The Running For Life Game: Morning, Meditation #13

This chapter is from A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. This is Meditation #13 from the first section, Morning.

The Running for Life Game

What I probably missed most after dropping my running practice, my running for life game, was exposure.

The novelty of those early morning workouts had been wearing off for a couple of years. I began having fewer of the unique experiences that a running career introduces and expands on in unexpected ways. For example, I returned home from a run one day with icicles dangling from the ends of the hair. They’d formed when sweat from my head, fevered from running, trickled down into six degree air.

Along thousands of miles of trails, almost every type of weather, except the catastrophic, greeted me. The first time I ran for more than ten miles, it was through intermittent deluges where I was barely able to see fifty feet in front of me. I jogged through sultry eighty plus degree mornings when the sun rose into air so packed with humidity it couldn’t burn through.

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At the start of one of my most memorable races in Central Park, a snowfall began just as a thousand of us headed north into Harlem. The clusters broke up into packs as gritty flakes hit our faces. By the time we turned up Harlem Hill, the wind was at our backs and the flakes riding with us. When we crossed the finish line near the Guggenheim, the park and the rest of the city was covered with several inches of white powder. More poured through the leafless trees. Traffic on Fifth Avenue was muffled.

The Fun Of Running For Life

Far more often, the conditions during my runs were pleasant and beautiful. The joy of jogging along at a good pace, an uplifting volume of air rushing into my lungs, as morning light spread across the metropolis, throwing distorted shadows against the walls of buildings, saturated my arms and legs. It was usually unnecessary to cultivate a happy demeanor. That came by itself. Every fiber in my muscles was charged. My heart beat strongly as it responded to the tides of fresh oxygen and pumped out the trash.

Appreciation is built on personal power, and at dawn on a summer morning, no one ever felt more comfortable in a city, for all it’s complexity, more than I did in my New York.

The glow of fitness, strength and optimism remained with me most of the day. Even on winter mornings when others shivered inside their overcoats, scowling at the cold and wind, I felt cheery and, yes, warm, my body no longer intimidated by winter’s chill. I’d beaten it.

Some of that stayed. I still love rain as much as or more than anyone else I know. I love watching puddles throb as raindrops hit the surface. I even enjoy the smell of rain-saturated earth. I manage the heat of New York summers easily, even in a suit, even on a subway platform.

The Inside Game Of Running For Life

For fifteen years, running for life brought me into an effective inside game. Inside games are specifically managed sections of our lives separate from, although often overlapping, others. Our lives can be most easily considered when we picture them existing inside a stationery wheel that surrounds interaction. The outer surface is a still and sturdy membrane. Inside, we conduct our lives, most of which are spent taking part in games or scouting for chances to do so.

These life games are mutable, flexible, illusive and discardable. We undertake them as efforts to experience our senses. Our games intersect with others’. We influence, but I don’t believe we ever really blend. Each of us is an independent wheel, and at least on this plane of existence, it’s inescapable that we are islands.

We can explore that later, but I want this section to illuminate a single game and why being aware of its elements matters.

The availability of games is infinite. Our universe is like a toy store full of activities we’re welcome to join in for free. For the more serious, there are games of scientific discovery; for the literary, containers full of thousands of years of wordplay and wisdom. Athletes seek competitive, physical games while the less active find vicarious games to participate in without effort. The thing about games is that some enhance our journey through life and some detract. The only incentive for choosing anything is an idea about how it will affect our emotionally charged or discharged senses.

Running for life, as it slowly became more routine than adventure, was one of the most beneficial games I’d ever gotten into.

That was predictable from the beginning. I was so eager to get started, I couldn’t wait even for my first pair of running shoes to arrive. I took the elevator down to our lobby to check for a UPS delivery every evening after dinner, starting days before it was promised. Running for life improved my health, both physical and emotional. It gave me back the competitive spirit that burned when I was a kid. It introduced me to people and conditions the majority of us never get to experience.

The greatest benefit of running for life, a very subtle one that took time to come clear, was how it taught me to appreciate isolation, grasping of how fully alone I was in my exposures to reality.

If isolation sounds unattractive, imagine standing at the top of the highest mountain, some snowy rock face in the Himalayas, and looking out at a vast kingdom, all yours, all within your grasp, all at your command. If you can hold that, even briefly, you can appreciate the absolute command isolation brings us. No communal positions in the base camps, nice as they are, will open a mind to the irresistible, liberating truth. We are alone. I’ve had many gifts in my life, but my ineffable source never awarded me one more thrilling than this.

Anyone’s choice of games–and we are always playing more than one–carries it’s own set of rewards and challenges. Probably the most common are the family games. With them come the rewards of belonging, love, intimate friendship and communal insight. We also get the rivalries and jealousies, the clinging to unproductive positions and manipulation. Virtually all of us play some version. Common also are the work and career games, each of which comes with its contingent of thrills and chills.

Since we’re involved in several similar games, all of which overlap and intersect, a couple of things are helpful to keep in mind. First, it matters that we play well, according to our own lights and wisdom. One who bumbles through fumbles through.

Second, as I learned from running for life, since there are so many routine activities, a choice to play those that didn’t fall out of sky and into our laps on the day we were born is what makes the difference between a life that is thrilling and one that will be forgotten before the first frost tilts our headstones.

Previous Chapter: Running With Friends

This chapter is from A Million Different Things: Meditations of The World’s Happiest Man. This is Meditation #13 from the first section, Morning.

David Stone, Writer