Coming full circle

Ever since I started using a GPS watch, c25kmap my running history has read like a roll of Live Savers. A telltale colour map pops up when I synch the device to my computer, showing where I was and how long it took me to get there. The sections where I ran fast are displayed in neon green; the places I dogged it show in bright red.

If I were making real Life Savers instead of just pixelated circles, I wouldn’t last long at the candy factory. The loops wouldn’t be nearly round enough to get past quality control. Even if they were, I’d get busted for putting too many cherry, and too few lime, into each pack.

Imperfect as they are, most of the runs I’ve recorded are circles of some sort. With few exceptions, whether out on a country trail or on a race course, each run ends roughly where it started.

Noticing this trend after a recent run brought to mind one of the first dharma talks I heard delivered by Gil Fronsdal of the Insight Meditation Center. He said Buddhism isn’t so much a journey that takes practitioners from Point A to Point B, but rather one that leads them from Point A back to Point A.

In his own words, from his talk of July 9, 2014:
“The heart of this practice is not about having a new experience, but seeing your experience in a new way.”

As I understand it, Fronsdal suggests the Buddhist path isn’t necessarily about making drastic changes in our lives, but in savouring the richness that’s already there.

I think that’s a sentiment a lot of runners can relate to. Sure, it’s an activity that can open the door to many new experiences – exploring new courses in new cities, meeting new people and making new friends. But for many, particularly those who have been at it awhile, there’s also profound joy in revisiting a well-worn path. Running a familiar route time and time again may not offer many surprises, but it’s where much of the transformation happens. It’s where the body develops over time to go a bit faster, or longer, and where the senses open up to notice small things – a beehive or a swallow’s nest – that have been passed dozens of times before, unrecognized.

That’s a big part of running’s appeal. It’s not about a huge experiential change – no matter where you do it, running comes down to putting one foot in front of the other – but how we’re transformed by it.

That growth doesn’t only pertain to how we run, but why.

I started running after packing on 40 pounds, gained after breaking a 16-year addiction to cigarettes. My main motivation was to keep my weight in check. I didn’t like the thought of running, but I hated the thought of going to a gym even more – I worried I’d get shown the door for sweating too much.

After sticking with it a spell, my reason for running started to shift. I entered my first 5K, and got curious about how much faster I could run it, how much further I might be able to go. I liked the challenge of setting a difficult goal and trying to meet it, and that became my strongest incentive to run.

I haven’t completely let go of that, but my main motivation for running these days is the simple enjoyment of running itself.

The transformation I’ve experienced through running mirrors other ways I’ve developed through Buddhist practice.

While it has entailed some new experiences, practice hasn’t drastically altered the course of daily life. I buy my groceries at the same store, I show up for work at the same office. But how I relate to the other customers in the checkout line, to the traffic jam on my daily commute, to challenges in the workplace, has changed. That change may not be monumental, but it’s authentic, and it hints at how rewarding the journey from Point A to Point A can be.

In a way, the colourful rings on my computer screen that detail the pace and distance of a run also point to the nature of dharmic practice. It’s not about inventing new flavours, but appreciating the pieces already in your roll – even the cherry ones.

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