Tag Archives: Running

Lessons from Parks and Pools

Simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and thoughts, you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.

-Lao Tzu

After my run today, I stripped off my t-shirt and socks and jumped in the pool. I floated lazily, watching the rainbows reflecting off the tile. The run left me calm and quiet, reluctant to go back inside where I knew I would start thinking about the day ahead. So to postpone that moment, I jumped in the pool.

I love running down the beach in East Coast Park early on a weekend morning. I’ve always loved morning runs. The sun looks fresh and new, sparkly, not yet limp and dull, hanging heavy with the humidity that will roll in as the day grows later. I love how the sun turns green leaves a bright yellow. The breeze that picks up on the water every morning and afternoon is a pleasure to run in; it brings the smell of salt that reminds me of childhood summers in South Carolina with sand castles, the stickiness of sunscreen, and eating my cheese and lettuce sandwich in the water.

Today I passed by a huge tree that had grown sideways, the trunk halfway between parallel and perpendicular to the ground. Some of the branches had rooted themselves to the earth, too, and the tree created a fort, an igloo-shaped dome of branches and leaves. I stopped my watch and stepped inside, wishing immediately for a blanket, book, and 20 years ago when my sister and I would have happily made ourselves a home in there and passed the day away. We loved secret spaces to curl up with a story. I still do.

Catching rainbows in the pool, I realized that I felt perfectly content. Running is the time of the day where I let my mind drift wherever it wants to go. Increasingly, my mind has found tranquility. I’ve been spending more time feeling calm, more time experiencing equanimity. I have noticed a change in my behavior and general outlook. Some of this might come from practicing meditation, but I think more of it comes from feeling comfortable with myself as a person. Comfortable being wherever I am, with whoever I’m with, and doing whatever I’m doing. This is a new feeling that I’m slowly uncovering; it’s fragile but full of possibility. It has been a long time (my best guess is fall of 2015) since I’ve felt that who I am and who I want to be might just match.

It’s a peculiar thing to realize.

Shortly after ringing in 2018, a friend and I were messaging about the holidays and providing general life updates. I mentioned that one of my hopes for this year was to fall in love again. He wished me luck with that pursuit and we moved on to discuss more normal things like education, Donald Trump, and how to take proper care of plants.

I haven’t fallen in love, but it’s been a while since I’ve believed that I can. Coming back to that state of being has been a journey, a journey that I didn’t really know I was on. And now that I can see it, I’m happy to be where I am. What has been has been, what will be will be. This is what I’m doing today. And that is enough.

In the end these things matter most: How well did you love? How fully did you live? How deeply did you let go? -Buddha

DSC03722

Quite Possibly the Best Run I’ve Ever Had

I didn’t want to run tonight.

I spent all weekend at school covered in dirt and fake blood, learning how to save lives, splint injuries, clean wounds, conduct a full body physical exam and focused spine assessment, and record patient data to pass records off to the helicopter (or car, donkey, or mule) evacuating them from the field once we’re done administering wilderness first aid.

So I was tired. And I didn’t want to run tonight.

But I did, because tomorrow night is back to school night and therefore I’ll probably be even more tired on Wednesday.

Turns out, this run was the best thing I could have done tonight.

I took a long route by mistake. I told myself I’d turn around and then I forgot because the run felt good and steady. I was in East Coast Park, the grass was springy, the breeze that comes every evening smelled like salt and ocean, and there were fewer people around than usual. So I kept running.

About halfway, I stopped. I took a breath. I sat on the rocks in the sand, as low as I could without getting wet, for about 15 minutes. What I began to understand on those rocks qualifies this as perhaps the best run I’ve ever had.

As I always do when I pause in the park, I just looked at the water. I found it in the air and I breathed in it. But waves are mesmerizing , hypnotic, and I felt my eyes close. I let them. And then I listened.

I know that the remaining senses sharpen when one is removed. I know that you can see waves roll and hear them crash. I didn’t realize that you can also hear waves roll. I had never thought about the energy that keeps waves in constant motion. For the first time, I heard the waves rolling down the beach. I heard them crash and I heard the crash ricochet, tumbling down the beach. And when I opened my eyes to see what I was hearing, I lost it. I love watching water, but I’ve never spent much time just listening to it. I sat there on the rock for those 15 minutes, eyes closed with occasional peeking, feeling a giddy smile on my face each time closing my eyes brought the sounds back. Brought the energy back. My rock was just above the tide line but I wasn’t always sure based on the sounds I was hearing, the water pulling back, rolling forward, like rocking a cradle.

I was surprised how quickly time passed and how lost I’d been in the sounds of such a powerful force. It literally swept me away to a different understanding of energy and how it drives all things. Energy is everything there is, everything we touch, everything we are, and the connections we form with each other. I could say those words before, but I understand them now.

Learn something new every day.

Take time to be still and quiet.

On the run home, and even now still in the wake of endorphins, I felt happier, calmer, more connected to the natural world and the people around me. At the end of the day we’re all part of the same thing. And I have to believe that on the most basic, human we’re all just doing the best we can to hold it all together.

Quiet

Tonight, I did two things that are unusual for me:

  1. I got my nails done.
  2. I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off.

In fact, I sat still and stared off into space and let my mind turn off while getting my nails done. When she finished, the manicurist invited me to stay for a few minutes. I didn’t realize how calm I felt until I took her up on that.

I realized that I didn’t remember the last time I had simply sat and stared off into space. I  do let my mind turn off pretty regularly, which is something I love about running and yoga. But just sitting? Just staring? Never.

True, I was having my nails done, so it wasn’t nothing. But I think that’s what gave me the freedom to do it, to just sit and stare without seeing. While my hands were literally in someone else’s and once polite conversation and small talk waned, there wasn’t much I could do except sit and look off into space.

Reflecting on it now, I don’t know what I was thinking about or if I was thinking at all. My mind found its way to a quiet place where I didn’t have to think about anything and where nothing was weighing on me. Strangely, I didn’t feel guilty for not doing something else or something additional with that time. I didn’t feel pressure to make mental notes or plans or go over anything in particular.

It’s strange to me that this is a notable moment, which is why I’m sharing it. I often feel like I need to keep my mind occupied with reading, listening to podcasts and the radio, or talking with others in effort to always learn something new, always be useful, always try to be better than I am. It was nice to step away from that (without using running or yoga as the excuse) and let my mind go wherever it wanted to go.

As I write this, I’m laughing at my own fascination with the enjoyment of quiet and stillness. I think it’s really the stillness element that made the whole experience unusual. People who know me well know that I can’t sit and I definitely can’t sit and do nothing. They know that I hate sitting and doing nothing. That’s why sitting always comes with reading or other people or food or writing, all of which I love and which occupy the majority of my time. I can’t even sit and listen to a podcast; I need to be up and moving for those because sitting while listening seems far too self-indulgent. (Let the record show that I am aware that this is illogical.)

But maybe a few minutes of stillness is good for me. Maybe that’s what I’ve been missing when I tell myself that someday soon, I’ll try to develop a meditation practice. I’ve been wanting to do that because it’s supposed to be good for you. And I’ve been putting it off because I don’t know if that interested, except that it’s supposed to be good for you. Somehow, it’s different when I think about trying a meditation practice because stillness is hard for me but felt good today.

And even if finding quiet and stillness continues to be a rare happening in my life, I’m glad that I found some today.

A happy life must be to a great extent a quiet life, for it is only in an atmosphere of quiet that true joy dare live. – Bertrand Russell