Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Run, baby, run


Last month over the holiday break, I watched a lot of movies:  two seasons of Carnivale, The Lord of the Rings, Amadeus, and an old favorite, Forrest Gump.  One of my favorite scenes in the Tom Hanks classic is when he's being chased by bullies and his friend, Jenny, yells out, "RUN, FORREST, RUN!"  When Forrest gallops off at high speed, not only do his leg braces magically fall away, but he inadvertently discovers an unknown talent that successfully guides him through high school, college, and eventually on a cross-country run that changes his life.
Every year during the annual Pumpkin Run at Greenwood Elementary where I taught first grade, I'd cheer on my kids, hollering just like Jenny: "RUN, DUSTIN, RUN!  RUN, KAITLIN, RUN!  RUN, CARLY, RUN!"  My colleagues laughed their heads off, then mimicked me as their students trotted by.  It never ceased to amaze me how those three little words could motivate even the most sluggish kids, the ones who didn't think they could muster another ounce of energy.  (And if our cheering happened to fail, I'd often jog right along with the slowest ones so we'd all cross the finish line together.)
I was an avid runner in college, easily logging in four to five miles a day.  My mother often gifted me with new shoes for my birthday and even surprised me with a stellar pair once while visiting on campus.  I have a visceral memory of calling Mom after a particularly long trek to thank her, for the cushioned insoles made me feel like I was running on air.  Still, several knee injuries over the course of a few years made me hang up my running shoes for good until 2014 when I tried galloping on the treadmill in my basement during The Winter from Hell.  That only lasted a month or so as the incessant pain returned, no matter how much yoga I practiced.
But I'm not one to give up hope.

Since early November I've been hitting the gym six to seven days a week.  I lift weights and swim and hop on the treadmill, setting the incline for a steep hike.  Day by day, week by week, I'm getting stronger.  I feel great and have more energy.  My appetite has been cut in half and I've lost a little weight, too.  While all that's well and good, I'm still focused on a loftier goal:  to get back into long distance running.  At first I wanted to train for a half-marathon, so I tried to jump off the starting block too soon in December and came home sore and sorry.  I let go of that lofty idea pretty quickly, realizing once more that I need to apply to my daily life what I've learned in my yoga practice. 
This afternoon, while teaching a Come As You Are Yoga Class, at a local University, I explained to the students, "Yoga doesn't have a goal; it has a purpose.  While the reasons you come to the mat may change from day to day, in the end, the intention is still the same:  to create positive transformation." 
So these days I'm taking baby steps toward my innate desire to run again.  Day by day, hike by hike, I've seen real progress...so much so that I told someone last week, "I'm almost ready to run.  I can feel it."
"Why not just do it now?" he asked.
"Because if I let my body decide when it's ready - and not my head - then it'll be a much smoother process," I explained.  "This time around, I want to run because I can.  Not because there's a goal involved."
I feel much the same way about writing.  There are days when I cannot drag myself into the office to do much of anything.  No matter how much I cajole, bribe, entreat, or nag myself, whenever I sit and look at the blank computer screen, all I want is a nap. 
So this afternoon, I took one...and didn't feel guilty at all.  Nor did I have to justify it by saying I've spent the better part of two years working on some very challenging manuscripts. 
My body said, stop.
So I did.
Kind of like how Forrest Gump described his cross-country run to a woman who sat next to him on the park bench:  "When I got tired, I slept.  When I got hungry, I ate.  When I had to go...you know...I went."
"So you just ran?" she asked.
"Yeah," Forrest nodded.
He didn't have a goal, but his love for running kept him moving, and in the end, it helped him put the past behind him so he could move on.  So have many of the books I've written in the past five years.  Now I can focus on who I am now...not remain hobbled to the hitching post of my past, wondering when my life is going to start.

There's a wonderful chapter in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, Peace is Every Step which describes the art of washing dishes.  The idea is to do what you're doing and nothing else.  When you wash the glass, wash the glass.  When you rinse the plate, rinse the plate.  Bring mindfulness to every moment and the next moment will take care of itself.
So last Sunday I went to the gym and hopped on the treadmill.  I turned on some music, plugged in my earphones and got moving.  It was effortless, so I set the speed and incline higher.  Finding it still too easy, I cranked it up even more.  
Suddenly my body said, Run, baby, run.
So I did.
It wasn't for long, but it was a joy to feel my body take off like a shot and easily get back in the groove of something that was my first moving meditation all those years ago.   The next day, I ran longer.  The next, even longer.  Afterwards, when I ran errands, I ran errands.  When I came home and fed my pets, I fed the pets.  When I answered emails, I answered emails.
When I needed to rest, I did that, too.
Who knows what tomorrow will bring other than another opportunity to stay present and see what will happen next.

Now I no longer need to run from my past, nor do I need to sprint into the future (although I've come to find that's my newest challenge).  Slowly, steadily, time will pass and all things will change.  This year, many things in my life are still in a chrysalis, undergoing unseen and unimaginable transformation.  Like little seeds planted in fertile soil, they are putting down strong roots before sprouting above the surface to let me know they're ready to be nurtured. 
In the meantime, I'm waiting patiently for the wheel to turn, all the while listening to my heart when it says...
Run, baby, run.  Teach, baby, teach.  Write, baby, write.  
Live, baby, live.