Spring gave me little to no warning. I opened the screen door a couple of days ago and bam! Tender green shoots dotting the ends of the tree branches, a warm and thick breeze with a exclamation point of moisture at the end of it. Things turn so quickly and we can’t fall asleep for an instant or we miss the start of another season. I’m beginning to feel acutely aware of how few springs I realistically have left – probably thirty or so if I’m lucky. They are born and die so fast here. And it is rarely a real spring, but only a sort of hurried prelude to summer, no longer than a typical Scriabin piano prelude and just as full of stormy twists and turns. Much rain is forecast for the next two weeks, and the skies are boiling with darting grays, whites and blues.
My speed workout at the track this morning was under a shifting, nervous heaven with a small, anxious wind insistently tapping at my face and back. I ran alone, as I do most of my runs, and thought back to my run on Saturday. That day I ran a different route on a whim and passed a number of what I guessed were runner training groups – clumps of 10-15 people spaced 2-3 minutes apart, running toward me on the opposite side of the road. I don’t know what organization or running program they were affiliated with (probably not with the store where I work, because I didn’t recognize any of the group leaders), but they were very active and chatty, calling out words of warning when cars approached and carrying on lively conversations with each other.
I have never been someone to run with a group. I do understand that some people get a great deal of support and motivation from running with others, and that for some people running is a highly social activity. For me it was always a journey inward. When I began running in high school it was, in retrospect, a way for me to sort out all of the chaos in my fevered young brain and come to grips with my world and myself. I loved running alone down deserted country roads, with only the cows in adjacent fields for company (always eyeing me a bit nervously – I’m sure I was one of the first, if not the first, running human many of them had ever seen). My parents loved me and watched me very closely, and I suppose running was a way to be entirely on my own for awhile, with no one asking about my plans or my well-being, or judging what I was doing and offering helpful suggestions. It was a run to freedom, and a run to my self. Running is still very much that way for me, and even more so now that I am no longer racing.
Yesterday members of our sangha sat together at a new temporary location. Our old zendo, our sangha home for many years, has been sold and we are looking for a new, more centrally located property to call home. The possibilities for growth and bringing the dharma to more people in our area are tremendous, but the challenges of finding a suitable new place won’t be easy. I was soothed by the floor of the temporary zendo, which had a pattern in its wood reminiscent of the old zendo floor that we had walked over together in kinhin so many years. Sitting together, breathing together, was reassuring and healing in this somewhat unsettled time in our Zen community.
When sitting zazen I enjoy sitting alone and in a group equally – both have a different energy but both are very nourishing. I don’t know why I have never felt the same about running. While I feel connected to the larger worldwide “sangha” of runners, share their personal triumphs and setbacks, and even understand them from a new perspective as I help fit them in running shoes, I still prefer running alone. Running is still my personal journey inward, something I cannot bring myself to share directly. In some ways, it is even more private to me than zazen. I suspect that, for as long as I can do it, it will always be so – perhaps even more so as years go by. And, more than ever, I am aware of their going.
Nothing reveals the fragility of life more than a run in this weather – the trees bursting with new life even as the last dead leaves are ripped from them and blown into the path of my onrushing feet. The sky, flashing with appearings and disappearings over and over, the wind chasing its own tail like a crazed animal. Hardly a time of gentle flowering, but instead a jerky, confused series of brutally rapid disruptions across the heavens and earth, thunderstorms and tornadoes. It is a very alive time, a chance to stand in the seething cauldron of creation and experience it fully. We’re lucky to be able to meet it head on if we choose. And we should.