The second day…kind of…

I greet you this morning with arms outstretched in gratitude.

So…I’ve attempted to begin running, again. I first began just one month after my knee surgery in March of this year. I admitted that was a mistake. It was way too soon after the surgery but hell, I was motivated and couldn’t wait to get my dad bod back in shape. I know…the visual. Well, you’re going to have to live with that in your head. No apologies on my part.

A few months went by and I started running again in September and fooled myself again. This time there was no knee pain, for which I have been eternally grateful. There was also little in the way of motivation. Getting up early was a struggle. I also bit off more than I could chew and found myself actually detracting from what little motivation there was because starting to run again at 54 after a year off, well, it SUCKS!!! Moderation is something this cusping baby boomer struggles with.

beach run

Another month went by and I started running, again. This attempt lasted just two days. Motivation had done gone and left the building. I added my runs to “Smashrun” and it was as if the website began to mock me. The Smash Run website has a feature designed to increase or at least help to increase one’s motivation by reminding you that for every day you don’t run, you lose a percentage of fitness and increase the likelihood of dying. Now that last part is not true, but that is the jist. So, when I stopped running again, you guessed it…motivation had once again gotten up and left the building.

After having a gym membership that I paid for a few months…ok…several months…ok…an entire year; God that hurts when I say that; I decided I needed to get my ass out the door and like the slogan for Nike says, “Just do it!” I love this quote from George Sheehan, “Success means having the courage, the determination, and the will to become the person you believe you were meant to be.”

This time I decided to go back to what worked almost a decade earlier when I had returned to running after a lengthy layoff. I began by rereading George Sheehan’s “Running and Being.” This, for me, was “the book.” I refer to it as “the book” because it is what shaped my running when I first read it in 1978. It also helped shape my spiritual beliefs and helped me remove myself from the dogma that is organized religion.

Now when I step out the door, I have goals that are realistic and that will help me achieve success. My humble apologies to those runners who I stopped following on social media. Watching posts of “I just ran a 20-miler in an insane time” just wasn’t helping me. I also want to apologize to those runners whom I saw when I was driving to and from my office. I did not intentionally seek to run you over but your graceful stride and smile just pushed me over the edge. Now before anyone gets their panties in a bunch, I would never intentionally use my vehicle as any type of weapon. If you didn’ read the sarcasm in this post…well…

When I run, I run for me. I run for the beauty of the solitude. I run for the freedom that George Sheehan wrote about when he quoted Thomas Merton, “Thomas Merton, another solitary, understood that. The beginning of freedom, he wrote, is not liberation from the body but liberation from the mind. We are not entangled in our own body, we are entangled in our mind.” I run to untangle my mind. It makes no difference to me my pace or my distance but to return home and to know the tangled web of thoughts which accompanied me as I left my house is no longer a tangled mess.

By the way, it was 32-degrees when I stepped outside the door this morning.

Namaste

Advertisements

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.

territoryrun_vth_h

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

It’s time for a change

With hands clasped together in prayer, I greet you on this beautiful day.

A lot has been intentionally crossing my mind as of late.  As winter comes to an end and spring approaches, I have noticed the depression which I have worked so hard to manage during the long winter months has begun to lift. Medication remains a constant but there is also a renewed outlook which has buoyed my determination to continue the fight. Medication has been helpful as has my journal writing. Introspection has returned.

Since the beginning of 2015, I have twice changed employment. The first change found me looking for a challenge and the second was out of necessity for my physical and emotional health and well-being. The first change resulted in a depression which I found myself denying, even after I had left. I found myself in the throes of burnout and experiencing anhedonia-like I cannot recall. I forced myself to run. Running is normally a part of my day. For me, there is nothing better than rising at 4AM and getting in 7-10 miles. My love, my desire to run let alone wake at what some might call “that ungodly hour” had left.

Denial is a wonderful thing, or so we allow ourselves to believe. During the period of forced running, I felt a pain in my right knee. As the pain dissipated within a mile, I continued to run. One particularly depressing day, I completed a run, sat on my porch to rest in the solitude of this early hour and watch the sunrise. I rose, did nothing in particular with respect to movement and felt and heard a pop in my knee. Running without pain was now completely out of the question.

It has been in excess of 250 days since I last took a run.

As I procrastinated, my knee began to feel better. Pain was a thing of the past. A little over a month ago I went for a 3-mile run and was excited as there was no return of pain…until several hours later. The injury remained and it was time to seek a more in-depth intervention other than playing the wait and see game.

I finally met with an orthopedic surgeon, completed an MRI and ultimately was informed the diagnosis was a “complex tear of the meniscus.” The doctor was passive in his attempts to turn me away from a surgical intervention. He also cited my progressing age as a factor to “slow down and find another form of exercise.” I have other forms of exercise but none provide me with the solace that trail running does. There is something magical at rising at 4AM before everyone with sense rises for the day, lacing on a pair of running shoes, filling a water bottle and simply hitting the road. I time many of my runs to be in certain places at certain times so I can catch the rise of the sun.  The run is my therapy while the sunrise is simply a bonus. When I see the sunrise, I think of my maternal grandmother who’s presence embodied all that a beautiful sunrise could be.

There have been many lessons learned over those last two years. I have listened. I hold no remorse for the amount of time which it has taken me to move forward for this is where many of the lessons lie.

I photograph, write and post the results to better understand the journey I’m on — both the literal ones where the Vespa scooter moves through the world and those trickier trips where my mind conspires to understand what the hell is happening to me.  In either case, I’m a spokesman for myself and don’t pretend to offer much to anyone else.

Publishing to my blog as of the last couple of years has been terribly inconsistent. I felt as though a lot of the things about which I have wanted to write did not fit “The Dharmata” very well. I felt as though I had become pigeonholed and subsequently stale. I felt this change needed to take place some time ago and for any number of poor reasons, I never followed through with the change.

I have changed the name of my blog address to thebeardedrunner.net. This is a change GoDaddy tells me is in effect immediately. I hope you continue to follow me on this new path. I plan on writing more regularly about depression, running, the importance of activity in our lives and whatever else come to mind.

Running, Mindfulness & Rain

I was awakened this morning by a light breeze as it whispered in my ear through the open bedroom window. Groggily I reached for my glasses and the numbers of the clock became increasingly clear. It was 4:55 AM. My alarm would sound in just 5-minutes. 

 
I lay in bed and listened to the breeze. It reminded me of my desire to run this morning. In my other ear was a much louder declaration, it was the rain; falling hard on the concrete outside. The rain suggested I reset my alarm and sleep for an additional hour.
 
When I am unable to run, I resort to another form of meditation; Mindfulness meditation. This meditation form is completed as a sitting meditation. Meditation, while running or sitting helps me to develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offers me practical tools to better integrate mindfulness into my daily life.
 
Thich Nhat Hahn also known as Thay, warns us that civilization is at “risk of collapse from the environmental and social damage caused by the voraciousness of our economic system.” My meditation practice helps me see an alternative vision that focuses on true happiness which Thay believes we have sacrificed on the alter of materialism.” Thay’s teachings are “based on transforming our suffering by letting go of the scars of the past as well as the worries about the future.” Thay believes, as do I that this is accomplished through meditation and mindful living. Thay spends a great deal of time discussing our addiction to material consumption as a “clear sign we are trying to paper over our suffering.” Thay suggests we should go in the opposite direction, to the very heart of our pain in order to transcend it. Business growth is based in shareholder earnings and measured in the profit and loss column of a spreadsheet. While it is undoubtedly important to make a profit, it is also important to remember the inner journey. We neglect the emotional needs of our employees. We expect them to work harder, longer and produce more all while attempting to accomplish this with less resources and support. 
 
I recall my father saying when  we discussed career choices as a child, saying, “Do what you love and the money will follow.” 
 
Much of my social work practice, firmly grounded in Eastern philosophy is also deeply rooted in Thay’s writings. Having been a practicing social worker since 1986, barley a day goes by when I am not overjoyed by my career choice. There once was a time when unhappiness was my best friend. This was a direct result of my need to compare myself to those around me. The neighbor with the new car and the big screen TV became my mentors. While they are nice and they do bring momentary happiness, I still felt empty. I was reading a recent post from a blog called, bikesnobnyc.blogspot.com. I stumbled across this blog after reading one of his books titled, “Bike Snob: Systematically & Mercilessly Realigning the World of Cycling.” In a recent post, Bike Snob opened my eyes and made me look at my remaining attachment to material possessions. He says, “Honestly, people are such wussbags about their cars. The idea that a vehicle that weighs over a ton and lives most if not all of it’s life outside somehow shouldn’t get dented or scratched is completely delusional. If you’ve ever gently rapped on a car to let an oblivious driver know that he or she was about to run you over then you know how hysterical these morons can get when you dare touch their stupid, over-sized appliances. It’s like getting upset at someone for messing up the front door of your house by knocking on it.” He goes on to say, “Sure, I realize a lot of the blame lies with banks which trick people into leasing cars with easy monthly payments and then make them pay out the ass for every scratch and scuff when they finally return it, but it’s still pathetic how invested people are in the appearance of their econoboxes.” I laughed heartily when I read this post for what more is there to say. Many of us have a similar relationship with material things while we neglect the emotional relationships for which we lack an understanding of their importance. For me, as I learned growing up, it was in fact the perceived appearances that others have of us which defines success. I began to realize, throughI struggled with this fact for many years. 
 
I now define success by what I am able to offer to others. Materially I have little, but emotionally I am wealthy beyond my wildest imagination. My decade old car sporting 120K miles and many scratches still does the job for me. It suits me like an old pair of jeans; broken in and comfortable beyond belief. The remainder of my life falls completely into that realm. I have family and friends who love and care about me, a roof over my head, meals on my table and everyone in my family has been blessed with good health. For those things I am grateful. What more is there?
 
Namaste.
 

Running in the Rain

I woke early and easily this morning. My internal alarm clock my only guide. I lay in bed listening to the rain. My solitude punctuated by distant rumbles of thunder.

I rose, changed and headed for the door, the anticipation of a run my only thought. I opened the door, watched the rain and retreated back into the comfort of my house. I thought I would wait until the intensity of the rain decreased. After several minutes and the thought of previous runs in the rain, I smiled and returned outside. The rain continued. A sense of calmness and solitude enveloped me as I gazed into the darkness; the sound of the rain as it danced on the awning overhead.

I set my watch and headed out the door accompanied by only my running shoes and shorts. The rain pelted my bare back. It felt cool and refreshing. My stride and breath are now in synch as I run my usual route. As I come to the next turn I decide to run a different route. The rain my steady companion as it whispered in my ear.

I feel like a steeple chase runner as my feet splash through deep puddles, reminiscent of small lakes. The intensity of the rain increases and then fades. The rhythm of the rain fading and increasing as the distance of this run also increased.  As I splashed through the puddles, water splashed back at me. I felt like a small child enjoying the solitude and peacefulness of the rain. 

I know I am an oddity; running in the rain and at this time of day when most others are nestled silently in the warmth of their bed. There is a calmness for me in that feeling.

My run is smooth. My gait intact. My footfalls nearly silent. My body is immersed in the rain and in solitude. My soul is reborn; baptized by the rain.

Namaste.