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A meditation on Presence
Whose Mountain #26
After 25 numbered Whose Mountain newsletters, I’ve decided to change it up. Whose Mountain #1 - #25 have been experiments. What I’ve found is these weekly newsletters are all essays, thoughts, and meditations that stand alone. Selfishly, I want them to stand alone as individual ideas. It’s much harder to remember that in #25 I talked about Mike ideas. These will still come out on Thursdays and larger essays will come out separately as they’re finished. But now, these smaller thoughts should stand alone.
Spring has arrived. With it, the world comes back to life. The seas of green leaves fill the emptiness left behind by the cold snow, taking advantage of the opportunity the yellow sun’s warmth has left. This path, once a barren trail of hard packed white that crunched under my microspikes and snowshoes, shows signs of lightness as clumps of caramel mud bounce in rhythm with my footfalls, more joyful spring than rigid fall. Even the daffodils and dandelions have returned. They frame the edge of this private world with their unmistakable dance of mustard and cotton. It’s spring. It’s time to run.
This spring, I started running with my mouth closed. This torture practice – hailed by yogis, influencers, and fitness gurus – constricts the flow of air when I need it the most. Drunk on the plentiful air that my mouth has always indulged, my lungs desperately beg for just one more indulgence over the sips of oxygen my nostrils offer. Calling it painful would be like calling the Sistine Chapel pretty. And yet, I love what comes next.
By denying myself, I find my Self.
I didn’t grow up this way. In fact, I came of age in this distinctly American society which valued speed, convenience, and the march of progress. I chased that which was easier, better, or newly possible. I was conditioned by the Amazon Prime effect to expect my every desire to arrive faster than Aladdin’s gold and be placed on my doorstep with the click of a button so I never had to leave my couch. My religion was speed. Flying Mach 2 with my hair on fire was the only time I felt alive. But somehow closing my mouth - a decidedly inconvenient way of running – has me rethinking the past.
Running this way feels like my legs are coated in fresh cement which deprives my muscles of oxygen. Even though I expect this pain, I still need to struggle with my mental demons before I can enjoy it. Eventually I will ignore my insistence to go faster and find a speed where my heart doesn’t explode out of my chest, but I can never start off at that pace. My lungs, my heart, and my legs sing a chorus of pain against my ego’s ideals. They enlist my mind in a plot to end the misery. My brain screams “Stop already!” Right as I’m about to give in, the three note song of a Red-breasted Nuthatch breaks through.
I’ve found my meditation.
I’m now a member of this scene. Before I was an interloper in this land. I slow down my run, slow down my mind, and find my place.
I notice the sweet morning dew as my rhythmic steps dislodge it from the grass. It bounces off my ankles, the damp drops soaking my socks. Fresh grass and sweet flower perfume join the air I breathe. My motion adds to the dance.
I never used to celebrate this landscape. It was always something pretty to look at while I ran through it on the way toward my goals. But now I’m present. I notice. I think. I commune with this holiest of scenes. As I become that which is around me, I lose myself to the music of nature – my rhythm and the fluttering hatchlings and the tiny puffs of dirt which belong to the universe rather than to me. This becomes a spiritual run. My private act of worship.
My run teaches me that meditation is everywhere. As long as I choose it. Where else have the false idols of ease and convenience robbed us of the beauty in life?
These acts don’t come naturally. And they’re not for everyone.
I’ve started meditating as I bake bread, a decidedly slower choice than going to the local bakery. And our local bakery is legit. Instead, I take the time to mill my own wheat berries and I feel the brittle cracking of the bran newly separated from the flour. I mix the levain into the dough by hand. I wait. Rushing nature is a fool’s errand.
I’m rewarded with light, airy bread that leaves me feeling renewed when I have broken it with friends and loved ones. It’s not convenient, but it is more than store bought bread will ever be. It’s my communion with the world around me – the people who break this bread at my table, the fields that grew my wheat, the worms and bugs that enriched that soil, and the microbes that make it all possible. All are celebrated divinely in this meditation.
These meditations have enhanced my spirituality. As I’ve slowed down, I started learning who I am. The Self I inhabit doesn’t reveal itself on demand. It’s not found in podcasts or YouTube videos (even a recorded meditation). Instead it’s in the slow space between thoughts, or the evening ritual of journaling as I ask and humble myself while submitting to the fact that Truth doesn’t work on my timeline. I can let my ego run rampant with the confidence that I won’t lose my Self. There’s no hurry to maximize my spiritual development before the All-Star break. All things in time.
This is a slower way. More sensual than speedy. But the change is also more.
As I cross the last bridge before home, I wonder how I got so lost in this run. For as present as I was, the last three miles all blend together. This run, like the one before it and the one that will come next, hasn’t really gotten my mile times closer to that vaunted four minute mile. Yet in these miles I’ve given up the pretense of growth. It hasn’t crossed my mind. By slowing down, I've shed everything except me. In these moments I’ve allowed myself to become…me.
No mask. Only beauty.
I think next run I’ll choose the slower way again.