Gut check

I recently renamed this blog “Sweating to the Dharma,” then switched it right back because it sounded like I was ripping off Richard Simmons, and Buddhists aren’t supposed to steal.

It was one of many changes that came about between March and July, when I was unable to run due to a stress fracture. Some of these changes, like the blog title switch, didn’t take hold. Others, like the 25 pounds I’ve put on, have stuck and won’t let go. If there were such thing as a Buddhist Body Mass Index, I’d be sitting at the Budai end of the scale.


Being sidelined from running was tough, but, as I’ve written in earlier entries, the experience gave me reason to reflect on the truth of some of the Buddha’s teachings.

That said, there were only so many “another great thing about being crippled” posts I could write before I felt like I was rubbing my nose in it, and realized I needed to set this blog down, along with any thoughts of running.

Now that my injury has healed completely, I’m ready to put on some miles, maybe shed a few pounds, and build up this blog.

While I hope my next post on the spiritual side of coping with injury is a very long way off, two hard lessons highlighted during my recovery deserve mention.

The first is that I need to keep a closer eye on the “near enemy.”

Certain qualities developed through Buddhist practice are shadowed by two unhelpful counterparts. The “far enemy” is the opposite of what you’re working to develop; the near enemy is closer to the mark, but just as bad. If we were talking soft drinks, Coke’s far enemy would be Pepsi, and its near enemy would be caffeine-free Diet Coke. Blech.

Something I had intended to develop while dealing with my injury was equanimity – not getting too down about not being able to run, and not getting carried away if my leg felt better by running before I was ready.

I paid close attention to equanimity’s far enemy – agitation – and was mindful not to let feelings like restlessness or overeagerness get in the way of my recovery.

But I allowed the close enemy of equanimity – indifference – to sneak right up behind me and give me an atomic wedgie.

I let my patience over-ripen into laziness, and figured I may as well take a load off until I was able to run again. So I whiled away the time with naps and snacks while my belly grew and my physical rehabilitation stalled.

It wasn’t until a friend posted about her own injury that I was able to see I was in a slump. With a problem wrist putting a crimp in her customary fitness routine, she decided it was time to return to running.

“I made the decision to mentally bitch slap myself and have been focusing on what I CAN do! This has made me come back to running and start from the beginning,” she wrote.

“I’m currently in week 3 of the Couch to 5k plan and it feels good to go back to basics! This is a very positive thing I can focus on and I know it’s the first step to coming back stronger! Pride swallowed, progress made.”

After reading this I gave my head a shake (which made my belly jiggle a little too) and started hitting the gym every night after work. Had my friend Maggie not helped me spot the near enemy, I’d still be snoozing away, and I’m certain my leg would have healed much more slowly.

For bonus points, she also reminded me that non-Buddhists have a lot to teach Buddhists about Buddhism.

The second lesson recently highlighted through my recovery deals with the stealthy nature of delusion.

I was five minutes into a 10K run along a country trail when I spotted two women on horseback a hundred metres ahead of me, gazing toward the horizon. So incredibly strong and spry was I feeling that I worried about overtaking the horses too quickly. By continuing at this blistering pace, I would surely startle the horses, who would probably end up throwing their riders, crushing their spines and leaving them paralyzed.

So just as I was about to drop out of warp speed and announce my presence to ensure the riders’ safety, one of them turned to me with a look of great pity.

“Having a tough time, huh?” she said, in the same tone I once used to console my kitten when he got stuck inside a shoe.

“Don’t worry,” she added. “We’re kinda doggin’ it today, too.”

The pace display on my GPS watch seconded what she was saying: Though it felt like I was tearing up the trail, I was actually running at a pace slower than a walk, if that’s still technically running.

Delusion is the sneakiest of what the Buddha called three poisons, or the three fires. The nice thing about the other two – greed and hate – is that they’re pretty easy to spot as they arise in the mind, provided you’re paying attention. The really nasty thing about delusion is that, by its very nature, it keeps you from recognizing you’re deluded.

This can lead to real trouble on long runs – believing you can tackle greater distances than you’re physically able to and hitting the wall miles away from home, or thinking you’re “pretty sure” you remember which path to take in the woods, and then becoming hopelessly lost. Worse still, delusion might lead you to push yourself too hard and leave you sidelined with a serious injury, which, as I learned over the last several months, ain’t a lot of fun.

As delusion is difficult to recognize in oneself, it’s helpful to create conditions to minimize its harm.

Until my sense of overall fitness is more closely calibrated to reality, I’ll be packing a bit more gear on my runs – a little extra water, some more sun protection, and a phone so I can call up a map if I get lost or ring for a ride if I run out of steam.

My encounter with the riders taught me I’ll probably have a safer time on the trails if I have more than my instincts to rely on. For the next while, the wise approach to shrinking my gut may be to trust it a little less.

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