“True greatness comes not by favoritism but by fitness.” – MLK
Actively Remembering Martin Luther King Jr.
Neuroscience explains how the repetitive motions and the 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 troubled political times.
I like to think that there is much more I can do with my daily run besides build my esteem, enhance my mood or see how my performance compares on the various social media networks. So rather than try to run away from worldly problems by taking a temporary break from dwelling on them, I actually try to engage them more fully through running which works wonders on my heart and mind.
Last month was the federal holiday honoring The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was born January 15th, 1929. He was assassinated April 4th, 1968, 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.
One way I try to deepen my resolution for 2017 is by using several runs during the year to actively remember Dr. King’s lifework, a teaching 100% relevant to the world situation of today.
I do these runs alone. I dedicate them to internalizing my childhood beliefs and aspirations. It was growing up in suburban Los Angeles during the era of forced busing, the practice of assigning and transporting students to racially segregated schools that grounded my lifelong belief in civil and human rights.
So on certain days, 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 heroic, magnanimous and inspiring.
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.
“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.”- MLK – 1968
Here Dr. King expressed his determination to leave a legacy of serving others. So I ask myself how am I living? How 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 this. Once I’ve cleared out my surface thoughts and emotions, rather than try to relieve my stress, I go right into it. I journal about my experience later in the day to drive it deeper in myself and 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 rather than compartmentalizing my workout and simply taking in audio and video tributes that idolize Dr. King, 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, that channeling my passion for running into the world situation is a direct way I can become emotionally healthy and abundant. So the “can do” attitude and steady inner drive I manifest while running can go into making things happen that construct a better world for everyone in my life.
“Don’t idolize my father. Embrace his ideals of freedom, justice and equality. Every time I come to these anniversaries, I think about what Dad said in Montgomery in 1965 and how at the end of his remarks he talked about how long will it be. He went on to say he didn’t know how long, but he said he knew that it wouldn’t be long because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because truth forever on the scaffold, wrong forever on the throne, and yet that scaffold sways the unknown—behind the dim unknown, standeth God, keeping watch above his own. How long? Not long, because no lie can live forever. How long? Not long, because God almighty is still on the throne. Keep keeping on. We’re going to be all right. We’re not there yet.” MLK III
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)
In today’s highly competitive, commercialized world, to run for the pure pleasure of it is not so easy. Pop culture barrages us with advice on running form, weekly mileage, speed work, cross training, barefoot running, body work, nutrition, mindfulness techniques, and wearable technology to track our every move.
It takes courage to tune out the noise, become less concerned with looking good, final outcomes, beating your previous times or another person. It takes courage to search out the best in yourself. But it’s the only way to gain confidence to go your own way, at your own pace, without worrying about how other people train.
Rather than running simply because you “should,” or because it’s good for you, or to look and feel fit, to be up front, or to achieve results that outperform other people, do you ever experience running as nourishing the higher part of yourself? How high do you place it when prioritizing your daily schedule? When you do something well, or endure something difficult, do you ever reward yourself with a run?
What are you dissatisfied with about your running? One way to think of disliking the way you are is that it prevents you from stagnating. How relevant is this feeling to the specific running goals you’ve set for yourself? Are you too loose, too tight, or just right in your approach to the challenges you are facing?
How strong is your commitment to learning something new each and every day you train? To learn with your whole body is to refine the mechanics in all required motions of your sport. How continually do you search for more flow and fluidity, more power within the range of the running motion… that small bit beyond just doing the same thing over and over in the same way?
Contemplate your own running. Where are you in the competitive spectrum? How much are you wrapped up in your competitive image and/or your fear of appearing as a failure? What are the positive and negative consequences of this that can you see?
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