I sang in the shower a lot my freshman year at Stanford – sad Frankie Laine songs: “Do not forsake, me, oh, my darling…” “It’s a quarter to three. There’s no one in the place, ‘cept you and me…”
‘T’would be better had I never known
A lover such as you.
Forsaking dreams and all,
For the siren call of your arms.
Like a demon, love possessed me,
You obsessed me constantly.
What evil star is mine,
That my fate’s design
Should be Jezebel?
I had cruised through high school, and the workload at Stanford came as a shock. A hundred and twenty pages of history and English every night, plus problem sets in math and physics.
I wasn’t interested. I couldn’t imagine that facts would improve my life. And I had no yearning to learn how to make a living. My Dad had shot himself the summer before I arrived, blinded for life. The question that ate at my soul was: Why?
I stuck it out through grad school because I couldn’t imagine where else to go. Then I returned to Southern California, where I earned a teaching credential and discovered my spiritual path. I came back to the Bay Area and landed a job at Runner’s World. And suddenly it was freshman year again.
I found another fact-based culture at Runner’s World, like that one that sapped my spirit at Stanford. I loved the magazine, and I thought the editor, Joe Henderson, embodied the true spirit of running. But my approach was that of a spiritual adventurer, exploring exercise for happiness. And the magazine was headed in a different direction.
The largest department at Stanford is Mechanical Engineering, with 700-plus students. (The School of Engineering has 4000, a quarter of the student body.) I knew I wasn’t living in an ashram. It was more like a trade school. I respected my classmates who had “doctor,” “engineer,” or “lawyer” stamped in their DNA. But I hadn’t found what was stamped on mine.
In my third year, I fell in with misfits who were seeking meaning through psychology, literature, or the arts. My roommate, Dave, was brilliant but radically self-directed. Dave cut his own path through Stanford for as long as he could. Because the curriculum and Dave were often in disagreement, it was inevitable that he would flunk out. In a course on Milton, Keats, and Shelley, he memorized long tracts of “Paradise Lost” yet received a D+ because he couldn’t stand the romantics.
I remember asking Dave if he had read Carl Jung, the Swiss psychoanalyst. He replied, “Yeah.”
I said, “No, really, Dave, I’m interested in this stuff. What much have you read?”
“All twenty-three volumes of the Bollingen edition, when I lived in Greenwich Village and spent all day reading in the Public Library.”
If I had been in charge at Stanford, I’d have given Dave a scholarship.
When I arrived at RW, I still hadn’t actually learned to “train.” I just went out and ran and pressed my edges. I had no notion of the correct, official way to train, and I wasn’t terribly interested.
What attracted me about running was energy and bliss. I didn’t care how many minutes it might take me to run up a mountain, but it thrilled me to see if I could find a state of energy, harmony, and joy.
I lived the life of a displaced grad student, working menial jobs, feeling somewhat apart from the world around me, eating, breathing, and seeking. I don’t know why I remember this, but I got thrown out of bars a lot, invariably for dumb reasons. In 1971, my buddies and I were thrown out of a bar near UCLA for playing Dave Dudley’s “Six Days On the Road” twelve times on the jukebox.
I got ten forward gears
And a Georgia overdrive.
I’m taking little white pills,
And my eyes are open wide.
I just passed a Jimmy and a White,
And I’ve been passin’ everything in sight.
Six days on the road and I’m a-gonna make it home tonight.
When my pals visited me in the Bay Area, we mounted a bar-hopping expedition up the Peninsula to Sausalito. At the toll plaza of the bridge, a deeply inebriated Vic woke up in the backseat of my ’72 Bug. Seeing money change hands, he yelled, “Where’s my hot dog? I want my hot dog!” Within the hour, we were thrown out of a Sausalito bar when Vic began cheering for the Mets, very loudly.
Remembering the Sixties makes me grateful for reincarnation. On a particularly festive night in Santa Monica, the bartender asked me to leave, for playfully poking an amply constructed mature woman gently in the bum with a pool cue. Hubby followed me out with clenched fists, but couldn’t find it in himself to punch my amiable mug.
We take our joy where we find it. In time, I discovered better ways to be happy, guided by a teacher who never gave up on me, despite my endless, face-reddening slips and slides.
I learned that running, and life, reveal their soul when we approach them through the heart, and that no amount of words can coax the infinite bliss to run with us.
I’ll tell you what’s worked for me in running and life. I’ve learned not to waste much time on thinking, but to offer myself to the run in a spirit of kindness and compassion. My teacher’s teacher was a saint of wisdom, a gyani. Yet he said, “It is not possible to take a single step on the spiritual path without the natural love of the heart.” I discovered that running’s blissful side comes most easily when I nurture a loving heart.
I live 15 minutes from the Stanford campus. I enjoy running there. The traffic is light, there are 43,000 trees, and 46 miles of roads. On my runs, I nearly always cut across the main quad. I love the long, arched passageways with their stone floors and high ceilings. It feels very monastic. I’ve noticed that whenever I enter those arches I feel at home and warmed. I’m positive that I’ve been a monk in other lives, probably in 12th-century England, in the reign of Henry I, and in India in the 18th century.
I’ve made my peace with Stanford. I still seek meaning there, running and chanting and cultivating a happy heart. But I haven’t sung Frankie Laine in a very long while.
The scenes are the same, but the music has changed.