Running and Me
"Why do I run? I run to get inspiration. I run to increase my dynamism. I run to enjoy the beauty of nature and feel my connection with that beauty, which to me is something very sacred. Most of all, I run because running has changed me as a person and is changing me still. Through running, I'm becoming.
Is running a form of meditation? Well, sometimes yes. I have certainly had meditative experiences while running, especially during races where the intensity of the event triggers in turn an intense concentration - which is of course one of the gateways into the experience of meditation.
As with meditation, I feel the proof of the spiritual value of running is not necessarily in how you feel at the time. While running I may feel tired, drained, generally having a tough time (though thankfully these occasions are the exception rather than the rule!) but running has definitely taught me valuable spiritual lessons, and helped me to bring my good qualities more to the fore. After a run or a race, even if the experience was challenging or difficult, I invariably have a lighter mood, a happier demeanour, a feeling that life is simpler than we think and full of positive opportunities.
When I trained for my first marathon, it seemed like an impossible task. When I completed that first marathon, it brought home to me how anything is possible - how tough challenges will surrender in the face of determination and perseverance. Running has given me that confidence and optimism, and also more belief in myself and in the divine grace that is there to help all of us when we attempt the improbable (I should give up using that word "impossible"). When I ran my first ultramarathon, I realised that there is no limit to our achievements - we can keep going one step further.
Running has its pitfalls, most notably the injuries that one can sustain (though with hindsight all mine were avoidable, had I known then what I know now!). Coming to terms with being unable to run, and the process by which the injuries were surmounted so I could run again, was in itself an inspirational journey. In those times when I could not run, I was aware of how my consciousness suffered - something was most certainly missing. Thats not to say that one cannot follow the spiritual life without running, but for me it has become an essential ingredient, and were I ever deprived of it for good I would need to find another source of purity, simplicity and dynamism to complement my practise of meditation.
I worked for many years in a running shop, meeting hundreds of runners every month. Not all are conscious that running has a spiritual side, and some would dismiss such a notion as fanciful. Most runners, though, do find the activity inspiring and a source of immense satisfaction. I'm convinced many or even most runners are growing spiritually through their running, developing self discipline, determination, perseverance, detachment and numerous other spiritual qualities; not to mention the most significant spiritual quality: happiness, pure and simple. Anyone who takes on the marathon, for example, must learn how to contact their inner reserves - not just their physical reserves of energy but also their will power and the strength and inspiration that abide in one's heart and soul. If you doubt this, go to your nearest marathon and look at the faces of the finishers. You may be surprised at what you see; in their eyes, in their smiles, in the way they are finding fulfilment through as simple an activity as running.
In the spiritual life, one's spiritual practise must take first priority in one's life. Each morning when the day begins, I rise early to meditate. After meditation I sing spiritual songs, and give myself time to assimilate my meditation. Then, I get on my running shoes and head out to greet the day. Whatever the weather, its invariably a beautiful morning."
Sri Chinmoy Marathon Team Race Director, Bristol