Running With The Buddha

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I started running regularly the day after my last birthday, the fifty sixth. The track where I run is a few miles from home, next to the Hudson, across from the magnificent New York City skyline. It’s a place I’ve come to love since I discovered it a few months ago.

Most times when I run, I listen to music. I now carry my entire collection on my phone, a miracle of modern-day electronics. There are songs in it, that, even though I’ve owned my whole adult life and I’ve listened to hundreds of times, I’ve rediscovered and come to more deeply appreciate as I run and sweat and breathe around this cushioned quarter mile. Music mixes well with just about everything.

Recently, however, I’ve begun listening to podcasts by Tara Brach while I run. Ms. Brach is teacher of Buddhist meditation, “with an emphasis on vipassana (mindfulness or insight) meditation.” Her soothing voice and insightful talks have been a pleasant companion on the last couple of weeks. I get the sense that the mind and the heart open up when the body is pushed to it’s limits. Healing, insightful words seem most welcomed.

On a recent night, the track, which borders a soccer field that is always in use when I run, was particularly crowded. An official game was taking place. I only know this because the teams wore uniforms and there were referees present. There was also a large contingent of supporters, cheering on the players. Some of these folks were not sitting on the pair of bleachers that the stadium provides. Actually, the bleachers were mostly empty and the fans had spilled over onto the track to be closer to the game action. This made running, especially around the stretch of track were these spectators had concentrated, particularly perilous.

As I ran that night, I was listening to a talk on acceptance — of oneself and others — and forgiveness. The first run around the track was mostly uneventful. By the second and third time, with all the skipping and dancing to avoid the people on my way, I was feeling pretty unforgiving and ‘unaccepting.’ Resentful and angry was more like it. Then there was a moment when I clearly saw what was happening, all of it in my head: the sentiments expressed in the words of the Buddhist teacher made sense, that’s how I wanted to live my life, in harmony with myself and others. But the moment I had a simple conflict with others, the aggrieved part of me took control and wanted to forcibly push anyone out of my way.

I listened to the voices in my internal dialogue. These were not the comments of a spiritual, peaceful being, but of an aggressive, intolerant and self-righteous one. I saw both things going on simultaneously and I laughed. Another fucking growth opportunity, I thought to myself. And then I could smile at my own humanity, my own limitations.

I kept running, a little lighter then, a bit more tolerant, smiling to myself and listening to a teacher’s very appropriate words. Appreciating life’s obstacles and the insight that lets me navigate around or through them, opening my eyes and my lungs at the same time.

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