Embodied Running

Ecopsychology Project

To meditate – to contemplate your being has become a culturally accessible way to stay in touch with the you within you. We have learned, from our own culture or from another, to practice meditation as a means of listening to our nature; to sit within the body and gaze at the truth. But what of our bodies? When you examine our bodies, when you look in the mirror and see a reflection of your body, you are looking at a design. It has form, it has structure, it is built a certain way. And implicit within the design of your body is how you move. And movement implies interaction with the world around you.

The word Soul comes from the word Animus; to be animate; to be in motion. Our nature is not contained within us. The only thing within us is the blueprint or code of our structural body. Our nature is found out there; in how we move, how we act, how we behave, how we respond – and this in turn shapes who we become.
By design, our bodies are incredibly well adapted for running. Not just walking, but running. This adaptation implies a relationship to our environment, and to creatures who share that environment with us. When we engage in the activities that our bodies are evolutionary shaped to do, we “tap into” the source of our soul and our ancient ancestors. As one runner once said after he and a group of comrades in the deserts of Santa Fe came to together to chase down an antelope using the power of out-enduring, “You feel like you are back….” …back in your body.
The purpose with this rhetoric is not to promote running for your health and fitness but rather to explore running just as one explores meditation: a spiritual process of connecting to who you are truly, your very nature, and to live from there, to then act and move and behave from there – continuing the evolutionary story of humankind.

 

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A Brief Encounter

Running in Circles

In the Olympic National Forest, I awoke at dawn before my campmates to sneak in a run along the Hoh River. Cool air lay heavy and damp and thick upon the forest. The light was dim, but growing with every passing minute. I was minding my own breath with each stride on the soft trail when I heard a rumble to my right, growing in intensity. I looked up startled, and behold! A herd of Roosevelt Elk – the largest of its kind – were galloping in tangent with me.

I was so engulfed by the immensity of their sudden presence which so starkly matched my own present circumstance of running in the lush forest, that I reacted with a kind of glorious grace and raced to join the herd in a kind of mania that only a lonesome human desiring to be of nature could accentuate with such prominence. I found myself diverging off the human trail and smashing through the forest right alongside the massive elk. No longer focused on my own breathing, I turned and glanced out my peripherals, as much as a hominid can, to see the plumes of breath in the cold morning shoot out from what looked to be over thirty individual snouts. The sounds of the forest birds seized, and the rolling and rushing of the nearby Hoh river were drowned out by their rhythmic stampeding.

I felt pulled along, swept away from my mere human existence, pushed into the profundity of life, freed from the confinements of my ever-encroaching thoughts. I was truly a man among giants. Alas, I could not keep up any longer with the powerful creatures. My heart felt as if it were to leap out through my throat. I couldnʻt tell if from exhaustion or pure passion to join the herd forever. I slowed to a stop and watched the giant elk disappear into the depths of the forest.

Breathing wildly, I turned around and slowly jogged towards the sound of the river, finding my way back to the peaceful and unbeknownst humans, who still lay cocooned in their tents dreaming of fantastical encounters with the magical unknown…

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“It’s a good day to be alive.” A Mauna Kea Run.

Running in Circles

I slept in. I woke up slowly, nothing really to look forward to on yet another empty day. I made my ritual coffee, read a few pages in the latest existentialist-fueled book, and probably cleaned my room or something mundane to preoccupy my bored mind. The weather had been awfully rainy, but everyone knew that a blizzard was upon the peaks of the two volcanoes.

My phone dings. A message from Billy.

<Thinking about taking work off tomorrow and running up Mauna Kea. Wanna join?>

Thank god for friends who are just as crazy as me. Boy was I needing an adventure.

Billy shows up at my house the next morning. Although I was just getting over being sick from a detoxifying salt water deprivation tank float, and I was mending a hurt shoulder, I couldn’t resist  the chance to join a friend up the snowy slopes of Mauna Kea. The access road to the summit was closed so no one in their right mind would be able to experience the snowy mountain. But we were out of our right minds, and really into our bodies. We parked right at the closed road, change into our layers, strapped on our running packs, gave a nonchalant nod to the Ranger patrolmen and headed into the bushes.

 We trekked up and over and a cinder cone, where we could clearly see the trail on the other side to join up with. We slid down and whooped as we connected with the trail, like passing through a gateway. Our adventure had begun.

We took off at a brisk pace listening to the crunch under our feet. It was an easy ascent at first and we spent the time chatting excitedly, keeping in check our breathing and heart rate. 

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The scenery was dramatic and ever-changing, as plumes of clouds seemed to appear from all sides of the island, converging at Mauna Kea. At one moment it was clear with grand views of the saddle, Mauna Loa and Hualalai, then suddenly it was covered up into a thickness the eye could not penetrate.

It was relatively warm until one of these voids of fog pressed down upon us, then a coldness would set in chilling the bone. I was constantly taking on and off my insulating hoody. Billy just kept rocking his buff and shades whether the sun beamed through or not.

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Billy kept me up to date on our elevation gain, and I was always surprised to hear him call out the next 1,000′ milestone. We started at 9,000′ and it seemed like in no time we had already made it to 12,000′. But this was also where we were met with snow, something we were looking forward to, yet I had never really imagined the challenges that would come with the frozen terrain.

You don’t really think about snow all that much when living in Hawai’i. It doesn’t really come with the the whole tropical experience and although I’ve been in the mountains plenty of times having lived in the Rockies and Cascade ranges, I didn’t quite know how to prepare for snow on top of this volcano.

We took our first rest at first sight of snow. I grabbed a handful and pressed it into a ball. Billy took out his new camera and played with the macro settings. The scenery had cleared up again and we took it in before setting off back up the mountain.

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Our trail to the summit

The climbing was beginning to get difficult, as the air thinned. My light body-weight made it easier for me to lift one leg in front of the other, but Billy had a good solid and steady pace that helped me slow down and not get too ahead of myself. We both knew in the back of our heads we’d pay for it later at the top.

We made a good team as the hours passed. The snow was getting thicker and our minds slowed to the pace of our movements and our minds blended with the rocky cinder snowy environment. Our conversations ended. The fog rolled in again and the silence was deadening. This was to be the last time we could see out beyond the slopes of the mountain. Our world shrank to just a few feet in all directions.

I lead most of the way and had to glance up from time to time to keep an eye on the next trail marker which came either as a steel post pounded in the ground, or a cairn of rocks, called and Ahu. We had been walking for a while now in the snow, and my feet were beginning to get cold. It was also much more tiring to trek across snow then the gravely trail. As the conditions thickened, the trail was lost entirely and we relied purely on the markers, walking roughly straight lines from one to the next. We slipped and slid between footings as we never knew if our next step would be upon the sturdy ground or a jagged rock hiding underneath the blanket of snow.

Time kept on passing, and we fell into the trance of our own rhythmic breathing. Our minds were fully present and focused, commanding our bodies up and up and up, until we reached a sort of fork in the road, with no clear sense of which way to go. We saw some ahu to the left through the thick fog and decided to head that way. It took us along the lip of an old cinder cone where the wind picked up from down below, cascading up and over the lip. We were pummeled with icy rain and it was just around that time we both started to get worried.

We kept our cool, I started shivering, and just below us as the wind turned, the sacred lake Waiau appeared as if out of thin air. We took it as a beacon of hope, that we must be close to our meet-up point with the road that would take us the rest of the way to the Summit. Our only problem was we didn’t know where the road was supposed to be in relationship to the lake.

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Lake Waiau revealing itself through the fog.

So we continued to wander through the thick freezing fog, eventually turning back to our fork in the trail. Billy kept pointing to a large pu’u to our right saying, “I think that’s the summit, we must be behind it.” I gazed up at it, craning my neck, the top veiled by the fog. I really didn’t feel like scrambling up that Pu’u. I was starting to feel very cold, and the drunken feeling of the altitude was sloshing in my head.

We kept marching in a directionless direction when the winds shifted and Billy pointed again shouting, “there! the road!” Sure enough, a few hundred meters ahead lay the road, this whole time.

Climbing out of the now deep snow, we slapped the bottom of our shoes on the pavement, glad to be back on flat, relatively dry terrain. We headed up the road immediately, keeping our core body temperature warm, and renewed with energy from finding the road. But as we climbed only another half mile and nearing the last switchback bank, the winds were howling, and Billy, being the sensible one, stopped running and checked in with himself. I must of been too far gone with the altitude because I was feeling steadfast and determined to get to the top. Billy gave me the look, and it was enough for me to understand it was probably best not to push it. We were vulnerable, with minimal winter layers, and sure enough I realized my hands and feet were already completely numb.

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White Out

So, with that, we turned around, but this time continued on the road, a seven mile decent. I kept having the strongest urge to pee, but every time I stopped and tried, I was unsuccessful. The wind died down and with every mile the air temperature warmed. Our feet and hands slowly thawed out, which we were very grateful for, but at the same rate, my head and stomach were feeling worse. My thoughts became extremely foggy, and it took all my concentration to process what Billy was saying to me from time to time. We both laughed at the pounding of our heads with each stride. It was quite amazing how positive I was feeling while simultceanusouly feeling physically wretched. With two miles to go I couldn’t stand to run and had to walk. I could no longer focus my gaze, my bladder was screaming at me, and my head was pounding like Animal on the drums from the Muppets.

Thankfully, with a mile to go, I was able to finally pee, now that we were closer to 10,000′ elevation. And the last half mile, we started running again, I think mostly because I just wanted to get back to the car so I could collapse.

We ran past the guard who just gave us a nod, and headed straight to Billy’s car. Without saying much, I grabbed my dry clothes, headed to the bathroom at the visitor’s center where I met a line of tourists. At this point my conditions were worsening rapidly. Definitely phase one altitude sickness. As terrible as altitude sickness feels, like being drunk and hungover all at once, I was also reveling in the grandness of our time up on Mauna Kea.

After changing, Billy said, “lets just get out of here”. I  nodded my head and mumbled something like, “lower elevation please”. And with that we sped down the road, only stopping once a few hundred feet after departing for me to puke. Billy rolled down the window, stuck his head out and shouted, “nice one!” Always positive that Billy.

I put my seat all the way back, closed my eyes and passed out, only waking up as we rolled into Hilo. Feeling much better, but completely spent, I grabbed all my belongings, said farewell to billy, and crawled up to my house where I immediately started a bath.

One long hot soak and a hour nap later, I felt completely revived, and even cooked up a hot curry and invited my friend over to enjoy a nice dinner.

I am constantly amazed at what the body can endure, and just how quickly it can recover, if you allow it too. Another great adventure. Another test of my abilities, and another humbling experience on Mauna Kea.

Wednesday’s Training PT I: The Socratic Method

,philosophy, Running in Circles

I know what happens to me when I stop running. I know all too well. Depression. I don’t feel like doing anything. The thought of doing anything even slightly causes anxiety. But when I’m running, the threatening harsh world is smoothed over and doesn’t seem so scary anymore. It becomes inviting. I feel up to life’s challenges. Exhilarated even.

But what happens when running becomes an obstacle? Just a fix, a state of being I become addicted to. Abused. 

I’m making myself a cup of coffee made from yesterday’s steeped grounds. It doesn’t have that same aromatic full-body kick to it, but it’ll do. I just ate a bowlful of millet I spiced up with a left over pack of pepper flakes from Dominos, and fry up my last egg. It fills me up, but I know I’ll be hungry again within the hour.  The sun is heating up the day, but I can see a weather front moving in. It’ll be nice to get some rain.

Gusts of wind are blowing erratically. The tarp of my outdoor kitchen is dancing wildly with each blow . Tiny droplets appear on the screen of my computer then disappear as the wind returns the moisture to the air. It’s a beautiful day. Moody. Nice smooth, filtered light making all the green colors pop out vibrantly.

I’m tired. My legs feel heavy from the past two weeks of running. My arms and sides and butt are sore and stiff from paddling and biking. I’ve been going hard with my body, trying to stay fit and in shape for the marathon. It’s under two weeks away. Finally time to taper and recover the muscles. I can’t rest too much, it wouldn’t be good, but I can sense my body desiring to crumple up and take a break from it all. I’ve been going hard on all levels. Not just with my training either.

I’m staying positive. I’m staying focused. I’m building confidence and averaging a job interview a week. My Hilo Ohana has been so supportive. “You can do this!” they say. “You’d be perfect at that job” they remark. Just yesterday I got called in for an interview after only applying the day before. Encouraging. My phone rang while I was walking up to my tent. I almost didn’t answer, too tired to want to talk. But I knew I couldn’t afford not to. 1 hour later I was sitting at the cafe 5 miles away rattling out answers about my personality and skill traits like I had become oh-so used to doing the past 6 months.

6 months. In a few days The summer team for Kure Atoll conservancy will be embarking on their 6 month journey to the atoll, the very same journey I embarked on a year ago, that I returned from 6 months ago. It’s been 6 months. 182 days. Still no job. In some ways I’m actually impressed with myself. I’ve been able to get away with living without a paying wage. That takes finesse I tell yeah, if you don’t have much money to begin with.  But it also depresses me. I’m someone who needs to be doing something. I need production in my life. I need to be acheiving. And when I turn around and see that since I’ve returned from the far reaches of the Northwest Hawaiian islands, I see a young man who has not been motivated to work. But I’m too tired for the emotional baggage that comes along with that. Depression is a real downer. A real addiction I tell ya.

So instead I choose to rest my weary bones on this Wednesday, and sink into a reflection I’ve been meaning to return to:

I was sitting with my roommate Taapai. It was dark and chilly out. We just finished our shared meal of Poi and and sautéed greens in coconut milk.  As we often do, we were sharing the same physical space but very much involved in our own thoughts; each in our own meditative worlds. Sometimes a bridge is formed between our meditations when one of us feels inspired to share. I spoke up.

“I’ve been feeling depressed.”
“oh yea?”

“Yea. It’s weird though, it feels like I’m coming out of it, like a spell was broken.”
“what broke the spell?”
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say really. Maybe I got fed up feeling that way… I started writing again. And that felt good. I think it was because I was creating something. It felt good to be creating… the depression, I wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t want to do anything.”

“Depression. It’s an addiction.”

His statement caught me off guard. I had to pause and process it, but I couldn’t grasp the concept behind it. “How do you mean?” I asked.

“Look at it this way,” He leans in. He’s got my attention, “emotions are different states of being. When you are feeling an emotion, your body or psyche is desiring a certain state of being. Otherwise, that emotion wouldn’t exist, right? At first glance, you would think that being sad is not something anyone wants to be. But then why does that emotion exist?”


“Oh I see. you’re saying that all the emotional states exist for a reason: to fulfill a certain state of being. Being sad is as necessary of a state of being as being happy. Our psyche desires certain emotions to fulfill a state of being that is necessary in that place and time in our lives.” I’m a quick conceptual learner.


“Yes. you got it. But what happens when we feel an emotion that won’t go away? Like depression. It’s chronic. You feel depressed. You go to bed feeling depressed, you wake up and you’re still depressed. This is when your psyche becomes addicted to that emotion. It’s craving something, trying to fulfill something. It’s stuck in a self-fulfilling pattern.”


“hmm I don’t quite understand what you mean.”


“I mean when you say you were depressed, you’re psyche was addicted to being sad. It was keeping you in that same state, with no end in sight.”

“But it did end.”

“Yeah eventually. But why did it end?”

“I got tired of feeling that way.”

“okay you got tired of feeling that way, but did feeling sick and tired of being depressed make it go away on it’s own?”

“no.. I had to do something.”


“Exactly. You only became aware that you were depressed. That awareness alone did not change your state of emotional desire. You had to  force yourself to break out of it, right?”


“Yeah I guess so, in a way. In the only way I felt I could, and that was to write about the depression.”

“Right. So somehow while your psyche was still in that state of depression, addicted to it like someone is addicted alcohol, you saw yourself in a different light, and you wanted to get there, but you had to somehow break this immediate feeling you were stuck in… and you did this by – what did you say – writing about it?”


“Yeah I got out my computer and started typing away about how pathetic my situation was, and when I was creating those words I was then immersed in the activity of creating a story, and I looked back on my words and saw how that actually sounded good, and next thing I knew I was in this state of being satisfied by what I had just created. It was like I had dislodged the depressive emotion and replaced it with something else. All of a sudden I was no longer desiring to be sad and depressed, I was desiring to feel good from creating something of quality.”

“Yup. you got it. You see, our emotions are as much of a desire as the substance in our lives we consume to feel a certain way. You can become addicted to feeling bad just as much as you can become addicted to feeling good. You can become addicted to being alone or become addicted to being among people. Neither is right or wrong. It’s just a state of being in which you are desiring.

“In this world, this life, our entire existence is made up of desires. And society judges which desires are deemed good and which ones evil. Religion loves to decide this for us. But in truth, it is the very act of desiring that causes all conflicts. People desire control, people desire clean air, people desire happiness, people desire sex, people desire war, people desire peace, people desire to love, people desire solitude and on and on… we come together and we share our desires with each other, we find those that share the same interests with us, but those interests are just desires. We relate with our desires and if there is enough of us who relate, those desires become a collective desire,a social movement in which all who participate in that movement are fulfilled by its cause. But one desire always conflicts with another, by definition. If we desire to be happy, than we cannot be sad. But sad exists for a time and a place in our lives.”

“yeah I suppose you’re right… I don’t really want to believe that though. I want to believe that there is always some unifying truth, like on a spiritual level, that drives our motives transcendent of desire. Desire just seems so primal to me.”

“Well there is a unifying truth of course, but it exists outside the plane of our physical reality. That’s what spirituality is… it’s that very unifying force that directs us as physical beings towards righteousness. But we often confuse the morals and ethics taught to us from an external source with the divinity that speaks through us; the internal source.”

“So what are you saying, that a heroin addict’s desire for a dangerous drug should keep on desiring heroin? That they are actually going through with a spiritual fulfillment?”

“No you misunderstand what I’m trying to say. But I can see how you came to that conclusion. What I am saying is that all desires – whether it is that person’s addiction to heroin, or whether it is that other person’s addiction to feeling sad – all those desires are dictated by the very root source of our physical existence: emotions. That in fact, our whole physical selves is directed by our emotions; what we feel in turn motivates how we act, or do not act. This is the very essence of being alive in our plane of reality. Acting bodies of life influencing one another. Every thing else is secondary to those emotions. But emotions are secondary to the collective spirit we all share, what people might call God. It is when we align our emotional state with that of God then we are not acting out of our personal selfish desires, but out of a deeper soulful place. You may still feel sorrow or overwhelming joy either way but those emotional states are no longer full-filling themselves, they are full-filling something else. something greater than yourself.”

“Ok wait, your saying that if I go out and call people to encourage them to vote for say – Bernie Sanders, I’m really just doing that for my own selfish needs?”

“Yes, in a way.”

“But I don’t agree with that. I believe it would be selfish if I just worried about my own vote, or didn’t vote at all.”

“Well yes those would be selfish too.”

“But by trying to get more people involved and voting for Bernie Sanders, and sacrificing my own personal agenda because I believe in this movement in our country, isn’t that a noble cause? Isn’t that fulfilling something greater than my own emotional needs or desires?”

“It is a noble cause because you and the people you surround yourself with believe that. It only seems like a selfless act because you are participating in a collective movement. But like I said before, if enough of the same personal desires come together in mass, then it becomes a collective desire: the desire for a political revolution, the desire for free education, for universal health care, for tax  revenue to be distributed equally among the american people through social services; whatever it may be that all of you stand in solidarity for.”

“But how can that be an addiction? I believe in these things because I see a lot of people suffering unnecessarily, and their suffering because of other peoples desire for power and money and control. This whole political movement if anything is a movement away from desires.”

“So is it a spiritual revolution then?”

“I don’t know. maybe. I don’t think people see it that way. Most people think spirituality should be separate from politics or government.”

“Then what’s guiding the politics of a people?”

“Well the people are! Moral principles, economic policies, cultural expectations.”

“Let me ask you something. Where did you get your morals? How do you decide between right and wrong?”

Like many of the stimulating conversations between me in Taapai, this one was evolving fast, like a young tree flowering for the first time in its life. I wasn’t expecting such a philosophical discussion, but I was so very intrigued by all of this, more infatuated with the engagement our conversation was creating than actually taking a stand point on any single argument. We were arguing in a sense, but we weren’t arguing to prove a point, or maybe we were, but we were doing so more to arrive at some point that lay ahead of us. The conversation had a life of its own, and we were the breath, the air or substance giving it life.

I thought about his abrupt question –  about where do my morals come from- and was beginning to understand what he was saying this whole time. I thought about my last blog post about being raised atheist but still indoctrinated with christian values;  how we are all just raised to think and act in a way that is best suited for our environment – whether those years of development were influenced by our parents, or someone else, or some events. Don’t leave your hand over the fire, it will burn you. I learned that. But I also learned not to fear fire because of it. I learned to admire it, worship, see it as symbolic as a giver and taker of life. A source of warmth and safety and protection. A source of danger and death. A symbol of origin. A symbol of creation. Like our Sun. The giver of life. Were these lessons in life shaping my morals? I somehow sensed through these lessons that I was a single being participating in a greater act of life on this planet in this universe, and I was learning this as I exposed myself more and more to Nature and it’s complex diversity of organized and cooperating life.

But what of my moral compass? How do I distinguish between good and evil? How do I as a conscious self-acting agent make decisions for myself to better my life? And is that any different than how we do that as a Society? I meditated on the question in silence after Taapai asked it. It was the first gap in our conversation since it started. A welcomed one. I needed time to reflect on all that was said.

to be continued…. Wednesday’s Training PT II: Always Have a Plan B

 

Wednesday: We Run On

Running and mental health, Running in Circles

I walked into Starbucks and ran into my friend lindsey. Last time I saw her was at Starbucks. We saw each other and smiled that wide goofy smile of irony, connecting at a coffee shop packed full of people minding their own exclusive digital business. I sat down with her and we chatted across our silver screens like a game of Battleships.

“If you could do anything, what would it be?” She asked me.

Our answers were surprisingly similar; both desiring to work for ourselves. Owning a business that cultivated communities. I wanted to start a bakery/cafe with venue space, freshly baked bread, and a bicycle community hub space attached that could also be used for meetings and activist movements for encouraging bicycle transportation needs and awareness. Her’s was a cafe space with a conference-like room where businesses or organizations could meet. Simple ideas make all the difference.

We chattered away like social butterflies sharing a moment of warm sunlight. We talked about sensory deprivation tanks, how much our own minds dominate the show, and how we both enjoy that aspect of running where the “I” becomes a passive observer of the mind’s thoughts; the thoughts pass by just like the body passes by the scenery on a run.

I said my goodbyes and coincidentally went to join her boss for a 12 mile loop run in the soft rain. There were 4 of us all together, and it was the first time in many moons where I found myself running along side what I guess you could call a gang of runners.

We were all excited to be there, and to share our joy of running. I felt a little giddy, a bit of a chatter box. “Ya’ll ever seen that movie about the poor boy who ran a foot race to win a pair of shoes for his sister?” I started off the conversation of many to come.

We spent the first couple miles along the scenic route, adjusting to each other’s pace and rhythm. It’s a beautiful miraculous thing: syncing up your pace and stride with three other running bodies. You become this one organism, more powerful than the parts that make it up. We became kings of the road. Cars were at our mercy. Passerbys were at our glory. 

The four us sometimes chatted all together, then maybe two of us would break off and have our own conversation. We rotated and blended our talk organically. No one was really paying attention to how fast we were going, even as the gps watches ringed each mile split.

I was caught off guard by a heckling women (“run faster!”) working at the Botanical Gardens we passed by, and nearly tripped over my own foot. She called out something incoherent. “What did she say?” I turned and asked Billy as we turned the bend and started climbing up the ascent. He shook his head and burst into a rhythmic laughter. He kept laughing, couldn’t stop, messing up his form. I’d never seen someone laugh uncontrollably while running like that. I never found out was so funny. I didn’t need to. On that run, we were purely human, nothing more was required.

“You know runners can be a curious bunch,” I said to whoever was closest to me. I reminisced about my race from last week, and how everyone stood around afterwards in this awkward stance of wanting to relate but failing miserably at doing so. “It was like they had this eagerness to relate through running, almost frantic about it. Edgy. They were all talking heads hurling all this running jargon at me. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I love running too, but… I’d rather just…—“

“—experience it.” Billy finished my sentence.

“Yeah. Exactly. Just share in the experience of it. That’s all you need.”

We ran on.

Mike the ironman guided us onto an old sugarcane road from the milling days. It was quiet, narrow, and deserted. Old date palms and guava trees arched over the road enclosing it like a  tunnel. Tyler shared his past story being runner in college and dropping out of school in Oregon. “I wasn’t running much. I was a bit depressed. I didn’t really want to be in school. I was lonely. Wasn’t my scene. It was just what was expected of me at the time. You don’t really know these things then. You just sort of sense that somethings not right. That’s what the depression was telling me I guess. I started going to the community college instead. Joined the club team. It was something. Sometimes I wish I had followed through with something. I could have a working wage by now you know? I’m 27. I’m almost past the accursed age of 27.”

Mike chimed in, “ yeah but you know all that stuff was meaningful, from your past. You’re where you are now because of it. You can’t regret any of that. It’s meant to be.”

The rain subtly increased its precipitation. Our four shirtless bodies gleamed in the rain. Our hair collected the rain and our heels kicked rain back up at the clouds. “Yea you’re right. I’m pretty happy with how things have turned out.”

We ran on.

The small road was ending. We turned right and began another ascent. I automatically changed my breathing and shortened my stride in response. We strides across an over pass. We passed through an orchard farm of Ti plants that stretched for acres across both sides of the road. Billy had stopped for a pee and was steadily catching back up.

“Mike, remember that time you were running up here alone and you came across that tourist?” Billy remarked as he rejoined us.
“Oh yea, gotta love those tourists. It was a perfect situation. Beautiful asian women in her flashy mustang rental car. Totally lost. And here I am all on my lonesome way back on this road where I never see anyone. I couldn’t have dreamed up a better scenario” We all breathed out a laugh as we climbed the hill, imagining Mike’s surprise and excitement at the time.

We ran on.

“Hey what’s the workout called when the guy from the back has to sprint up to the front of the line?”
“Oh I dunno, indian something?”

“I really don’t think that’s it.”
“yea definitely not the politically correct name.”
“oh I think I know what you’re talking about, we do that while cycling sometimes.”
“yeah but with running. Is it the same?”
“maybe”

We ran on.

We crossed the highway again, returning to the scenic route. This time Mike drops off to pee. Our conversations have entered a life of their own. No one’s thinking about what to say, it’s just said. There’s a freedom involved with that and running. It’s like we all stepped down from this tower in our minds that is constantly looking out and analyzing our own behavior. We stepped down in to the center of our being. Unconcerned. Liberated. Free to just run and breathe and relate.

We came up around a bend. A lady was standing at a view point admiring the grandness of Onomea bay. She turned around as the four us went whizzing by and quite impulsively expressed her pleasure over her new view. “oh oh oh oh!” were but all the words she could utter through the ecstasy.

“I think we just made her day.”

We ran on. We ran in a wide row, covering the whole road. We ran single file hugging the curves. We ran criss-crossed weaving between each other like water snakes crossing a river. We joked with light hearts. We reflected with deep thoughts. We shared wisdoms of science and nutrition and training and awareness. We sprinted short gullies, cooperating in competition. We slowed and relaxed, allowing for compassion. We covered it all, in those 12 miles.

And none of it was expected or planned. Just born from moment upon moment. One stride after another. Nothing more.

We run on.

Saturday: A little Dense on the Running

Running in Circles

I sunk into sleep just past midnight after enduring the last attempts at cohesively writing about Barhma and spirituality. Sleep took me quickly. My alarm rang out in what felt like only moments after.
I did not want to get up. It was cold, and I was mighty snug and comfortable under the sheets. The night was dead silent. Why in the hell did I set an alarm to disturb such peace and tranquility? Oh yea, I forgot I convinced myself the night before to go on a little adventure: a 21 mile bike ride to a foot race starting at 7:30am.


My mind interjected with surprising haste and authority

Nope, you’re not doing it. Courageous idea, but not practical. You’re tired. It’s cold out there. Go back to sleep. Enjoy the rest and serenity and safety of your warm bed. There you go. Just like that… ease back on your pillow…

I closed my eyes, obliging to that voice inside my head. But before I could fall back to sleep, my bladder also had something to say.
I got up and told my mind I’ll just have a pee then return to bed as per instructed. I relieved myself then found myself standing in front of my pre packed bag for the planned trip, complete with steamed sweet potatoes, a ruby red grapefruit, leftover lentils, clothes for town, and my Lono Kukini head band. It was all there. Bike was was ready to go, my safety lights were set. I slept in my clothes so I didn’t even have to spend time dressing.

Damn it. I did everything possible to ensure I had no reasonable excuse not to go. I checked my watch. 0450. Plenty of time to get to the race. Yup. This was happening.

Committed, I snatched an old jar of brewed coffee, downed it, zipped up my coat, tightened my straps, grabbed my bike by the handlebars and walked out into the night sky.

The air was cool. Delightful. The moon was lighting up the sky, and the most steadfast stars filtered through. I walked past Aunty’s house and heard Beebs the dog get up from her lanai to investigate. It’s only me Beebs. I walked up to the long driveway and made my way to the paved road. The wet grass dampened my shoes. I heard the sound of scattering hoofs all around me and watched a few dark figures scamper across the driveway, dashing between moon shadows of the mac-nut trees. The late night was alive with activity and I felt my body awaken to it.

Pavement. Feet hit the pedals. Hips swing over the saddle. Legs crank and bicycle glides down the hill to the highway, guided by the silver light of the moon. I reach the intersection at the bottom, a dim yellow streetlight buzzes softly above me. I unclip my pack to check the rear solar light. It’s not flashing. No charge.

Shit. I’m about to bike on the main highway up the Hamakua coast and my red rear light isn’t working. Not a good omen. I was troubled. Now I had a good reason to be hesitant about making the journey. But I also already biked 4 miles down a long hill. I committed my mind and body to this. I didn’t want to give in.

I quickly check in with myself. I have a lot of reflective gear on, and so does my bike, so at least the light from cars behind me will light me up. The sun will be coming up in about an hour so it won’t be the whole time biking in the dark. And I’ll just have to be extra careful and make sure I’m way over on the shoulder. That does it. Good enough for me. I turn on to the highway.

It was hell. It was the highway of hell. Apparently this is the hour of the day all the trucks are driving around the island. Truck after truck blew past me. I could hardly see in front of me. The sound of the monstrous vehicles was excruciatingly loud and disorienting. Knowing my back light wasn’t working, I felt extremely vulnerable. The worst were all the bridges I had to cross. I lost my shoulder lane on these bridges, and there was only a extremely narrow pedestrian raised path where I had to dismount my bicycle and push it in front of my with one hand as I used the other to hold myself to the bridge, hitting my shin every few strides with the pedal.

I had never cursed so much in my life. I cursed the highway. I cursed the cars. I cursed colonialism. I cursed my idiot self for putting myself in this position. I cursed the sun for taking so damn long to rise. I cursed my bike. I cursed my bowels. I cursed the gods. I continued on.

Every time a car or truck roared past me I shouted at it with the rage of 10,000 wild beasts. But I edged onward, not willing to be conquered by this nightmarish scenario. The steady climb from Wainaku to Papeeko gave way to a decent into Hakalau where I gained speed riding along the shoulder. It was still dark, but it felt good to be going fast. I wanted nothing more at that moment than to get to my destination as fast as possible.

I tensed up trying to focus on the pavement zipping past in front of me, looking out for any debris lying in wake while simultaneously paying attention to any traffic that might be passing me by. At first I was frightened, but then I convinced myself I was in an x-wing fighting tie-fighters and implementing evasive maneuvering tactics. The force is with me, I found myself saying.

An hour later the sun had risen. I calmed down a bit. I pulled out a sweet potato to munch on as I pedaled the last few miles. Relief settled into my shaky bones when I turned-off the highway onto the Old Mamalahoa Highway. I was greeted by a yellow sign that read: caution, runners on the road.

I pulled into the parking lot of Waikaumalo park where a number of people were already standing around. It was 0700. I had 30 minutes to spare. I signed in to the 7 mile race, paying the 5 dollars in all quarters. I got some comments but promptly ignored them. I was feeling shy and a bit tired but warmed up from the bike ride. I kept my distance from everyone, nibbling on my remaining sweet potatoes.

30 minutes later, my shirts off, my sandals and Lono headband are on, and it’s time to run. We take off and within the first 100 meters it’s apparent to me that no one here is going to take the pace out. So I take off. I’m feeling good. It’s still nice and cool out, and my muscles are loose from the stressful bike ride.

The race is on the old highway, following the natural contours of the Hamakua coast which is basically a number of watersheds connected by a myriad of streams and rivers that have carved out steep gullies. The road ducks down into a ravine, then ascends back out, over and over again. It’s a fun course made up of these curvy ups and downs. We hit our first descent into the gully, shade and dampness prevails. I cross the small bridge over the stream and kick into a higher gear to climb out on the other side, reaching the exposed sunlight and cresting point of the road before dipping back down into the next gully. I feel relaxed going into the first mile. I check my watch, 6:15. Not bad. Faster than I wanted, recalling my 1 mile intervals from a week ago were at about 6:15 pace, and that was a distance of 5k. This was roughly a 10k with no rest.

I slowed a little, relaxing more into it, feeling alive and good. It was quiet up front. I couldn’t remember the last time I lead a race, and probably never by this margin, although I didn’t bother to look behind me for anyone. I didn’t sense anyone so it wasn’t really on my mind. I just kept running.

Mile two came up quickly. 13:10. I had eased the pace down to 6:55. Now I was going too slow, or the mile sign wasn’t accurate, which could be the case. It didn’t feel like I had slowed down that much, but I decided to pick it up a little bit anyhow. By mile three my pace had gone back down to 6:11. These splits felt really inconsistent. First time back in a race environment for over a year. I was okay with it. And since I was leading I didn’t really have anyone to help regulate my pace, which by the way, running consistent splits is as any runner knows a talented and intuitive skill to have.

I was starting to feel tired by the time the turnaround approached. My chest and shoulders started to get tight, and my breathing had become more erratic and less controlled. It looked like the 2nd place runner (a fellow named Alan who is an excellent long distance runner, beautiful to watch. He runs with very controlled and comfortable form. Very graceful), had gained on me, although this is always deceptive at turn around points because it looks like they are moving twice as fast as they actually are. But even so I started to worry he was picking up speed and would eventually catch me. And when I worry I get stressed and when I get stressed my body tightens. The next mile was no fun.I tried to maintain a pace that didn’t feel comfortable. It was too much work and I could feel the energy draining from me. My heart rate went up and my lungs gasped for more oxygen to keep up with the rate of combustion required of my muscular tissue.

I battled through the anxiety and fought hard to control my breathing to help relax my upper body. Running is so beautiful because in order to do it well you HAVE to be in tune with the various systems communicating and interacting inside of you. It’s a lesson I’ve been learning for a long time and only now beginning to get in touch with. Running is the practice of making constant micro adjustments here and there to maintain efficiency and harmony between energy input and energy output. It is essentially the art of transferring energy into a forward momentum and using every aspect of the body’s mechanics and energy systems to accomplish this, which very much includes the mind’s will on the autonomic nervous system through breath control. Pranayama. The control of Prana; subtle life-force current.

For example, by mile 5 in the race, my right shoulder froze up and my form got all sloppy because the range of motion in my shoulder seized. I started to move my body laterally; less energy was being directed in a forward momentum, which then meant I had to burn more energy to maintain the same pace, which meant sucking in more oxygen for combustion. This isn’t very comfortable, and is the very reason a lot of people don’t like running. It doesn’t feel good, people say. Running never gets easier, people say. My body just isn’t meant for running. Wrong. I see all shapes and sizes running. Even ultra marathon distances. That’s not why people don’t like running. They don’t like running because to get to a point to enjoy running you first have to learn how to run and that takes time and patience and listening to your body. It takes constant adjustments and people just don’t want to be mindful while running.

Yes. that’s my opinion, and I’m aware I am piling everyone into my bias and that’s okay because I’m just trying to illustrate a point. Of course there are many other reasons people don’t like running. I’m just stating one major causality that often goes unlooked.

Back to the race. My form is all messed, I’m no longer running efficiently. It’s uncomfortable and I’ve got that death feeling. Well then let’s do something about it. So here’s the beauty. My shoulder has already acted up and if I was a really mindful runner, I would have prevented it before it got to this point. But I didn’t, and the consequence is that there’s only so much I can do while still running. I start putting my attention back into my breathing, and then my breathing into my shoulder. I imagine pushing that air into my shoulder and creating space for the allostatic energy to be freed so the muscles can loosen up again and move in accord with the rest of my body. It works, to a degree. I can feel my body aligning. I begin to pick up momentum. In total it took about a whole mile for the results of this breathing technique to kick in, but it was enough, and my last mile turned into my fastest at sub 6:10.

I’ve never been a great runner. Never been all that fast, and definitely not consistent. But I have been running since I was 8 years old, and every time I go out for a run I am thankful I have something in my life like running, something that never fails to teach me something new about myself, life, and the universe.