Run Like the Wind
Dan Friedman and Jay Michaelson
In this conversation, Jay Michaelson, who just completed his first marathon, and Dan Friedman, who's run two and counting, discuss running, the spiritual path, and the new book by Roger Joslin, Running the Spiritual Path: A Runner's Guide to Breathing, Meditating, and Exploring the Prayerful Dimension of the Sport (St. Martin's Press, 2003)
Jay: Unlike Dan, I've only just started running. Last month I finished my first marathon, which I've been training for since June. There were several reasons I decided to do this, of which I can clearly identify four. First, I was always the wimp growing up. My father had been forced into athletics by his parents, and so he and my mother made the well-meaning decision not to inflict the same coercion on me. What this meant, however, was that sports were always things other people did. All the other boys played little league - I never did. I was an embodied cliche: always picked last for teams, except maybe for the fat kid. And I was chronically underweight; even drinking a milkshake every day, I didn't "fill out" until my twenties, and dreaded taking my shirt off in P.E. or at camp.
Those years are behind me, but they still animated my decision to train for the marathon. I wanted something difficult, public, and physically intense, to seal my evolution from the kid who dropped the softball at camp to the thirty-two year old who runs the marathon.
Second, I wanted, simply, to get in shape. I really don't like the gym, and with summer coming, I dreaded being inside and lifting weights. But I did need the exercise - summer was around the corner and I was overweight (for me), and low on energy. Not coincidentally, I wasn't writing well in May and June; I needed to get into my body, get out of my apartment, and get moving. Since then, I've lost twenty pounds, gotten my writing energy back, and have recharged all over. Sometimes this got to be too much -- as my last Zeek essay ("Energy") was all about, I let myself get carried away with the masculine, libidinous energy that, I think, was fed by running twenty miles a week. But I found that Ken Wilber is right that, to feel balanced and alive, it's important to live in "all quadrants, all levels," advancing in body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Third, I started running because I was dumped by a beautiful boy. He didn't leave me for physical reasons, but I always felt with him that I was lucky to be there - what was I doing with someone this hot? The truth his, I wasn't even dumped - it was a mutual decision, and the natural evolution of our relationship. But it was his initiative, and I associated it with the physical insecurity and inferiority complex that I'd built up over our time together. Taking control of my body, improving it, and pushing it beyond what I thought were its limits, was part of my process or recovery and self-revaluation. Not that everything is rosy right now, but it worked. Finishing in 3:58 has boosted my self-esteem and taught me a easy-to-understand, hard-to-learn lesson that I normally teach my students in caving and rock climbing: you can do more than you think.
And finally, I started running for reasons addressed by Roger Joslin in Running the Spiritual Path: as a spiritual practice. It's no coincidence that I started running one week after coming back from meditation retreat. I was looking for a way to quiet the mind in the midst of the city - there was too much noise in the city and my addled brain to just sit and watch. The city is a hub of creative, cultural, sexual energy, and that is why I love it. It's also why it's hard to practice here.
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From previous issues:
The Mall Balloon-Man Moment of the Spirit
Go as Far as Possible