Image by See-ming Lee 李思明 SML via FlickrGet a runner talking about running and he's bound to mention something called "the runner's high" or "being in the zone". Maybe others experience it differently, but when I get that high my running becomes effortless, as if my feet are barely hitting the ground, my mind goes clear and the time and the miles just fly by. It's a cool feeling.
Of course, not every run gives me a runner's high. Sometimes my mind is busy planning yoga classes, thinking of new blog posts to write, or trying to decide whether to turn around at this cross street or the next one. Other times I feel like I'm pounding the pavement, feeling every jarring footfall. If there's any pain, I try to stay in my body and see if I can adjust anything to make it go away. Every now and then nothing comes together and I walk home.
Does that mean I don't get anything out of those runs? Of course not. I am training for a triathlon. Every run in my training plan has a purpose and it's never to achieve a higher state of consciousness. Logging the miles is building endurance and (hopefully) making me run faster. Even the slow, torturing runs have value, although they may just be lessons in what not to do next time.
My meditation practice is like running. I may sit and not be able to settle down. I may fidget, unable to get comfortable on my pillow. My mind may chatter uncontrollably. Occasionally I find my meditative "sweet spot" and thirty minutes seem to disappear just as I've closed my eyes.
Once, my husband and I took a meditation class together. The class was held in a small room with no furniture and we all sat on pillows against the wall. Ten minutes into the meditation I was sound asleep, leaning against the wall. (I even snored.) Afterward I asked my husband if he got anything out of it. He said he had - while he was sitting there with his eyes closed he figured out how to fix our problem toilet!
Really, we both got something out of the class. The meditation teacher told me the thing I now tell my yoga students who drift off during Savasana, that sometimes what we need the most is a few minutes sleep. My husband's experience was also valid. In the quiet meditation room, free from distractions, his mind could finally work out the solution to a lingering problem.
Beginning yoga and meditation students, and some beginning runners, may be discouraged when they fail to achieve the activity's advertised state of bliss. It is this attachment to an expected outcome that does us in; not reaching the outcome is labeled a failure. We don't see the benefit in sitting uncomfortably for a few minutes, watching our minds run amok. We forget that just becoming aware of what our minds (or bodies) are doing is a great accomplishment.
By keeping at it, we may find our high. Or maybe we won't, and that's okay too. Sometimes a run is just a run.