Today I had the most awesome experience when I was running, something that I haven’t had foe some time. But before I describe it let me set the scene.
For as long as I can remember I have loved running. The freedom that I felt as I use my body to move myself across the gorgeous tapestry of nature that I found myself in can’t be adequately explained. Enough to say that I absolute love it.
However, for many years now, perhaps 15, I have found that my body has become more and more prone to repetitive injury, in particular my back. In 1987 I was lifting something that was too heavy and I found myself doubled over in pain. Within 24 hours I was unable to get out of bed and for a few weeks I found myself walking like John Wayne after he had got off a galloping horse. Roll on through the subsequent years and I found myself, from time to time, in the same position but strangely enough the running helped. So, I ran and ran and ran!! But with the birth of my eldest daughter, I decided to take a little time off after and it was this lay off that set the course of subsequent years to where we are now.
My running was on and off, back ‘failure’ was on and off, weigh was on and … well ON! Times slowed and yet I was obsessed with moving quicker, working harder and focusing on the body, trying to get back to something that was drifting away (like Wilson in Castaway). Combined with a breakdown in 2013 and I was all kinds of broken.
Back to today.
In the last 6 years I have been practicing mindfulness and using meditation to find additional balance and equinity in my life (and mind) and as a way to develop an appreciation of what is, right here, right now. A key aspect of this is the development of ‘awareness’ and the use of focusing to develop a sense of present moment embodiment. While I have experienced it on the cushion and have experienced awareness in certain situations and around certain focused scenarios e.g. listening, seeing, smelling meditation techniques etc. I have never fully had a whole body and whole mind experience where awareness was observed by both parts of my ‘personal make-up’, one where the ‘dance’ of life can be seen at play but one in which I aren’t ‘caught up’ with the drama of existance.
That experience however, happened today and it was truly wonderful.
I was running along a very familiar path, one that I have trod many times. My breath was laboured, my legs stiff from a run the previous day and my mind was fighting over stopping to walk, or keeping going as a stop would be a failure. I was also aware of the sun seeping through the trees, causing a dappled effect to appear on the uneven path in front of me. The birds were in full chorus and the insects were buzzing around leading to a cacophony of sound. The bluebells were out, a carpet of blue and the smell of wild garlic was filling my nostrils. The running itself was also on my mind. What pace was I at? Where was I going to run? How fast? Would there be a Strava segment PB to be had etc?
All of this was all part of awareness … but it is not this awareness that I am talking about, nor is it what I experienced. That experience was something quite different.
What I experienced was a detachment from simply awareness itself and a deeper and purer awareness of awareness. I was running and feeling the pain in my legs, BUT at the same time I was hearing the birds. I was ‘thinking’ about stopping, but at the same time smelling the garlic; all of it was happening there and then. All of it was being experienced in the same moment and the wonderful thing? It was ALL happening simultaneously and I was being experienced it at the same time. It is very difficult to explain what it was, but it was truly something different and I had never experienced it before in my running nor my meditations.
Yes, I have read about awareness of awareness and those moments where embodied connection happens and I have always wondering what it would feel like, but in that moment, I knew what I read was true. It was fleeting, it passed when it was forced and it changed in ‘feeling tone’ when it was captured in the ‘thinking mind’ as a thought. But for one moment, for a few meters, I was at one with myself, the space around me, the experience of awareness and I was doing it from a place that was not my thinking mind. It was pure awareness and it wasn’t like my usual perspective of running, nature and life.
Now, before I am condemned to a padded cell, or anyone worries that I may be having a breakdown again, I am not. I am sane, lucid and I am aware that too many people it may sound like a little bit of ‘new age’ bullshit, and I get it. It does, but to me it is part of a long journey that I have been through both physically and mentally and I am going to own it.
Running has, for me always been about the experience of running. The feeling of connection to myself, nature, the world around and my own sense of self. It has been something I have fallen back on and something I have held onto with a grip of death. It has been my saviour, as well as my nemesis. It is just a beautiful, pure activity.
Nature, has also been a big part of my life. Running through fields of corn with my uncle, climbing hills, mountains and walking with the family in the lakes, has all been heart lifting and soul reaffirming.
So, for one moment I had the opportunity to experience two of my passions combine together to become a whole and ‘connected’ moment. To experience myself doing something that I love, with a detached, yet wholly connected perspective. To be alone with my run, but part of the world around and be part of the enormity of the universe. Just for one moment was something I will never forget. Will it ever come back, who knows? I do know one thing though, I will keep getting out there (running or walking) and doing it in nature so that if the chance arises again, I will be there to receive the gift of pure awareness. To connect once more to the vast universe we inhabit and by using running and nature, try and become part of the great oneness that we truly are.