Wednesday, August 25, 2010

The Zen Run

I wake up at noon on a Wednesday. It’s summer, and I’m in graduate school, so life is pretty good except for the whole poverty thing. My roommate Cassandra (who was job hunting at the time this actually happened, though she now works a 9 to 5er like most people) and I decide we should do something healthy, something good for ourselves. Let’s go for a run.

I strap on my ratty pair of sneakers, which are a little too big because I didn’t actually buy them for running: I needed them for a Villains and Heroes costume party as GoGo Yubari from Kill Bill 2. (I chose to inhabit the badness, the yang self, because even though I’d love to be enlightened, I’m still having a lot of fun wrestling with my darker energy.)

I go jogging about once every fiscal quarter, so I had no illusions of grandeur. There would be no dashing down Bayshore Boulevard, a buoyancy in my stride, ponytail gleefully bopping in the wind. But it ended up going down much worse than I thought.

Living in Tampa, you’d think we would realize it’s 1,000 degrees Fahrenheit in the shade. So naturally blazing noon is the best time for outdoor cardio. Once we step outside I start to sweat like Lindsay Lohan in church. (Just kidding. Lindsay Lohan can no longer feel feelings, so clearly she can’t feel guilt.) After a few blocks Cassandra, a much more avid runner, darts ahead in her new sleek kicks.

I figure this jog is the perfect opportunity to practice meditation. The rhythm of my soles pounding the pavement, the sparking endorphins through my neural synapses, the deep breathing (okay, panting like a Labrador). Sometimes I try to repeat a mantra Om Shanti.

In yoga and Buddhism, om is considered to be the vibration that struck the world into being. It’s kind of like a poetic interpretation of the big bang: all these subatomic particles whizzing around space, knocking into one another and causing wavelengths to ripple out into glittering vastness. Everything vibrates: quantum physics has shown us this on the Hertz scale. Your liver cells, your turkey sandwich, even your desk is vibrating at various subatomic levels. And vibration is recognized as sound on the most material level for humans to perceive it (think of a guitar string being plucked, sending out waves of music into the atmosphere). Om is the sound, the giant guitar that sent this whole fabulous planetary dance into motion. Plus, om fun to repeat because, well, it just kinda has a nice ring to it. Ooooommmm.

Shanti, put simply, translates from Sanksrit as peace. So Om Shanti, to me, means peace for everything in this beautiful creation.

So here I go, trying to slip into this “runner’s zone” that resembles a meditative zen-like state. But my brain has other plans for me. Here’s a transcript of my internal monologue:

Om Shanti. Om Shan--
Do I look like an idiot when I run? I should swing my arms by my hips, I think my JV track coach told me that a decade ago, it would probably help that damn shoulder injury, and it might make me look cooler--
Oh yeah. Meditate. Don’t forget you’re supposed to be concentrating your mind, Melissa. Let’s do this.
Om Shanti. Om Shanti. Yeah, this feels good. Om Shanti. Om--
A rollerblader is approaching. Should I smile? Give the old nod of recognition? How can I time this out? What if they don’t smile back? It takes a lot of balls to be a rollerblader, the potential for looking goofy and falling is really high, I’d probably need knee pads. Not cool.
Okay, enough, back to the chant, thinking about how good you’ll feel when you master this meditation thing, how your brain will hum with tranquility. Om Shanti, Om Shanti--
FUCK! MY ASS! Why is there a sharp pain in my left ass muscle?
Okay, calm down, breathe it out. Oooom--
Don’t stop. Run through the pain. Use your meditation, now is when it counts.
Ooomm, sending deep healing blue energy to my ass. Heeealing my ass muscles. Ommm, relaxing the shoulders now. What if I need to see a physical therapist for my stupid ass after one stupid jog? Ommm Shanti.

The second I step into my sweet air conditioned apartment I crash to the floor. Lying there, recalibrating my body, I think about running, thoughts literally racing through my asphalt mind. I think about what I run away from, what I run toward. I often run away from difficult people and situations, as we all probably do. When negative situations arise my sympathetic nervous system kicks in and wham! I’m fleeing out the door. I feel like I’m constantly racing toward my goals, chasing down my definitions of what will make me really super happy. With all this bustling around, with all this busy-ness, it’s hard to slow down and just be present, in the moment. Right here.

I realize now that there is stillness in every movement, no matter how fast we may be speeding along. Regardless of what I'm doing--running a marathon or searching for my yet-again lost keys--I can discover the calmness, the quiet heart of every motion, every act. There is also movement in stillness. While sitting and meditating, my breath is flowing through me, blood circulates through my veins, I hum to the greater cadence of the world. Sometimes it takes a good run to figure out how to stay still.