Running – In the Moment

For the last several months, I have been trying to finish Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose.  I have found the book enlightening on several levels; I have no idea why I can’t finish it.  Tolle’s explanation of ego is unparalleled.  His discussion of aligning with and living in the now resonates with me intellectually, but I have had a hard time putting it into practice in my own life. 

Years ago, I used to meditate.  It was a Taoist meditation based on circulating energy, or chi, throughout the body’s main meridians, or chakras.  I can’t meditate that way anymore.  I read Eat, Pray, Love, and tried to meditate on a word, on breath, on nothing, on everything.  That didn’t work, either.  I was starting to feel like I’d never get to experience what Tolle describes as “inner space” ever again.

A wise friend told me not to worry about “failing” at meditation.  “You will find the perfect way to meditate for yourself as you are now,” he told me.  I loved the thought, but I didn’t believe him.   I kept focusing on breath.  I kept falling asleep, or stopping to check my Blackberry.

Then, on Sunday, April 5, I ran the City Parks’ Foundation Run for the Parks 4-mile run, in Central Park.  As I lined up in the starting corral with the other runners in my group, making small talk with a woman from my New York Road Runners classes, my mind was completely clear.  Unlike previous races, I made no attempt to imagine how the race would go, or map out in my head a strategy for the course.   I simply moved when I was supposed to move, noted the sensations of wind and chill and the small twinges of discomfort in my tendinitis-challenged right ankle, and waited for the race to begin. 

As we inched closer to and then crossed the starting line, I started my watch timer, wished my classmate good luck, and picked up my feet in accordance with the rhythm of my breathing.  I was conscious of nothing but the movement of my feet and some intermittent but minor pains shooting through my ankle.  I was aware of the runners ahead of me, but didn’t focus on any of them.

Early in the race, my breathing felt labored.  I adjusted my pace, wondering if I was already overheating.  Then I saw we were going up a hill.  I recalled the advice of my instructors, and began pumping my arms to propel myself up the hill.  It was only as we neared the apex of the hill that I realized this was, of course, Cat Hill — the hill we used for training runs in class, the hill everyone dreaded.  The dreadful and dreaded Cat Hill didn’t seem so dreadful anymore.  Somehow, by not thinking about it, by not battling an image of how hard it was, I ascended the hill without too much trouble. 

As other runners passed me, I kept my own pace.  I looked around a few times for other people I might know; seeing none, I kept going.  As I began to pass other runners, I asked myself whether it was my pace or my ego that was driving me to pass.  If it was my pace, I kept moving forward.  If I determined my ego wanted me to pass someone that my pace wasn’t ready for me to pass, someone my ego decided was inferior somehow — whether because of weight, age or some other characteristic — I held myself back and waited until pace, not ego, propelled me to pass.

A race volunteer announced a water station at Mile 3. I dutifully stopped for water.  At Mile 3.5, my stomach reminded me I hadn’t had breakfast.  I acknowledged being hungry, and kept running.  Soon thereafter, I saw another NYRR classmate.  We spoke, and she introduced me to her friend.  For a moment, I thought of slowing my pace to run with them, but decided not to.  I had a good pace, the finish line was near, and my ankle was no longer throwing off warning signals.  It was fine.  I was fine.  I kept going.

Finally, with the finish line in sight, I pushed myself to go faster, to run harder, no longer concerned about running out of steam.  I finished strong, faster than my previous fastest race time.  I enjoyed another drink of water, considered and then reconsidered taking a bagel or apple from the boxes and boxes of post-race carbs, and then just decided to go home.

And on my way home, it occurred to me: during the race, I experienced inner space.  My friend was right.  I had found my perfect way to meditate.  Running was my meditation.  When I run, I focus on nothing other than finishing the workout.  As soon as I find myself comparing myself with other runners, I start to falter.  When I return to focusing on absolutely nothing at all, I achieve my goal.  Sometimes I’m last, never first, but I finish.

I’ve decided to work on remaining in the moment.  To resist the temptation to check Facebook repeatedly throughout the day and night, to watch television while the kids are telling me a story about their day in school, to feel as if I’m idle if I’m not attempting to do three or four things at the same time. 

I’ve already seen some benefits.  Today at work, I got through a backlog of old emails for which responses were long overdue.  At home, I finished two blog posts in time for the start of the NCAA Championship Game.  I don’t expect perfection.  The effort itself is worthwhile.

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One Response to “Running – In the Moment”

  1. yourdreamsfirst Says:

    YES! I am loving this. I ran last Friday, late at night on the indoor track. Was meditating more on my breath, but I was not nearly as sore as I was the first time I ran. I run with you in spirit my sister!

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