Followers of this blog might be wondering how the Vancouver half-marathon went, after my previous entries about the preparations and learnings along the way. The race itself occurred during a 4-day Diamond Approach Vancouver weekend that I was attending, which meant that I was in the “field of the teaching” while I was running the race. This meant that I was more open and sensitive than usual.
Does that mean I had a blissful race, wafting through the trees of Stanley Park, buoyed up by the nearby ocean waves? Hell no! It meant I was accutely aware of how my need for space and flow was constantly thwarted by the masses of people around and ahead of me. I experienced a continual sense of frustration for most of the race. Because I was in a heightened state of awareness, the frustration seemed even more painful than usual, and I noticed how my mind kept generating reactive comments about the people in front of me who were IN MY WAY!!
As I noticed this judgmental, hateful thought stream that my mind kept generating, I felt powerless and despairing of ever being able to cease this painful activity. It seemed to be totally beyond my control, and out of control. I don’t want to be having thoughts like “Get the fuck out of my way!” all the time. Yet I have been doing inner work for many years, and these types of thoughts still do occur all the time.
After noticing this go on for a while, I decided to try something new, which was to feel kindness towards myself each time I had a judgmental or hateful thought about another person. I have been reading Pema Chödrön’s book Tonglen: The Path of Transformation, which teaches how to breathe painful states such as anger and hate into the heart, and breathe out light, love, compassion, and so on. So each time I had a judgmental thought, as the kilometres went by, I felt into my heart, with a sense of curiosity and kindness, to see how it felt as this was all happening. It felt quite hard and tight, but the experience of touching my heart with the kind, curious awareness added a feeling of warm intimacy with myself. I suspect that this is what I was really longing for, as well as the feeling of running at my ease and flowing. When people are packed so tight around me I feel claustrophobic and on hyperalert, so I can’t relax into the ground of my being.
The opportunity to keep bringing my attention back into my heart, time after time, felt like a gift of this race. And coming towards the finish line, the crowd thinned out, for about the last 100 metres there was finally the sense of thoughtless, spacious pure flow I was longing for. My mind was still, and I felt like I was in a timeless moment of blissful movement. It was truly wonderful.
As soon as I crossed the finish line, there was a huge crowd in front of me and I had to wait about ten minutes before I could get free. It was extremely distressing, to have those few moments of pure blissful awareness and then be back into the panicky feeling being trapped and not being able to get out. But finally the crowd inched to the opening and I was free.
I ran from there to the place where I had parked my car, at Main and Hastings (about another 10 minutes). It felt great to know that my limit is now beyond the half marathon, due to the earlier training I had done when I intended to do the full marathon. When I got to my car I put the medal inside and then leaned against the car to do some calf stretches. I was looking down, not really thinking about anything, and another moment of grace descended upon me. I was perceiving the objects in my field of vision with no thought or evaluation. It was a moment of nonconceptual awareness, in which the usual automatic process of looking at things, labelling them, and evaluating whether they were good or bad stopped. I was just looking. It was a taste of the kind of freedom I long for, though in that moment I wasn’t longing or even feeling free. Everything just was. After a few moments, I realized I was looking at cigarette butts floating in the clear rainwater in the gutter. Can you imagine the freedom of looking at that and not having to think “Ew, cigarette butts, disgusting!” But instead to just feel pure, clear awareness? It is a delicious way to be, my friends, and I wish that for all of you.
This week I am at the Dan Brown meditation retreat I mentioned earlier, and he promises that the mahamudra techniques he is teaching us will bring just that type of freedom from reactivity. The teachings also promise a taste of awakened mind, which he says is a simultaneous experience of bliss, stillness, and clarity. This is our true nature. May we all know this through our direct, lived experience.