Tag Archives: Reflection

A Meditation While Running

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.

Shi Bao Mountain, Yunnan, China – November 2018

Learning to Meditate

One
The unpleasant feeling of being lonely hit me really hard kind of out of nowhere when I was walking home from the MRT. And then I thought about Sam Harris’s meditation lesson from yesterday: “That which is aware of sadness is not sad. That which is aware of fear is not afraid.” As soon as I thought about that, and each time I went back to it in between episodes of masochism resulting from loneliness, the feeling went away. For a fleeting moment, but it went away.

And that amazed me because that, I think, is what it means to let the ego dissolve. Sadness is a sensation but I am not sad because there’s no I. Interesting.

Two
Tonight’s meditation about emotion, day twelve, came at a good time. Sam prompted recall of a situation that was unpleasant – something to leave you sad or anxious or upset in some way. Following his cues, the point was to notice first the thought itself and then where that unpleasant feeling lies in the body, giving rise to the emotion that we’d started with.

Sam went through the exercise three times, twice with situations that bring about negative emotions and once with a situation bringing about positive emotions. He then talked about emotions as just “patterns of energy” and about how powerful it is to recognize emotions in this way. Just energy in the body, like any other feeling. Sam used knee pain as an example and I’ll follow suit because it worked. It seems the idea is to see “the feeling of sadness” in the same way as “my knee is sore” but not let the self become the sadness anymore than the self becomes the sore knee, which is not at all.

During tonight’s meditation, as always, I felt the negative emotions in my chest. When I’m anxious, afraid, or sad, my chest tightens and it’s difficult to breathe. At least once during the meditation exercise I gasped and opened my eyes, certain I was going to cry. But when Sam prompted thinking about something positive, I felt the same clench in my chest. And it rose into my throat just like tears do, but this time the feeling manifested as what I usually call “a bubble of joy”. It was so interesting to observe the same sensation and label it with a different emotion.

At the same time, though, I also started to wonder what a person becomes without deep feelings. But it’s not a lack of deep feelings, is it? It’s a lack of attachment to them during a full experience of them. The purpose of meditation is to notice whatever it is I’m actually noticing. I realize this now, writing, but at the time I worried a little, worried just for a fleeting moment, about becoming an empty shell, something not quite human.

But now, reflecting, I realize that’s not it at all. Instead it’s being able to recognize what’s there with an open mind instead of judgement and have the experience instead of letting it pass by.

Three
With tonight’s meditation experience, I thought in a different light about an earlier conversation with a friend that really upset me. I was talking about how frustrating it is to want something that has eluded me and my friend asked if I ever meditated on letting go or living without. My immediate response internally was defensive outrage, but tonight it struck me that perhaps I can separate the feeling of wanting from that which is I. And if the feeling is just a feeling and the conscious mind is what processes the feeling, there’s no need to attach any of it to I at all. Because I is just a construction of the mind. But the point is, “I can walk away from the feeling because the feeling isn’t me.”

I’m not there yet. But I think that’s the point.

Four
I’ve been finding it helpful to focus on sound. Sound comes in and out of conscious awareness and there’s nothing we do to make that happen. It’s just there and then it isn’t.

It’s the same for thoughts, though harder to grasp because I don’t find myself beginning to have a thought; rather, I find myself when I’m already lost in them. But it’s the same thing. Thoughts just appear. Like sounds. We notice them and then they’re gone, too, and we don’t notice them anymore.

Five
Watching my emotions change over the last week has been really interesting. As best as I can, I’ve tried to step outside of myself and observe what I’m feeling rather than just letting it swallow me.

I went to the climbing gym twice this weekend because I disappear when climbing. As a friend explained once, “There’s no room for ego up there.” It’s easy to lose myself in my own head when I’m running but not so easy at dance or doing yoga or on the climbing wall. I’ve been trying to engage in ways that let me spend less time lost in thought, an experiment to see what happens.

And so far, I’m not too sure.

Six
I had a conversation today that indicated ego is alive and well. Frustration for other reasons bubbled up and got the better of me and I was defensive instead of open-minded. As I teach my psychology students, we are cognitive misers and it’s less taxing to rely on emotion than reason. Knowing the traps doesn’t mean immunity from falling into them.

I didn’t realize this conversation was still bothering me when I sat down to meditate tonight, day nineteen. But as soon as I turned my attention to the breath, I noticed an elevated heart rate even though I was breathing deeply without effort. For several minutes, I couldn’t slow my heart down even though I guessed its cause. So I observed that and tried not to judge it.

While I’ve been familiar with loving-kindness meditation for a while, Sam’s inclusion of it tonight was most welcome. In its full form, you begin thinking about someone close to you and wishing them well and then expanding the well-wishing, over the course of several stages, to the whole world. Tonight’s meditation centered on just one person.

I thought about a very dear friend. And that’s when I felt my heart rate slow down. I felt better turning my focus towards another person and wishing happiness, which really means sending pure love.

May you be happy.
May you be healthy.
May you be peaceful.

Mindfulness is a journey to travel, a journey without signposts and without end. But even as a novice along the journey, I’ve had moments of utter simplicity where I’m left stunned by what is sometimes so easy and other times so challenging.

To be mindful is to be aware. Aware of what we see, hear, and think. It is to experience. It is to look outward and take in with an awareness of what we’re doing instead of just letting it happen. It sounds like doing nothing. But as I’m learning, it’s actually doing quite a lot.

Newport Beach
Newport Beach, California – December 2016

Unpublished

I do a lot of writing that no one ever sees. I write a lot of letters. Dear you. From me. Many of these letters remain in my journal but I also have a Google Doc titled, “What Not to Say”. The letters in that document are usually a little more formal, a little more polished. Typing allows me to edit whereas writing by hand sometimes leads me down a rabbit hole to places I didn’t want to visit. But the letters that I actually send or pass on are always handwritten. If it’s important enough to say and give to you, I don’t want to make changes. Sealed in an envelope are my fresh, unedited thoughts. Think about them, if you’d like. They’re for you.

Years ago, when I packed my childhood memories into boxes, I sifted through envelopes full of letters and postcards. I read them, smiling through hasty blinks to keep back tears, reciting lines I’d memorized but forgotten I knew. I smiled at the way that person wrote “and”, the way that person signed their name, the way I still know the handwriting of my family and friends from forever ago.

I wonder which of my letters remain with their recipients.

I wonder about the letters I’ve written that I’ll never send, that no one will ever see. I keep these letters so I have them, but what’s in them worth saving? And if I won’t send them, why save them after all? Is it to have a record of what’s in my heart, a record of what I really wanted you to know? Is it just to give me something to do when I’m filled to the brim with sensations and emotions that I can’t express any other way?

Sometimes I secretly dedicate blog posts to specific people. Sometimes I write knowing a certain someone will see it or hoping it’ll somehow reach them. Once upon a time, a friend got in touch with me months after I’d published something for her. Another time, a friend told me I’d put into words what he couldn’t quite express about our interaction; everything was a little less weird after that.

And then there are the posts that I write but don’t publish, the ones that remain partially edited, often with another friend’s comments in the margins. Sometimes I realize I’m not clearly communicating what I want to say because I don’t quite understand it, either. Sometimes the ideas that come through in these unpublished posts are raw, uncomfortable, and complicated in ways that I’m not quite ready to engage with, at least not in public. And sometimes I’m satisfied having private conversations about my writing and don’t feel the need to take the discussion any further.

I was in elementary school when I started keeping a journal. I was in grade 10 when my English teacher required us to write every week. I was in my early twenties when I started writing every day, and slightly older when I started asking for feedback. Writing is a journey, a process; it’s a way of pausing, slowing down, and finding quiet in my mind and in my surroundings.

Sometimes I write for you, but more often, I write for me. I write because I think better on paper; writing requires me to make sense of my thoughts and ideas, to unravel what seems to be a whole into its discrete parts, to create concepts out of fragments. I write because the act of holding a pen to paper and watching the letters take shape is mesmerizing, soothing. I find myself distracted watching the ink flow and my breathing comes more easily than before.

That’s why I don’t always send the letters. Writing them is often enough.

Sharing my writing is taking a deep breath every time and throwing caution to the winds. Some pieces hit a wall and crash back down to Earth. Others soar, prompting reactions that delight and surprise. And still others come back to me riddled with wounds, criticized and critiqued in ways both constructive and spiteful.

Writing is thinking on paper and sometimes it’s best to keep that to myself. But writing starts conversations and that’s why I share it. Challenging conversations don’t bother me; fraught silence does.

Dear you. From me.