The morning run

A little over one year ago I felt a pain in my knee which forced me to stop running. For a while, it was even difficult to walk.

I began running again in 2009, after having taken several years away from this sport. For me, running had become drudgery. I had forgotten why I was running.

I was never a competitor, against others. I had competed against myself. My runs became more about running faster times. It was in this competition that I had lost my desire to run.

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I have always been my worst enemy, allowing the thoughts and comments of others to populate and rent space within my head. The worst part is I allowed the rental property to go unchecked for a long period of time. The renters took advantage of my absence and they completely trashed the property. When I finally admitted that it was my absence which leads to the state of disrepair, I felt too sad to do anything about it. Sadness turned into depression and depression lead to inaction. The property went unsold and was eventually taken from the market. This injury, really the first since I began running when I was 16 allowed the same process; the same cycle of degradation to happen all over again.

Several times I watched and rewatched the video “Motivation for Your Morning” from the Territory Run Company.

I fell in love with this company when I first found them on the net. Check them out. If your runs are more spiritual in nature, I think you’ll really like this company.

Anyway, as I watched the video, I began to recall what I love about running and more specifically the morning run. The feeling which arose as I watched this video, the feeling which always seems to return to me when I let go of the need to identify as a particular type of runner was beginning to make its way into that property which had for the last 15 months become dilapidated after so many months of neglect. It felt like a warm summer night sitting on my front porch and in the distance I hear the sound of music as it escapes through the speakers of a car and its open windows. The sound, as it gets nearer becomes a song which I recall with a smile. It reminds me of simpler times and of memories of runs gone by, both good and not so good. I am reminded of the time when I waited by the window for a summer rain to cease or at least abate enough, in my thoughts that it would prove to be a comfortable run. knowing this would not happen, I laced up my running shoes and completed a quick three miler with all the enjoyment of a small child opening gifts Christmas morning. It was running times such as these which allowed the weight of the world to be left behind. My thoughts instead became filled with joy as I stopped on the crest of a local bridge and waited for the sun to rise beckoning a new day; a day like a wet lump of clay on a potters wheel, which could be made by me in any form.

I also began rereading the thoughts of George Sheehan in a book which was one of the most important to me since I was 15 or 16. That book is “Running and Being.” First published in 1978. My copy remains held together with several pieces of scotch tape. I still recall making this purchase at the long-defunct Walden Bookstore. George wrote, “I am a noonday runner.” I, on the other hand, have always been a morning runner. This has been and continues to be, as an Introvert the time of day which I covet. I covet this time of day not only for the solitude which it brings but today, I run at this hour because quite frankly, I am safer during this hour. George wrote, “The best most of us can do is to be a poet an hour a day. Take an hour away from being a serious adult and become serious beginners. Take an hour away from what Shelley called a life of error, ignorance, and strife, and introduce love and beauty and delight.”

One of my favorite quote from George Sheehan’s book is this one. “I am a lonely figure when I run the roads. People wonder how far I have come, how far I have to go. They see me alone and friendless on a journey that has no visible beginning or end. I appear isolated and vulnerable, a homeless creature. It is all they can do to keep from stopping the car and asking if they can take me wherever I’m going.
I know this because I feel it myself. When I see the runner I have much the same thoughts. No matter how often I run the roads myself, I am struck by how solitary my fellow runner appears. The sight of a runner at dusk or in inclement weather makes me glad to be safe and warm in my car and headed for home. And at those times, I wonder how I can go out there myself, how I can leave the comfort and warmth and that feeling of intimacy and belonging, to do this distracted thing.
But when finally I am there, I realize it is not comfort and warmth I am leaving, not intimacy and belonging I am giving up, but the loneliness that pursues me this day and every day. I know that the real loneliness, the real isolation, the real vulnerability, begins long before I put on my running shoes.”

I have attached a link to the video I mentioned earlier. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

//content.jwplatform.com/players/mDLR0SCD-vTGW2TdI.html

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My inner sanctuary

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.