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Running into the unknown

November 18, 2010

Discover the joy of off-pist running. Photo: Yves-Marie Quemener

For years I have been telling people about off-trail running, and how liberating the uncertainty can be. Running on a fixed loop or trail over and over again, week after week, will eventually kill the joy of running. OK, it sounds good in theory, you might argue, but what about getting lost? Well, I would answer, running astray will make you feel more alive, and you don’t need to run far away into the wild. You can start with smaller excursions into the unknown, like the area between trails.

“The state of not-knowing is a riveting place to be”, writes Elizabeth Mattis-Namgyel in Tricycle Magazine (spring 2010). She concludes that “Unpredictability is the pulse of our very existence”. In her story Open Stillness a friend takes her rock climbing in Colorado, where she finds herself stuck on a rock face, not knowing how to get out of the situation. The first reaction is fear, which has petrifying effect. She soon realizes the clue is to soften.

“When reactive mind responds to situations where we lose our reference points, our body tightens, our breath shortens, our vision narrows. But as we soften and open, we access a special intelligence, unimpeded by habitual, reactive mind…As everything softens, all kinds of new patterns and shapes begin to emerge (from the rock). We see places (to balance) we didn’t see before.”

"Don't be so predictable!"is a Tibetian Lojong teaching you can practise when you're running.

I wrote about “softening” as a quality for trail running in a recent post here on the blog about running and buddhism, but of course it can be applied to all situations when we feel the need to protect ourselves. We can soften up in a tough situation and chose to play and dance instead of getting hard and rigid.

“Curiousity” is one of the virtues of the trail runner. In fact this is one of the crucial things that separates trail running from ordinary running, that you run with curiousity. ‘OK, let’s see where this trail leads.’ With imagination and curiousity applied every run can surpass predictability, and become more than “a run”. It will become an adventure instead of a mechanical loop.

Instead of avoiding and hiding from the unknown we can be courageous. We can “enjoy the limitless realm of possibility” in Mattis-Namgyel’s words and “live life as an open question…When unexplored territory frightens us, we need to ask ourselves, ‘where’s our sense of adventure?'” So, the next time you go running, be bold, go off-trail, explore and discover!

And check out this story about present & unconscious being: When the Mind Wanders, Happiness Also Strays.

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