Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Delight in the simplicity of running

Were I to have the least bit of knowledge, in walking on a Great Road,
it's only going astray that I would fear.
The Great Way is very level;
But people greatly delight in tortuous paths.

--Lao-Tzu, Tào Té Chīng, Chapter 53, 6th century BCE
Lao-Tzu (also Laozi) was a Chinese philosopher who authored the now-famous Tao Te Ching, a collection of versus intended to impart wisdom to the reader. It is the principle foundation of Taoism, which--as both a religion and a philosophy--stresses living in harmony with the Tao. In Chinese philosophy, or more correctly spiritualism, the Tao (which loosely translates as "the way") is the principle driving force of the universe. It is at once both obscure and mundane, for while it defies being encapsulated in a simple definition, is in fact unknowable, it can be observed in the daily course of life. Thus, it establishes--to the observant, the one "in tune" with themselves and the world around them--principles for how to live.

Many of these principles are about morality, about understanding how to act towards others, towards nature itself; they reflect learning to not just live, but to live well. However, the path to understanding--or to enlightenment, if you will--includes an understanding of the purely physical, as well, insofar as there must be harmony within the individual who seeks such understanding. The question is, can one achieve such harmony in a given activity? If so, how?

Source: Divya Clinic in Naveen Shahdara, Delhi, India
In ChiRunning Danny Dreyer opens with several chapters dedicated to this topic, the idea of harmony between mind and body (and soul), and the related harmony between the individual and nature. One of the points he dwells on is that of running like a child. For when a child runs (when playing), she does so without any concern for form or for benefit. There is no attempt to maximize efficiency or productivity, there is just free-flowing moment, the uninhibited actions of the body. Yet under such a rubric, both efficiency and productivity are maximized.

Why? Because the child is intrinsically in harmony with both herself and with nature. She is unencumbered by stress or other concerns, she runs with joy, with happiness, which is apparent on her face.

Consider how you run. If you are like me, you no doubt spend some time prepping yourself before you begin. You stretch, you hydrate, you make sure you've eaten enough to give you energy. You dress for the run, making sure your shoes are tied, your iPod is secure, and your headphones are in place. Then you run.

Do you smile when you run? Are you happy? If you use running as a means of alleviating stress and anxiety, are you able to truly set these things aside?

Today, I ran some four miles at a relatively leisurely pace. But I did so with a purpose, to run as a child, to take joy in the moment and forget about my goals, both long and short term. As I ran my usual circuit through a nearby park, I found myself smiling, sometimes even waving, at others out for a run or a walk. Many of them I see on a near-daily basis. A few I know and always wave to. But today, I let myself be almost goofy in my happiness. And time passed like a flash. Before I knew it, I was back at home. My pace didn't matter. I felt more refreshed than usual and, in fact, was sweating less than usual. It was a good run.

The quote that opens this piece is instructive, insofar as it reminds us to not make things more difficult than they need to be. The Way is level indeed, it is simple. One sees it through the eyes of a child and knows that joy flows naturally from this simplicity.

Those of us who are older still need to be mindful of our bodies, we need to stretch and be certain we are ready to run. But these are small things that should not be our primary focus. It is more important to run free, with open minds ready to accept the moment, to delight in the day and the world around us, rather than focusing on the actual activity to the extent that such delight flies away from us in the wink of an eye. So on your next run, make it a point to be happy, to smile, to express your joy as you go.