaggeration, like, seriously. I liked that I did it. I liked that I had challenged myself, that I had pushed myself to do something I considered hard. I really liked the way I felt—strong.
I could do this once a week, I thought. I surprised myself a little, not just for the intention, but because I am a classic step-skipper. I would show up to basecamp on Everest and be all “We summit tomorrow, right? All good? I brought trail mix guys!”
Turns out there are some perks the more spins you get around this planet. Wisdom is one, if you’re lucky enough to absorb it. Self-awareness is another, if you are brave enough to receive it. I suspected there was more to this running thing than trying not to die while doing it.
That was five months ago. Since then, once a week, usually Friday, I head to the trails that weave their way through the miles of conservation land not far from my house. I go as early in the morning as I can when the air is still a little bit cool and the light is just starting to dapple the trees, which are now lush and green. I’ve only walked twenty or thirty feet from the small parking lot into the beginning of the trail, but it feels like crossing a threshold into another universe. Everything is hushed except for the curious calls of birds and the rustle of unseen critters.
I walk for a bit to warm up and then, I run. I listen to music, but I key into the rhythm of my breathing. It becomes its own kind of wordless mantra. When I hit an incline, I keep my eyes focused on the ground. I know if I lift them to the slope, I’ll want to stop. For me there is just the next little bit and the next little bit after that, a metaphor for life metered out with each dig of my heels.
I notice what happens is that every few minutes I will desperately want to stop. To override the running “kill” switch you’ve got to give your mind something else to chew on. But here’s what I’ve found most surprising: the stand-by churn, the stuff about work or relationships or that shamefaced thing I did when I was a stupid 19-year old (ok, stupid 34-year old, ok, last week) gets no traction. As quickly as they enter the frame they fall away; they’re too heavy, too sticky. Those things–the spin and whir and crank in the factory of real life– have no place in the beautiful, serene, Serengeti of time out of time you’ve created through your measured, reliable movement.
Zero exaggeration, like, seriously.
My mind really does just want to be here now, as Ram Dass writes. It is wildly liberating. It’s as if my mind were thrust into one of those Hazmat showers, the ones that sandblast your skin clean off and all you’re left with are smooth, shiny surfaces.
I think about my breathing.
I think about the woods.
I think about the light, the crunch of dirt and stone under my feet.
I think about how lucky I am that my lungs, my legs, my body does this thing.
And then before too long I’m walking again, heading out of the woods back into the world with all its noise and chaos and a little bit of silence tucked into my back pocket.