The path back to love
There is something soothing about the rhythm of my sneakers on the pavement; something rewarding about my reddened face and glistening skin afterwards; something healing about the connection between my spirit and nature.
Running doesn’t come naturally to me. I am not built like a runner and have never been very fast. But, I don’t do it to win. I run for the deep exhale of accomplishment at the end. I do it for the challenge of pushing myself past what is comfortable or easy to cross the finish line. I run for the reminder that I am healthy and strong and capable, and for the way it parallels life with facing fears and pushing through the pain. I do it for the practice of putting one foot in front of the other and staying focused on a goal that is still just out of sight. I do it for the slow transformation between each step that purifies the mind and body.
The last year has been a struggle for me to lace up my sneakers and set out. In the midst of back trouble and persistent knee pain, I had all but given up the thought that I would ever run a race again or even jog through my neighborhood. Since I was never a serious runner, it seemed silly to force it when my body was not cooperating anymore. But, in that hiatus, I also stopped taking care of myself and needed to recommit. Summer’s warmth and extra sunlight beckoned me back to my favorite trails. So, after some physical therapy and a good knee brace, I decided to ease back into it.
Usually, it takes me a while to get into a groove and feel warmed up. But, this morning, as I put on my headphones and set off down the wooded path, I could feel my body resisting right away. The heaviness in my legs begged me to slow down and try another day. So, I made a deal with myself: I’d run for ten minutes, and if it still felt awful, I would walk instead. I turned up the music, set my eyes ahead on the trail, and took off.
As I looked up, I noticed yellow leaves falling from a tree up ahead. The leaves were slowly swirling down like snowflakes and forming a little pile on the path. With no real breeze to speak of, it seemed random and whimsical. My focus shifted to things I hadn’t noticed before: the beautiful purple wildflowers just a few feet back from the path, baby bunnies hopping into the woods, and a bunch of heart-shaped leaves strewn about. I started counting each one, and pretty soon I had lost track of my breath or the stiffness in my legs. Ten minutes turned into five more, and five more after that, until I had completed the path.
The leaves were like little reminders of love, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many times had I missed these little signs of beauty around me? How often do my worries distract me from what is right in front of me? They felt like a calling to wrestle with the places where I’ve withheld love from others and heal the divides inside that I’ve been holding onto for a while.
The last two years, in particular, have been filled with outrage, disappointment, and anxiety for me. Having different opinions is what makes our country work well, but the defense (and silence) of hateful rhetoric, racism, and misogyny, particularly from those in faith communities, has been deeply troubling. It has taken a toll on my heart and on relationships, and it is eroding our culture as a whole.
I don't know how best to bridge the gaps in our discourse around important issues we are facing, but I know we can and must do better for the sake of our values, our families, and our future world. When we give in to this fear and division, we miss the beauty that is still present all around us and in each other, and we perpetuate the status quo.
Just like with running, we have to stay on the path and push through the discomfort to find that beauty. I am so thankful for the clarity break this morning to get refocused on what matters most in this life and to see the world again through a lens of curiosity and love.
“There are two basic motivating forces: fear and love. When we are afraid, we pull back from life. When we are in love, we open to all that life has to offer with passion, excitement, and acceptance. We need to learn to love ourselves first, in all our glory and our imperfections. If we cannot love ourselves, we cannot fully open to our ability to love others or our potential to create. Evolution and all hopes for a better world rest in the fearlessness and open-hearted vision of people who embrace life.” - John Lennon