Lion Running

10.-Lioness-walking-head-on-close-focus-wide-angle-Serengeti-TanzaniaI stole a moment to go running today.  Twenty whole minutes, in fact.  This morning as I anxiously reviewed my to-do list I decided my workout had to get skipped.  Then, to my surprise, my work went so smoothly and at such a fast clip that an unexpected window of time appeared, and I jumped at the chance to give my body what it craved.

When I run I always take the same route.  We live in rural Illinois where the country roads have little to no shoulder and the sightlines are terrible for cars that drive too fast.  So I run the same route, out and back, that is not the most picturesque (one long cornfield after another) but it is the safest.

The lack of scenery doesn’t bother me, though.  I don’t look around much when I run.  I am too into the way I feel to pay attention to my surroundings. I also cherish the mobility of my body.  At 41 I can still tick along pretty fast.  The fresh air brightens my mood and the heavy pumps of my heart cleanse me from the inside out.  The rhythm of all this lulls my mind as I sift through the thoughts and feelings of my day and of the days ahead.  This is my best time.

As I rise to the top of 200th Street, I hit an open patch of cornfield where the wind hits me full force.  I tell myself the wind is good for me.  I get a better workout here than on the treadmill.  Pressing on, I reach my ten-minute mark and turn around, where suddenly the wind is at my back.  I’m practically flying now, buoyed by all this Midwest wind power.

Then it starts to snow.  At first the flakes are tiny, like dots of white rain falling upon me.  Gradually the flakes grow and transform until they are like giant, craggy communion wafers falling from the sky.  With the wind at my back, the giant flakes hit me softly from behind, break around my body, and envelope me in an extraordinary tunnel—a vortex of dancing, swirling, silvery snow.  I run right down the middle.

Opening my hands, I marvel at the size and beauty of the flakes set perfectly against my black running gloves.  The surprising beauty of it all alerts me to become mindful of the moment.  So I pay attention.  I look around.  I turn off my Ipod to hear the crunch of my shoes on the gravel beneath my feet.  I inhale.  I exhale—deeply.  Every breath a prayer of gratitude for this moment in which I have been swept.

And I recall a recent conversation with a student during which he reminded me of Thich Nhat Hanh’s metaphor for mindfulness.  “Be like a lion,” he suggests, “going forward with slow, gentle, and firm steps. Only with this kind of vigilance can you realize awakening.”

I finish my run like the lion, grateful for my twenty minutes of awakening.

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