The Body is Just a Vehicle
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.