8.jpg” alt=”My Tibetan Buddhism class in Dharamsala, India.” width=”300″ height=”250″ />
Always as a marathon date comes closer and closer, I feel not a relaxed calm and confidence in my abilities but instead a never ending anxiety about training.
My sleep becomes more restless in the evenings as I battle through my subconscious asking me questions such as: “Am I training enough?”, “Am I doing enough speed work?”, “Am I on pace?”, “Will I make my time goal?”, and “Will this damn Plantar Fasciitis ever go away or will it derail my marathon?”.
Talking to all my fellow runners seems to make the anxieties worse. They all want to know things like about my pace, my goals for race day, even what I plan to do after race day.
Often my job seems to get its busiest right before the race. Just adding to this ongoing stress level.
Well I was thinking about all these things this morning.
A brief update. I am in Dharamsala, India (Home of the Dalai Lama). My dream for many years was to run a marathon. I kept on believing in that dream. Kept learning, kept making daily little progress. It came true seventeen fold. Even helped a few others complete a marathon.
My next major dream was to travel around Asia, especially to see the Himalayas.
That is what has taken me to India. Dharamsala is the spiritual gateway to the Himalayas. I look out of my guesthouse window to the beginning of the mountain range. They are huge and majestic.
Interestingly enough, I have been attending Buddhist philosopy classes the last few days.
They are held in a classroom next to the Tibetan Library. Most of the great Buddhist texts and scholars were destroyed by a tumultuous Indian History. The Tibetans, however, translated all of these into Tibetan. Then through their devotion to the monastic life and scholarship, kept the teachings alive through the centuries.
In other words, when you study Tibetan Buddhism you study some real authentic, old teachings. Some say the “real stuff”.
So this old scholar comes in in the morning, we all bow, say a bunch of prayers which I can’t even seem to read the English translations of. Then he begins talking. A lovely funny older English woman gives the translations. They have been working together for like 30 years. Translating like 10 of his books or so, to give an idea of his scholarship.
So he is giving a talk this morning which is part of bigger talk on some sacred text, which is a commentary on some other sacred philosophies.
And in the midst of it, I thought of people training for the Marathon.
The main theme of the talk is about how to be a Bodhissatva. This is a very holy Buddhist term to describe someone who doesn’t go off to nirvana in order to devote their life to care and compassion of all living beings. Like a Saint.
One of the essential characteristics of such saintly work is PATIENCE.
Here’s where it gets interesting. He says we all suffer. And some like the Tibetan people have suffered a great, great deal. And the more you persue a spiritual, or in my opinion, an athletic path, the more suffering, and enemies you will encounter.
It shouldn’t be that way. It should get easier right? Your training should get easier as you get closer to the goal.
Well, hogwash according to the spiritual master.
It gets harder so you can develop some patience. And this he defined as a calmness in the face of suffering. A faith in the direction of your work. A willingness to face your hardships. A certainty in the teachings of your coaches or spiritual masters.
Because this patience will allow you to learn. This patience will shatter your overblown pride as athlete so you can begin listening again. Listening to you body, your coaches, the old teachings.
And ultimately this patience will be your greatest teacher. To teach that you WILL get through this anxious time in your training. And you WILL survive those long training runs with that bunk ankle. And someway, somehow you find the patience in others to juggle all those people in your life so that you can just show up on Saturday morning.
Well when you get through all these little hardships, you will get some real patience.
This spirital master taught us to imagine that you are experiencing all of this in order to help all the other marathoners out there. To imagine that you are experiencing all of this to demonstrate to you family that you can stay strong in the face of adversity. And to imagine that you are experiencing these pains to show your friends and colleagues that great things are possible.
The Bodhissatva way is to experience all of this so we can develop the greatest of all human qualities…COMPASSION.
Because on race day, you will need some compassion. You’ll need to be compassionate and loving to your body and mind in that great battle of 26.2 or 13.1 miles.
Or even more important, and this is the part I love…
You’ll need that compassion to lift your head high to look around you and motivate the runners around you. You’ll need that compassion to share a joke when they look sad. To share an inspirational story when their spirit seems down. You cheer on every honorable runner you pass to let them know how awesome they are doing. Because YOU KNOW what they suffered through to just get there on race day.
And even better, when you develop more and more patience and compassion your performance, your race day time, your goals will just dissolve away into the practice of something deeper….seeing just how many people you can help on race day.
And in that, you will find happiness beyond your dreams. That by making others happy in training, before the race, and on race day you will find….happiness.
So hang in there, be patient, this time like all others, will pass.
That is why you suffer. So you can help others. So simple and beautiful.
This was the teaching I heard today, that has been taught for over 2,000 years and just might help you in your journey today.
So you’re weeks into a marathon training program. How’s it going?
I’ll tell you how its going for me.
It’s a little difficult. Mainly because I have many coaching/teaching responsibilities in this program. The last two weeks I’ve not done the long run with the marathoners.
I almost feel like I’m getting fat. Looking at my waistline, seeing that beer belly starting to return. Though nowadays its more from my love of pastries and Reeses peanut butter cups than beer. Funny what a missed run can do to your perception.
Should I quit? Should I lower my running goals? Do I switch to the half marathon? Should I do my long run today on Wednesday? Try to make it up?
One thing I learned a long time ago about working out…you can’t make up a missed run. It has come and gone. The opportunity the chance to put on the running shoes that day came and passed like a cloud that didn’t rain. I can sit there looking up at the sky and my dry garden and piss and pout on how the cloud didn’t rain on me. How much my plants need some more rain, and how much dryer this year is than last year. That vegetables won’t be as large. Yada. Yada. Yada.
Or I can go out pick a weed and water the plants.
Or in running terms…I can move on and just do my regular workout.
“Many of us crucify ourselves between two thieves – regret for the past and fear of the future.” Fulton Oursler
When we worry about the past its called regret. The more I think about the past the more I live in regret and its associated demons of the mind…worry, shame, guilt, embarrassment, self doubt, etc.
Instead I can focus on my present. As I write this, I just straightened my posture, sat up straight and consciously added more attention and presence to this very process of typing and thinking about the points I’m making in this article.
How many times do we quit something good in our lives because of regret? I wrote some mean words to someone I care about about the other day and the regret was suffocating. I was ready to overreact and end our partnership right then and there because my mind went so deeply into regret. So I quickly, like the next day, apologized over the phone. But more importantly I realized that there were some alternative things I could have done or said. We spent some time together the next day and all was quickly forgotten about.
So if you’ve missed a few workouts or a long run or maybe even a month of training…”forget about it”. Its the past. The past is just an illusion, a holograph of images in our consciousness. In the movie “What The Bleep Do We Know?”, a number of scientists explain how the very images we carry in our minds produce the chemical reactions in our bodies. Regret is not a productive emotion. It quickly leads to deeper more destructive emotions of depression, low self esteem, and hopelessness.
When we’re living in regret we’re living in the past not the present. So how do we get out of the regret of missed workouts. How do we get out of the regret of eating too much ice cream last night?
One thing we can do is to REFRAME our past actions. REFRAMING is a MENTAL TRAINING technique from NLP (Neuro Linguistic Programming).
Lets do an exercise.
1. Visualize the old behavior you’re regretting. For me it was not doing a long run last weekend. I sat at my computer writing then cleaned my house on Saturday afternoon.
2. Shrink the old behavior. Once you have that visualized shrink the whole memory and put it in your left hand. So it is now a bubble. Wow. That put it in perspective.
3. Feel the old intention. Look in that bubble and discover why you did that old behavior. For me, I needed to progress some website issues. But the more I look into that bubble I see that I needed to rest. The week before I had worked out hard everyday including three very difficult runs. Also I’m an introvert, so after interacting with so many Beach Runners I need some quiet reflective time. This simple exercise helps us realize that we had good reasons for our behavior, despite our perceived regrets.
4. Visualize the NEW behavior. Now visualize what your ideal behavior would have been in the past. For me it would have been to return home after Beach Runners and gone out for a two hour twenty minute run in the afternoon on the trails.
5. Now discover the NEW intention. Shrink the new behavior and put the bubble into your right hand. Explore in your heart why you want to do this behavior. For me, I need to get a long run in on the weekend to keep up my aerobic base. But also, for recovery, because I run fast and hard in the week, I need to run slowly on the weekends to keep my legs moving for hours. Remember our program is based on time, not mileage or speed. I need to get out and do running or at least some other form of cardio for the time designated in our program.
6. REFRAME the two behaviors. We suffer regret because our consciousness is trapped between these two images. Between what we
did and what we wanted to do. Understand that both had good intentions. So now see both bubbles in your open palms and slowly bring your hands together and visualize some three alternatives behaviors. Behaviors that would have allowed both intentions to be fulfilled. For me that would be (1) go out for a long slow run/hike. Lately I have been running quite fast in training so my body was telling me to not go out and run because it needed the rest. I could have just taken it easy with a real slow recovery run. (2) I could have gone for a long slow bike ride in Palos Verdes. (3) I could have run for a long slow run/bike ride on Sunday the next day.
Let this bigger bubble encircle your hands together. ANCHOR these alternatives by holding your left and right hand together in a special way.
7. Visualize the ALTERNATIVE behavior. Now visualize your mind like a slide projector. Show the slide with the old behavior. Feel its consequences. Now swish in a new slide of one of the three alternatives. Put yourself in the slide, see the details, feel the emotions. See what a difference just a little mental training can do.
That’s called REFRAMING and its allows you look back at old regretful behaviors in a new light and see there were some good intentions. And that we don’t have to suffer from not living up to our ideals…that there is an alternative between what did and what we want.
“It is better to look ahead and prepare than to look back and regret” Jackie Joyner-Kersee
One thing to not do is to try to make up missed workouts. Doing a 2 hour 20 minute in the middle of the week before another long run on the weekend can lead to big problem called OVERTRAINING. Last week, I overtrained. So I was physically tired all week. When we work out on tired, strained muscles, we risk the chance of injuring ourselves. Danny in his CHIRUNNING book says the primary source of injuries is overtraining.
Think about that before trying to make up your long run in the week. Better to let the past go, do your regular workout today, and be well rested for your next long run.
You’ve done the MENTAL TRAINING now, so that you will have alternatives next time for your behavior. Keep practicing the REFRAMING exercises, do the alternatives, be easy and loving to yourself, and you’ll do fine in your marathon training.
That’s what I’ll be doing this week. I actually feel great right now after a weekend of rest. I am more energized and feel stronger after all the hard work I did last week.
I’m looking forward to a good run on Saturday.
Yesterday I visited the Killing Fields of Choeung Ek. In 1975 after Pol Pot came to power in Cambodia, his army the Khmer Rouge, entered Phnom Penh and evacuated the city. And I mean the whole capital of Cambodia, sending people out to the fields for a “reeducation” in living a simple agrarian lifestyle. The professors, teachers, doctors, lawyers, basically anyone that was a professional or had any iota of education was executed. And their whole family was then executed.
This was the story throughout this beautiful country of Cambodia between 1975 and 1979. In all, over 2 million people killed from torture, executions, or starvation. A whole generation of professionals wiped out in one of the worst genocides of the 20th century while the world watched and did nothing.
I sat on the bus from Siem Reap speaking to an Cambodian lady who lived through that time. She was forced out of Phnom Phen with her family when she was six. Her family escaped the Khmer Rouge and lived in the forest for three years eating bugs, plants, anything that was edible. Then she lived in refuge camps for many years after that before moving to Australia. She could not speak without tears in her eyes.
Cheong Ek, one of the largest killing fields, had 86 mass graves and 9,000 bodies found. So what do you do in such a sombering location like this?
Something that we practice every Saturday…I meditated under a flowering Jasmine tree.
In fact in this land of the Buddha, I am meditating every day. Sitting quietly in Temples which are everywhere. Sitting under trees. Sitting in my hotel rooms. Trying to calm my mind.
Coming from the hectic Los Angeles lifestyle of commuting, frenzied work, teaching, coaching, writing, building a business, I had so many things on my mind starting this trip. Whizzing by at a million miles an hour.
Meditation was very difficult and still is difficult. But its getting better. This morning I sat in the Buddhist temple Wat Phnom, built on a site where four Buddhas where found left by the river. A temple with 700 years of meditation inside. And closed my eyes and felt what I teach in yoga, the sweetness of my breath.
Not forcing it, just feeling my breathing breath me. Slowing down. Turning inwards.
So yesterday, I sat meditating next to the mass graves of Cheong Ek and tried to listen to what all those people would tell us…
getting quieter and quieter…
8,000 skulls in a tower
I sit quietly next to mass
graves of headless
women children men
Their crime was their minds
Thinkers, writers, educators
And I wonder what they
would whisper in my ear
As I sit under this Jasmine
Tree counting breaths
Tell our story?
Don’t let this happen?
Or would they be screaming?
Maybe they might have even
saw a bit of beauty
a monarch butterfly
a lotus flower in the bloody pond
Maybe after days of torture
They found some peace
in Buddhist breaths
before the hoe the machete the cane
I sit here listening today
amongst holes bones
clothes with no people
And watch butterflies dance
from grass flowers to flowers
Hearing not anger but a second
of peace just a second reminding
us to do what they couldn’t