Pointy-Headed Runner

Lately I’ve had trouble keeping my attention focused when I run. I’ve missed the element of the heart. After 30 minutes today, I felt my attention pretty well focused, but there was no depth,
no sense of inner attunement, freedom, or joy.

I was looking for relaxation, inward calmness, and "smiling soul." After 30 minutes, I tried relaxing and letting my body cruise as it wished, because I felt I might be trying too hard. Trying too hard usually drives awareness out of the present moment. But simply cruising didn’t work very well, either. After 40 minutes, I started the tempo run, accompanied by a vague feeling that if I just kept trying to focus I might find my center. But after 50 minutes there was no change.

I noticed that my mind was tense. There was an actual feeling of tensed muscles in my scalp and brain. I realized I was fretting: Am I running too fast? What’s this pain under the ball of my foot? Should I run on hard streets or trails? Are these shoes giving me an injury? Watch my heart rate! Will I recover in time for my steady-state run in two days? Why am I so tense? Why am I worrying?

I thought: "Here I’m practicing to be an intuitive, joyful old runner, and I’m finding no joy at all. The thought came: maybe I should just watch my worried mind, let it rock and roll.

I remembered how it felt when I’ve succeeded in standing apart from my brain and watching my thoughts drift by, like a sailboat on a river. It’s impossible to force our thoughts to be still, but
if we can stand back and watch them without emotional involvement, they tend lose energy and melt away. And in that melting-away there is joy. Even better is when you “find the heart.” When you can harbor good feelings strongly, the mind concentrates effortlessly.

The teachings of all spiritual paths speak of a superconsciousness level of awareness. They say
the conscious mind is good at analyzing and dividing. It’s “problem-oriented,” but the superconscious is “solution-oriented.” Successful people in all fields have that quality of awareness: they waste little time on fretting and analyzing: “Well, now, but what if this – what if that?“ They have tremendous energy, intense mental focus, a can-do attitude, and laser-like will power – they know
the solution is there, and that finding it is a matter of focused attention, energy, and calm persistence.

When my writing business took a nosedive, following the tech crash of 2001 and 9/11, I got a part-time job as an administrative assistant at Stanford, among a group of amazingly intelligent, positive-minded scientists. All of them, without exception, bore testimony to the “superconscious” theory of success. They had huge energy, an exclusive focus on solutions, and boundless positive attitude.

All this fretting – clearly, I was in ordinary consciousness, where each half-hearted stab at a solution spawns ten new problems, dividing and dividing – my rational, analytical mind at its inefficient worst. What could I do? I decided I would disengage from the problems, detach my feelings and will from fretful thinking, and stand on the calm banks and watch the “problems” float by. As I began to do so, I determined to stay firmly focused in the moment, and not worry about "before" or "later."

It didn’t take long. I was running at an old fellow’s plodding tempo pace, when an athletic young college student passed me. Scanning my mind for competitive reactions, I found none; I was fully engrossed, doing the work of improving this body. It felt wonderful to be relaxed and happily engaged in useful, positive work.

I recalled an email I’d received from Timothy Noakes, M.D., author of Lore of Running, the authoritative, 900-page work on the training and physiology of runners. I had asked a simple question about aerobic metabolism, and in his email he hinted at discoveries that his research group were making regarding the powers of the mind.

In the new [fourth] edition of Lore of Running you will see that our new research suggests that the major effect of training is to induce a superior pacing strategy which is determined centrally in the brain. We now believe that the brain controls performance, not the muscles, although with training the increase in aerobic enzyme activities tells the brain that the body is capable of more.

I can’t help but wonder if optimizing my brain – the “controller” – would have a helpful effect on my training – if my running would improve if I could make my brain as positive, harmonious, focused, and detached as possible. Often enough, while running, I’ve witnessed how “positivity” generates high energy and soaring enjoyment. It would be lovely to run that way all the time.

I wondered what it would be like to live free of worry and fretting? To be wholly wrapped in the positive work of the moment, without restlessness, but with the deep joy of engagement? I imagined it would be the fastest possible path to develop one’s athletic – and spiritual – gifts.