Running Reflections: The art of active meditation

In Philippine Star Column on July 23, 2010 at 2:30 am

Move in order to meditate

Meditation is often used as a tool to free oneself from the chains of doubt, fear and limitations. Undoubtedly it sounds like a soulful Shangri-la but in my case, it is not an easy destination to get to. For those who have tried to sit still and allow their thoughts to just melt away and let bliss take over and failed, you are definitely not alone. True meditation takes practice and a lot of it; ironically, the harder you try to meditate, the more the state of “peace and quiet” will elude you. So what can you do if you can’t sit still, or get cramps while trying to be motionless in order to achieve a meditative mood? Move.

Active meditation is a good practice to get into the habit of having control over your mind rather than it having control over you. Though there are many descriptions of meditation, its true essence is focus, a focus that is so pure and rich that it cancels out everything unnecessary — pouring energy into whatever it is you’re doing and provides, at a pivotal point, enlightenment. You may have already achieved a Zen-like state when you were once engrossed in an activity that you found so joyful that all your attention was consumed by it. I rediscovered this state during a recent 10k “fun” run. I never thought I’d be a runner, much less join a race before sunrise, and as I crawled miserably out of bed wondering for the nth time why I even signed up, it (literally) dawned on me that if I wanted to win the war with the mind, I had to get moving. I’m not saying that running is the best way to actively meditate but it certainly takes focus and a lot of determination to go the distance. Early on, the mind already begins putting up barriers to prevent you from running: it’s too early, it’s too far, it’s insane — so the first thing you should do to distract these “complaints” is to warm up. Stretching makes you mindful of your breathing, and the slow movements do relax you and since you don’t want to topple over as you try to touch your toes, you have to remain focused on what you’re doing and not what you’re thinking.

Calm a frazzled mind through motion

Then the race begins and you are now brought into awareness of your surroundings, you can now choose to look to the ones who pass you or on the ones who drop behind you. Decisions have to be made: Will you sprint ahead while you feel fresh and strong or are you going to settle into a comfortable pace and gather strength? The best way to gauge is to focus on your breathing: if you feel out of breath, slow down; if you feel comfortable then you can pick up the pace.

There are going to be points of frustration; your mind tells you to stop and not even finish because (it rationalizes) it’s too far, takes too long, you’re too tired. Like meditation, running is an easy activity to quit. All you have to do is stop and walk away. If you get to this state, stop and take a quick break; be aware, though, that your mind at this very moment has prevented you from achieving a goal. This happened to me at the 5K mark, and I was sorely tempted to tuck my tail in between my legs and just go home. The thing is, my body didn’t hurt and I was not out of breath; it was just my mind telling me I couldn’t do it. So, this may have been an “Aha” moment for me because after about a minute of walking, I decided to start running again, this time with the focus on crossing the finish line no matter how long it took; I wasn’t going to stop. I redirected my attention to just putting one foot in front of the other, listening to my breath regularly. So the rest of my run kind of went like this: foot, foot, breath, foot, foot, breath, foot, foot, breath.

Meditation takes practice

This simple technique, almost like counting 1-2-3, is what eventually got me across the finish line without stopping again and all the mental agony I had undergone halfway through the race melted into oblivion. The body was tired, but I was elated. I got my mind to shut up and if I could do it once, I could certainly do it again.

Walk if you can't run

Walk if you don’t want to run, and lose the iPod if you can. Pay attention to your feet, the sound your shoes make when they hit the road and always be aware of your breathing. Every time your mind strays to a useless thought (read: distracting and detrimental), focus on where you’re going (recommended so you don’t crash into something — like, let’s say, a moving car) and then back to the action of putting one foot in front of the other. Active meditation will never take the place of real quiet time and being able to sit in silence but in the meantime, if you move while you meditate, you could shed some unwanted emotional (and physical) baggage.

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