Running has always been an activity that helps me clear my head, let go of stress, and contemplate ideas on a deeper level. The solitude of a long run gives me a beak from our frantic and overly connected world. The sounds of my own footsteps coupled with the steady rhythm of my breathing lulls me into a place I call my third wind. In his new book, Running With the Mind of Meditation, Sakyong Mipham tells us why that happens when we run, and suggests ways in which we can harness that powerful clarity and focus to develop a healthier body, mind, and soul.
Mipham, a Tibetan lama and experienced marathon runner, draws many parallels between meditation and running. Beginning runners, and those beginning meditation, are told to focus on their breathing. Our breathing provides life force energy. Every inhale provides fresh oxygen, every exhale rids our bodies of toxic carbon dioxide. Beginning runners often feel overwhelmed and panicky because of their quick shallow breathing. Those who are new to meditation often struggle with shallow breathing as well. It’s only through training our bodies and our minds that we learn to relax and breathe deeply.
The untrained mind is like a wild and blind horse. The wild horse darts off unexpectedly, erratically, and out of control. The process of meditation requires that we train our minds to achieve focus. This reminded me of the beginning runner. As beginning runners we want to distract ourselves from the effort of running. We blast music, bargain with ourselves, and try to make it stop. As we continue to run, we realize that awareness is an essential part of the running experience. Our runs become much easier when we stop fighting and run with a purpose.
In the Shambhala tradition of warriorship the tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon symbolize the four phases of development towards becoming a windhorse. Mipham describes the four phases as they relate to his development as a runner. The tiger represents the beginning runner. The tiger commits to developing mindfulness, basic running skills, and learns forgiveness and patience as the body slowly develops fitness. The lion represents the runner who has attained a level of fitness that allows them to run for sheer enjoyment and pleasure. The lion heads out the door with eager anticipation. The garuda is the runner who is ready to challenge themselves with outrageous efforts. This might be the experienced runner that decides to tackle a marathon. The dragon represents wisdom, foresight, an omniscience. The dragon runs for the benefit of others. The dragon runs for charities and makes the world a better place through running.
In Running With the Mind of Meditation, Mipham explores each of these developmental phases in detail. He offers sound advice on running and shares his expertise on meditation. He reminds us to always remember our purpose, have a healthy attitude, and find pleasure in our daily runs.
The last phase of development is the windhorse. A terrific name for a veteran runner. The windhorse is engaged and optimistic about the future. They can see the basic goodness in humanity despite all the bad things that are happening in our world. The windhorse knows that we are all capable of making our world a better place through understanding, engagement, and compassion for others.