Long Walks On Leafy Streets

3/31/2019 Miramar, San Juan, Puerto Rico
The season is turning and with it come some moments that bring nature back to life. Of course winter has its own beauty but there are some things you only get to do in spring time. Like being able to walk at a leisurely pace either on a gloriously sunny afternoon or close to sunset when it doesn't get dark by 5pm. And watching flocks of geese take off from the lake in batches as dusk settles around you.

I used to spend a lot of time like this during my early days in Washington, going for walks, enjoying nature. I was single then and so there was a lot of solitude and also a little more time. As responsibilities have increased it has gotten harder to have such moments but when it happens it is always precious.

One Friday evening during the past month I was in Dupont Circle. It was quite a rainy evening.
I was sitting at the Firehook bakery drinking hot chocolate. My mind was swirling with thoughts about the week and about the happenings in the world. I was also somewhat tired. After sometime the mind just got weary of thinking and worrying. I decided to just sit and watch the rain. I sat there like that for a while and it brought a refreshing feeling of calmness and clarity. It also brought back memories of walking for miles along the C & O canal that runs by the Potomac river and enjoying the rain or the sun or just the flow of the river.

Another activity that provides such moments is running. Perhaps one of the best decisions I have made in the last few years was deciding to run the Marine Corps Marathon to celebrate my fiftieth birthday. Running makes me very mindful of the body. It helps me clear out the clutter in the mind and simply focus on enjoying the present moment and the scenery and the act of running itself. It is what has helped me to deal with the demands of life with some kind of equanimity and vigor, during the past few years.

Yet lately I had become somewhat focused on running a good pace and finishing the marathon within a certain time. I have also been proud of how my body has been getting stronger and stronger. It is nice to have goals, and it is certainly good to be strong in body. Indeed that is certainly how I see it and I am not blinded by ego or ambition or anything. Nevertheless I must admit that I have been having fewer runs lately where I just enjoy the run and the scenery. So when a couple of weeks ago I sustained a chest injury and was unable to run fast it made me realize how much I miss the running itself. The injury I am not sure how it happened, could have been due to excessive coughing during a bout of bronchitis. It was somewhat painful to run fast. My normal slow runs are around ten minutes per mile, especially during the winter. With this injury it was difficult to run at thirteen or even fourteen minutes per mile. So it forced me to slow down and when it started healing slowly and I was able to run more and more I started to really enjoy the runs and felt very grateful for the fact that I was able to even walk or run slowly.

Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh) constantly talks about how one should be grateful for each breath and each step that one could make. We are lucky to be born in this human body, to have this life. To be able to breathe and to walk is itself a miracle, he says. This injury has made me intensely aware of that. I am indeed grateful for being able to breathe normally and walk, although it hurts a bit when I try to breathe hard or run. Running always makes one so aware of the body because there is always a part that hurts a little bit. It is very important to maintain the proper rhythm and form and to take care with your steps or else you would inevitably injure some part of your body. This injury has made that attention to body even more intense. I was very happy to hear, in one of his Dharma talks, Thay talking about jogging meditation. I have always felt that running itself was a form of meditation, but since Thay only talks about walking meditation most of the time I have often wondered if he felt the same way about running. So it was nice to hear him talk specifically about that.

Last Saturday I took part in the 1775K race organized by the Marine Corps Marathon. I ran this last year also. It takes place near Dumfries VA, about 35 miles from Washington, DC. My main reason for running it was that it gave guaranteed entry (as opposed to through the lottery) to the marathon. On Friday evening I took the PRTC (Potomac-Rapahannock Transit Co) bus to Woodbridge from DC, got my bib from the running store near Potomac Mills and stayed at the Sleep Inn in Dumfries. It was a nice trip and I enjoyed a little bit of time for myself in the hotel. I also enjoyed being out in the more rural, laidback area.

I got up at 5 on Saturday and reached the starting location by 6.40. We ran 11.03 miles (17.75 km) in the Prince William forest park at dawn. Although it was quite cold there was a gorgeous moon that lifted my spirits. My injury hadn't quite healed (it still hasn't, but I am feeling much better) so I was not sure how it was going to feel. Luckily for this race they require only a minimum of 20 minutes per mile which one could do even by walking. I focused on just enjoying the company of the other runners and the scenery. The pain started to become more noticeable after about five miles. By then I had also increased the pace to about 11 minutes per mile. But it stayed somewhat stable and I was able to increase the pace to under nine minutes in the last three miles without much hardship, even with a very hilly course. It was a great feeling to be able to run long distance and also to know that I was able to finish it.

The return travel by bus was quite long because I had to take several buses, it being the weekend, and the service was infrequent and unreliable. But it helped me to slow down even more and look at the places with a new perspective. I enjoyed the usual monotonous stretches of highways and strip malls because I was able to see beauty and God's love in everything, at least for that afternoon.

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