This guest post is written by yoga teacher and writer Michelle Regan:
I’m a runner.
I say this with a healthy level of discomfort because I’m not very good at it. But for the past 10 years, I’ve run. Running came to me at a time when I needed it and it’s been there for me ever since. I’ve run through betrayal, loss, and rebuilding my life. Now, I’m running through a pandemic.
I’ve always been a reluctant runner, but there’s something about the feeling of my feet thudding against the pavement that’s reassuring. However insurmountable life seems, the one thing I’ve been able to do is put one foot in front of another. I just keep going. Sometimes that’s the best we can do and it’s plenty.
Running and writing have a lot in common. The rhythm of feet on pavement, the tapping of fingers on keys. Both feed a need to get what’s inside out. They require commitment and focus. They teach us about ourselves. They take us to our limits and back.
I’m not the first to notice the similarities. Haruki Murakami wrote an entire book about it. In What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Murakami says most of what he knows about writing, he’s learned through running every day. “Exerting yourself to the fullest within your individual limits: that’s the essence of running and a metaphor for life and for me, for writing as well,” he says. “I believe many runners would agree.” Indeed.
The hard work of both running and writing is that you have to sweat and ache before you’ve created something worthwhile. The beauty in both is finding flow, a sense of focus and clarity. We’ve all experienced this. It’s the high that keeps us coming back to creative endeavors and physical ones alike. Flow is about doing. Thoughts are there but you’re rarely aware of them. Murakami says he’s often asked what he thinks about when he runs. His answer is the same as mine: couldn’t say. He likens his thoughts to passing clouds in the sky.
So can we train our brains to enter flow? I think so. It’s no coincidence that passing clouds are one of the first meditation techniques that worked for me. I know, I’ve already scared some people off by using the “M” word. Lots of people think they’re “bad” at meditation and have given up on it. What many of those people don’t realize is the more your mind wanders and you pull it back, the more you get out of the practice. Every time we bring our attention back to the present moment, we build new neural pathways that help us improve focus. That focus helps us find flow.
Let’s give it a try. Set a timer for 5 minutes. Find a comfortable seat on a chair, pillow, or yoga block. Close your eyes. Sit tall, reaching the crown of your head toward the sky. Take a deep breath in and out through the nose. Really tune into your breath. Where do you feel it? Maybe in your nostrils, chest, or belly. Is your breath light and airy or more dense? Don’t change anything, just notice. Keep breathing, bringing attention to what you feel, until your timer goes off.
Here’s something you may not know: it’s normal to think when you meditate. In fact, it’s physically impossible not to think. The goal isn’t a blank mind, it’s to stay connected to what you’re thinking and feeling in this moment. So when thoughts come, make like Murakami and imagine them as clouds in the sky. Notice them, allow them space, and get curious about them. Then, watch those fluffy brain creations float right out of your head.
As we practice, we learn to open up our mind and creative spirit. Whether you’re “good” at it doesn’t matter. Neither does the number miles you run or words you produce. Practice just being. Build focus so you can flow when the moment presents itself. As Murakami says “You overcome your limitations, or you don’t.”
What does matter is that you keep breathing, keep moving, keep putting words on the page. Just keep going. Right now, that’s plenty.