Friday, June 3, 2011
The Lonely Trail
When I see a runner gliding down the side of the street or up a winding trail, I can't help but imagine what might be going on in his head - what thoughts are churning through; what problems being worked out? Are there demons he can't quite shrug off (and don't we all have demons of one variety or another)? What worlds does he haul the weight of on his shoulders?
The solitary nature of the sport of long distance running seems to attract the most introspective athletes - people who are unafraid of spending long hours with their thoughts, however troubled those thoughts may be. Non-runners often ask, "Doesn't it get boring running for hours on end?" What they don't understand is that clearing the mind can be good for the soul, and it often encourages creative thinking. While we run, we come up with solutions to the various problems in our lives. We seek answers and we find them.
But, in a society where being alone is often mischaracterized as being "weird," or even worse, "sick," it's hard to explain the seductiveness of the lonely trail. Being alone takes courage. When I ran my first trail ultramarathon, I was struck by how psychologically invigorating it was spending hours alone with your thoughts. The task was daunting, at first. Only the most courageous souls dare to look beyond the dark alcove of their weaknesses to find the light that makes them whole.
It's a dangerous place to be - a shadowy wasteland of broken promises, unrealized dreams, painful secrets and sins for which we whisper for forgiveness in quiet rooms or over the golden glow of a candle. It's a place not even the sacred materials of religious ceremony can provide access to because in and of themselves, those materials are dead.
Do not get lost, and do not despair. It's easy to be overwhelmed by your shortcomings. Always remember that the dark side of the humanity is overpowered by the luminosity of human goodness. Let the unification of body and soul through the rhythm of running - legs pumping, lungs working, heart racing - be the shining blade that pierces through the dark. Give form to your religion. Motion is your prayer. Sweat, your sacrificial offering. Allow your hopes to take flight; make mistakes and grow from them. Never regret the process. Every misstep is essential to the journey.
The next time someone criticizes you for wanting to be alone, just remember that happiness is destined for him who knows himself best. A quiet, reflective soul is the path to enlightenment. Take time during your run to stop and just be still. Be still. Listen. Take in the solitude. Let it hold you. Allow yourself to feel alone. Get to that special place where nothing else matters but the vibrancy of the life that flows through your veins and fills the canvas of your mind.