Lessons Learned about my heart and mind

Is there no way out of the mind? Sylvia Plath

Um. No. I don’t think there is. And since there is no way out of the mind, I have embarked on a journey into my heart and mind. And I’ve found some things along the way.

What does it profit a person if they gain the whole world but lose themselves? You see, the point of this running life is to find out who you are, to find yourself. And the lessons I’ve learned won’t do you any good, you’ve got to get burned, as the Indigo Girls put it. I learn by experience, by doing. So, since these lessons are mostly about me, my experience, I will try to translate them. And you can see if you can apply anything.

These lyrics are taken from an Indigo Girls song called “You and Me and the 10,000 Wars.” It’s about a mother-daughter relationship.

Heart and a mind on a parallel course. Never the two shall meet.
I wanted everything to feed me. [says my mind and my body]
But as full as I got was of myself and the upper echelons of mediocrity.
And all (all that you satisfy) that you satisfy (that you satisfy).

This song reminds me that despite all the time and effort I devote to running, I’ll never amount to much more than the “upper echelons of mediocrity.” I gotta keep that in perspective. And it reminds me that a relationship that is on a “parallel course,” even if the two parties never meet, can wind up in the same place. It could happen.

These lyrics are from the Indigo Girls’ song, “Become You.”
Master loves the servant who blind heeds. Husband the obedient wife.

These lyrics echoed in my mind as I thought about my own mind (ego) and body (id). The mind and body can be in a master and servant relationship. At least sometimes we (our minds) think they are. But the heart and mind can also be in partnership. They can be like two horses, yoked together, and striving toward the same goal. And this is by far the better relationship.

There are times in running when your body just wants to run fast, and your mind is saying, “Hold your horses! This is fast enough! We got a long way to go.” But there are other times when your mind berates your body for being weak, slow. There are times when your mind encourages your body, says, “I know you can do this. Hang in there!” There are times your mind loves your body because it is “obedient.” It does what is asked of it, despite the cost.

What if your body wants to go where your mind wants to lead it? Then, as Scott Jurek puts it, “Sometimes you just do things.” You don’t try. You don’t think. You just do. But these times usually come after weeks and weeks of practice, a good training season leading up to a goal race. Those are good times.

During the training, it can be hard, though. The fun times are few and far between. In this season, as I am a bit adrift, I am having these thoughts. “If it feels good, do it.” “I am finding my sweet spots.” And “Defend your speed!” That last one is from a Runner’s World article for older runners. The writer advised us (older runners) to do intervals to retain speed. Since there is little hope of actually getting faster, the New Hope is that you don’t get slow too soon. It is motivation, but sometimes not enough.

These lyrics are from “Vertigo” by U2, which I have written on before. It is a song about modern day temptations. In the center of the song, the devil’s voice asserts itself in the venue of a dance hall, saying,
All of this. All of this can be yours. x3
Just give me what I want. (Bow down and worship me.) And no one gets hurt.

Those words always give me the shivers. The promise and the threat, all rolled up in one. That’s pride for you. And the mind tempting the body to step over the edge. “All of this can be yours. Just dig a little deeper. Push a little harder.” But your body has to live with that mind. Sometimes it feels like we are in a hostage situation. And there I am in my Stockholm Syndrome relationship with the Devil, a hostage to the criminals, the criminals you begin to sympathize with.

The lyrics I sweep the streets I used to own from “Viva la Vida” come to me frequently as I am running in the early morning. I do feel like I own the streets in the early morning hours. I wonder when I am going to have to start sweeping them. Sometimes I’ll pick up a stray can or Styrofoam cup. But not all the time. Sometimes I don’t have the energy.

In the early morning, there are not many cars to dodge. Still, the thought that you own the streets is just about as dangerous as a car. On the Plaza, there are people who walk around with a broom and dustpan-on-a-stick, and they sweep up the stuff that is on the ground, just like Disney World. And there are a lot of them between 6:00 and 7:00 AM, getting the place ready. They make me think of Jesus, doing the humble work of keeping the place going. I think they are doing God’s work, recovering the planet. I give them a heart-felt “Thank you.” I am amazed that someone does this job. We can’t pay them enough.

So, what is your perspective? Do you own the streets? Or do you sweep them? Are they a gift, a possession, or a responsibility? What is your perspective on the gifts that you have from God? Your talents, family, friends, and situation?

These lyrics are from the Indigo Girls,
I went looking for the answers from someone I heard believes that life gets easier.
And you learn how to breathe, and you learn how to grieve your past.
You study the masters and their books, giving in to the barbs and hooks,
Till you accept it with grace when your true love doesn’t last.

I no longer believe that life gets easier. I no longer believe in short cuts. I do not want quick fixes. I want long, slow fixes. And true love doesn’t (just) last; you have to work at it.

I learned something from Ben, a masseuse, who said to me, “Breathe” as I lay face down on the table, as I was tensing (guarding) my calves before the next mow. (Mowing is what he does with his thumbs, making little parallel paths up my calves until they have been completely covered, worked over.) It was a firm reminder: Breathe. And I tried to breathe as he continued to work. And when he had finished, I remember his triumphant, “And THAT’S how I do legs!” And he had worked hard on my weary, chronically over-stressed legs. He had coaxed me for almost an hour, reminding me to relax, become clay in his hands. And my legs felt great, spectacular.

I learned something from CrossFit. One of their rules is, “If it’s too easy, make it harder.” (And the converse of this rule is, “If it’s too hard, make it easier.” Fewer reps, less weight, better form.)

And when I am doing planks, I keep this in mind. Planks are not simply a matter of keeping yourself off the floor for a certain amount of time. It is about engaging your core, molding your body into a bow. It is about form. The time is just window dressing, a framework, a canvas to work upon. You have to make it hard. You also have to breathe, and you have to do it right. After all, no one is there to keep score. It’s just you on the floor with yourself, counting off the seconds, trying to keep your legs, butt, and back in a perfect line. You can slouch, or you can engage.

I check myself in the mirror… I want to change my clothes, my hair, my face… But, gosh! That guy has great form!

As I was running along this morning [Jul 30, 2015], letting the pace come to me, at about 3 miles in with 4 miles to go, I felt my mind and body coming together, deciding (negotiating) how fast to go. My IT band had gone to numb or painless. Sometimes it is hard to tell. The endorphins must have been kicking in. I was coming in to my runner’s high. And I thought and felt, “This is a good pace, you can push a little, but remain strong. Place your feet solid and roll. Flow. Do not bounce.”

And I thought of Meb racing Boston 2014. And I realized he must have felt something like this, the interplay between mind and body, checking the systems, mindful yet intuitive, a delicious togetherness. Meb is recognized as a race tactician; he knows when to push, when to make a move, when to cover (keep up with) a competitor’s move, and when to let someone go at an unsustainable pace. He has made a long career of this. And I thought I was tasting it, the unification of mind and body, the forging of a unity. And I want to taste it again.

I pushed the pace down another 5 to 10 seconds per mile. But I didn’t really think about it.

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