Focus on your breath. Relax. Breathe in. Feel the air expand your entire body as you fill it from the bottom of your stomach up to your chest. Let go, and breathe out. Fully exhaling and emptying your lungs. Focus. Relax. Breathe in. You’re up and running now.
I’m not sure at what point I started to notice the interconnectedness of the two. Bound together by the thread of the breath. Now I see it clearly. Running is an extremely powerful means of active meditation.
For the sake of comparison anyone that has taken an ice bath knows that in order to handle the cold it is all in how you breathe. When that ice first hits you are forced into an uncontrollable shock, a sudden gasp. The key is finding a breathing pattern to abstain from absolutely losing it. A deep sharp breath in and controlled but assertive breath out. The cold makes you face your breath, take hold of the reigns, bask in the ferver, or succumb to the mental pain and abort mission. Either way, you’ve never been more in the moment.
In a similar way to cold exposure, running forces you to find your breath, steady your heart and focus. If you don’t, then you are bound to lose your breath, your heart will race out of control, and without focus you may trip and fall (hey, it’s happened to me plenty).
Everyone views running a different way based on their past experience. Loathing the mile day in gym class, swearing you’d never take another lap after graduation. Others may have found their love for it. Some may have natural ability, or just always kept at it as a way of health and getting outdoors. Others may obsess over it and let the social media aspect of modern fitness apps ruin the beauty of doing things for the sake of doing them, not to try and be the best at the thing. In fact, it is better to do things you’re bad at but enjoy than spend so much time perfecting that which you despise.
I don’t want this to be seen as ableist conjecture. Those that can’t run. Those that can’t walk. The spiritual pursuit has many paths. This is but one of the doorways to divine connection. I encourage you to find yours, and see this anecdote as a testimony to the power of finding a means to tap into that source of higher self as well as primordial being. I believe in you and your pursuits.
Whatever your view or position on running is, this perspective can be applied to most things, but stamina and endurance based activity are the root of my experience.
If you haven’t ran in some time, I encourage you to do so. Even just a short jog, as an experiment, and keep the contents of this article in mind. Tune in to your breath from the very start. Be mindful of your breathing pace, and don’t even worry about your running pace. This isn’t a race, this isn’t about a finish line. In fact the goal should be to keep your heart rate low while sustaining movement. This should be approached and viewed as a meditation exercise rather than a physical activity. By accepting this is not worrying about appearance or being “fast", you can set your ego aside for the time being, or at least attempt to. Now, just pay attention to how your cardiovascular system responds to the light stress of an “easy run". It’s not so easy is it?
Now, many people talk about the “flow" and/or “the zone", but where I am going is a bit different than this. The commonly described fascinating state where the action in the moment seems to flow from a source beyond one’s self is very real. It can most certainly be obtained through the running meditation, but there are other aspects to the runners gnosis that may be beyond, parallel, or even opposite of this flow state.
Running is a form of controlled suffering. There is suffering in life. No matter who you are, no matter how much money or privilege you have, you will suffer. Why not get good at it? Something that stands out to me in the running lifestyle is the mental toughness required to stick it out. To will yourself into continuing while your mind pleas for mercy. Some may not be able to relate to this desire to undergo voluntary suffering. I understand, I never claimed this was for the sane.
Let’s face it, running sucks. Don’t get me wrong, I do love running. There are particular moments, feelings, connections, and breakthroughs that keep me coming back, but it sucks. That is what makes it so special; the sucky suffering that you just can’t quit. Beyond the suffering there is a oneness to be found. A supreme awareness of self and surroundings,
It is my church, I sweat out my sins as my mind goes raw in sun bleached worship. I am absolved in the rain, and judged harshly by the wind. The road map is my Bible, the trail is my psalm. The sounds of the environment are a choir, inviting me to join in on the hymn of natural occurring bliss through instinct. That split second of nothingness in between the expelling of transformed carbon dioxide and the retaking of oxygen to propel the pumping heart.
I don’t claim to be anywhere near enlightenment, or some sort of spiritual guru, but I’ve had enough personal spiritual experiences by various means to know that the state of mind one goes into when pulling deep from the psyche on a distance run is nothing short of a mechanism to reach beyond the veil.
I will be posting subsequent articles going into more detail on techniques and methodology one can use for this kind of running in the coming weeks. Mantras, and pre-run routines that will get you in the mind state of spiritual work rather than another dreaded run around the neighborhood.
In the meantime I encourage you all to ponder running as meditation. Try it yourself, go on a run and focus on the breath. Start shifting the way you view your runs, as a means of communicating with your higher self or chosen deity. See the suffering as a sacrifice, to build the mental toughness and fortitude required to deal with real life suffering. Free your mind from chaotic thought as you push yourself towards a personal singularity.
Feel free to reach out and share your own experiences. Otherwise I will be sharing more soon.
Happy trails, and blessed running.