Another day has arrived. The change we all experience is inevitable. it is how we manage that change which dictates how smoothly that process progresses.
My running, my solitude, my mornings have evaporated since an injury has left me sidelined over the past month. The balance which I sought through my runs was inextricably tied to meditation, meditation to running. It wasn’t until early this morning when awakened on two different occasions by a bad case of heart burn that it became clear I had lost that balance.
Heartburn, like many other maladies experienced are caused by a lack of balance between body and mind, a balance many of us do not notice. Instead we blame things, our life situation, etc. for our lack of balance. It makes us feel better to not have to have an additional responsibility.
A student at a Zen Center asked an incoming abbot, “What can the dharma teach me about serving others?”
The abbot answered, “What others? Serve yourself!”
“How,” the student persisted, “can I serve myself?”
The new abbot responded, “Take care of others.”
My running has always been a point of balance in my life. The other side of the scale has always been taking care of others; as a father, a husband and my role as a social worker. This past month away from running has reminded me of the importance of this balance, of how easily the scales can tip out of our favor.
Running has been my meditation, my meditation my running, without it I am out of balance.
George Sheehan said, “Running is not a religion, it is a place.” Dr. Sheehan has been a therapist and trusted advisor to me over the years. His writing, especially that in his book “Running and Being” has touched me. The pages of that book, dog-eared, yellowed, it’s margins filled with the notes of a 17 y.o.; his thoughts powerful and directive, allowing me to escape dark moments in my life.
Father Henri J. M. Nouwen, another author who has been an amazing presence in my life told a story in his book, “The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery.” In the book, Running: The Sacred Art: Preparing to Practice” by Warren a. Kay he writes, “Father Nouwen relates how he had gone to a Trappist monastery to live for seven months because he needed a break from the hectic and demanding schedule of writing and lecturing. After arriving, Father Nouwen was given a variety of daily tasks to help with the upkeep of the monastery. In addition,, though, Father Nouwen had time to himself–time to think, read, meditate, and pray. As he said a number of times in different ways, “The monastery is not built to solve problems, but to praise the Lord in the midst of them.”
At the end of seven months, when he was preparing to leave, Father Nouwen realized he hadn’t fixed or changed anything. He was still the same person with the same responsibilities he had before he arrived at the monastery. The trip to the monastery turned out to be just a pause- a break in the action of a busy life. When he returned to his normal life, things would once again be just as they were before, so he turned to abbot for advice. “You must put ninety minutes aside every day for prayer,” he was told. In this way he could create his own sanctuary in the midst of his everyday life. But this required an intention and commitment to do so. He would have to discipline himself every day. Without this daily renewal, what he had accomplished at the monastery would fade away. Only a return to the monastery every day would save him.”
Running for me has been that monastery. The solitude I find in this spiritual practice is as George Sheehan wrote, “is a place to commune with God and yourself, a place for psychological renewal.”
Running for me is that place. A place where I can go to be alone, to gather my thoughts, to think and to write. When I go for a run it is my own special place, it is my sanctuary.