On Monday, we finally got our first taste of a “normal” summer day in Central Illinois. It’s been cool and rainy for most of the summer, but Monday it was hot and humid, the heat index registering triple digits. Stepping outside felt like stepping into a sauna.
And because I’m training for a 1/2 marathon, I had to run. Five miles at a slow pace, a recovery run, no big deal. Except the weather. And so I waited and watched and did my best to time my departure so I was out the front door as late as possible while still getting home before dark. I run on country roads, and even though dusk is my favorite time of day to run, I’d rather not find myself smeared into the grill of someone’s pickup truck.
And so, a couple minutes after 8, I set out, water bottle in hand, headphones in, listening to NPR’s “On the Media” podcast. Within a quarter of a mile I was drenched in sweat, but because it was a recovery run and I was running at a slower-than-normal pace, I wasn’t strained. In fact I was quite relaxed. And after 2 miles, I realized that I had no idea what was being said on the podcast, because I had lost myself in the run.
So, I took out my earbuds and gave myself over to the moment. In these moments, I have a breath prayer – a mantra – that I slip into that fits in the rhythm of my feet hitting the pavement, in the spaces between my breathing. I notice the feel of my muscles flexing, the acute sense of droplets of sweat running down my legs. I hear the tree frogs calling to each other, the cicadas chirping, I notice the fireflies rising up out of the ditches to my left and right. That night, I noticed the sky turning alternating shades of orange, pink, blue and purple as the sunlight bounced and reflected off the cloud formations. I smelled the corn and the soybeans and the earthiness of the cows grazing right up against the fence as I ran by in the darkening twilight.
And in that moment there was an overwhelming sense of satisfaction that I’m alive and I’m living in this moment. My body isn’t perfect, my run isn’t as strong as I wish, my problems haven’t gone away and I’m still mulling over the jerk thing someone said on Sunday, but in that moment, the demons in my head – the ones that keep me awake at night telling me I’m not good enough, that I’m missing out on something, that I’m screwing life up – were silent and I was simply there and I was grateful and, right then, that was enough.
I contemplated running longer than the 5 miles the training plan called for, because I didn’t want the moment to end, but by then it was dark, and I was starting to get nervous that a car would come up over a hill and take me out. So, I turned into my subdivision and finished my run, then sat out on my deck while I waited for the sweat to stop, savoring this unexpected gift on a hot, Monday evening in late July.
And while this moment of transcendence or clarity or connectedness – whatever you choose to call it – came on a run, it’s not exclusive to running. Sometimes, this feeling comes in the kitchen when I lose myself to a recipe and good ingredients. And sometimes it comes when I gather in the safety of my most intimate friends and I am able to step outside the moment, observe my life and recognize it as a gift. And sometimes it comes in a more formal, religious type setting – in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine and the reverb of a gothic cathedral.
So this isn’t an argument for running per se, but rather it’s an encouragement to take the earbuds out and notice that life is a gift, the universe is good and God is whispering your name, inviting you to taste and see that everything is good. Cook, run, get together with friends, have a deep, spiritual conversation, go to church, hike in the woods, do whatever it takes to live in this moment because this moment is the only one you have. And in this moment you are being invited to pay attention, to live deeply, and to be fully alive.