Last January, Jasmin Paris became the first woman to win Britain’s grueling 268-mile Montane Spine Race. What makes her feat more remarkable is that the 35-year-old smashed the course record, set by a male runner, by 12 hours - while stopping to pump breast milk for her 14-month old at aid stations along the route!
Training people to focus on their breath doesn’t stop their thoughts; it interposes distance and delay so they can pay less attention to them. They can let the thoughts pass without being compelled by them.”
One slight problem with today’s so-called “mindfulness movement” is due to vague, lofty claims and generalizations about what it is and what it can do, especially in the area of human performance. Thankfully, I now see how my enthusiasm for the topic can work against me: even though I have a meditation background (or perhaps because of it?), I can feel the powerful allure of such claims.
The way it is taught in almost all schools of Buddhism mindful meditation is about cultivating the ability to be present. This is done by allowing thoughts to come and go (to arise, to dwell, and to recede) without either indulging or suppressing them, and then returning to the object of meditation, which is commonly the breath.
Contrary to popular belief, the goal of meditation is not to have an undisturbed mind; rather, it is about cultivating equanimity: the patient, the gentle attitude of allowing the mind to be as it is, disturbed or undisturbed, sleepy or wakeful or bored or irritated, and to be fine with that.
The gradual (often very gradual) result of this kind of mindfulness meditation is greater relaxation, less self- and other-judgment, and greater mindfulness and awareness of one’s inner and outer environment.
In my late twenties I fell in love with a simple, straightforward way of practicing mindful meditation; a body-based method of sitting in stillness, encompassing the breath within the whole physical structure. The way I was taught, sitting in meditation posture is an expression of Buddha-nature rather than a means of obtaining the right state of mind. To take the form itself was the purpose of the practice. When I had the posture, I had the right state of mind, so there was no need to try to attain some special state.
Enlightenment is not some good feeling or some particular state of mind. The state of mind exists when you sit in the right posture is itself enlightenment. In this posture, there is no need to talk about the right state of mind. You already have it. When you try to attain something your mind starts to wander about somewhere else. When you do not try to attain anything, you have your own body and mind right here.”- Zen master Shunryu Suzuki Roshi
The fine balance of sitting cross-legged on the ground like a mountain, with your back still and straight, seems like hard work at first because there are actually many more small movements of small parts at work cooperating to maintain your body’s delicate poise in stillness than there are when walking or running.
The simple act of sitting cross-legged on the ground with my back still and straight helped me deepen my level of concentration by increasing the amount of time my mind could remain undisturbed.
When I was at my best sitting and running merged into similar experiences for me. Through sitting practice, I’d try to develop extraordinary patience and a meditative state. Then when I ran, I’d simply relax and meditate along the way when I needed to. However small or great the distance I had remaining to run was irrelevant because my legs will obey me by continuing in the same rhythm.
After many years of training, competition became a sacred act for me. I was unconcerned with results or times. Whether I ran alone, cruising in the mid-pack or hot on the heels of the top runners in my age group, I could focus solely on running from my center with little or no wasted movement.
Whenever I have dedicated myself to a regular sitting practice, I have been able to tolerate a more exhausting training routine simply by drawing on the capacities I have built through sitting. While I do not have an exceptional physique in any way, sitting and running have made me very robust for my age.