Friday, August 8, 2014

I Run to Meet Myself

In times of crisis, I run. Not away, but through. About a mile into a run, my soul, body and mind get in step, superfluous thoughts, those beyond breathing, those beyond don't trip, those beyond watch where you're going and take everything in, superfluous thoughts bead and roll away with my sweat.

It's not a surprise or a coincidence that during some of the biggest transitional times in my life, that running has been a means of knowing myself, of knowing my heart, and of being right in my body. It takes me to places that planes, trains, automobiles or bikes can't reach. In some ways, each run can be a pilgrimage.

Since ancient times pilgrimages have been conducted from place to place, in belief that a question can travel into an answer as water into thirst... the only rule of travel is, Don't come back the way you went. Come a new way. - Anne Carson, "The Anthropology of Water."

Pilgrimage is a word used to describe a journey, both physical and spiritual, to a sacred place. Maybe a temple, shrine, church, speakeasy, tavern (hey, don't question what sacred means to different folks ;), a journey that changes the pilgrim, transforms them in a meaningful way. I remember the first time I ran the 10-ish miles from Oxford to Easton, a trip made daily in a car, and that I had made a number of times by bike, but doing it on foot, never stopping to walk, felt like as significant a 10-miles as I could have run. My first trail race, my first marathon, the significance was finishing the distance, the course, not where I ended up. But the pilgrimage-typed runs for me are often not to anywhere in particular.

Pilgrims were people who figured things out as they walked. - Anne Carson, same as above.

Thank you, Anne. That's it exactly. Figuring things out as I run. Sometimes consciously, sometimes not. Sometimes it's the sweat that cleanses. Sometimes I've exhaled something I couldn't abide. Sometimes I've breathed in something I desperately needed, though I couldn't tell you at which point or mile I found it, just that I did. Maybe.

Where do I "go" on these personal pilgrimages? Maybe I go "away."

Being "away" is the true freedom. I escape to where I want to be, thinking what I want to think, creating what I want to create. - George Sheehan, "Running and Being"

Sheehan has as much to teach as maybe any other runner/writer has said about running, thinking and the soul. But I am not sure he has just what I mean here. There are times I run to escape, escape the day, escape bills, escape a mood, escape life, but there are just as many times that I run to live. To think. To solve.

I suck at sitting meditation. If my body is still, my mind wants to move faster. Yoga, Tai Chi, better. Running seems to put everything in place.

Motion and meditation are apparently a unity. "Sit as little as possible," wrote Nietzsche. "Give no credence to any thought that was not born outdoors, while one moved about freely--in which the muscles are not celebrating a feast, too." - George Sheehan (and Nietzsche), "Running and Being"

Thank you, George. That's more to it. Motion and meditation are a unity. That's how it feels. Thoughts born or grown on a run seem to have more substance, because they have come after, or because of, other thoughts falling away.

So what is it I am trying to learn when I run? I wonder...

Pilgrims were people wondering, wondering. Whom shall I meet now? - Anne Carson, take a guess ;)

I've met some awesome people through running. A fair amount of my close friends now I have spent some time on the roads or trails with. I spend a lot more time wondering than knowing. Safe to say I don't know much. But where running becomes a pilgrimage, where it becomes a journey on foot to the soul, I know who I run to meet.

I run to meet myself.

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