I walk slowly, precisely, in my comfortable old pants and t-shirt and my brand new running shoes, placing one foot carefully in front of the other as I make my cautious way through the park, the just-risen sun shining full on my face.
The sky is cloudless on this beautiful July morning, the grass under my feet green again after a long bout of dry weather that was finally relieved by yesterday’s rain. The field is resplendent as the sunlight sprinkles the wet grass with backlit diamonds.
Suddenly I’m struck by a sense of the “nowness” of this brief slice of time—what Buddhists call “suchness.” An instant of pure, numinous experience, as though I’m tiptoeing into the presence of Spirit.
The moment passes, and suddenly I’m reminded of the young woman I was some forty years ago, who ran in the mornings for exercise–and more often than not for the pure, unadulterated pleasure of it.
I didn’t race; I never formally trained to be a runner. Far too shy to try to jog outside where I could be seen, I began by shuffling around my basement to see if my body could become comfortable with the act of running.
After weeks of practice, I felt ready to try a little walk/jog around my neighbourhood. Soon my walk/jog became a habit, and before long the day came when I managed to jog all the way along my usual route. Soon the route became longer, and then longer again.
I set a schedule for my runs, early mornings being the best. First of all, I’m a morning person, and secondly because, although he was sound asleep, there was an adult in the house in case the children woke up early.
My body responded well to these early morning runs, and they seemed to set a healthy tone for the day to come. Even better, I had discovered that because of the running, I could eat pretty much whatever I liked without gaining weight. How much more satisfying could exercise get?
There were times, of course, when I felt tired and didn’t want to be dragging myself out of bed to hit the sidewalk; but by now I knew that no matter how hard it was to get out there, no matter if my body was unwilling or my mind out of phase with the rhythm of a particular run, invariably, by the time I was back home, I was glad I had done it.
But the absolute best runs of all were those unexpected times when, nearing the end of a normal run, I’d suddenly find myself bursting with energy and propelled into running as fast as my feet could carry me, every joint and muscle in my body moving like a well-oiled machine, fulfilling its promise of power and endurance.
No more little discomforts; no more saying to myself, “Nearly done now.”
Surely my feet were no longer touching the earth; I was flying like a human kite!
Ah, what bliss, those times when I was hit with what I later learned was a blast of the endorphins that cause the well-known runner’s high. I know I was certainly high!
As I continue my slow walk across the park this fine morning, watching my pace so that I don’t get out of breath, I muse on the contrast between those years of physical freedom and this turtle-like pace I maintain to keep the chest pain at bay. I know that these health problems, frustrating as they are, are little more than trivial inconveniences in the greater scheme of things.
At nearly three score and ten years of age, my body is beginning to reflect the impact of those years—but my mind and heart (the metaphorical one, anyway) are nearly as young and resilient as ever.
In fact, tucked inside me is an outlook that is nearly as optimistic as it was when I was just starting out. Even tempered as it may be by experience and age, my little glass is still, more often than not, half full.
As I make my way back home, it occurs to me that I’m quite pleased with today’s effort. There’s some pain from the exertion, but not as much as I had expected. Soon, perhaps, I’ll be able to walk longer, faster.
For now though, with the sun at my back and a light breeze fresh against my skin, I’m filled with the simple joy of being alive on this brand new summer morning.