Recently Dosho Port invited Koun Franz, a young Soto Zen priest, to write a guest post on Dosho’s deservedly popular Wild Fox Zen blog. The post, “Authentic Practice,” discusses what, from Koun’s perspective, an authentic Zen practice should look like in this world of “mindfulness retreats” and other Zen-lite “lifestyle options.”
Koun’s post was eloquent in its simplicity and directness and got me wondering what an authentic running practice should look like. I came to the conclusion it would look a lot like what Koun described for Zen practice …
1. Authentic running is about running, period. We all come to running for different reasons: to lose weight, to blow off some steam, to seek the approval of others. All of these are valid entry points, but eventually I will be frustrated: the weight won’t come off as quickly as I would like, or stay off; when I finish an exhausting run my problems are still with me; I will never be quite as fast or as strong a runner as the runners whose approval I seek. Authentic running is about putting one foot in front of the other, step after step, mile after mile, day after day, regardless of how it makes me feel on any given day or how I feel about it. Running is not a cure-all, a social aid, or a way out of my problems. When I make my running simply about the run, I learn more about myself — and find that my life can be something richer than a continual self-improvement project.
2. Authentic running is experiencing the world fully, physically, moment by moment, rather than merely second-hand or from a safe distance. When I run authentically, I engage the world and myself first-hand: I listen to my body, follow the changing rhythms of my breathing, feel the earth passing under my feet and the wind in my ears. I notice when my effort changes, when my body starts to sputter and tire, and I also notice when the endorphins kick in and nothing seems capable of slowing me down. I take the good and the bad, the faster and the slower, and I keep putting one step in front of the other without judging my effort or myself.
Certainly I honor the competitor in me, and strive to run my best. But in authentic running practice, there are no real winners or losers, no good runs or bad runs, no starting lines or finish lines. Authentic running is simply becoming the act of running, of fully engaging in the simple but liberating practice of moving on foot as swiftly as possible over the earth’s surface, and experiencing it step by step. And when I expand the act of “simply running” into everything I do, I am really and truly running with Mu.