Next weekend I am going to run a marathon. My friend and I have been training for four months and after completing the last of the long runs – 19 and 22 miles – I feel ready. I also know that the end of the run is probably going to be painful. I’m just going to run right into that pain.
When runners talk about marathons, they talk about hitting the wall. This is the point in the run where the mind reacts to the pain in the body by saying a whole bunch of unhelpful things like maybe the runner should just quit and wouldn’t it be better to be watching a movie right now. So then not only is the runner dealing with physical pain, she has to provide counterarguments.
Or not. As a meditator, I’ve got some practice at dropping thoughts. After many, many occasions of sitting on my cushion supposedly following my breath and then realizing I’m planning which snacks to pack for the kids between picking them up from school and going to soccer practice, I’ve learned how to drop it and come back to the present moment.
With the pain of running, the thoughts are centered on ending this unpleasant experience and starting one that is more enjoyable. In the midst of that it is good practice to keep running. You learn how to deal with pain. In his book Running with the Mind of Meditation, Tibetan Buddhist Sakyong Mipham says not to ignore the feelings.
One could say that life is at least 50 percent pain. If we do not relate to pain, we are not relating to half our life. Everything is fine when we are happy, but when we are in pain, we become petrified. The inability to relate to pain narrows our playing field. When we are able to work with pain and understand it, life becomes twice as interesting. Relating to pain makes us more fearless and happy.
Over the last two weeks my husband and I have learned that a beloved friend is sick. We hope and care deeply that she will become well.
I see my mind trying to escape the feelings I have about this. The dread, the fear, and the worry. My mind keeps jumping from one thing to the next, trying to land on something that might make the truth not what it is.
This morning I found some comfort in an essay by Norman Fischer, a Zen priest and poet.
Primarily, fundamentally, to live is to embrace each moment as if it were the first, last, and all moments of time. Whether you like this moment or not is not the point: in fact liking it or not liking it, being willing or unwilling to accept it, depending on whether or not you like it, is to sit on the fence of your life, waiting to decide whether or not to live, and so never actually living.
I find it impressive how thoroughly normal it is be so tentative about the time of our lives, or so asleep within it, that we miss it entirely. Most of us don’t know what it actually feels like to be alive. We know about our problems, our desires, our goals and accomplishments, but we don’t know much about our lives. It generally takes a huge event, the equivalent of a birth or a death, to wake up our sense of living this moment we are given – this moment that is just for the time being, because it passes even as it arrives. Meditation is feeling the feeling of being alive for the time being. Life is more poignant than we know.
Do I have the courage to get off the fence and be there even when it hurts? This weekend’s marathon will give me a chance to practice.