by Michael Sandrock //
One day, somewhere around the start of the 5th Century B.C., a wandering forest ascetic named Siddhartha Gautama sat down beneath the Bodhi Tree, vowing not to leave his seat until he had achieved enlightenment. This he did.
Meanwhile, at just about the same time, Darius the Great, the Persian King of Kings, vowed to crush the freedom-loving Greek city-states, especially Athens. His campaign of subjugation ended on the plains of Marathon, where the vastly outnumbered Athenians defeated the previously undefeated Persian army, gathered from throughout the empire, from Asia, to Egypt and Sudan and beyond.
These two contemporary events, separated by about 3500 miles, and not many years, are, it can be said without hyperbole, two of the most important events in human history. One showed the way to freedom from suffering; the other, the way to freedom from tyranny.
Now, during the Shambhala Mountain Center’s Labor Day weekend retreat, “Running with the Mind of Meditation & Yoga”, the two strains represented by Siddhartha beneath the Bodhi tree and the Athenians running into battle at Marathon, are brought together. East and West, meditation and movement, are both essential to human health and happiness. Lacking one, or both practices, can leave a person living in what the poet T. S. Eliot termed “The Wasteland,” ending, as Henry David Thoreau so poignantly put it, to leading “lives of quiet desperation.”
How to turn the “Wasteland” into a fruitful, life-enhancing land? This weekend’s retreat will provide tools and insights that could be a start. The roots of “Running with the Mind of Meditation” go back more than a decade and originator Sakyong Mipham’s idea that:
“Movement is good for the body; stillness is good for the mind.”
During the weekend, we will explore why movement — running, walking and hiking — and stillness are good for us. Perhaps more importantly, you will come away with the ability to incorporate movement and meditation into your daily life, easy-to-follow ways of making them habits that, once becoming integral parts of your quotidian life, can lead to powerful changes. Understanding the changes that drive our body chemistry and our psychological transformations is interesting and fulfilling; but not necessary. All that is needed, as will be shown, is sitting down for that first deep, slow, calming breath, and going out the door for that first step. Your body will take care of the rest.
You will have the opportunity to run, walk and hike on beautiful high-altitude Rocky Mountain trails along tumbling mountain streams and through aspen and pine forests — there are many beautiful trees on the SMC’s 600 acres. Could one of them be your Bodhi Tree? — with a group of like-minded, fellow seekers with whom you are likely to bond and perhaps become fast friends. The three leaders of the “Running with the Mind of Meditation” retreat have more than 100 years combined of running experience, along with being experienced meditators. The daily group yoga sessions serve as the link between the movement and the meditation, and the delicious, communal meals of healthy, vegetarian food foster connection.
During the retreat, you will also be presented with some of the newest information on the health benefits of meditation and running. Thanks to research published in recent years, we now have much new information regarding the benefits of movement and meditation, and can add:
“Movement is good for the mind; stillness is good for the body.”
What kind of Koan is this? How can movement be good for the mind? (As you will learn at the retreat, we can start with BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor)). The meaning will be unpacked in three ways throughout the weekend: in meditation instruction; yoga practice, and running and walking routine. You will leave with a primer on how to make meditation and movement a regular part of your daily routine, to be something you want to do. In other words, you will have the formula on making what you need to do what you want to do. You will also get a daily training schedule, one that in physiological principles is the basis of the training of many runners, from high schoolers through Olympians, as first brought together by the late New Zealand coach Arthur Lydiard.
The past year of living through the pandemic has left many in the world anxious, lonely and afraid. Now is the time to blossom and rejuvenate, to expand in body and psyche, strengthening and lengthening through the daily routine of mindful habits. Come to the “Running with the Mind of Meditation” and learn those habits; you will leave with powerful tools that can change your life. Neither meditation nor running is “easy;” no app or avatar can do it for you. You have to sit in stillness; you have to walk and run. As Siddartha and the Athenians showed, the path to illumination and freedom, from the Wasteland to the Fruitful Land, from “quiet desperation” to “exuberant joy,” is not an easy one. But be assured many others are traveling along with you; come on up to the high Rocky Mountains and and meet some of them.
About the Author:
Michael Sandrock is an award-winning journalist and author of Running with the Legends and Running Tough. He began running as a teenager in the forest preserves outside Chicago and went on to compete for the University of Colorado. He now studies comparative mythology, running, yoga, and meditation.