What’s your practice?
This morning, I increased my running time and programmed it accordingly into the timer on my ipod. When I run, gentle Tibetan bells ring in my ears to tell me when my running interval is over, and then (when my 2 minute walk time is over) when it’s time to kick it into gear again.
On my second ten minute running interval, it seemed to be taking forever for the bells to ring. I was getting pretty tired, and a cramp started under my rib cage.
“Oh my gosh!” I thought, “surely it shouldn’t be this hard to add just one minute to my time!” I kept running though, determined to complete the interval.
Eventually, I started to wonder about the timer. I took my ipod out of my pocket. Surprise, surprise! The bell hadn’t rung and I’d run right through my rest time and all the way to the end of the third interval! Twenty-two minutes without stopping!
Needless to say, I was pleasantly surprised that I had much greater capacity than I thought I did. Apparently, I’m not running to my full potential.
When I started running back in June, I could barely survive the one minute run, two minute walk intervals. Now I can run 22 minutes and not pass out at the end! I felt great!
Lately a few people have asked “what are you training for?” – as though there’s no good reason to take up running other than training for a specific goal. Others ask about weight loss – as though it’s only about accomplishing some improvement in my body.
In answer to the first question, I have been known to say, rather sheepishly “well, I’d like to run the half marathon in June, if possible.” It seems to satisfy their goal-oriented mind-set. In answer to the second question, I have – equally sheepishly – said something about “every little bit helps”. Neither answer feels like my full truth though.
What I’d like to say is, “I’m training to be more fully alive. I’m training to be more fully myself.”
THAT’S what it’s about. When I run, I am energized, alive, and full of creative, spiritual energy. I am present in my body and my mind. I delight in the sweat and adrenalin and I feel like I am coming more fully into what it means to be me. I am connected to God and to nature and to what it means to be alive in the universe.
That’s why I like the word “practice” rather than “training”. Training is about achieving a goal. When my running becomes my practice, on the other hand, it isn’t about reaching goals, striving to be an award-winning athlete, or becoming a thinner version of myself. It’s about adopting running as one of the practices that helps me grow and learn and stretch and meditate and think and create and just be fully alive.
I love the word “practice”. I especially like it when it’s attached to the things we do – running practice, yoga practice, dance practice, writing practice, photography practice, meditation practice – even medical practice and law practice. It’s not necessarily about perfecting these things (though we do strive to get better at them), it’s about being present in them and growing more fully into the person they help us to be. It’s about doing them because we love them and know the value they bring to our lives.
Our culture (especially our masculine-driven business world) tends to be goal oriented and product oriented. We need to see evidence of success, production, completion, victory, and graduation. But most of the time, completion is the least important part of the process. Often (perhaps always?) true success is in how well we commit to the practice and how much we are committed to being life-long learners and practitioners.
Practice is a perfect Sophia word. Feminine wisdom helps us separate ourselves from the outcome and sit more comfortably with the process. It helps us be more present with God and with nature and let our practice change us and change each other.
It’s not that outcomes aren’t important – it’s just that often the process IS the greatest outcome.