mississippi river road path, south/minnehaha falls dog park/mississippi river road path, north
Ran 6.15 miles (with just a small bit of walking too) in the morning and then worked on my writing assignment for my class. This week, the assignment was to write a 2-3 page disruptive or fluid narrative. I think mine might be a bit of both:
Don’t Stop (on believing)
It’s hard to hold onto a thought when you’re running, except for when it’s not. Some thoughts, the brilliant ones, can pierce through your armor, leaving you breathless with their insight and intensity. Then they quickly evaporate. Other thoughts, the doubtful ones, linger. You can’t get rid of them. They keep returning, even as you try to push them away, to crowd them out with distractions and attention to other things. Like birds chirping. And leaves gently rustling. And sandy grit lightly crunching. And trees sighing. Why do trees sigh? Is it a gesture of resigned acceptance as they absorb the negative thoughts that we exhale? Or is it an offering of gratitude as they receive the carbon dioxide that is forced out of our bodies? Do trees sigh? Sometimes I think they do as I run by them. When I’m paying attention, that is. And when I’m distracted enough not to notice the worries that hover, like the humidity on an early summer morning. Thick. Wet. Heavy. A blanket of moisture weighing me down. Or an anchor, tethering me too firmly to the ground, like the time I had to run at noon, instead of in the morning, which is when I prefer running. It was in the spring, before it got too hot, but after the sun was out. Directly overhead. Bearing down. In the morning, my shadow leads me as I travel north and follows as I travel south. But that noon, my shadow was chained to me, no matter which direction I ran. An anchor, clinging to my feet. Dragging me down, into the ground. Demanding my attention and distracting me from the joy of moving and being outside. Right after I get outside, during an early morning run, I like to greet my shadow. “Hello friend!” Never out loud, just in my head. I’m hoping to be on good terms with her. She can be so helpful, running ahead of me, leading the way while my legs slowly warm up. And, if it’s early enough, she likes to run below me in the gorge, assessing the progress of the leaves on the trees and inviting me to do the same. I glance down and wonder what’s lurking behind those leaves? and where are those voices I’m hearing coming from? I hear a lot of voices when I’m running without headphones on. Friendly voices that greet me with a “hi” or “good morning” as we encounter each other on the path. Agitated voices, in the midst of a heated conversation or a swear-filled rant, that don’t notice me or my amused smile as l pass them. Annoying voices that drone on and on about something that only register as loud, insistent bellows or whines, but that cut through every other sound: the whirring wheels, the buzzing bees, my jagged breathing. Far away voices, distorted by distance and a bullhorn, that bark out orders to the rowers rowing on the river. Cackling voices, somewhere below me, that erupt with laughter over a joke? a funny story? one of the bodies attached to the voice almost tripping over a root on the path? And a malevolent voice that interrupts everything else to remind me that I am running and that it is hard and that I don’t have to be doing this. This voice frequently surfaces when I’m 30-40 minutes into a longer run.
You could stop, you know.
In A Philosophy of Walking, Frédéric Gros claims that when you are outside, moving through the world, you are never alone with your thoughts: “Everything talks to you, greets you, demands your attention: trees, flowers, the colour of the roads. The sigh of the wind, the buzzing of insects, the babble of streams, the impact of your feet on the ground: a whole rustling murmur that responds to your presence (54-55)”. These murmurs delight and distract, but also invite us to pay attention to something other than ourselves and our limits. When I’m walking, I’m particularly fond of the trees. The tall, ancient ones, that spread their limbs wide and high, forcing me to crane my neck to take in their immense girth and wisdom. When I’m running, I often focus on the wind and its many versions: when it sizzles through the trees, its gentle wafting as a breeze, the times it howls as it rushes past my ears. That wind, the howling kind, is so awful when you have to run directly into it.
You know, you could stop.
In “Attention and Will,” Simone Weil argues that it is attention and not will or willfullness or stubbornness or clenched jaws or a better attitude or more fortitude that enables us to believe. Paying attention, pure, “absolutely unmixed attention is prayer” and faith and love. A belief detached from desire or doubt. But, attention to what? Attention to the good, the beautiful. The electric blue yarn bomb on the railroad trestle. The graceful gait of the passing runner. The clickity-clacking from the ski poles of the rollerblader/summer skier. The soft dirt absorbing the force of my striking foot. Not attention to the problem of being too tired, of wanting to stop running.
You could, you know. Stop, that is.
On the running path, I attempt to pray through breathing. In and out. In and out. Inhaling the world, exhaling the doubt. When this isn’t working, I try chanting: I am flying, I am free, I am where I want to be. Sometimes I resort to a counter-spell like the one that I created during a morning run a few weeks ago: This is my charm, against all harm. I’ll try every trick I can think of or that I’ve read about to distract myself and be fully present in the moment of running on the path. And to keep running and moving. To access another level of existence for a moment. Not to miss it by stopping.
But you could, you know, just stop, not go.
This cycle of attention/distraction, from believing to doubting to believing to doubting to believing, doesn’t happen on every run, although it’s been happening more lately, in the summer heat and humidity. But, when it does happen, it can happen over and over and over again until I’ve reached my destination or the number of miles that I’ve planned to run for that day. Occasionally the malevolent voice wins out and I stop early, but most of the time, it doesn’t. I keep moving until I’m finished. And, if I’m really lucky, I am changed, ever so slightly, by the effort, by my shift from will to attention and by having been able to experience the infinite if only for an instant.