I have a love/hate relationship with running.
I love that it makes me feel strong and powerful. I love to feel my body moving, heart beating, lungs working. I love being out in the world and taking in whatever is around me. I love the well-deserved soreness in my legs, the sense of accomplishment, the satisfaction of doing something good for myself. I love feeling that yes, I can do this, and many other things, too.
But I hate running on the days my legs won’t move and lungs scratch and scream. I hate the fatigue that sometimes comes on all too early, leaving me frustrated and disappointed. I hate pushing myself through thick, humid air that leaves me dripping before I’ve really started, or the bitter cold that gets into my throat and leaves me coughing, or the dampness that gets into my chest and leaves me aching.
All of this is running. And all of this is more than running.
This is what is means to experience the moments of our lives, the sensations that wash over us ceaselessly.
I’ve always loved to feel my body moving, working.
I was a very small child in a pink tutu since before I can remember, but I do remember the first time I felt the swooping rhythm that is carving on skis. I don’t remember the first time a yoga teacher guided me into a pose, but the strongest I’ve ever felt was after a year of Bikram once or twice a week, early in the morning. I don’t remember the first time I put on a harness and scrambled up a climbing wall, but the exhilaration of my first outdoor climb just a few weeks ago left me itching to do it again. I don’t remember when I decided that I might like to try running, but I woke this morning excited to lace up my running shoes.
I used to treat running as bigger and better and more important than the other activities I took part in, even if I often enjoyed those more. I used to make running an imperative, something I would do at the expense of a range of other activities. I was around a lot of people who lived and breathed and loved running and I wanted to understand their world.
I didn’t like it much and I didn’t understand.
I still don’t understand.
And that’s why running has changed for me. Running is something I do not because of running itself, but because I like to feel my body move. I like to be out in the world. I like to sit on warm rocks on the beach and it’s quicker to get there if I run. I like the ease and accessibility of running. I like that I can just get up and go.
I’ve learned to do what feels right in the body. Sometimes it’s okay to walk for a few steps to take more time to look around. Sometimes it’s okay to extend or shorten a route. What does the body need right now? Sometimes I stretch my arms out and fly, laugh, and play. Sometimes I play the same songs in my head on repeat and I wonder, why those songs? Why now?
I run because I like to feel, not because I particularly care about running. And it’s easy to mistake those two things, to miss the distinction. There are days when running feels like a chore and it’s become clearer to me that the right thing to do on those days is something else.
There are many ways to feel the body move.
Today I actively practiced a meditation while I ran. In my head, I was going to take the long route to the beach and relax in the shade of a palm tree until the sun got just high enough. When that happens here, the heat isn’t far away and it’s time to go.
But my body had other ideas and I took a shorter route instead, cutting away from the beach. But again my body had other ideas and I extended the run along a path of gardens that I like to look at; I’ve been there before but didn’t think that was in the cards today.
And I took this unplanned path and let the world rush in.
Meditation has taught me that there’s a subtle distinction between letting the world rush in and moving towards the world. Experiencing sensations as they are, as they arise, means stepping outside of the self. It means allowing ourselves to feel things we might not like or understand and certainly do not control. It’s a willingness to be vulnerable and open and afraid and hurt. But it’s also a willingness to feel connection and love and trust and courage.
So I let the world rush in.
And my body moved.
And I felt that, too.