Monday, May 19, 2008

How to Respond?

A young trail runner--in April, Ava and I hit Idlewild Park in Easton, where she decided she was going to do her own trail running. Up and down the hills, turning off to stop at the top of the hills to wave, and other times just mowing by them. She kept at it, back and forth, having an absolute blast. At its best, that's what my running gets at.

A quick update from the last post--young Samuel had his first surgery this past Friday, May 16. All went well, and this afternoon, they performed the second part of the surgery, closing his chest again. He has lept the hurdles as they've come, one at a time. There are more ahead. He is likely two to three weeks from where he might be able to come home.

Watching and waiting with Samuel, Susie, Chad, and Julian, causes sensible and insensible people to ask, "What the $%# ?" Maybe me more than others, as I seem to be wired to go that route (English and philosophy are open-ended question-asking fields). One of the tenets of Buddhism is the idea that "life is suffering." So what do you do about that? How do you live your life? I tend to take a more celebratory approach, but it comes back to suffering at some point, doesn't it?

Your life is your answer to what you do about suffering, at least it seems that way to me. I don't pretend any special wisdom (or much wisdom at all), but when I look at my own life, there seem to be some recurring ingredients I throw into the crockpot full of existential stew. So here are some of said ingredients, in no particular order:

Humor - this is a big one for me. Not humor in a knock-knock joke sort of way, but in a find humor wherever it peeks around a corner, pants's you, or hits you square in the face. There have been some big dogs who go that route--from Einstein, Mark Twain, Gandhi, and one of my favorite zany writing cats, Tom Robbins, who raps whatever enlightenment he can impart in an ill-fitting, rag-tag, funny looking wrapper.

Writing - I largely attempt to make sense of things by giving them voice, airing them out, or trying to arrange them in some fashion that they either become clearer or just make room in my consciousness for something else. I've never had any talent for visual arts or music, so for me it's writing, whereas for others, you might construe it more broadly as "creating."

Running - it seems like whenever I take a break from running, it always comes back to me, somehow new. I have had some of my most "aha-ish" moments during runs--I can remember running along The Strand in Oxford when an idea for a thesis in a philosophy paper hit me, and almost began to write itself. That isn't the norm necessarily, but there are moments like that throughout my running. After moving home back home from Raleigh, getting back into running, distance running, was a big factor in transforming my life and motivation to go back to school and get off my arse.

It could be that there is in some way a microcosm for life woven into a long run--feeling good, moving along, enjoying scenery, when the energy level drops, breathing becomes labored, legs hurt, will sinks, and suffering is in full effect. I have had those moments in the JFK 50 miler (mile 30-ish), the Holiday Lake 50K, and just long runs in general--where it is all I can do to keep pushing forward, but I stumble smiling (I am demented :) and looking to finish in whatever way I can. I mentioned it in an e-mail to Joel and Landy I think, where you get to that point in a long run, where you simply stop asking why and just do it.

I have a lot of "why's," but I like not dwelling on them, pounding them out a bit on the road or trail, and then allowing myself to be okay with having why's. Where running and philosophy meets and running smacks Phil on the back, shoves him to the ground, calls him a dork, and dusts him to the finish line. Don't worry, Phil is resourceful, he's not going to just lay there.

Child's Eyes - I tend to look at life and live it, child-like. I enjoy having fresh eyes, and am constantly fascinated with how our girls see the world. I think they are right more than grown-ups in their spot assessment of many situations. And kids have more fun than most grown-ups, let's face it. In Zen Buddhism, they call this outlook, "Beginner's Mind."

Live Uniquely - I don't care much for labels, categories, or stereotypes. The coolest people I meet are those who can't fit into a broad categorization--he or she is a "blank." (I am not sure what that would look like?) I enjoy surrounding myself with said people, and trying to follow the example of living life on your own terms.

Savor - if life is suffering and there are going to be some rough spots, all the more reason to drink deeply of the good stuff.

This all sounds preachy and cliche, but I guess I am trying to jot down some of the things I can point to as helping make up my own response to suffering, to stuff that doesn't make any sense, to unforeseen hardship. A reality is that, whether or not it directly affects us at any given time, it's going on all around us all the time.

I've been trying to think of a quote or two to tie this together, though it's more like a sprawl or spew. But here are a couple worth checking out from runner, philosopher, physician, scribe George Sheehan:

"There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be."

"The answer to the big questions in running is the same as the answer to the big questions in life: do the best with what you've got."

"In facing life, no one knows exactly what is going to happen, what is going to be needed, where the search for the Grail will lead. The best we can do is be prepared. Running makes you an athlete in all areas -- trained in basics, ready for whatever comes, ready to live each day, fill each hour and deal with the decisive moment."

So there's a big, messy foil ball for you: suffering, running, humor, creativity, beginner's mind, and drinking it all in. What else? Thoughts? Bueller?

1 comment:

landy said...

I'll save my thoughts for our long run tomorrow...