Run With Yoda, Meditate With Mermaids
I run like I meditate, as regularly as possible and with a certain degree of dogged determination. The only real difference is that I don’t tend to sweat profusely or twist my ankle while meditating and I rarely nod off mid-stride on the road.
This week I am vacationing with my family on the Central California coast and I have taken the opportunity to run each morning up and down the beach. Perhaps “run” is too strong a word. If the image of a gazelle comes to mind when you think of running, aim lower. Perhaps the shambling gait of a water buffalo better captures my stride.
But be that as it may, as I labored north toward a distant pier, it occurred to me that running along the hard sand near the waterline is a lot like meditation. The rhythmic waves of the Pacific are like my breath when I sit, coming and going of their own accord, sometimes more, sometimes less prominent in my awareness. My northward direction is like my intention to sit, gently guiding me, keeping me on track amidst the arising stimuli of the landscape.
The fog-shrouded surf offers occasional glimpses of craggy rocks, the lines of dutiful seabirds shuttling along, or the seen-but-not-seen illusion of mythical creatures in the mist. It all resembles the flights of fancy I periodically find myself in while meditating, the seductive, the scary, the lure of the unknown.
And land to my right feels much like what we tend to refer to as “real life.” The mussel shell splayed open in the sand, the luxurious home on the bluff, even the malodorous rotting fish head represent certain aspects of what life offers from time to time. I noted a jab of nostalgia when a certain shell reminded me of a distant memory. I smiled inwardly at a particularly rambunctious puppy chasing his tennis ball in the surf. I even speeded up a bit when I noticed I was approaching another runner from behind who looked even more winded than me, breezing past as if the Olympic marathon was in my future (and simultaneously hoping I didn’t stumble or pass out in full view of my fellow athlete seconds later).
But I realized that none of this (mermaid or sand dollar or imagined competition) was actually what my run was about. My run was my run, and all that arose while I was running was just what it was. Existing in a moment of my time, fleeting and insubstantial, like the thoughts that arise while sitting.
My wife asked me upon my return if I had a good run. I have thought in the past that a run is a run and there is no good or bad to it, but realized that it was actually a “good run” BECAUSE I ran! A meditation is good if you formulate the intention to meditate and then sit down. I like to quote Yoda from Star Wars when someone says that they “tried” to meditate. “Do or do not,” says the small, wise green creature, “there is no try.”
I run, therefore it is a good run. I have a good meditation if I stop, pay attention and notice what happens. We sometimes confuse what we notice with the fact that we are noticing, and it is the latter that matters. 3+ miles covered, sweaty running gear that is now spring-fresh tumbling in the dryer and a few thousand footprints in the sand, all fleeting evidence of a good run. A butt-shaped dent in the meditation cushion, a couple of stiff knees and a ton of random thoughts that seemed important . . . until they didn’t, all signs of a good meditation. There isn’t any other kind!