Be Here Now, Part 3: Stress

Training for a marathon is bullshit one of the most mentally and physically challenging things I have ever done in my life. Of course, the actual run will be an unforgettable experience but no one ever tells you about the difficulties inevitably faced when embarking on a strict 16 week training schedule. There are certain things that can be done to help yourself when setting out on a 13 mile or more run of a Sunday morning. For example, energy gels have become my snack of choice and I now carry one of those fancy camel packs which now qualifies me as a “real runner”. Whilst they assist with physical wellbeing, there’s the mental wellbeing side which consists of nothing more than a specially curated Spotify playlist and a decent pair of headphones…

I am especially fond of my headphones. I bought them last year – the fancy wireless type with bluetooth connection and over-the-ear hook things (again, another “real runner” qualification.) The only thing about these headphones that really pisses me off isn’t so helpful is that they speak to me – particularly when the battery is low. This bitch will not shut up announcing that the battery is low every fucking minute. I was nearing the end of a tough 8 miler when she started chanting this Swan Song at me, interrupting my 80s playlist, when I decided to save myself the annoyance and turn her off.

Now, up until this point, every single training run I had done had been done to music. I very rarely run without my headphones. As any active person will know, having a little music playing can turn things up a gear or help you zone out of a difficult training session. But something fucking remarkable happened when I allowed myself to run in silence…

They say stress is holding two competing ideas in your mind at once. What you think should be, and the reality of what is. Turning off the music, shutting down the noise, allowed me to stop zoning out. I became fully present in the moment. I stopped getting caught up in my head with my own thoughts and was dropped straight back into my body. Without the distraction of music, I thought that I would suddenly feel more pain in my legs, become more aware of my breathlessness, and fully feel how tired I was. There was no more distraction; just me, being here now.

Did my run become easier? Hmm. Probably the wrong question to ask as my legs still ached, my mind still had moments of struggle, and I still felt fatigued. But, therein was magic – in no longer fighting against the struggle, in trying to deny my reality, I was able to fully feel the aches and pain and tiredness and, actually, it wasn’t so bad. It was manageable.

You see, in accepting the present moment, I was uniting my body and my mind with the reality of the situation and accepting it. It made me wonder…how much energy do we expel trying to fight against that which we fear?
Hypothetical situations that will never happen?
Things that we cannot change?

If you are denying the reality of the situation you are in now, take time to slow down, pause, and feel it. Feel how you feel. Let the pain, the difficulty, the sadness, the anger…let it all come and just sit with it for a while. Give yourself space to feel the full depth of your humanity. Don’t judge it. Just let it be.

In this moment of accepting how you feel, accepting the reality of the situation, and allowing yourself to simply exist here and now…this moment is the sacred space where compassion can thrive. Just by simply meeting yourself where you are right now.

If you deny how you feel now, how do you understand what you need?
If you deny where you are in this moment, how do you know where to go?

On that 8 mile run, I felt my leg muscles tense and release, heard my lungs taking in air, I saw the world around me in the morning sunshine and I found myself at peace. No more denying, or zoning out, or wishing I was home. Just taking it moment by moment, step by step, until I finally reached where I needed to be.

…pain is actually made worse by the fear of pain. When working with pain, give it space, allow it to be, and know that your awareness of pain is separate from the pain itself. Opening to the pain allows it to be part of the reality that you are witnessing and decrease the resistance to it, allowing you to relax around it. Open to what it is, acknowledge it, give it space, bring your awareness to it as another sensation. Pain is, and you are.

Ram Dass

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