Running As Spiritual Practice

Lately I’ve been interested in running as spiritual practice. I didn’t used to think about myself as a spiritual person – that came to me later in life, after I started meditating. And I only recently started running. But now somehow running is caring for my body, mind and spirit. When I run I can just be with me. No music or headphones. I treat it more like a moving meditation.

After writing the last blog post, I remembered there was an On Being episode on Running As Spiritual Practice that I wanted to listen to. So I did today. Wow.

Here’s a couple of excerpts:

Sometimes, as runners, we’re not all feeling great about ourselves. And I woke up one morning — you know, you just have those mornings, and you look in the mirror, you’re like, “I hate this.” It’s so irrational. You know that nothing has changed in the past seven hours since you went to bed. Nothing is different. But you wake up, and it’s almost like my body isn’t mine, which makes me sad because all of my body is mine. Like, if anything, it’s the only thing that is truly mine.

So for me, though, once I started running it was really hard to be angry at my body in the same way. I would get out on the road and, all of a sudden, step by step, it was like running myself back to myself in a lot of ways.

Christina Torres

When I was training for my second marathon — I was running Chicago, and I went to go get some new shoes. And the guy at the running store — I was telling him, “Yeah, I’m not super excited about this. I just want to get through. I’m kind of nervous about my time and everything.” And he was like, “Yeah, the best thing for you to remember is that the blessing is outside of your comfort zone.”

And so that was something for me to really kind of think about. And it was something that I would actually meditate on, literally just saying over and over and over in my head as I continued my training. And it’s something that I do now. Whenever I’m challenging myself to something new, I keep saying that the blessing really is outside of your comfort zone. If you stay and do what you’re comfortable with, you’ll never experience something new and incredible.

Ashley Hicks

On Being – Running As Spiritual Practice

Strava for Apple Watch

I have been running a fair bit lately – both for exercise and to care for my spirit. I’ve had an Apple Watch Series 2 for some time and in general been quite happy with it. It’s not really a watch, like the iPhone is not really a phone, but more on that some other time. I had the idea the watch might help me track my running better. I was using the Nike Running Club app for iPhone. But the Nike Running Club Apple Watch app was incredibly frustrating. It actually crashed the watch. Not once. Not occasionally. But often.

A friend pointed me at the Strava app for iPhone, which also has an Apple Watch app. Some say the Strava app is not very accurate. It’s accurate enough for me. It uploads data to Strava’s website where you can track your runs over time. And it has one key feature that I haven’t seen mentioned online: it never crashes. It’s rock solid.

Maybe people take that aspect for granted. It does seem like not crashing and certainly not crashing my device is a minimum bar for a key app that I’m going to spend time with. So coming from Nike Running Club, I was happy to find something more reliable.

Strava’s app is very basic. It tracks time, distance, pace, and heart rate. That’s all I need. Recommended.

Befriending Shadow

Under an empty autumn sky
Stretch endless wastes
Where no one goes.
Who is that horseman riding in from the west?

Wang Changling, eighth-century Buddhist poet

The unacknowledged sides of ourselves hold tremendous power – both destructive power and creative power, sometimes both at the same time. David Richo starts his book Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side with this poem, returning to this image of the unknown, mysterious stranger throughout his investigation. The book is in some ways an answer to Wang Changling’s question, and some ways a guidebook for our own journey in getting to know ourselves, so we can answer the question on our own.

Our scared and arrogant ego has an enormous capacity not to know itself. This shadow side of our ego contains the disowned, disavowed, unlived, and excluded traits and powers of our personality. It is the dimension of our personality that is rejected by our conscious ego. It is both negative and positive. The negative shadow contains all that we despise and reject as unworthy in ourselves. It is not evil, only inferior. Only when it is denied does it gain an autonomous life of its own and become destructively evil. Our dark side is destructive when it is discredited or neglected. It is creative when it is acknowledged and attended to. The positive shadow contains all our untapped creative potential. We may have been taught to despise that side of ourselves too. (p. 12)

Richo asks us to welcome the rider in, to get to know her or him, to befriend these mysterious and unknown parts of ourselves. He has a very optimistic, kind, and friendly way of going about it, and asks good questions. For me the gateway into this book, what made me want to read it, was grief – the pain of wanting things to be different than they are, the pain of holding onto “I” too hard. I have a wise friend who says, I have a hard time letting go of things without leaving claw-marks. Richo encourages us with practices that open dialog with the parts of us that are holding tightly – What are you wanting? What does it feel like? Can we feel the dark despair, depression, the disturbing feelings and simply be with them, without changing them?

A result of befriending the shadow is that dark and light are recognized as interior realities. In befriending the shadow, a form of initiation, we recognize this and no longer need to flee, control, or destroy it. Both loss and grief initiate us into the realization that all is transitory and that we are not entitled to an exemption from that stern reality. A wound is the cost of opening. How have your personal wounds opened you? How have they closed you? (p. 292)

Part of what made the book helpful for me was the guidebook quality – the book wasn’t just someone telling a story or conveying facts, but invited me on my own inner journey. The questions and practices opened doors for me and helped me be curious about the grief, the difficulty, my inner landscape. Essentially Richo is asking throughout the book, how can I grow? How does my view of myself, its known and unknown parts, serve to keep me asleep? How can knowing my shadow, my unacknowledged parts, help me wake up and grow and heal?

Rebirth is a crossing of the threshold from the conditions of mortal existence to the world of the Self. List the milestone events of your life, the painful crises, the failures and successes, and your strongest relationships. Each of them was meant to make you a person of more love, wisdom, and healing, was meant to conduct you to your destiny. Without “yes, buts,” acknowledge that this has happened and look for ways to foster it even further. What did you lose and what did you gain in each of your milestone experiences? How have others benefited from your journey? How are you fighting the movement that wants to happen now? How are you allowing it? Who is helping or hindering you in this mysterious process? Whom do you have to thank for whatever in your journey has already been successful? (p. 292)

Who is that horseman riding in from the west?

Highly recommended. Available from Amazon.

On Retreat

I’ll be on meditation retreat in Colorado the last two weeks of July so won’t be posting here until August.

Just Below the Great Red Spot

A beautiful image of Jupiter taken by the Juno spacecraft‘s JunoCam, just below the Great Red Spot.

Juno will perform a controlled deorbit in February 2018, ensuring it does not contaminate any of Jupiter’s moons with Earth life forms.

(Via Hacker News)

Grief and Shadow

I’ve been reading a lot of David Richo lately. He is a meditator and a Jungian psychotherapist and his books have a wonderful optimistic clarity about being human and the loss, growth, and joy that comes with it. He’s like a wise, kind uncle I never had. Right now I’m reading Shadow Dance: Liberating the Power & Creativity of Your Dark Side. In this book he talks about the negative side of our shadow-selves, the self-destructive side of our personality that you hear a lot about. But he also talks about the creative side of shadow. While I usually don’t post reviews of a book before I’m done, this one is helping me a lot – in particular he has some really nice positive affirmations on grief that I aspire to embody, and so I want to quote them here:

I am human. Things like this happen to humans.
This can happen to me and has.
I also have it in me to live through it and get over it.
Grief and acceptance are precisely how.

  • I let myself fully feel this hurt without any defense against it.
  • I vow not to retaliate.
  • I declare directly to the person the impact of his or her behavior on me without blaming or shaming. I ask for amends if appropriate.
  • I accept the fact of occasional inconsiderateness or meanness as a given of human life.
  • I am determined not to be mean myself.
  • I embrace my aloneness and open myself to support.
  • I accept the changes that keep happening around and in me.
  • I grieve and let go what is passing away.
  • I embrace what is coming to pass and feel excited by it.
  • I live through pain and am transformed by it.
  • I keep finding creative responses to the unpredictable surprises of life.
  • I grieve about unfairness and act fairly in all my dealings.
  • I acknowledge some burdens are too hard for me and open myself to support from beyond myself.
  • I open myself to the graces that keep inviting me to let go of ego.
  • (from pages 56, 59, and 61)


    Really nice thread about napping on Hacker News. I encourage napping on my teams too – results, not effort. If a nap (or a run or a sit in the sun, etc.) will make you more productive, then do it. Come back recharged and creative.

    An excerpt:

    I worked for a very small startup in London that embraced napping as part of their culture, some 8 years ago. It worked wonders (provided that you napped for 15-30 minutes at a time and didn’t pass out for an hour or two). We even had a dark storage room with a sofa that was the designated nap area.

    Fast forward to the current day. That company no longer exists (it was acquired), but the co-founders went on to create another company that is doing very well. I made the decision to go freelance at the end of last year and as fate would have it I am currently working for the new company. Napping is still encouraged. They’re one of the most productive, driven teams that I’ve ever had the pleasure of working for.
    Napping is good.

    We Are Going To Mars

    We are going to Mars because whatever is wrong with us will not get right with us so we journey forth, carrying the same baggage
    But every now and then leaving one little bitty thing behind.
    One day looking for prejudice to slip,
    One day looking for hatred to tumble by the wayside,
    Maybe one day the Jewish community will be at rest, the Christian community will be content, the Muslim community will be at peace
    And all the rest of us will get great meals at holy days and learn new songs and sing in harmony.
    We are going to Mars because it gives us a reason to change.

    Nikki Giovanni, poet and University Distinguished Professor, Virginia Tech.
    (via OnBeing; read the full poem here: We’re Going To Mars)

    Grief and Humanism

    I’ve been feeling a lot of grief lately, and I have been trying to be present with it instead of pushing it away or distracting myself, like I did in earlier times in my life. Two authors that have helped me lately, kept me company, are John Tarrant and Alain de Botton. Tarrant is a meditator and a psychotherapist and talks about loss and life with a blunt kindness that reminds me of wise meditators like Pema Chödrön. In The Light Inside the Dark Tarrant writes about what he calls the Second Descent into darkness:

    Once the second descent is understood, we no longer try so hard to avoid the course of human suffering, the routines of daily life, the blindness of the moment when we truly do not know what we must do.

    I have been trying to go slowly, trying not hold on so tightly, trying, sometimes successfully, sometimes unsuccessfully, to let go of planning or controlling. I am trying to trust the path will appear out the dark. Tarrant writes, “Fragments of light are scattered around like clues.”

    One of those clues came to me yesterday – my friend David Socha invited me over for some conversation and we sat on his deck in the beautiful light under the trees in his front yard. He mentioned a podcast called OnBeing by Krista Tippett, and later I listened to some of her interviews. She is a remarkable person. Tippett interviewed Alain de Botton recently, and I really enjoyed listening to them. He’s a philosopher and author and founder of the The School of Life. I have been reading de Botton lately, and blogged about him in a previous post. de Botton has a very kind and uplifting way of looking at life and human relationships. There are so many good things about this interview – what I really liked was the way Tippett brought out de Botton’s warmth and bluntness and compassion for how hard human relationships really are, his view that we are flawed beings and that we will make mistakes, suffer, grow, heal. He says,

    love is something we have to learn, and we can make progress with, and that it’s not just an enthusiasm; it’s a skill.

    And it requires forbearance, generosity, imagination, and a million things besides. And we must fiercely resist the idea that true love must mean conflict-free love, that the course of true love is smooth. It’s not. The course of true love is rocky and bumpy at the best of times. That’s the best we can manage as the creatures we are, that flawed humanity, the better chance we’ll have of doing the true hard work of love.

    Somehow that connected with the grief, the light inside the dark.

    On Being – The True Hard Work of Love and Relationships

    The School of Life

    I’ve been really enjoying the School of Life YouTube channel – it’s filled with short, bite-sized (3-6 minute) inspiring videos on the things you never learned in school or as a child about how to be emotionally healthy, like How To Be A Friend To Yourself:

    The videos are soothing and optimistic and full of positive psychological wisdom and humanistic philosophy. Often they offer insight into a topic and then open questions, inviting further self-inquiry and learning, rather than sewing it all up into a neat package. They present a view of emotional health that at the same time is calming and makes me want to grow, a rare combination. I find it hard to stop watching – it’s a rare to have a learning experience that just feels purely good. Highly recommended.

    I want to link to so many videos, especially the ones on relationships, but you can check them out yourself. A couple more that I really liked were How To Be A Man and The Importance Of Affectionate Teasing.

    (via BoingBoing)