Training Break #152

29 05 2009

On the last morning of a recent weekend sesshin (meditation retreat) I attended, I drove up to the zendo (meditation hall) a few minutes ahead of time to find the entrance gate closed.

Irritated, I pulled my car off the road and parked across the street, staring at the gate. Why was the gate locked? I wondered. It wasn’t locked yesterday. Am I late? Did I read the schedule wrong? Why hadn’t someone been told to go unlock the gate? Wasn’t anyone thinking about the commuters? I thought Zen Buddhists were supposed to be compassionate and caring. I guess unless you spend the night in the zendo, you’re not really one of the cool ones. But I need my rest; I can’t sleep on a floor in a sleeping bag. Face it, I’m not as committed as some of these people. But committed to what — sitting around and staring at a wall? Is this Zen Buddhism stuff for real? Maybe someone will come unlock it in a minute. Why isn’t anyone coming? Why are things so disorganized? I’m going to be late. Being late is so embarrassing. I may as well just go home; I’m tired, it’s just the last half day, what difference would it make? Why doesn’t anyone unlock the damn gate? Why does stuff like this always happen to me? Why can’t I keep things straight?

Another sesshin participant drove up. She stopped her car and got out, quietly pushed the unlocked gate open, and drove inside.

Putting on my running clothes

28 05 2009

Putting on my running clothes,
I feel their lightness.
As I walk outside,
I vow to run with a light heart.

In his book Running: The Spiritual Path, Episcopal seminarian and marathoner Roger Joslin talks about putting on our running clothes as if they were priestly vestments. That sounds solemn, but I don’t think solemnity was what Joslin was after. Solemnity has nothing important to do with real spirituality, anyway, and it has less than nothing to do with running. What Joslin is talking about is more the idea of approaching running mindfully. When we’re mindful, every experience can be holy, in the purest sense of that word: “exalted or worthy of complete devotion,” according to my dictionary.

“Running is my church,” a friend once said simply. And going to church begins before we ever take a step toward the sanctuary, with choosing what to wear.

Start by remembering that running is a gift, something you can enter into fully using only a t-shirt, shorts, socks, and a pair of shoes, and stepping just outside your front door. How many of our daily activities are that uncomplicated and free? No car, no phone, no meeting to discuss where to run or how fast to go, no specific place you have to be at a certain time. When you decide to go for a run, you have presented yourself with a wonderful present. Take a little time to enjoy unwrapping it first.

Slowly open the drawer or closet where your running clothes are stashed. Some people I know don’t like the artificial high-tech materials many running shirts and shorts are made with, and run only in cotton. I like the special lightweight fabrics. Putting them on after a full day of wearing much heavier, more restrictive clothing, I take a moment to enjoy their lightness, their smoothness. Just as my black pajama pants and t-shirt help me prepare for meditation, my running clothes help me enter more fully into the realm of running. Just slipping one of my running shirts over my head and feeling it slide down my torso brings me out of the heaviness of work and into a lighter, more breathable realm.

Stepping outside onto the front porch, I lean down to carefully unknot my shoes and re-tie them into double knots. “You runners,” a woman spectator once laughed near the starting area of a marathon as I checked my laces. “Always double knotting those shoes.” And it’s true – most runners I know do it. I don’t know if a double knot is really necessary; I’m certainly not going so fast that my shoes are going to fly off my feet into someone’s yard or a ravine, and the material most running shoe laces are made of makes it very hard for them to come untied at any rate. But the double knot is another way of mindfully entering into a run. I don’t double knot my work shoes, or my tennis shoes when I get ready to go to the store. Double knotting is reserved for running. It’s part of a ritual, the same as always bowing when I enter a meditation hall or making the sign of the cross at the Eucharist. In some small, vital way, it helps focus my attention on what I’m about to do.

Many runners extend the pre-run ritual by briefly stretching their muscles, although I confess I have never been a stretcher. As I stand back up from double knotting my shoes, I immediately move forward and the run begins.

But even before the run began, mindfully putting on my special clothes, my running vestments, prepared me for it. Freed of my work pants and shirt and my clunky leather shoes, I feel as if I’ve just been let out of prison and am taking the first steps into a reformed life. My earlier worries about non-existent futures and regrets of fading pasts are quickly drowned out by the present honesty of my steps and my breathing, the lively reality of breezes and birds. Pushing gently forward, my feet lift me away from the earth, and my clothes dance over my body with every stride. I’m grateful. I’m running.

The Week in training, 5/18-5/24

27 05 2009

Small increments of progress: I’m up to an hour on my Wednesday run (goal: one and a half hours), 24 minutes on the peak phase of my Thursday tempo run (goal: 30 minutes), and 2 hours 45 minutes for Saturday’s long run, 1 hour 22 minutes for Sunday (goal: 4 hours Saturday/2 hours Sunday by mid-July). So far, so okay, but of course summer’s heat and humidity are looming. That will mean earlier hours, slower paces.

I’m back to using gels again as a nutrition supplement on my Saturday run. I go back and forth on gels – generally they’re too sweet for me – but the Carb Boom brand work better; they’re apparently made from real fruit and don’t taste as artificial as other brands I’ve tried. I’m going to try to make them a regular part of my longer runs again; they do help.

Sitting continues; the practice continues. I had a startling breakthrough on a book manuscript I’ve been struggling to prepare about the crossroads of running and Zen practice – I quite suddenly realized that, for three years, I’ve been fumbling with the right materials to write the wrong book. Now I feel I’ve found the right format and presentation for my material. This discovery was every bit as surprising and immediate as realizing a koan, and the energy of that discovery should carry me forward. I feel this project will move much faster now, without significant mental blocks.

Funny how the mind works. And I’m grateful to be part of a spiritual practice that helps me explore that very process on a daily basis.

5/18 40 minutes yoga
5/19 Hill repeats x 4
5/20 Neighborhood run (1 hour), 40 minutes yoga
5/21 LHHS track tempo run (24 minutes; 44 minutes total)
5/22 40 minutes yoga
5/23 Neighborhood-Lake run (2 hours 45 minutes); 20 minutes yoga
5/24 Cross-country/trails run, Norbuck Park (1 hour 22 minutes); 30 minutes yoga

Early morning haiku (post-run)

19 05 2009

Sunshine on the wall —
Her painting of the mountains
Still hasn’t been hung

The week in stepping back, sitting down and shutting up, 5/11-5/17

19 05 2009

I’m glad I decided to attend my third sesshin (meditation retreat), this time scheduled at our zendo (meditation hall) for just one weekend. After two oral surgeries a few days before, and a biopsy related to one of them (which was benign), I had not been sleeping well and was not in the best physical shape for a sesshin. Especially for most of the long day at the zendo Saturday, I was in very shaky condition. But I stayed until the end, and I’m glad I did. It was a very helpful experience for me and a positive progression in my practice, and I’m feeling much more rested today.

Although our sesshin schedule was hardly as rigorous as the Zen Buddhist monasteries of old, it wasn’t exactly a piece of cake, either. It started on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. and wrapped up around 10 p.m. That was sort of the appetizer. Then, up again on Saturday at 5 a.m. and to the zendo by 6:15 or so for a 6:30 start, with regular sitting, chanting, dokusan (private interviews with the teacher), silent meals, and a teisho (dharma talk by the teacher), warpping up Saturday night around 9:30. Back on Sunday at 6:30 a.m. until noon, when we ended the sesshin, broke our silence, and had a wonderful lunch of baked salmon, salad, and ice cream with strawberries. Then home to collapse. Sunday night’s sleep was the best in many weeks.

Although I managed to get in four runs during last week, running was never the week’s priority; it was just about making it through the sesshin in one piece. This week, running is again a priority, and I had a good hill repeats workout yesterday in unusually cool, dry weather.

But going forward my task is the same as always: to take the sheltered sesshin experience, those deeply concentrated moments of awareness within the zendo walls, and put them into practice when I run out in the great wide world … blurring all of the starting lines and finish lines we needlessly draw for ourselves when running, sitting, or doing other things. No differences, no sitting or running, just this.

The week in training, 5/4-5/10

11 05 2009

A positive week, a week of minor ratchet tightening and slight presses on the accelerator. For those playing along at home, I increased my weekly tempo run by two minutes, my Wednesday run by five minutes, my Saturday long run by 15, and my Sunday recovery run by 15. These kinds of minor additions will continue on a regular basis, or as regular as I can manage given other unforeseen but almost guaranteed interruptions in the schedule. We just work around our interruptions as best we can, don’t we? It’s all we can do.

My weekend sesshin is coming up, but could be threatened by one of those unforeseen schedule interruptions: I’m due for oral surgery tomorrow and, while I’m reasonably certain post-op recovery should be routine, the possibility for more pain/annoyance/whining is always present. For now, I’m planning to sit this coming weekend, knowing a weekend sesshin always means missing my longer runs. Sitting sometimes has to take precedence over running, and vice versa. Fortunately, I normally have the time for both.

5/4: Yoga, 40 minutes, a.m.
5/5: 4 X Hill repeats, Flagpole Hill, a.m. Yoga, 30 minutes, p.m.
5/6: Neighborhood run, a.m. 55 minutes
5/7: LHHS track, a.m. 22 minute tempo run, 42 minutes total
5/8 Yoga, 40 minutes, am.
5/9: White Rock Lake and surrounding area, a.m. 2 hours 30 minutes
5/10: North Creek trail, a.m. 1 hour 15 minutes

Training Break #151

8 05 2009

How could we know?

— my Zen teacher


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