mundane adventures in running

Review: Running and the mind of meditation by Sakyong Mipham

Sakyong Mipham is a better person than you will ever be.  He’s a sub 3 marathon runner, a leading buddhist teacher and a living embodiment of the philosophy of the ancient kingdom of Shambhala.  He has the audacity to be both humble and charming. Sickening.

Even when he mentions his involvement a Compassion in Leadership conference sponsored by Goldman Sachs he manages to transcend moral judgement and come out on top.  

I picked up Running with the Mind of Meditation in Foyles.  The title caught my attention, and the blurb on the back was fairly compelling.  I thought I was buying a book about how to turn running into meditation.  I hoped to learn how to tune out while running so I could forget about my aching limbs and keep on going.  Sakyong disabused me of this notion in the first few pages:

“People sometimes say: “running is my meditation.”  Even though I know what they mean, in reality running is running and meditation is meditation.  That’s why they have different names”

Yup.  And it’s this kind of simple, clear insight, just short of truism, which makes this book wonderful.

So, a book which I started reading as a manual for better running turned out to be a manual for a better life.   Immediately arresting are Sakyong’s descriptions of the way the consciousness works, and how meditation can improve the mind.  According to other reviews I’ve read of this book, these are trite bromides, but to me they were new and inspiring.  I kept finding myself in minor damascene moments; that’s exactly how I feel. Sakyong has started me on a path to learning to meditate.  His instructions are vague, but gentle: pitched perfectly to encourage and inspire not baffle and alienate.  

Running with the mind of meditation also paints a picture of Sakyong’s own journey through running, descriptions of what he gets out of it, what he loves about it.  There are moments of pure joy when he describes conversations running with friends or the sensation of running with an empty but attentive consciousness.  He focusses on the qualia of running: the internal, how it feels for him.  After reading a lot of running books which look mostly at the things which are external to the runner, the races, the scenery, the literal journey, it’s refreshing to read something unabashedly contemplative, theoretical and inward looking. 

I love Sakyong’s generosity and inclusiveness.  He believes that running and meditation are for everyone: that we can all get more out of the experience of being human by better using what we have to work with, our minds and our bodies.  He welcomes everyone to run, and sees us as a united family, bound by the common experience of running

“When you show up at a marathon the universality of running is evident in the diversity of runners, people of all shapes, and sizes.  Dedication, joy, and pain binds [sic] us all.”

In summary, I bought this book imagining some kind of Bushido manual; a program of training techniques which help your mind to overcome the pain and hardship of long distance running. Instead I got a wonderfully written, easy to read series of essays on running and meditation penned by a warm, wise and infinitely-superior-to-me monk.  I am so pleased that it turned out to be the latter.


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