Running time is often a time to think, to contemplate, to reflect, and to plan. Over the years I noticed that the runs which were the most relaxing, and post-run were often the most mentally productive, were runs where I had to focus so intently on my running and juggling that no other thought could be entertained in my mind. Runs where variable, gusting winds would shift my tennis balls in midflight as traffic slid past me. I had to focus only on the immediate instant. These runs were peculiarly relaxing, and afterwards I was filled with new ideas and solutions. Exactly when I hadn’t been thinking about them – when my mind had slipped into a state without random thoughts of anything else other than the immediate instant.
At some point I stumbled on the The Oatmeal and his citing the terrible and wonderful reasons he runs long distances: in order to the seek a void. The Oatmeal cited Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. Murakami would note, “I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.”
As I read What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, articles in Runner’s World were extolling the benefits of meditation for runners. The taming of the monkey mind, the complementing the physical body benefits of running, and make one a better runner. Meditation, along with yoga, were often recommended to runners in the pages of Runner’s World. And underneath meditation seemed to be a seeking of a void by being present only in the immediate instant.
This summer my summer reading rather intentionally included Sakyong Mipham’s Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind. His description of the simplicity of mindfulness meditation – breath focused meditation, seemed to simple and, at the same time, something I could do. No mantras, no special chimes, incense candles, or other requirements.
Meditation is not exactly a mainstream behavior in my neighborhood. As ABC news correspondent Dan Harris has noted, back when I started running, running was unusual. Today running is no longer considered unusual, but meditation is still seen as something different. Harris explains that as science including new research using new technologies confirms the benefits of meditation, one day a family doctor is likely to recommend improving your diet, exercising, and meditation. There are a plethora of videos to help a first time mindfulness meditator get started – talking one through the basics. And as Mipham notes in his book, just as in running, start at an easy pace for shorter distances until you are accustomed to running. Start with brief daily sessions, let your body and mind adjust to meditating. And, at least in my house, do keep a sense of humor and avoid taking yourself too seriously.
I did not become a runner overnight. I became a runner gradually as days of running added up to months, months to years, and years to decades. At some point I went from being a 1970s exercise jogger to a runner. I deeply understand that regular meditation practice over the coming days, months, and years are the path to benefit. And that I might not see the benefits for some time. Running has taught me patience. I opted for starting with shorter duration meditation to start, which keeps manageable working meditation into my daily life. And, just as I am in running, I find I am an evening meditator. Although I am new to the discipline, I already look forward to my evening meditation much as I look forward to a chance to run. For now that is a good start.