Mindful running, on beautiful feet

Last week’s mountain trail run ended in a yard sale, as the bikers call it; after a knee- and palm-scraping tumble, I limped off the mountain, glad to still be walking. I did know the risks of distraction during a running meditation are a little greater than in sitting meditation, where all you have to re-gather are your thoughts. But that wipeout brought things home in a particularly … stimulating way, shall we say.

So, I’ve been walking the trails while healing, and I had planned to walk today, but once I got on the trail, I felt so good I ran a little bit. Mindfully. Like I always mean to, but don’t always. Running a trail mindfully, I see a moment or two ahead of time where every footfall will land. Soon it seems my legs are running on their own, in concert with my eyes, one landing after another, my breathing regulating itself as the run regulates me. My attention is focused on every moment, every next footfall, there … there … there and then there …. It is deeply relaxing, and energizing, all at the same time. Everything else falls away. It has to, or I will fall.

And that’s how today’s run was. All of it … a full measure of the grace of keeping-on-going. I know I am as deeply distracted this week as I was last week, and yet some formula of food and rest and desire fueled a fine run today.

I kept thinking about Isaiah 52:7: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news, who announces salvation, who says to [the people] ‘Your God reigns.’”

During my run, I wanted to rewrite the text to say “how beautiful is the mountain to the feet of the one who seeks peace …”. This holy mountain, a deep part of the Occoneechee tribe’s history, has given me a home to run to, and run through. It has been deeply welcoming, change-able and yet oh so stable. I have hiked and run and seen it through four seasons now: summer, fall winter, and spring.

Running mindfully, I see the groundscape so carefully and so clearly: I want to, and I have to, and I do.  You might think I am wasting a beautiful stroll in the woods by running through it, but that’s not how it feels: rather, it feels like 45 minutes of split-second snapshots: I see, and I see, and I see, sharply, clearly, definitively, lovingly.

You can’t know what you don’t see; and you can’t love what you don’t know. After every run, I love this mountain more: an inch at a time, over a stretch of miles, around a bend of seasons. I am loving the rocks especially: the sharp clutter of a cairn by the trail, the bluffs brooding over a hairpin turn, the natural cobbling underfoot … and the smell of rockdust baking in the sun, like nothing else. Ancient, fresh, clean, strong.

This painstaking – or, rather, joy-making – attentiveness is restful, in this time when my heart and mind are full of my mother’s dying and it can be hard to think of anything else. The months-long process appears to be coming to a conclusion. She is less and less responsive to those around her. Although I have experienced the grace of finding ways to “be” with her, across the miles and hours and physical barriers to communication, it’s time now to be by her side.

I know, these are the last days I will be a person with a mother who can be held, touched, spoken to, cared for.

I think, these are the last days for her here. I believe she is more and more already there. And I am comforted to think that my father, who died in 2007, accompanies her even now.

I become more and more conscious of entering into a thin space, in this time of her dying. Every sight and sensation is heightened; every emotion is on overflow.

The holiness is bleeding through all around, like the sunlight that is so heart-achingly beautiful streaming through pine trunks onto our flowerbeds. Like the choir of bird-calls at dawn summoning me into the cool of the morning. Like the miracle of my lover’s hand in mine; like the healing medicine of my children’s laughter. Like the sacrament of preparing food; like the gift of every waking.

If I pay attention.

It is all too easy to sleep-walk through the days, with my heart and mind elsewhere, and miss what is right in front of me. And here is the gift of the mindful run, and its opposite, the mindless crash. I am brought back to the present moment, again, and again, and again, in a way that synchronizes my body and thoughts and heart, making me one, making me whole again.

When I come to my mother, I want to bring this mindfulness, this centered attention to her. I want to see her, and see her, and see her. To see her as she is, for who she is, free of my projections and memories and expectations. And in seeing her, to know her once more. And in knowing her, to love her.

Let my feet be beautiful to her because I have helped to bring peace to her … because I am one of those bringing her the good news that she can go home whenever she is ready … because with her I believe in the announcement of her salvation … because with her I say “Our God reigns over this moment, and this moment. This breath, and this breath … this life, and the life to come, when this one is no more.”

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