Resolution made and a purpose served

23 11 2009

As we enter the traditional times set aside to give thanks, participate in Rohatsu sesshins, and celebrate the nativity of Jesus, we also prepare to witness a year transformed. I enjoy New Years’ resolutions because I’m a natural-born list maker, but lately my Zen practice seems to be spoiling that for me. It becomes more and more apparent that, if I just sit in zazen, everything else should flow from that.

The restless list-maker and schedule planner in me is unwary of that kind of radical simplicity. But it’s really the only resolution I ever need to make: to sit. It’s a resolution that clears a lot of space, even if all that space can look a little intimidating. Hopefully I can realize there’s no need to fill every corner.

So, to sit. And to run. Period. After the Dallas White Rock Marathon in December, my running will simply be running. No starting line to toe, no finish line to strive for. For now at least, just running. I’m really looking forward to it.

I also will continue writing on my own, but I feel this blog has served its purpose, and I’ll delete it at the end of this year. Thanks for visiting it in any of its three incarnations over the past few years.

Training Break #164

19 11 2009

In one light, these are old and worn-out fields that I ramble over, and men have gone to law about them long before I was born, but I trust that I ramble over them in a new fashion and redeem them.

— Henry David Thoreau, Journal (November 1851)

Happy failure

18 11 2009

A friend of mine had an understandably hard time in the 80 percent-plus humidity during the recent San Antonio Rock n’ Roll Marathon, including severe cramping, nearly passing out, an uncomfortable interlude in the race medical tent, and finally willing himself to leave the tent on his own power and cross the finish line in a little over six hours. “I need to race again soon and redeem myself,” he told me, but I really don’t know what about himself there is to redeem, other than the delusion of some sort of failure. He overcame some severe personal challenges, received a very nice finisher’s shirt and medal, and, perhaps even more important, is still alive and able to run again. If that’s failure, give me the gift of failure every day.


17 11 2009

My first experience with classical music was in high school via a slightly older friend, a Taekwando black belt and self-taught renegade flautist of the Ian Anderson/Jethro Tull school. He played me a recording of Bach’s Die Kunst der Fugue performed on the organ, and I still remember my amazement as the final fugue, rolling along like a juggernaut, suddenly trailed off into silence, unfinished. I thought it was astonishing that a classically-trained musician would not only record a work that wasn’t finished, but would resist the temptation to provide an ending for it.

I’ve never heard any other unfinished classical pieces, but I’ve been listening to Die Kunst der Fugue almost weekly ever since, and it’s still my music of choice to listen to before a big race or when recovering from a race or long training run. There have been a few speculative recordings of the work where the final fugue has been completed, but none have ever sounded as satisfying to me as those notes simply unwinding and dissolving, like a question being muttered into the void.


16 11 2009

“You runners, always double-knotting your shoes,” a spectator laughed at me and a friend as we performed the double-knot ritual before the start of a marathon a few years ago. We don’t even like leaving to chance the possibility of having to stop mid-race for an untied shoe, spend weeks and months honing the perfect marathon pace down to the second, and carefully monitor what we eat and drink daily. And yet, on race day, it’s always the same story: whatever is about to unfold is out of our ability to control. I’m certainly not saying people shouldn’t train to run races; that would not be helpful. But a healthy acceptance that events are ultimately beyond whatever we might do to prepare for them might make us better runners and racers. And by simply accepting we really can’t manage our lives in general, we might even paradoxically make them a little more manageable.

Dying a little

13 11 2009

“Men, today we die a little,” the great runner Emil Zatopek was once quoted as saying, presumably at the starting line of a race. But he could just as truthfully have said it before he ate a bowl of cereal, or as he walked to a bus stop, or as he picked his nose. After all, everyone is dying a little every second. But we should feel Zatopek’s urgency, rather than our regret.

Fall’s last stand

9 11 2009

These days my running is often accented with the sharp crunching of leaves underfoot. Many of the trees burst into deeply burnished flame a few weeks ago, and the ashes now fall from their branches in clumps — slowly transforming into the skeletal silhouettes that will possess their own stark, wiry beauty. But one brilliant latecomer still blazed a bright orange against the gathering brown at the park where I ran cross-country on Sunday. It stood out like the gaudy warlord of the season, a heroic guardian of the few days of real Fall allowed to us here. I slowed my run to a walk as I passed it, out of respect and to look at it closely a little longer. Its colors gave even the weakening November sun an infusion of strength, making the light appear sharper and bolder.

But the crackling underfoot reminded me that I needed to finish my run, and leave the tree to slowly, finally, surrender its glory. It still glowed in the twilight as I drove away. I doubt it will still carry the torch for fall when I return.


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