Friday, October 10, 2014

Treadmill Wisdom

"A Moment"
-At the Desert Retreat House-

I was at the gym yesterday doing my regular exercise running on a treadmill, and I suddenly became very aware of all those other treadmill runners next to me in a long row. Everyone was so very earnest, lots of sweating, running as fast as they could- many had a goal in mind, at least 2 miles, maybe 3 or 4; and I was struck with a bit of treadmill wisdom:  Although we all were running fast, we were also fooling ourselves if any of us thought we were actually going somewhere. The treadmill computer may have registered that I ran 2 miles, but in fact I was always in the same place all along. 

I think about something Thich Nhat Hanh once had to say about running:

We are always running, running, running,
even during our sleep we are running.

This is such a perfect description of living everyday in contemporary Western culture.

I have often felt like I am rushing and running through life - running through the day, finishing one task and then running to the next, work, school, shopping, even eating a meal is a task on the "to do" list of everyday life. 

It seems to me that many times people run through life in order to escape their fears. On the treadmill yesterday I watched the never-ending news reports on CNN: The spread of the deadly Ebola virus and the fear that it has now infected the United States; Islamic terrorists, police shootings of innocent people, the economy is improving but not all that much.  As the TV churned out this endless stream of fear-filled news, I watched the runners next to me - running, running, running, so many reasons to be afraid, so that even in our sleep we are running.  

In yesterday's flash of treadmill wisdom I looked around me and imagined each of us in that row fervently running toward "the prize" - up the next rung in the ladder of success, running toward the bigger house or the new car. Then, I thought about those treadmills we were all running on, each of us determining how far we wanted to run; but in the end when we were finished, even if the treadmill registered that we had achieved the desired goal, none of us would really have gone anywhere. I know lots of people who get their new house or their new car or reach the peak of their careers exhausted and tired, saying "Is that all there is?" 

Rushing and running through everyday life, running from fears, running toward the prize, 

We are always running, running, running,
even during our sleep we are running. 

Eckhart Tolle once offered this piece of wisdom: 

Nothing ever happened in the past, 
it happened in the NOW.
Nothing will ever happen in the future, it will happen in the NOW. 

Indeed life always happens "now," and our greatest suffering comes from resisting the present moment. Our deepest angst comes from all the running we do to escape from the place where we are. 

I have a new appreciation for my treadmill exercise - it has turned into a spiritual discipline for me. As I run on the treadmill, gazing out at my fellow runners, I realize that none of us are really running anywhere.  So I turn off CNN, I clear my mind, and I focus on the moment, because all the joy life ever has to offer only ever happens in the NOW.  

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