Sunday, August 1, 2010

pain, suffering, and good clean fun

I just got in from a fourteen+ mile run.

As in, I am about four bites into this gigantic bowl of recovery oatmeal: 100_2186 oats – flax seed – chia seed – banana – blueberries – almond slivers

I haven’t been this physically exhausted in well over a decade. A hike up Mt. Washington in 1999 was kind of brutal – this might have been harder. I was actually wincing and making impressive grunting sounds, (and also saying bad words! shhhhh!), a couple of times at the end. 

Those of you who enjoyed the chronicles of an adventure to the daylily gardens a couple of weeks ago may have noticed that I have a wee tendency to beat up on myself when the going gets tough.

If you haven’t read that post, go on and do so now. I’ll be waiting for you right here.

Welcome back.  So as I was saying, I have this nasty little habit of beating up on myself when the going gets tough. Is this a common thing? Am I alone in this? It’s like I have this deeply-rooted assumption that if a situation is particularly challenging, it must mean that I’m a failure. I’ve re-written this paragraph about eight times now, because as I try to pin down the thought with words, it slithers away. You’ll just have to trust me – as illogical as it may sound, I associate the experience of difficulty, with personal failure.

Well, I have some good news, I think. I found the crowbar: I had an experience that will enable me to break myself of that self-destructive belief.

Cause that’s dumb, right? I mean, isn’t the whole point of life to learn, and grow? To live out on your edge, carving out new territory, whatever that looks like for you? And doesn’t it make sense that you won’t know where your edge IS, until whoops, you’ve gone beyond it? Which, conceivably, just work with me here, might just kinda be HARD?

And yeah, I’ve had that thought approximately one million times, but there’s nothing like the embodied experience of it, which in this case was right around mile 10 or 11, with my ass (sorry, it’s a technical term) killing me, going up a hill, and knowing that I was Not Done Yet. Boy, did I ever give myself a stern talking to.

You wanted to lean into your growth edge. You asked for this. Now get up this hill, girl. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be fun. If it were easy, you wouldn’t be the only person around here who does this.

Now in some senses, this is nothing new to me, because this is what running is all about. It is a fabulous, 3D way of experiencing discomfort in the service of expanding your capabilities.

Particularly if you’re not used to running – if you believe that one should only run, when being chased, for example…or only when in pursuit of a frisbee, or a soccer ball…A lot of people who don’t run, will tell you it’s because it’s painful. "Why on earth would you willingly do that?” Because when you actually do it, you might just realize it’s not actually painful. It’s just uncomfortable. At first.

A typical conversation in my head early on in my running career went something like this:

freaked-out me: “OH MY GOD, IT HURTS TO BREATHE!”
inner buddha me: “Really? Cool. How?”
freaked out me: “Um…well I have to breathe a little faster than normal.”
inner buddha me: “Oh, OK. What’s that like?”
freaked out me: “Um…I guess it’s OK.  It’s just different, I guess.”

(pause. ho hum. listen to crickets.)

freaked out me: “WOW, I THINK MY CALF IS MESSED UP!”
inner buddha me: “Huh. You think we need to slow down or anything?”
freaked out me: “Um…uh…uh…no, I guess it’s OK.”
inner buddha me: “Cool.”

By now I’ve been running so long that I don’t freak out. I don’t even think about it. I just run. But man, fourteen miles…This was a whole new level of the game. Instead of messing around with discomfort vs pain, I was playing with the difference between pain, and suffering.

There is no doubt I was in pain. But around mile 10 or 11, it dawned on me that I wasn’t just in pain. I was suffering.

Pain…well, pain is pain. It is what it is. Suffering is when you resist pain. I realized that I was disappointed in myself that I was in pain. Today’s run felt easier than my last long run, largely because it was a lot cooler today, but harder than the two long runs before that. And I couldn’t figure out why. Was it because I’ve been doing speed training, and not stretching enough? And instead of just leaving it at that, I started humming the “I’m a failure” song.

And that’s when I had my epiphany. I finally experienced choice around this arbitrary habit of mine to associate difficulty with failure. I finally GOT that in life, pain is inevitable…but suffering is optional. It took pushing myself this hard to realize that I can stop this bullshit suffering.

Experience tells me I’ll have to practice this one a bunch of times before it percolates through the bioplasm and is really an embodied truth for me.

In the meantime, I’ve got nothing but 3 or 4 mile runs for the next couple of weeks. Piece o’ cake.

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