A lot of people have been talking about mindfulness. It was only a matter of time until the mindfulness discussion caught on in the running community. Many articles offer inspiration and suggestions on how to integrate the two including this one, this one, and this one. But what if you don’t want your running to be mindful? Here’s what I mean.
Mindfulness is awareness of the present. It is the intention and choice to acknowledge the moment’s thoughts. Mindfulness is paying attention, even if you don’t change your behavior. I think running does lend itself well to mindfulness: we sense our breath and physical sensations with the aim that this awareness will help us adjust our run as needed. But let’s be realistic. Like a lot of runners (I think), I don’t run to get into the present but to escape it. I run so that I don’t have to think about the stress of work and relationships. I run with the intention of getting lost in my music and having fun. But what happens half a minute into even the most upbeat and motivating of songs? I start thinking of stressors and day-to-day to-dos. I think about what I would have said to a friend if I’d chosen my words with strength and kindness. I think about how to maximize my vacation time by taking three days off for one trip and two days off for another. I think about when I should defrost the chicken for dinner. Last weekend, before I knew it, I’d run four miles along the most beautiful waterfront path without ever really seeing or smelling the ocean. I was not having the running escape I’d been looking forward to all week long. So I stopped. I didn’t stop running but I stopped spinning. I stopped orchestrating conversations, vacation coordination and meal planning. I listened to the train rumble across the bridge overhead. I smelled the fresh, Seattle waterfront air, so different from air on my recent trip to India. I really looked at the green bushes along the path, observing just how very green they were on that spring day. And after I observed all those things I thought about how I had truly experienced a respite from all that was spinning. Most surprisingly: I was still running.
The above photo was taken on a recent trip to India, specifically from a rooftop in the village of Alsisar in the northwest desert of Rajasthan. It was the only moment of a 10-day tour–with the except of using the bathroom or taking a shower–that I was alone. I watched the sunset listening to the whirring of air conditioners, distant chants from temples, birds cawing overhead, and the shuffle of slippers in the courtyard below. It was also the most peaceful, mindful moment of the trip. And yet I wasn’t meditating at the Taj Mahal or having my third eye opened by a wise yogi. I had chosen to simply be. I think running can be the same. We have the opportunity to choose music or nature, distractions or sensations, thoughts or what is. In terms of mindfulness, running is a case of “both….and….,” which is why I love it so.