Thursday, January 6, 2011

Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly

During this past year or so I have been on quite the path of discovery.  One of the discoveries I made is that I do not like clutter and I do not need stuff!  Well, maybe some running stuff.  But that is about it.   Through all of my Zen ramblings and reading I kept coming up against these minimalist challenges.  People who aspired to reduce their belongings to number 100 or less.  Some are more hardcore than others.  Some have enough corollaries that it starts to defeat the purpose.  Just the other day I started thinking about further reducing my clutter.  I run pretty lean, but there is always room for improvement.  I did a quick Google search and came up with this site:  This is a site written by Leo Babauta.  He has well over a 1000 posts that he has compiled since 2007.  I do not know much about Leo’s background at this point and I have only read 4-5 of his posts.  I have seen enough to know that I will really enjoy exploring what is below the surface of the tip of this iceberg.  An impactful, but simple affirmation he quoted by the 14th Dalai Lama extracted some great musing by me last night.  So I am going to continue to peel back the layers of the road he has already hoed and filter some great topics with my usual twist on life, running, etc.

The tagline on the main page of his blog of course was Smile, Breathe, and Go Slowly.  Props to Leo for capturing the essence of 1,000 posts with 5 simple words.  So I figure this was a great place to start.

Smile:  We all have heard how it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile.  Like Buddy the Elf says:  “Smiling is my favorite!”  A great smile is contagious.  Laugh and the whole world laughs with you.  I believe the same is true of a smile.  Such a simple way to greet a loved one, friend, or complete stranger.  This is a very powerful non-verbal.  It sets the tone for the entire interaction.  I know we all sometimes forget to smile.  Sometimes I will purposefully remind myself to smile.  When I run Ultramarathons is the perfect example.  We all know that running 100 miles straight is going to be painful and uncomfortable, but it is up to me if I am going to be miserable.  There always comes a moment when things get the worst out on the course.  It is usually when I am alone, cold, and in the dark in the middle of the wilderness somewhere.  Everything hurts on some level and sometimes there are very painful and difficult situations to overcome.  This is the place I am always trying to push myself.  This is the penultimate moment I knew was going to occur when I signed up.  It is the moment I will have to overcome if I am to be successful on that day.  This is what I came here for!  One trick I have taught myself is when I catch myself at that moment of complete misery, when I think it cannot get any worse, and I want to quit, I simply remind myself to SMILE.  I do this very purposefully.  I actually relish the moment when I have pushed myself that far out there.  It is an amazing feeling that is very hard to describe that overcomes me.  I can feel it spread across my body and feel my energy levels rise and the pain subside a bit as I break into the biggest grin I can muster.  Sometimes I even laugh out loud.  A deep from-the-gut blast that reverberates across the woods.  (Does a Dave Laugh make a sound if no one is there to hear it?)  So remember, when things get tough, just the simple act of smiling can make a difference.  If nothing else people will wonder what you are up to?

Breathe:  Awaking each morning and being able to live and breathe is a gift!  Breathe deeply.  Savor it.  It is relaxing.  Cleansing.  In a tough situation it can give you a moment to do a reset on your entire perspective.  Breathing and taking things in is closely tied to being able to have stillness in your life.  Stillness and quiet where you can remove yourself from the crazy chaos of your day for just a moment to breathe deeply and purposefully.  Many times when out on the trail for hours on end I find myself focusing within to the pattern and flow of my breath.  This usually happens when I am running solo.  I become completely present in that moment on the trail.  All the white noise thoughts that we normally have dashing and darting around in our head go quiet.  It is just me with my breath in my lungs and my feet on the trail.  Truly transcendental.  Way better than any runner’s high I have ever had.  Breathing and being still is all about being present.  I know I just described being “still” while I run.  I am talking about creating a quiet mind.  These are the moments when it all melts away.  Eventually you reconnect with the rest of the chaos around you, but amazingly, many times you solved a problem or gained a new perspective without even realizing it.  Breathe and be still.  It is as basic as things get.

Slowly:  One of my favorite quotes I always see posted on the trail at ultrarunning events is this:  “Go out slowly and then taper off.”  I also like to remind myself to take the time to enjoy my settings.  Don’t be in such a hurry to run 100 miles that you don’t see the hawk soaring above or to stop at the top of a great overlook and take in a great vista.  One of the things I love about trail races is that they are usually in very remote locations well away from city lights where you can actually see more than about 20 stars.  How about the Milky Way from horizon to horizon?!  When I was in Death Valley last summer I could not take my eyes of the sky.  It was incredible.  One time I counted 7 shooting stars just in the time I was looking at the sky while I was peeing!  So, I always make sure to make myself stop and stargaze during the overnight portion of a 100-mile race.  Even if it is for just 2 minutes.  It makes me feel small and insignificant as I stand there under a billion points of light, most of which do not even exist anymore.  Yet here I am.  All the sudden I now feel large as well.  Like Uncle Walt said:  “I am immense, I contain multitudes.”             

Another great example:  I was driving to the airport to go to Badwater in Death Valley last summer.  Bags packed and everything.  As I am driving down the road I see this guy on the shoulder of the highway riding a bike.  He had on a bright green vest and had several of those long yellow flags on the bike sticking out at various angles.  He is pretty loaded down with gear and bags and there is a cardboard sign affixed to the rear.  At 70 mph I somehow make it out:  “Coast to Coast”.  I think cool.  Some adventure he is on!  So I decide to stop and talk to him.  I pull over and let him catch up to me.  I have a bike rack on my car and I take a very relaxed posture so he does not think I am some crazy.  He rolls up with a big grin on his face.  I guess this happens to him with some regularity.  We trade intros and I start peppering him with questions.  Turns out he was on his 7th crossing of the US on a bicycle.  In addition to that he has cylcled across most of 5 other continents.  Forrest Woolridge was his name.  He goes by Frosty.  Duh!  We stood on the side of the road and talked for almost an hour with tractor trailer’s whizzing by.   He was one of the most interesting people I have ever met in my entire life.  FYI.  He left San Francisco in June and was hoping to make Washington D.C by September 1st.  His route took him through Death Valley about a month before we met.  Slow down and remember to take things in.  You miss a lot at 70 mph all the time.

My son Ben getting his Zen on in the middle of chaos at Target

Another aspect of Going Slowly has to do with being “busy”.  As a society we over-commit.  At work and in the course of our personal lives we tell ourselves we have to do more , more, more!  Every little bit of time gets used up by some actions or activity.  As a result, our days become very harried and we lose control of our own time because we have so much to do.  Oh no!  What if we do not get THAT done?  Lao Tzu, father of Taoism, said:   “Nature does not hurry, yet everything is accomplished.”  We create so many self-imposed tasks that are completely unnecessary and irrelevant.  We try and pack as much as we can into one day.  This results in us completely frazzled trying to get ready and whiz off to the next occurrence.  Whatever THAT might be!  Give yourself a cushion on time so you do not have to eat while standing at the counter while yelling at the kids to get their stuff together to run out the door to practice after being at school all day and you have been at work and up since 6:00 without a moment to yourself, but if you can just keep going and get through dinner (fast food in the car) and homework and baths and the kids to bed you might have 5 minutes to yourself before you pass out.  BLAH BLAH BLAH!  That was the worst run-on sentence in the history of ever.  That is what most people’s lives have become: A big run-on sentence of what?  Simplify.  Take time to disconnect from media.  The iPhonePadTouchPodamajobbers can be set aside for a while.  I am guilty.  TimeSuck, I mean Facebook.  I have said too much.



Now go slowly my friends.