Tuesday, February 19, 2013

I'm not a runner. I'm a soul who runs.

I think, therefore I am. - R. Descartes

You don't have a soul. You are a Soul. You have a body. - C S Lewis

One thing I haven't written much about in this blog is my meditation practice. Partly because it's still quite new. And partly because I don't yet know enough to write coherently about it. But mostly because this is supposed to be a running blog and I seem to be cluttering it with far too much other stuff these days - travel, novel writing, motorcycling, photography - you name it.

However, last weekend I spent a lot of time thinking about why I run. What does it mean to be a runner? What if I couldn't run anymore? What if I didn't want to?

And that got me thinking about what I've been learning in my raj yoga meditation course - in particular, that who we are isn't, as Descartes suggested, what we think (or feel), what we do, what others thinks of us, or the labels we apply to ourselves. Who we are in essence are the "souls" inhabiting our bodies - in the raj yoga tradition, loving, peaceful, happy, pure (honest) and powerful (determined and focused) souls.

How does that relate to running? Well, one of the things I've learned in meditation class is how important it is not to become too attached to the labels we and others apply to us from time to time - in my case, wife, sister, friend, runner, writer, lawyer, professional, intelligent, etc. While they may make me feel good for awhile, they have a dark side too.

For example, one of the labels I've used to describe myself for most of the past decade is "runner" - a pathetically slow runner - but nonetheless a runner, and it's a label that has served a useful purpose. It's reinforced my perceptions of myself as strong, fit, goal-oriented, etc. But what if I could no longer run? Or I could no longer run as far or as fast as I wanted to?  Or I decided I wanted to spend less time running and more time doing other things. Thinking of myself as a "disappointed runner" or "failed runner" or a "former runner" would almost certainly have a negative impact on my sense of well-being.

Which is why I've recently begun looking at my running differently. Instead of thinking of myself as a runner, I try to think of myself as a soul who runs. It may seem like a small shift, but I've noticed it's already having some profound effects.

To begin with, I feel more motivated to run for the sake of it, rather than to achieve particular goals in terms of time or distance. I also find it easier to be compassionate with myself when I fail to measure up to my preconceived notions of what a runner should be. Finally, it reminds me that the essence of who I am is not what I think or feel, or the labels that are applied to me. It's something infinitely more positive and reliable that can provide strength, wisdom, patience and compassion in even the toughest circumstances - if only I quiet my thoughts and emotions long enough to hear what it's telling me.

None of which, I hasten to add, means that I plant to stop running or racing anytime soon - only that I'll try harder to listen to my inner voice when I'm setting goals and drawing up training plans. I expect it will have some very interesting and useful things to tell me in the years ahead.

Happy running and writing, friends.


  1. Great post, Janice - and it runs (sorry) parallel to the book Running Ransom Road and his philosophy on running. One step, then another step - run while running.

    1. Thanks, J. Of course, it was partly our conversation on Sunday that inspired it. Thanks again for making time to get together.