“WE CAN USE OUR ATTENTION in three directions simultaneously: inward, outward, and all around; sensing, feeling, and seeing; sensing my own existence; feeling myself in relation with others; seeing the meaning and purpose of what is present. Over time a collective presence embodying self and others, in harmonious creativity, awakens.”- Annonymous
“Nothing that man possesses is more precious than his awareness. It is a material entity like muscular energy, and it’s level fluctuates during the day. It lies within a man’s power to squander this vital resource or conserve it. It is lost every time a mechanical happening, wandering thought, a casual glance, or any trivial event or accidental impression causes the student to lose his sense of objective awareness, to plunge into a state of identification as a fly into a honey pot. Each of these plunges involves loss of the energy of awareness and the lost energy cannot easily be regained… impressions, instead of being digested in the way they should be through the application of objective awareness, function merely as distractions, pulling the attention this way and that, wasting energy instead of creating it.” – R. DeRopp
Invoking the Vision of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
“True greatness comes not by favoritism but by fitness.” – MLK
I have found that there’s much more I can do with my daily runs than build my esteem, enhance my mood, or see how my performance compares with others on the various social media networks. Instead of focusing so much on myself, I try to turn my attention outward. Rather than using my run to take a temporary break from dwelling on the world’s problems, I actually try to engage these issues more fully through running. It works wonders on my heart and mind.
Neuroscience has shown that the repetitive motions and complex cognitive functions of running can trigger neurotransmitters, chemicals that boost the brain’s connectivity, thought patterns and decision-making—human qualities that are often compromised by the stress of life, especially in these troubled political times. Meanwhile, spiritual traditions remind us that turning our attention outward, from self-concern to the welfare of others, is the key to peace, love, and sanity. Why not bring these two streams together?
Last month our country celebrated the annual holiday honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Dr. King was born on January 15th, 1929. On April 4th, 1968, he was assassinated at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee. He was just 39 years old. While Dr. King is primarily remembered as a civil rights leader, he also championed the cause of the poor, organizing the Poor People’s Campaign to address issues of economic justice. Dr. King was also a fierce critic of U.S. foreign policy and the Vietnam War.
On certain days every year I make it a point to actively remember Dr. King’s life work, a body of teachings that are profoundly relevant to the world situation we face today. Before I lace up and hit the trails, I take a deep breath in remembrance of MLK, a true challenger who used his strength to improve other’s lives, becoming an inspiration to millions. I do these runs alone. I dedicate them to remembering my childhood beliefs and aspirations.
It was growing up in suburban Los Angeles during the era of forced busing (the practice of transporting students to racially segregated schools) that grounded my lifelong belief in civil and human rights. To renew my focus, I take some quiet time once in a while to review one of his sermons like “The Drum Major Instinct,” one of his most cited works. In this speech Dr. King reflected on his determination to leave a legacy of serving others. In that address he spoke these words:
Deep down within all of us is an instinct. It’s a kind of drum major instinct-a desire to be out front, a desire to lead the parade, a desire to be first. And it is something that runs the whole gamut of life. So before we condemn anyone else for it, let us see that we all have the drum major instinct. We all want to be important, to surpass others, to achieve distinction, to lead the parade. Alfred Adler, the great psychoanalyst, contends that this is the dominant impulse. Sigmund Freud used to contend that sex was the dominant impulse, and Adler came with a new argument saying that this quest for recognition, this desire for attention, this desire for distinction is the basic impulse, the basic drive of human life, this drum major instinct.
Dr. King expressed his determination to leave a legacy of serving others. So I ask myself: How am I living? Would I like to be remembered for making a difference in other people’s lives? What would I like others to be able to say about how I helped people?
I commit my daily run to reflecting on these questions. Once I’ve cleared out my surface thoughts and emotions, I make a conscious shift: rather than trying to relieve my stress, I dive right into the heart of the world’s problems. I journal about my experience later in the day, and I do my best carry it with me after the run. By choosing to concentrate on his ideals of freedom, justice and equality during my run, I am making a firm internal statement: “I believe in civil rights and human rights for all.” I’ve even been known recite the mantra, “How long? Not long!” out loud as I run along the path, adding to the flow of biochemical energy that both calms my nerves and quickens my pace.
I do this as an act of faith. I believe that channeling my passion for running into the world situation is a direct way I can become emotionally healthy and abundant. I dedicate the “can do” attitude and steady inner drive I manifest while running into making a better world for everyone in my life.
While some winter weather strongly suggests heading inside to a treadmill, I encourage you to embrace rather than flee the elements.
I hope you are complementing your winter running with activities like spinning, cross-country skiing, swimming and snow-shoeing. However the best winter training tool is embodied by Finnish “Sisu,” a very old word in Finnish history meaning to believe in yourself and have the guts to do it and the craziness to endure.
Exuberance for all sports and games played in cold weather conditions is an important part of childhood. Growing up in this way, they become hardier people and better runners. As adults, running in winter teaches us how to thrive on the power of nature and the elements. It makes us more independent, more accustomed to hardships and unflinching with discomfort.
If we let it, running in winter suits our souls like those of the Finns. Summers are short in Finland and the imminent return of darkness creates a higher sense of urgency, lending to an existential bent to running and life.
What about you? Are your winter runs leaving you exhausted, sweaty and smiling, like you’ve completely worked every system in your body? If not, next time bring your Sisu!
“Running is in the blood of every Finn. When you see these pure deep forests, these fertile wide-open fields with their typical red painted worker’s houses, these ridges with their clusters of trees, the endless blue horizon that shades over into lakes, then you are overwhelmed by excitement and you feel the urge to run – because we have no wings to fly. Just to run on light feet through this Nordic landscape for mile after mile and hour after hour after hour like an animals in the forest. They began to run because of a profound compulsion, because a strange dreamlike landscape, full of enchanting mysteries, called to them. It is not the hunt for records, for praise or honor that spurs on the sons of Scandinavia to almost superhuman achievement. Their awe inspiring times are a way of giving thanks to Mother Earth.”
– The Miracle of Finnish Running (1930) – (from Running A Global History by Thor Gottas)
Effort makes the being vibrate at a certain degree of tension which makes it possible for you to feel joy. Those who are essentially lazy will never find joy–they do not have the strength to be joyful! (1)
Feeling the vibration of joy will give you a deep incentive to keep going. You may even find it stronger than tracking your activity or posting performances on the various social networks! More significantly, it connects you with a second energy, much like the survival impulse we share with all living things. Making an effort uses energy, but it also produces more heat, more “fire.” That’s why we say there is always a “kick” no matter how exhausted your legs feel.
When you choose to take on the weak and rebellious parts of your nature, you enter into a fiery struggle between “yes” and “no.” Do I take the time I need to get my run in today, or do I procrastinate further? Should I slow down, speed up, or stop altogether? Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to struggle. Unless you’re over-ambitious, foolhardy, or vainglorious, you won’t injure yourself by pushing your legs and your lungs.
When you feel good you will run farther and faster. That’s the easy part of training. If you’re having a difficult day, stay with the effort, even though you will not cover as much distance. Every workout can be a good workout as long as you make the right amount of effort. The key to your future happiness and fitness is your willingness to joyfully do battle with your weaknesses.
Remember that persistence will do what cannot be achieved by force. Drops of water wear away a stone; a cloud burst will leave it unchanged. A very modest plan of action, carried through to a conclusion, (add comma) can produce astonishing results. (2)
Take your work seriously and yourself lightly. Never stop to regret failures or excuse them. They have gone out of your present moment and there is nothing you can do about them. (3)
Approached with more fire, a run turns into a creative situation. The value in it is self-discovery. All kinds of human qualities emerge – things that you may have never seen about yourself before. Now that’s motivating!
(1) Excerpt from “The Sunlit Path” – by The Mother
(2-3) J. G. Bennett, Transformation, Claymont Communications – 1978
“Waiting is not mere empty hoping. It has the inner certainty of reaching the goal.”
– Hexegram #5 Hsu / Waiting (Nourishment) – The I Ching or Book of Changes
Perseverance furthers. That wisdom was instilled in me from the very first time I began working on myself. I love the fact that the word “competition” derives its meaning from the Latin words con and petrie: “to search together.” In other words, the best way to find out how good my skills are is to match them against the skills of other people with similar ability.(1) Competition is not ego oriented for me any more. I’m less concerned with the final results than I am with searching out the best in myself.
This means much more to me than simply “doing my best” or “giving 100%.” That’s not specific enough for me. Points of focus, technique, and realistic running speeds/distances, set just above my current skill level, give a direction to my running. Task oriented goals like these are the building blocks of my motivation, and learning to set the right goals helps me enjoy the process of competition — and the practice of extending my personal limits — immensely.
I believe this is one of the reasons why African runners tend to do better than most non-African runners. Look at their stride. They don’t think too much about planning or splits. They do things in more in a natural way. But at the same time, they can also get carried away.
It’s not uncommon to see the Ethiopian or Kenyan leaders in a race cast caution to the wind by impulsively going out faster in their opening mile than anyone else would dare. Sometimes they even sacrifice their own race by going out hard, dropping their competitors only to tire in the late stages to allow one of their teammates to ultimately win. The pundits wonder why they do such things. It doesn’t make sense — at least from the point of view of winning a race. They don’t seem to worry about such things. One could argue that they are running with more fire.
It’s impressive but it can be both good and bad, gambling in this way. The physical shock can be staggering. You have to be mentally and strategically organized in order to withstand it. If you stand at the starting line and just expect it to happen, and haven’t thought about what you need focus on, it won’t happen. My advice is to push yourself in a relaxed way. If you’re not too ambitious, you’ll eventually learn to measure your own capacity with accuracy. This is how you learn to run with more fire – to continually work just that small bit beyond what is required on race day.
(1) M. Csikszentmihalyi, Flow in Sports, Human Kinetics – 1999
(2) T. Tanser, More Fire – How to Run the Kenyan Way , Westholme Publishing – 2008