“Imagine that you are taking your last step. And someday you will be taking your last step. You’ll eventually have one last breath.”
I was practicing walking meditation downstairs of the dharma center during a day long retreat meditation this weekend, taking the teacher’s words of advice into every stride.
I could feel the soft carpet below my feet and the cool basement air on my skin. My gaze was watching each careful step that I took as I cradled one hand in the other just below my belly. I could hear my jeans brush together as one leg passed in front of the other.
With each step, I felt my heel land then slowly roll onto my mid foot. Then onto the balls of my feet. I sensed each toe plant before my heel would rise. As my foot lifted off, I could feel my knee rise and bend, the extension of my fascia, my bones creaking in my ankle and the second toe being the last contact with the ground.
My eyes blinked gently. My breath was easy.
The room still had that brand new smell of a new building with fresh furnishings.
The more aware I became, the slower my steps became. I was mindful of every movement and everything my senses could detect.
If this were my last step, I wanted to grasp everything in the moment that I could. I wanted to be submissive to the whole experience and I wanted to appreciate all that I could.
Looking back on this practice, what would you think or do if you were to actually take your last step or your last breath? How would you feel? Would you take everything in with pleasure or would you have an immediate regret take hold? Would you wish you had done things differently or wish you had said something you never did? Would you wish you were somewhere else? Would you be happy? Would you feel accomplished with your life? Would you feel fulfilled?
It could be a morbid thought but it could also be an eye opening realization. My recommendation is to reflect on your life and to imagine taking your last breath.
Be alive and mindful with everything you do. The purpose of your life is this moment and each moment that follows. Appreciate all that is around you and never take anything for granted. If you aren’t happy and fulfilled, then make a change.
Each unfulfilled step you take is one less you could be taking in the life you want. And you only get so many steps in life.
Wherever you are right now, take a step. Observe everything around you. Would you be okay if it were your last or will your next step be the first in a new direction, a new life, a new beginning?
if you’re going to try, go all the
otherwise, don’t even start.
if you’re going to try, go all the
this could mean losing girlfriends,
wives, relatives, jobs and
maybe your mind.
go all the way.
it could mean not eating for 3 or 4 days.
it could mean freezing on a
it could mean jail,
it could mean derision,
isolation is the gift,
all the others are a test of your
how much you really want to
and you’ll do it
despite rejection and the worst odds
and it will be better than
you can imagine.
if you’re going to try,
go all the way.
there is no other feeling like
you will be alone with the gods
and the nights will flame with
do it, do it, do it.
all the way
all the way.
you will ride life straight to
perfect laughter, its
the only good fight
Last year I wrote Running From The Darkness and opened up about my struggle with finding meaning in my life and dealing with low thoughts of self worth and depression. It took a lot for me to write that and to be completely vulnerable to the world. Now, I have come full circle.
Prior to moving to Durango, my experience with meditation was very minimal. It was inconsistent and I only went for 10 minutes at a time. I mainly did it before bed to relax, reduce stress and to sleep better. Little did I know I was just skimming the surface.
When I first got to my new town, I discovered that there was a meditation center and a few nights out of the week there were group meditation sits. Usually they last as long as 45 minutes and then the leader does a talk afterwards.
If you haven’t meditated before or if you are new to it like myself, 45 minutes is a long ass time to be completely alone in your head. Sometimes my mind is going 100 mph and sometimes my mind is completely clear. Sometimes I am in complete bliss and sometimes I am digging deep in the dark corners that have been tucked away my entire life.
Meditation and mindfulness is not just about finding positivity in yourself and the world around. Part of it is about becoming aware of negative thoughts and emotions too.
When you become more mindful you begin to ask yourself why you do what you do, why you say what you say and why to think the way you think. It’s almost like a way of asking yourself, who am I?
A lot of the things we tell ourselves, whether good or bad, are from a lifetime of experiences and somehow we have become conditioned to think that way.
For some reason, I was conditioned to think that I was worthless, that my life had no meaning and I wasn’t happy. Maybe those feelings were rooted in my lack of finding meaningful work that I loved and/or from all of my failed relationships.
I truly believed all of the negativity I was feeding myself.
I used my passion of running to push all of that aside and to chase a life of happiness. I was running from myself and the darkness. It was a quick fix, but no matter how far I ran it would always be with me.
“You can outdistance that which is running after you, but not what is running inside you.”
Lately I have been working on personal compassion. Compassion towards the world was one thing that I felt when I first began a consistent meditation practice. But I can be my own worst enemy and I wantedto dive into that area of my mind head on.
How I did that was with words of positive affirmations. After a few sits, I could tell a slight shift in my outlook on myself, but I knew there was more that I could do.
About 2 weeks ago, I was meditating and I realized that there was something that I have never said to myself.
The words “I love you” came out and I honestly couldn’t hold back the tears.
It felt like I finally saw myself as someone deserving of my own compassion and love. I was beginning to accept myself as someone who I would in normal life, like a friend or a loved one.
It was a relief to hear myself say those things to myself. Like I had been waiting all of my life to hear those words from me.
I continued with this practice and again, I didn’t realize there was a depth even further.
Last night, while at the group meditation we were doing a guided meditation. We were asked to think about someone who we are envious of and then we told to realize that we are all the same in that we share the same air, the same gravity, the same world. It doesn’t matter what others have or what other do.
We are all equals in this world.
Then the leader of the mediation said, “you are good enough.”
My internal armor dissolved.
Tears welled up and then they flowed down my face and I couldn’t hold them back.
She said it again and I felt free from myself. Free from all of my self hate that I had tucked away. Free from the shit I was running away from. I finally felt like me.
I was liberated from the internal cage I built inside as I struggled with life after graduating college. I finally felt like I deserved everything that there is good in life.
Later in the mediation she said “sometimes meditation is about going into the darkness with a flashlight, not about pushing it away.”
Last weekend’s race at Antelope Canyon was the first race I did after starting to be more compassionate with myself and it was the most enjoyable race I have ever done. I was solely running for the love of running. I wasn’t running for a certain time or for a certain place. I ran for the passion and not to try to make myself feel worthy and deserving of myself. I ran because I loved it. I ran free.
There is a reason why I wanted to share this with everyone. And it also goes with why I try to inspire everyone to follow their hearts. I believe part of my life’s purpose is to translate my experiences to everyone, so that they are inspired to take a chance at the life they want deep down.
So here is my message to everyone and I won’t stop reiterating it:
You are good enough. You are capable of amazing things and you deserve everything that your heart desires. You are beautiful. You are incredible. You are better than you think you are.
You are alive for a reason and that reason it to do amazing things. We have one chance at life, so go fucking for whatever it is that you want. Go for it. Like, right now.
There is that saying that “it’s about the journey, not the destination.” Well majority of the world is living as if they’re at the destination. Just sitting, coasting by and not truly living. They’re already dead. If it’s about the journey, then make it a journey. Doing something you hate everyday isn’t a journey, it’s a death sentence.
Wake up. Be alive. Be mindful of the world around you. Smile more. Taste this wonderful life. Appreciate everything around you. Be grateful to be alive. Wake up excited everyday. Take chances and take pictures. Dance and sing. Be free. Travel. Make mistakes. Learn and grow. Open your heart. Write your own story.
Do the world a favor and just be you.
The things you want are just on the other side of fear that you’ve made up in your mind. I have been on my path for a few years now and I can only say that it is fucking wonderful to see the world the way that I do. Don’t let others hold you back and don’t let yourself hold you back.
When you follow your heart, you meet the most beautiful people and go to the most beautiful places.
Go live. Chase your dreams. Follow you heart. Never stop living.
I know I still have a long way to travel down my road. I just hope you have the courage to travel down yours.
My friend, Norb, handed me Becoming Odyssa: Adventures on The Appalachian Trail by Jennifer Pharr Davis the night before we were running the Antelope Canyon 55K in Page, AZ. I immediately stretched out on my bed and opened it up.
While reading the Introduction by Warren Doyle, a quote grabbed my attention. After letting it soak in, I read it aloud to Norb because I thought it was fitting to ultras and to what was to come the next morning.
“Don’t fight the Trail. You have to flow with it.”
This sparked an insightful discussion and Norb made the comment that the quote not only pertained to ultras, but to life as well.
This has been what I have been trying to acknowledge and welcome into my life. And as we flow with our experiences, it’s our attitude toward those moments that decide whether life has been positive and fulfilling or negative and frustrating.
I knew that this race was going to be a mental test because of the amount of sand that we were going to run through. The kind of sand that’s deep, loose and that makes you feel like you are losing ground, not gaining, the effort you put in.
It would be extremely easy to get lost and caught up in your goals if you didn’t go into this race with an open mind.
That’s why I had no goals for this race. In addition, it was my first race of the year and first since getting over knee pain at the end of last year. All I wanted was the pure enjoyment of running and flowing with the course.
It didn’t take more than a minute into the race that I could feel sand in one of my shoes. But I expected that and I didn’t want to worry on it so much that it would take away from the experience.
The course was a figure 8 design taking us around Horseshoe Bend, down into Waterholes Canyon and all the way around the Page Rim Trail that overlooks Lake Powell.
For me, it seemed like everything happened beautifully.
We reached Horseshoe Bend as the sun was rising, the slick rock burned red from the fresh rays and painted a reflection of vibrant orange on the Colorado River far below. I wanted to drink the moment longer, but a few glances at a time were all I could afford without risking a fall.
From there, I found myself in rhythm with another runner as we wound our way along the cliff’s edge, trying our best to spot and follow the course flags.
We arrived to the Waterholes aid station together, but left separately.
Dropping down into the Waterholes slot canyon I was all alone and in complete awe with the geological features. I ran with my finger tips gliding over the smooth and cool rocks to both of my sides. It felt unreal, yet tangible at the same time to sense the passage of time in one moment. Even though I was in a race with hundreds of people, being alone gave off the feeling of this being my very own adventure.
Climbing out of the canyon the course featured a long desolate stretch with nothing but more sand under foot. I was aware of the build up of sand in my shoes but I didn’t want to stop to dump them just yet. I didn’t feel any issues yet but I knew I should do something soon. So I decided I would dump them after I finished the first loop of the figure 8.
I heard the course was mostly dirt trail on the last loop. I figured it would be perfect and only necessary to have to clean out my shoes only once.
At the mile 21 aid station, I took both shoes off and took both inserts out. I poured out the sand and slapped the inserts on my legs to get as much sand out as possible. I slipped the inserts back in and both shoes back on and was on my way…but I noticed no difference.
I realized that the sand that was bothering me was in my socks. It was enough packed in, that it made it feel like I was running in shoes a few sizes too small. I did my best to push this away from my mind.
Beginning the last loop I was joined by another runner and his presence was just what I needed.
I knew around mile 26, that my feet were destroyed and that they were only going to get worse. Both of my big toes felt like they were on fire at that point. But sand aside, I was having an awesome time.
We kept together the last 11 miles and were feeding off each others consistent and steady movement. This allowed for the last stretch to be easier than it should have been. Not that it was by any means easy at the end, it was a grind and a battle to keep convincing myself to keep running.
On the last quarter of a mile, I felt that he deserved the better placing of the two of us. When he picked up his pace, I happily watched him cross the finish line from behind.
I was 12th place in 5:37.
After taking my shoes and socks off, I immediately went to the first aid tent. One big toe had a few normal sized blisters and the other had one that was caked with sand and covered the entire inside area and a little bit under the nail.
Overall, this has been the most content with a race I have ever been. Other than a few parts climbing over rocks and one small steep sandy hill, I ran the whole thing. Which was all I asked from my body.
Reflecting back on my race and the others that placed before me, I wondered why people race or run ultras. Each person will have their own reasoning. But thinking on myself, I’ve realized that I do these to go against myself.
Me vs. Me
To see if I can overcome mental and physical obstacles. To see if I have grown and progressed. To see if I have learned from the past. To see if I can kill my old self and transform into my new self.
Obviously I want to improve my times and placing the more I do these races. But comparing myself to others is not how I define my success and accomplishments. I only want to compare myself before the race and after the race. The in between, how I adapt to the elements and persevere during mental and physical low points, is how I measure my personal endeavors.
And as I further to develop myself inwardly and outwardly through running, my hopes are that what I learn will spread to all other aspects of my life allowing me to flow with life, not fight it.
*Photo credit: Norb Lyle
I believe that as we journey through our lives, our main focus is to find inner peace from our surroundings, situations and selves. A satisfaction and contentment.
And the more we experience in life, the more strength we accumulate, allowing us to discover and understand harmony in any instance that greets us. An acceptance and appreciation.
I don’t believe that this is exclusive to any certain passion. But I do believe that runners take to the roads or head to the trails to find their inner strength and inner peace to make life more enjoyable and to find clarity in a cluttered world.
I find this evident with myself when I compare my mental well being to days that I do run verses days that I do not. The equanimity of every day life seems in balance when I run just an hour out of the 24 that are available each day. The scales are heavily askew on rest days even though 1 out of 24 shouldn’t equate to a balance to begin with.
But that one hour is enough for my soul to feel peaceful and to have the strength to dust myself off when contentment washes over contention from the unpleasantness that sometimes arises in life.
Each run is a journey in itself, congruent to life as a whole. Each run is an opportunity to further develop my inner peace towards myself and the world around me. Each run deepens my strength to hold on to the fact that life is beautiful and frightening at the same time.
The saying that “life doesn’t happen to you, it happens for you” is both agreeable and refreshing when viewed post run compared to prior.
I believe my journey of running is my peace of mind towards meaning and fulfillment. Running is my inner peace, my inner strength.
Life is about taking chances on the things you want out of it. One chance after another. Things won’t always go your way or the way you expected them to go. Eventually though you’ll realize things didn’t happen for a reason and the things that did happen were meant just for you. One chance after another will put you just where you are meant to be in life. Once you realize that you’re where you’re meant to be, a unique satisfaction and contentment washes over you with pure joy and gratitude.