Sunday, July 8, 2012

Running As Practice

I've always been a slow starter. It usually takes a decent force of will to get my legs pumping enough to exit the driveway. My impulse is to start out fast, but I try to temper this. Later on, I'll pick up speed and feel better about my pace. In the beginning, it's all about easing into the workout.

Taking the long loop around my neighborhood before heading out on Route 250 for a short stretch. Dogs are barking at the expected houses. One, as I leave Pontiac Street, looks as if it's going to dig through the glass sheet in the door separating it from the outside world. I can clearly hear the tumult it's producing. How much louder it must be in the house, mingled with the owner's vain admonishments to quiet down.

Another house on 250 with a couple of dogs who sometimes patrol the front yard. One is a chocolate Lab while the other is a smaller breed, perhaps a mix of Pug and something else. I laugh as the smaller dog jumps up periodically to box the Lab's muzzle as he's barking. The Pug mix wants to warn me away from the yard, but also feels as if the Lab is stealing its thunder. I would love to stop and say hello, but canine behavior can be unpredictable on their own territory. Maybe someday...

I wait for an opening and cross 250 gingerly, beginning my cruise down a side street. It's cooler, but still humid. I'm minding the humidity less though. The shirt is starting to stick to me and I realize I didn't wash it last time I did laundry. A mental note to include it next time. I'm briefly amazed at the variety of bird calls I hear this time of year. Our normally cold, forbidding land is transformed into something approaching tropical. I try not to feel attachment, but the stain of it remains in my mind. It's my favorite season, after all.

Marking out a big loop through the adjacent, more affluent area across 250. A house that had been for sale now has a moving van in the yard. People are unloading it methodically. I believe this house went on sale after my neighbor's, and yet the new owners are moving in while my neighbors still seem to be in the process of moving preparation. Just my luck. It's probably my fervent wish for their removal that keeps them there so long. It's nearly three months since the house sold. I try to remember what patience feels like.

Winding my way through short tracts, keeping in a general loop. I pass a mother out with her daughter, teaching her how to ride a pink bike. The training wheels are still on. I recall my own memory of this milestone in a young life. The training wheels coming off, and feeling like a God for somehow conquering gravity. I miss having a bicycle. The running workout can feel like drudgery most days. The bike is a portal to a freedom I haven't felt in a long time...a speed powered by my legs which I can't match otherwise, without the aid of an engine. You race along with the wind, quietly, flying at ground level. It's no wonder the Wright Brothers started out as bicycle repairmen.

The mention of feeling a God earlier sparks another thought—of the recent Higgs boson discovery. The so-called “God particle”, which is said to provide the glue for the universe, among other things. Science has always wanted to look behind the curtain, to catch “God” as He or She works in their mysterious way. Science is focused on the relative, however. I don't believe it will ever be able to glimpse beyond the measurable realm. Even now, there are doubts about the import of this discovery. Some feel it's too much like what they expected. A real revelation would've been something entirely new and wholly unpredicted. We want so badly to bring the God realm into the Human. Pure hubris.

Loose now. The odd, dull pains I sometimes feel in my joints and muscles have dissipated. I'm more confident that this won't be the run I injure something. I've stretched well enough. A problem that plagued my previous pair of running shoes, laces untying in the middle of workouts, has yet to manifest with my Nikes. Should've gone with Nike all along. They've never failed me.

A squirrel busy digging in a landscaped patch is surprised by my sudden approach, and it is madly scrambling for the nearest tree. If I'd been a dog, it might not have ended so happily for it.

It rained a few hours earlier, and the dank earthy smell rises from the ground strongly. The straw-colored swaths of grass take on a tawnier shade. I recall standing at my screen door as the rain began to fall, and the land seeming to sigh in relief at its arrival. Something is different in the air around me, an atmosphere so thick I practically swim through it. Maybe it's a diminished stress level. The grass is short, but weeds sprout up, some of them flowering, a sign that many have not mowed their lawn in weeks. Mine is no different. I don't mind it for brief periods. Once it begins in April, the necessity of mowing every weekend can quickly feel like an especially persistent burden. This dry interval we've had could be coming to an end soon.

Unusually, a second wind creeps into my body. Despite the oppressive air, I feel renewed strength from somewhere within, and my stride reaches out, grabbing more ground and propelling me forward. I try not to question how long it will last, and just enjoy the experience. I've slept badly, and I know later on I'll wish I had that energy back. For now, I steam through the hazy sun, feeling an assurance in my step that reminds me for a time of younger days.

The sky is cloudy, but doesn't threaten more rain. I was hoping it was done for the day. I didn't want to endure another public shower. I think back about the times I've been caught out in downpours, rolling into my driveway with my clothes plastered to me, my shoes saturated and burbling. Very uncomfortable. The thought still occurs that I should get some rain gear for just such times, but I have yet to go.

A curvy branch in the road makes me briefly think it's a snake. I've seen a number of snakes at the ponds near work. A couple have been a very good size. One seemed unconcerned by the presence of humans. I blocked its path for a few seconds and it regarded me with something like herpetological insouciance. Once I moved on, it continued on its meandering journey, as if I were no more than a passing cloud.

Leaving this part of the village, back out to 250, and I run along the sloping shoulder, waiting for a break in the flow of cars. The flattened opossum that had lain near the storm drain for most of late last summer and fall has finally been cleaned up. Another marker of impermanence. I've been thinking a lot about death more recently, just to get myself more mentally prepared for it. The sages teach that reflecting upon our death, upon our body's impermanence, can be a very strong and effective practice. I'm always reminded of the phrase, “where rock meets bone in insight.” This is a teaching where rock really does meet bone. I always refer to it as the Great Matter. What other subject or event can make such an impact? There was a country song with a title like "Live Like You Were Dying" or something similar. The song is about a person with only so much time left, and proceeds to use that time to do things like skydiving...basically thrill-seek as much as possible before it's gone. That isn't good preparation for death though. It's actually grasping, trying to grab some more samsara before passing on. This can only lead to more attachment, which will make the the journey more difficult. My response so far has been a more urgent need to meditate and reflect on teachings. To help as many other beings as I can. Might not make a hit song, but I'll be better prepared for leaving all of this behind.

Back in my neighborhood, rounding the long curve of Pontiac Street, attempting to build up a kick for the end. Some days I'm more successful than others. The second wind I'd enjoyed has largely scattered, but I manage a brief rush at the finish. I jog very slowly then walk back to the house. A brief mumbled prayer of thanks to the Buddhas for a dry day and an offering of it to them. Too often I forget to make dedications, but it's a good thing to practice regulary.

I try to run mindfully, to keep my mind as clear as possible while running, but more often than not I'm unsuccessful. Lately, I've been trying to recall that thoughts are just an expression of the luminosity of mind, that the basic nature of mind is always there whether we are thinking or not. It helps. There are still long moments when I get hooked on the thorn of a thought, and I will closely follow it, tracing its crazy path through my brain. Much like the butterflies you see with their twisting flight through fields and lawns. They dissolve eventually. The ideal is to keep this view constantly. My brain on running reminds me that I haven't yet reached this stage of development. It's good practice, nevertheless.


  1. I have no idea why the first entry is highlighted. Damn blogger.

  2. was an enjoyable read virtually running with you


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