Yesterday, here in Portland, Maine, I ran a road race.
Although my long runs preparing for this race had often been exhausting, yesterdays was different. I learned again how much easier it is to run a race together.
Every mile or two someone is standing with a smile and an outstretched hand with a cup of gatorade or water.
Families at the end of their driveways ring cowbells and cheer you on. Others blast fun, bopping music to keep you swinging your arms down the road.
Especially, there are those other runners, plodding beside you, keeping you going when you might have well stopped if you were on your own.
And there at the end of the race, leaning over as a medal is passed over your head. That little weight and tug at your neck showing that you have accomplished something you didn’t know that you had in you before. You kept at it. You kept on going when everything in you wanted to stop.
All those those dark and lonely early morning miles plodding down yet another road alone. It all amounted to something. You did this thing you never thought you could do. So YES! and thanks be for the slice of hot pizza and sports massage. YES! to the bagel, banana and box of raisins. You need to recover, you need to rest to prepare for the next race before you.
Last night I hobbled off to sit with the Peaceful Harbor Sangha at First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church in downtown Portland. Last night they read Thich Nhat Hahn’s “Five Mindfulness Trainings”, his rendition of the five Buddhist precepts for living an ethical life. The long lists can sound like an impossible proscription of should’s, do’s and don’ts about the necessity of compassionate listening, open hearted generosity, loving speech and a commitment not to zone out or numb out when the going gets rough. At least that was my take.
But it wasn’t the experience of the woman across the circle from me who shared that this time hearing the Trainings, she understood that they were her – that they expressed what she believed and how she was committed to live. The difference was that she had been sitting here with this group on folding chairs in a cavernous dark sanctuary on each Sunday night for the past year, practicing together, holding each other to this present, heart-opening way together.
Having a community of fellow practitioners be it in the heat at the road race or in a church sanctuary in a circle of chairs, makes a difference.
It’s not you alone, its us supporting each other, doing this impossible thing together.
Sure, you still need to put one foot in front of the other. You need to come back to finding compassion for yourself when yet one more time you have put your foot or mouth in a puddle of missteps. But its a community stumbling, supporting each other that helps you find your way there.
After the race, I stood in line with a college Junior who had run his first half marathon. He was having a hard time at the start of the semester, worried he might not make it through. I asked him what it takes to succeed in school. He said two things, organization and a willingness to ask for help.
There’s the wisdom – to make it through the race we have set before ourselves this day or this life, we are helped by having a structure, a form, a boat as it were to take you to where you want to go – and a willingness to admit that we all need others to help get us there – and yes, its easier when we do.
In my work of running alongside those going through times of deep challenge and change, I am struck by how often we want to find and figure out our own way through. How hard it is to say, I could use some help. It’s hard for me too.
But today, I’m committed to asking a few people for their support as I step into my next challenge on the road ahead.
Running together, I learned again yesterday, is so much better.