This is a direct quote from “Running with the Mind of Meditation” by Sakyong Mipham, a Tibetan lama and head of the Shambhala lineage.
At the beginning of the year I came across a reader’s letter in Runners World. The writer had read this book after seeing an associated article in the magazine in 2013 and said it had improved his running time. Obviously attracted by this claim, I hoped it might additionally provide some clues on how to meditate because that’s something I have never managed to master. At yoga classes, however much I try, my brain always starts to wander back to day to day life during the relaxation period rather than through the meadows or babbling brooks it is supposed to be transported to. Even if I try to concentrate on my breathing, my brain is still very busy elsewhere! So I purchased my own copy.
Just several pages in I was already thinking about writing a review. Although I still haven’t mastered the art of meditation, the book did strike a few running related chords. But after spending the Bank Holiday weekend rereading the book, I realised that Sakyong Mipham has so much to say, that in trying to get everything across, my review would probably be longer than the book itself! So I have decided to pick out just a few particularly pertinent points to me. Even so, it’s still a long review – you have been warned! If you get to the end, though, I have listed a few quotes which I found both inspirational and insightful. I would thoroughly recommend getting hold of your own copy, paper or e-book, published by Three Rivers Press.
After my initial read, one of the thoughts that particular stood out for me was the idea that pain is temporary. This is a phrase which I now often repeat to myself whilst out running, particularly towards the end of a long run or even parkrun. I’m glad to say it does help! It’s also a phrase I’ve repeated to other people. But when I came to reread the book, I couldn’t find that expression anywhere! There’s a whole chapter on pain but those words do not actually appear.
Sakyong Mipham does, however, suggest that rather than ignore pain or allow it to derail our endeavours, we should “acknowledge” it but not “overreact”. I’m assuming that if you’ve fallen and broken a bone then the reaction would be slightly different but I get the gist of it. When he speaks about pain, he makes reference to when he ran his first marathon and ended up with a massive blister on the sole of his foot. This was as a result of the rain and his decision to wear brand new socks – I can hear the groans from runners everywhere. Safe to say he learnt his lesson on that score – never use new gear for a long run, you’re only asking for trouble.
He also speaks about embracing the elements and listening to what is going on around you. This has helped me no end, particularly when it comes to running in the rain. (Although I am writing this just before venturing out for a Running Buddy client session and I am not looking forward to it – it’s raining!) If it’s raining on a Saturday morning, I no longer turn off the alarm and go back under the duvet. I jump out of bed and turn up for parkrun. I have also stopped looking at the sky before I venture out on a solo run. If I get wet, I get wet. It’s nothing a hot shower wont solve. I’d like to think the book has influenced me in that respect.
Sakyong Mipham urges us to leave music behind and although he acknowledges it can be helpful, he says “ultimately it challenges our ability to be present and embodied.” I’ve always been one who thought it would be impossible to run without music but again, thanks to his words, I now rarely go out with my iPod and instead listen to what is going on around me. It also seems to garner you more respect from other cyclists and pedestrians, acknowledging that you are aware of your surroundings rather than running in a noise bubble. And with more and more organised runs becoming “no music” events, perhaps it’s just as well.
I could never remember what I’d listened to when I got back from a run anyway so picking up on bird song and the breeze running through the trees has become my “running music” of choice. Although the distant hum of the motorway traffic is not quite the same as the noises of the Colorado “countryside”!
The Four Phases of Running
The majority of the book concentrates on the four phases of running which the author says can be reflected in the four phases of meditation – the Tiger, Lion, Garuda and Dragon. These four phases represent the “inner development of a courageous individual”, the idea being to “develop balance and integrity”. And he points out that although these phases are progressive, they are also all-inclusive, “all of these concepts are interdependent”.
The first phase, the Tiger, is about building a base. I can see how this applies to meditating as well as running. You start from small beginnings, just a few minutes, and as you get stronger, you find yourself able to meditate or run for longer. The Tiger “is friendly to himself ”. Something all newbie runners should be. Without building a base, you’re only heading for trouble – injury!
The second phase, the Lion, “is associated with joy”, “we are proficient runners” “not struggling as much anymore, so the runs are enjoyable”. This I acknowledge and accept. However, when Sakyong Mipham also speaks of throwing away our watch and heading out the door “With less concern about how many miles we run or how fast our intervals are, we enjoy nature, the streets, and being alive.” This I have a problem with!
On this basis I’m not sure when or even if I’ll ever progress from the Tiger phase purely because I find it very hard to envisage leaving my Garmin at home. The ideology of just running for running’s sake is very noble and something to aspire to but if you’re training for a run, surely you have to know what distances/times you’re doing to keep up with your training schedule. I also fear that if I don’t set myself running goals in terms of distance, my motivation to get out the door might rapidly diminish.
The next phase is the Garuda, a mythical eagle-like bird. Once into this phase, we should be competent and accomplished; now in a position to challenge ourselves because we are ready to “go beyond our comfort zone”. This is a term many runners or other sports people will recognise and which he says may simply mean running further or longer than you normally do. Sakyong Mipham uses the term “outrageous” throughout this section of the book but actually means awesome not reckless. It also seems to me he arguably contradicts himself in this section when he acknowledges that although running is “essentially a goal driven sport”, in this phase we should be running without goals and ambitions because at this level it does not matter.
The final phase is the Dragon. “We are no longer running for ourselves, but to benefit others”. While he acknowledges that this could be perhaps through raising sponsorship monies, it could also be down to doing something like pacing or encouraging others at parkrun or any other run.
In the chapter about Motivation, one particular chord was struck with me. He speaks about setting smaller motivations if you’re finding it difficult to motivate yourself. He points out that if you set out with a smaller motivation to say run twenty minutes, not only would you feel successful once you’d achieved that time but you might also feel motivated to run further.
I recognise that completely. Many times I’ve gone to the gym or for a run and said I’ll just do an easy run/session and then gone on for a lot longer. The satisfaction once you’ve finished is immense.
As previously mentioned there are a few parts I have issue with, such as when Sakyong Mipham speaks of “consciously letting go of any other activities, plans, or concerns” to enjoy the run and its benefits. This seems contrary to what we are so often told about running being a time to sort out the stresses in your mind!
It is, however, a book I shall keep coming back to. It also inspired me to read Sakyong Mipham’s earlier text, “Turning the Mind into An Ally”. Actually I have still not finished this book. It stays by my bed with just a few pages left to read because I am reluctant to finish it just yet. I do, though, feel another review is forthcoming!
As promised, some of my favourite quotes from “Running with the Mind of Meditation” are:-
“Confidence arises in the body through physical movement, and in the mind through gaining knowledge.”
“Running is not simply slogging through the miles, trying to sweat out last night’s good times, or burning off excess weight – it is celebrating life.”
“we are not just lonely runners pounding out the miles, but living creatures running on the earth”
“When we run, we strengthen our heart, remove stagnant air, revitalize our nervous system, and increase our aerobic capacity. It helps us develop a positive attitude.” “Likewise, meditation is a natural exercise of the mind – an opportunity to strengthen, reinvigorate, and cleanse.”