It’s Monday, and my first day of college. I feel exuberant as I bounce up the stairs to the classroom where I will join fellow students for one of the most difficult courses taught by one of the most notoriously demanding teachers in the music conservatory. Her first utterance, borrowed from author Scott Peck, is “Life is difficult. Once you accept that, it is no longer difficult.”
My initial thought was, “Someone woke up on the wrong side of the bed this morning!” I barely passed her class, almost like a poetic nod to her ominous welcome, but her words have followed me through life and have taken on deeper meaning as I have personally healed, grown, and become who I am today. There have been numerous occasions when I’ve wanted to run away from what life is presenting me, and nowhere has that been more apparent than my practice of meditation and mindfulness.
I just completed another half marathon and my training has been an unexpected opportunity to strengthen my practice of staying present to the moment. In fact, running has become a moving meditation for me. It has deepened the lesson of how to show up for life (whether I like it or not), to run for as long as I agreed to (with the support of a coach), and to experience (and respond) fully to whatever comes up. In the months leading up to the 13.1 mile run, I got distracted, I felt discouraged, and I felt bored. But that’s not all, I also felt inspired, jubilant, and confident.
As I run, I find that when I lean into and embrace feelings of resistance, everything flows with more ease and grace—pain decreases, miles pass by almost effortlessly, and my thoughts are softer. Conversely, when I push back or fight against the process with, “This is HARD. Why am I even doing this? I’d much rather be binge watching TV.”, every stride feels heavy, as though I am wearing lead shoes.
Life, like running, requires stamina, presence, and practice. It’s easy to run away when it becomes uncomfortable, uneasy, or downright painful. But if we constantly run away from the hard stuff, we can miss out on the really, really good stuff. Through regular and consistent meditation practice (whether sitting, walking, or running) I have learned how to hold ground for what is—to stay put and be aware. This kind of presence allows me to lean gracefully into the flow of life and I find that everything (from difficult teachers to running half marathons) goes so much easier.
The other lesson I have learned is that the inevitable difficulties of life go easier when I am not alone! One of the essential ingredients in preparing for this race was working with a running coach. We worked together to identify reasonable goals and create plans to build my running practice so that I could become the runner I want to be. More importantly, I also had an amazing and supportive collection of friends and family who talked to me about running, helped me keep my perspective, encouraged me to reach my goals, and cheered for me on race day. Developing my running practice in the safe space of community was invaluable and elevated me to actualize my true potential.