Endurance and Suffering: The Thin Place

“The Road Less Traveled” begins with these lines:
Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths.* (And at the bottom of the page…) * The first of the “Four Noble Truths” which the Buddha taught was “Life is suffering.”

In “Meditations for the breakdown lane” by James E. Shapiro, he writes “Endurance is not transcendence of pain. Endurance is accepting things as they are.”

These thoughts on endurance and pain have gotten me thinking about “endurance running.” What is it that I am doing on runs, but coming up against my limitations and experiencing discomfort on a nearly daily basis? Why do I do it if it hurts? (Is it because it feels good when I stop? Yes. And is it because after a run the recovery shake is delicious? Yes! Yes! yes! And is it because when I run I am connected that much more closely with nature, the landscape, the here and now, and a fundamental piece of myself which is too frequently shoved into a corner? Yes.)

Endurance. And pain. And life. And sport are all wrapped up as one. When I run, I do not seek to avoid pain, but to live with it. I welcome it, experience it, and get to know it. I want to know how far I can push myself. To the brink. But not over.

For me (a regular church goer), I see a close connection between running and worship. The ritual of worship has been called a “thin place” (I think by Kathleen Norris). That is, worship (when it becomes a practice) creates a time and place where you can nurture the experience of being in the presence of God. It is not that we are ever apart from God, but worship can make you more (and ever more) mindful of the truth that we are never apart from God. In a similar way, regular running reminds me of both my capabilities and my limitations. Right now, I can only run so fast. And those seconds per mile matter a great deal to me. With practice and effort, there may come a time when I can run a little faster. And the purpose for me of ritualized running is getting a little closer to my full potential. I want to be in that “thin place” between who I am and who I am capable of becoming.

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