Posts Tagged 'meditation'

The Productive Pause

I have to force myself not to run sometimes.

As I’ve redeveloped the habit of daily mileage over the last few weeks, I’ve realized an enforced break is a blessing and a curse. It’s important to take time to heal, to give the road a break from the stabbing of my feet and allow my ligaments and tendons to restore themselves.

What if the sidewalk is where I recover?

I went to bed early Sunday morning after completing the last final exam I’ll ever write in the first teaching job I ever had. Motivated to finish the task and therefore move forward with the next phase of preparing for my big move, I pushed on into the wee hours with little regard for sleep.

Sunday morning arrived and I felt gassed.

As is my custom, I set about doing some of my “small work”, the five- or ten-minute jobs that can add up at the end of the day. My energy waned and I left papers strewn about my floor awaiting grades or filing. I headed off to my other job and sleepwalked through several hours, certain a half-hour to myself jogging in the sun would do me good.

I craved the meditation of 160 strides per minute.

Alas, my desire to avoid overtraining took precedent and I continued slogging through the evening.

One of the best benefits of self-evaluation is learning what your spiritual reset button is.

Plowing through the rocky fields of your mind requires constant, time-consuming effort.

The necessity of rest is unavoidable.

Respect this fact and honor your intentions with a productive pause.

Stopping for a breather halts your progress, but that’s better than losing ground because you kept pushing forward.

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Understanding Mental Static

There’s a peculiar sensation I have when my mind is struggling to comprehend something.

It’s an odd numbness and tingling on my scalp, unlike the squeezing pain of a headache. Most times it will be localized, yet it can be all over the place at others. It travels back and forth between my forehead and the crown of my head, drifts over to the right or left and occasionally takes the shape of a mohawk.

It’s as if something is gently trying to get through my skull.

Since last May, I have had it fairly often, usually for a day or two–though it has hung around for several months, too. When most pronounced, I felt slightly disconnected from my body, like a portion of my “me” was hovering above my head like a wispy stratus cloud.

I’ve taken “mental static” to be a symbol of change.

Admittedly, the fogginess is unsettling. You know something’s off-kilter, yet you’re unable to totally put your finger on it. God is trying to reach you and your cell phone has only the faintest of signals. Regardless of where you stand or how you tilt your head, the call always seems to drop when He says “I’ve got to tell you t–“.

Frustration ebbs and flows.

This feeling is one of the consequences of evolutionary change. As you go about the process of unraveling your thinking–and all the experiences shaping it–your brain stomps its feet and screams. When it comes to shifting in a new direction, it is the most petulant of children:

“No! I like the way I am. It’s too hard. I’m staying right here. I don’t wanna.

Part of you crosses its arms and pouts during metamorphosis.

For our ancestors, survival depended upon the ability to detect subtle differences between shadows on the savanna. Traveling to new areas created new problems in separating “food source” from “possible predator.” The heightened awareness that comes with uncertainty is merely your bloodline speaking up after 200,000 years of development:

“Hey! Be on the lookout.”

When your lazy modern mind hears the echoes of its hardened primitive ancestors, it sits straight up on the couch. Instead of being more conscious of what surrounds you and choosing each step carefully, fear tempts you to stay amongst what you’ve come to categorize as “safe.”

There are two things you must do when encountered with this situation:

1. Be patient
Look, your psyche has been living quietly in a cushy environment for years. It has had its way for as long as it can remember and is assured by the easy routine of its situation. It will attempt to run back to the known with all its might.

Hold its hand–firmly–and tolerate the tantrum until it relents, regardless of how long it takes.

2. Accept it
Though this second part would seem to work hand-in-hand with the first, it bears mentioning on its own. The situation is what it is–in fact, everything just is–and you must relinquish the tendency to pass judgment on it. As Shakespeare wrote in Hamlet, “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

Don’t be the person that stands in a long line cracking jokes and “making the best of it,” then complains to the attendant upon reaching the front.

You’re on the road to a better mindset. Don’t turn around just because it’s unpaved.

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Running into God

I recently picked up a new book.

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running is novelist Haruki Marukami’s chronicle of a year spent examining the parallels and intersections of the two major disciplines of his life: running and writing.

As a deeply introspective person, I appreciate a window into a similar person’s mind.

Something about the rhythmic solitude of step after step points a telescope into the deep spaces of a person, promoting serious question-and-answer periods in the midst of rigorous physical demands.

In fact, I quit training for a marathon in the fall of 2005 because the long distances allowed my brain to ponder the unsavory experiences of a nasty breakup–cutting me to the bone again and again with every session on the road.

There’s something to be said, though, for the meditative nature of a run.

After reading ChiRunning by Danny Dreyer and Born To Run by Christopher McDougall, I’ve pushed myself out onto the pavement again. I’m rebuilding the daily habit of strapping on my Vibram FiveFingers KSO’s and–for the time being–working on refining my running style to be as efficient and effortless as possible.

Yesterday, I decided to take it slow.

Tuesday morning, I burst through the woods of a nearby park at a pretty good clip. I had a brief period to squeeze in a run before work and decided to increase my stride length to see if I could maintain the proper foot speed.

To put it plainly, it felt awesome. My legs seemed to be moving without much prompting from my head, sweeping me along faster than I’d anticipated.

However, since I had to get ready for work, I’d forgotten to budget a few minutes to stretch and I paid the price.

My tense calves groaned at me to go easy and cement my cadence further as I closed the front door behind me yesterday evening.

I focused intently on “one-two-one-two” very well for about 1.5 miles, aided by the metronome track I created using Audacity. I loped along unconcerned with speed, using short strides to perfect technique instead of racing the world.

After ten minutes, I shifted over to my “Rock Exercise” playlist.

My custom is to concentrate on keeping rhythm using my own tunes after a “mental warm-up.” I’ll run to music long before I’ll ever stride through a race with only a droning beep in my ears. And, regardless of the exercise, I always look for a thumping beat to energize me.

First up on the MP3 player was “The Little Things” by Danny Elfman, then eventually “Your Time Has Come” by Audioslave and “Elevation” by U2.

Inspiration struck.

I felt a pull to stretch my legs a bit and see how much ground I could cover as Bono blared in my ears.

I resisted at first.

I was intent on holding tempo and–being in the hilliest part of the park–concerned the terrain would upset my gentle “right-left-right-left” canter.

Then I felt an instinctive push to “Let it go.”

Thankfully, I trusted the impulse.

My body kicked into gear and just went. Whatever happened would happen and I was content knowing so. My mind became a jockey riding a thoroughbred body at full gallop.

My soul began to sing.

I hit a chorus and nearly screamed “El-ev-a-tion!” at the top of my lungs, barely holding back so as to avoid disturbing other visitors.

I cut through the park like a flash of lightning through a Spring sky.

Tight corners were negotiated easily. I waved cheerfully to every lifeform I sped past. I simultaneously smiled brightly as my eyes welled with tears.

I felt “one” again.

The first time, in December of 2006, I’d been overcome with emotion at St Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. I walked through the doors and meandered around until my heart suddenly swelled up.

I had managed to wander into God’s presence.

In an instant, I became fully aware of a long-forgotten truth. Unlike any church before or since, I was fully “in His house,” no longer alone or hurting.

It shook me to the core.

I stepped outside and wept as I typed text messages to close friends and family about “the most beautiful building” I’d ever seen. As undeniable as the sun rising in the East, I reconnected ever briefly with what created me.

I can only describe it as a boundless and timeless ecstasy.

In all its power, it brings forth immediate and disembodied humility. You understand with utter certainty the complete failure of your frail little form in representing your immenseness.

I believe the French call this joie de vivre, the unending and uncontainable happiness of life. It is being–the thundering outflow of the eternal force of love and creation.

It’s an unforgettable spiritual homecoming.

And for a blissful minute or two yesterday afternoon, I was there again, playing like a child as I flew along the sidewalk.

I went out for a run and dissolved into the wind.

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The Power of Something

Sometimes, you find something in the middle of nothing.

In the midst of tremendous quiet, you hear a whisper. It’s startling. It’s moving. It’s clear. The plug is in the outlet and the light is blinding. The simplicity is striking and humbling. Strangely, you find comfort with it as you wonder why you didn’t think of it before.

Something finally makes sense.

It’s the gift you’ve been waiting to open, the package you’ve hoped would be delivered. It’s presented to you for the achievement of a purpose. It is energetic and focused, strong and unbreakable. It is an end for a means, a result for your work.

Something is what you live for.

This idea is the seed. Much depends on what you do with it. Will you give it the attention required to grow or ignore it as it withers? Will you choose to help it live grandly or allow it to die silently with its potential?

Something requires you to act.

This is the power of something.

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The Power of Nothing

NothingYour brain is always working.

Whether interpreting the millions upon millions of sensations affecting you every second or controlling the movement of your digestive system or contemplating the positions of galaxies, it is impossible to shut off. Death is the only event that will completely close down operations.

You can slow it down.

Sit quietly for a few minutes. Close your eyes. Feel the breath passing in and out your nostrils. Keep at it as long as you can. Even as you do your best to silence everything, your brain still chatters, doesn’t it? It comments on the room temperature, it speaks about the strangeness of your current activity, it meanders into future errands or past happenings.

You’re waiting for nothing.

Doing this exercise, shifting your brain into another gear, is how you get “there.” It’s a silent meadow, where thoughts flutter in like butterflies, only to flit away without any judgment whatsoever. This place and time is really neither. The absence of “good” or “bad” yields the presence of is. Each idea is. Each feeling is. Each moment is.

This is how things change.

Like an old damn giving way, history breaks through. It is seen differently, with more compassion and even reverence. It is a root experience that, when necessary, is tilled from the garden. Anger last minutes instead of hours. Disappointments fade in hours instead of days.

This is the power of nothing.

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