There’s our universal metaphor, “to run.” We do and say it, in a literal and figurative sense dozens of times a day. We explain walls and bad shopping experiences with it. In life, there is either something to run to or from. Celebration, or defeat. We’re always on the run.
And then, some of us actually participate. We use it for fitness, for wellness, for socializing, for healing (and injury) and for solace. It is in fact a beautiful, moving meditation.
If you’ve ever fallen into THAT category, of being a “runner,” then the latter description may be what draws you out, every day. I was fortunate enough to grow up around the positive influence of running. I spent ¾ of my Autumn high school Saturdays running through corn fields and mud. Along paths strewn with leaves, twigs and stones. We were “harriers,” and as much as we struggled to love running, we loved being different.
I was out on a recent morning, a Saturday, in October making a loop around Wash Park. It was a cool, and gorgeous morning. Damp, sticky earth clinging to my shoes and splattering on my legs, warm rays of the sun cutting through the cool air; I drew up those images, from 35 years ago, of racing against boys big and small, team mates and siblings who meant the world to me, and in a boys mind of only 14, who’d have no idea of who he’d actually become, other than “a runner.”
Someday I’ll write about our fleeting youth and comradery, about our tutelage and our trepidation. The Charlevoix Harriers that I knew, and that succeeded us, left a huge mark on Michigan High School Cross Country. But, it was running that had left its mark on me.
Track and cross country were easy for my body. I found a place to fit it, and never had to be a star. Older brothers had paved the way, and more talented teammates were always faster, I just had to do my part. The 5th man in one sport, the third leg in another, I was a moving place holder, I kind of liked that moniker. In college since no one else wanted to run the 600, I picked it (again, maybe it chose me?) Again, minor success, but then my first “wall.” I’d been running for 7 years at that point, having started as a 12 year old, and by 19 I felt exhausted. I quit track, and left that college and those teammates, and would never have the sense of a “team” ever again.
After a few months of not running, the first time I tried to I was both stunned and relieved that I could actually do it. It had been six months since I’d done ANY running, and was certainly NOT in running shape. There was no team, no coach, and no goal. But I liked it. I liked to move, I liked the time and space it created for me. It wasn’t a “must,” it was now a “want.” I found a new reason to love running; solitude. Moving that next year from Michigan to Colorado brought a whole lot more change, and with new places and more transitions, running added a new layer, IT was now a place holder; running was simply a way to pass time and see all the new found beauty that life was presenting me.
One more year, from Colorado Springs, and Florissant to Greeley and running was my “go to” hobby. I didn’t have to plan, or want, I just did. My final year in Greeley finishing my degree tragedy struck my family, and running evolved one more time; it became my place of worship, my counselor, my sanctuary. On long runs I could think about the death and the grief, and somehow, always, running would help it pass. No races to win, just the racing in my mind that needed to unwind. No paces to match, just the emptiness in my heart that needed to refill. My mother was running the same kind of distances, and over the next few years we’d join each other, and let our worries melt away and for a few miles let our bodies take on the suffering and punishment that had left our spirits stripped.
And, this would be how my running would continue. If I had a problem, I’d go for a run. Was I stressed? Go for a run. Was I depressed? Go for a run. Was I lonely? Go for a run. And, it was always early in the morning, or late at night. I made sure to do it when it would cause the least distraction to my young family. I could not let running interfere with being a good parent or spouse, so I did it as discreetly as possible.
In writing this out, and having had a few prior conversations with my brother about “running,” it would seem that maybe, there was an unhealthy relationship beginning to form here. Of course, when you’re in the midst of it, you just can’t the unravel the mystery. I always quipped, “I’m doing this so I can keep up with THEM!” thinking of my young sons. But, all of the aforementioned mental and spiritual maladies soon came to a head with my impending divorce. Running became the ONLY escape for a time, and eventually even it couldn’t keep my demons at bay.
The marriage was dead, we were divorced, but we didn’t realize we, our former selves, they were dead, too. That’s when I decided I REALLY wanted to run. I pondered and I plotted. If the marriage wasn’t repairable, what was the point? She had the house and I had a rental property. Nothing more needed to be resolved, so why not just walk away from it all? I was changing houses, and kids, and cars, and schools as quickly as I was ordering a coffee. There was nothing left standing as permanent in my life anymore, so why not just walk away?
It is always said that the hardest part of meditation is the actual sitting, the staying in one place for too long.
And this fact is exactly it…
I had to “sit” with this. I couldn’t run anymore. Running wasn’t the process. Sitting was. I had to learn this in a very hard, and painful way. Yes, thousands upon thousands of miles had really damaged my body. But, worse, those thousands upon thousands of miles had warped my perspective, and my sense of self. I’d become the running metaphor. I didn’t know how to stop. My only solace WAS in running, whether literal or figurative. I wanted to leave so badly. I wanted to be ANYWHERE so badly.
But, I had to sit…
And, I still do. I still run, even with weird things going on in my body. I’ve also learned to ride my bike more, and ski more, swim more and seek out yoga, and I still run. I’m also trying to sit. I haven’t moved in almost three years, and the choking, panicky feeling to “run” doesn’t rear it’s head nearly as often nor nearly so demonstrably. For now, I think I’ve found my place to “sit.”
Someday I will “run.”
But it won’t be “from,” it will be “TO!”