“Mom, you call yourself a Christian, but honestly, I really think you’re more of a Buddhist.”
I recall this comment from my 18-year old son and smile to myself as I’m stretching mindlessly in the parking lot – leaning up against my car’s bumper and holding one ankle behind me as I cue up my music. A Buddhist? Okay. It’s finally Friday morning after a week of relentless busyness and chaos –work, children, chores, dog. As I stand alone feeling the sun warming my face, I quietly thank God for giving me the strength to take this run. As odd as it may sound, I really do fall asleep at night in great anticipation of the new day ahead that dawns with the possibility of a run.
This morning I’m running with Mumford and Sons playing through my headphones. I was never a big fan until recently after I listened – really listened – to the lyrics. Their songs are filled with grace, and hope, and God and gospel.
“I will call you by name
I will share your road
But hold me fast, Hold me fast
‘Cause I’m a hopeless wanderer.”
There’s a certain feeling of peace that settles in deep within me as I’m running up this dirt path watching the breeze gently swaying the grasses in sync with the beat of the bass. While there is not a soul in sight, I feel surrounded by love the farther I run with the music filling my head. As always, I know I am not alone. I quietly whisper, “Good morning,” and try not to get emotional. There are still many miles left for that.
I crest the first hill and I am somewhat startled by a red and yellow hot air balloon just starting its ascent. I think about Keegan. He’s one of the most self-aware people I know. Introspective and honest. He shows me so many things I might otherwise miss about this life. He speaks wisely. He acts reasonably. He lives honestly. His comment about having a Buddhist way about me does not escape me. In fact, it makes me think about my monkey mind.
You see, I started running in seventh grade because my father said I was getting fat. I was a terrible runner. I would immediately get out of breath, my sides would cramp, and I had an uncontrollable monkey mind. I couldn’t focus on anything except the fact that I was a terrible runner, that I was fat, that I was full of excuses, that I was awkward, that I was embarrassing. I suffered from the monkey mind – all the time. I’ve used this term to describe myself for decades, but honestly, I never knew its origin. It just made sense. It was the perfect description of the way things worked in my head. But, after Keegan’s comment, I felt compelled to look it up.
I was shocked. It was Buddha who described the human mind as being filled with drunken monkeys, jumping around, screeching, chattering, carrying on endlessly. Imagine dozens of monkeys all clamoring for attention – that’s me. That’s the state of my thoughts. But, thankfully, even though I was a terrible runner, I never gave up. It took many months, but by the time I was 13, I had run a mile without stopping. For the first time ever, I felt like I was someone else – someone strong and powerful and competent. Running had calmed my monkey mind and, for one blissful moment, I had uncovered some inner peace.
I’ve been running ever since – literally and figuratively. I think about this revelation as I reach my turnaround point and look directly into the sun rising in the eastern sky. Buddha showed his students how to meditate in order to tame the crazy monkeys swinging from branch to branch in their minds. He believed it was useless to fight with the monkeys or to try to banish them. Because Buddha believed that which you resist persists, he instructed his students to spend some time each day in quiet meditation to tame the monkeys. I guess that’s what I do when I run.
Okay, so maybe there are these monkeys I’m taming each morning. It’s possible I suppose. But I still believe that God tracked me down one Thanksgiving morning two years ago after many years of running away from Him. He wrestled me to the ground, opened my eyes and softened my heart. It was on the run that I finally saw Him for who He was – kind and gentle and comforting and forgiving. On my runs, I know He’s there with me cheering me on. That He’s the one I’m talking to. I guess it’s possible that they’re all there – God, Buddha and the crazy monkeys.
And, maybe I’m not the best definition of a Christian out there. Maybe I do have some beliefs that resemble those of Buddha. Maybe I’m still evolving. But regardless, my runs are the best time of the day. It may be meditation of sorts, but I’ll still call it prayer. And I’ll continue to thank God for all of it. Every monkey-infested minute of it. [PS: See You tomorrow.]