thankfulness.

12 03 2009

I’m 9 days away from my first full marathon.  I’ve moved into my taper and it’s given me lots of time to begin a reflection of what the last 17 weeks have been like for me.  What a great experience, and although I’m sure the experience of running and finishing the Shamrock Marathon will be amazing, I can’t discount what I’ve learned about myself through the training.

For me, maybe the most eye-opening bonus of distance running is the ability to think more clearly than I ever recall thinking.  The clarity I have during and after a long run is so refreshing and often I look forward to that experience as much or more than the physical act of running.

shamrock

Haruki Murakami really describes what goes on in a runners mind (at least from my experience) in his book What I Talk About When I Talk About Running.  He talks about the idea that he runs in a void, or rather that he runs to acquire a void.  Though occasionally thoughts sip into this void, they are more like clouds in the sky.  The sky remains the same, but the clouds come and go, leaving only the sky behind.  I really like that description and it works for me to, doing a good job of describing where I go when I run.  If that alone is what I have gained through this journey, it will have been worth it.

About 2/3 of the way through my training, I developed what would later be diagnosed as a calf tear.  About half way through a 6-mile run, I started experiencing intense pain in my left calf.  Knowing I couldn’t simply wait it out, I contacted the experts at Balanced Physical Therapy.  Chad Flickinger was assigned as my therapist and without his great direction and advice I could not have recovered so quickly or changed and improved my running form to help prevent future injuries.  Shortly after that, I contacted Sage Rountree and began attending her Yoga for Athletes Class at Carrboro Yoga Company in hopes of improving my running as well as finding more new places inside my spirit to explore.  I have really enjoyed her teaching and Yoga has been an interesting adventure so far, so we’ll see.  All along, one of my most treasured guides along the way, Heather Wuthrich, has helped me to see the trail more clearly, and understand why some of the obstacles have been there.  So another important thing that I have learned is that although I am strong enough to accomplish much through the spirit that I am, part of the journey is discovering what others have to teach me and finding the courage to ask for help.

All along the way, I have had a partner with me.  Anyone who has taken a similar journey knows what a time commitment it can be.  There are also commitments to diet, scheduling and finances.  In most situations, we all have people who share our lives and when I embarked on this adventure, that was true for me.  It still is, and Cindy has been the perfect partner, supporter, coach, counselor and friend.  She has never waivered or done anything but support and love me, and seeing that the love she had for me was an important part of the whole journey has been an incredibly important learning experience.

There have been other things I have learned along the way.  Patience.  Perspective.  How to find the Stillness inside me.  But perhaps, no clearly, the most profound thing I have discovered, is a new understanding of thankfulness.  For the ability to run.  For the opportunity to do what I have grown to love.  For the sights I have seen as my feet have moved me along the road.  For the other spirits I’ve met and continue to meet along this journey.  For the clarity that has always been there, but that I can now have.  For moving closer to a clear picture of who I am.  For the journey itself.

The race is 9 days away, and it should be fun.  And I hope to report back on it then.

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A New Earth revisited

19 01 2009

Back last summer when I picked up “A New Earth” by Eckhart Tolle and began to read it, I had just left for vacation in Western NC.  I’m really glad I got the chance to start this book in a setting like that, away from distractions, quiet and secluded.   I imagine that this book came along at exactly the right time for me, as it has begun to open up doors for me and I’m seeing things in a much different way.  

For me, the key to this book is understanding what Tolle means when he talks about the “ego.”  This is probably the most difficult part of the book to understand, a least for me, but once I did begin to understand it, some of the other messages in the book began to reveal themselves.  He does a great job describing the ego as that voice in our heads that talk to us, sometimes incessantly throughout the day.  That incessant stream of thought, or, as I perceive it, life based on that thought, is the ego.  According to him, most people are still completely identified with that stream of thought.

One way to look at it, one that really clicked with me was a statement he made in the book:  “When you say you have to convince yourself of something, who are you convincing?”  There is only one of you.  That is a glimpse of how your ego works, a constant stream of thought.

I can relate to that.  I’ve always been a person whose mind is constantly racing.  I wake up in the morning and the first hour of my day is spent in thought, just putting together what my day will look like.  Throughout the day, my mind bounces from topic to topic, thought to thought, and by the end of the evening, it takes extra time in quiet to let myself wind down, sorting through the day’s events.  So I know what Tolle is saying when he talks about an incessant stream of thought.

Another interesting topic Tolle covers is Identification with things.  Its the idea that the things you have make you more of a person, or others who don’t have them less than you.  More clearly stated, its the idea that not having something diminishes who you are.  I catch myself (and people around me) on a regular basis fighting this battle – i need an iPhone.  I so want an HD plasma TV.  I need that Patagonia jacket.  It’s as if we are less of a person without the thing we need.  So I should ask myself – without this thing, am I less of a person?  Am I not still as much of a human without it?

So can I get beyond this?  Can I at least start to become present, to be aware of my inner presence and see things more clearly.  Since beginning to read this book, I’ve worked to become more aware of the times when I’m more present than others.  One of the times when I am most present, most aware of my inner strength, is when I am running.  

There is no other time when I have more clarity than during a run.  I’ve discovered that when there is nothing but me and my breathe, when I can run until my mind can no longer incessantly whisper to me, when I can only focus on breathing in and out and moving my legs forward, I become keenly aware of my inner self.  My senses are heightened  and I begin to process things more clearly and see people, situations and scenarios more for what they are.  

So now my new goal is to practice getting to this point, a point of clarity, without actually having to be on a run.  I want to be able to get to that place and for now at least, the best way for me to do that is to focus on my breath – to even practice that and put myself in that state of only me and my breath, with a goal to be present when I need to be – at least at first – and a long-term hope of learning to always be present.