The Choice To Suffer
The first few aren't so bad. Neither are the last few. It's those middle ones that are brutal.
(Note: In case you aren't familiar with my writing, I encourage you to keep reading EVEN IF you are not a runner. I promise there is something in here for you too.)
When I run indoors at the YMCA, I face the mental challenges that many other runners face when running on a treadmill or a short lap course. With no changing scenery to distract or intrigue, it is just you....and your thoughts.
Today, around lap 16, all I could focus on were those last five fingers held defiantly out. Five more laps. Four and three quarters. Four and a half. It was painful. Even one more lap seemed near impossible given the current weight of my legs. And I had FOUR to do?
As I plodded past a window, I noticed the rain falling outside. Soft, quiet, persistent. A few steps later, another window offered a different view - same rain. Still soft, quiet, persistent.
Suddenly, I only had three laps to go.
My fingers were still diligently counting down the laps. I still knew where my goal was. And yet, my mind - in sinking into the images of the rain and my footfalls that matched the soft tap, tap, tap of the falling drops - had let go of striving for the finish line.
I still knew where I was going but I wasn't attached to reaching it.
Yes, of course: life lesson.
Being present instead of trying to distract myself from the discomfort actually helped me face and embrace the pain. And slowly, as my mind shifted its perspective, the suffering of three more laps disappeared.
My legs were still heavy. But each step was just that - another step. Lift, place foot down. Lift, place foot down. Window - rain. Wall. Window - rain. Watch out for the other runner. Lift, place foot down.
And voila - three miles completed.
We run, we walk, we go to business meetings, we deal with screaming children, we face traffic and long lines, we take on seemingly life-ending emotional challenges, deaths of loved ones, and broken hearts.
Some by choice, some not.
The suffering? Believe it or not, it is always by choice.
And with this awareness, the practice begins.