Running is a basic, natural movement—simply placing one foot in front of the other—but when we look at its biomechanics, it becomes more complicated. Similarly, meditation is quite simple and straightforward—the act of being present, one moment after another. Yet, in Tibet, thousands of texts have been written on this subject. However, if we apply the simplicity of meditation to our mind, even after a long day, it can certainly benefit our well-being.
Meditating after a long day allows the mind to cleanse itself and regain some strength, resilience, and joy. We take our attention from the day and place our mind in the stillness of the moment. By not overthinking or daydreaming, we relieve the mind of fantasies and worries, and we can just be present. The mind behaves in a dualistic fashion. An image comes to mind—a project at work or marital issues—and we respond to that image. Perhaps our response is to feel guilt. If we have fantasies, we may feel desire. Or we see a rock, and, mistaking it for a dog, we feel fear. The mind is constantly reacting to and associating with these thoughts and images. That’s why we feel tired, overworked, or irritated. Paying attention to our breathing and being present, our mind has the space to relax. Imagine that your mind is like your hand, holding a dumbbell. That dumbbell is all your issues and concerns. Being present in meditation is like putting the dumbbell down. Immediately there is less stress in the body and mind. Meditation works in gradations. First, we try to let go of the bigger thoughts and concerns, alleviating the mind of that weight.
It’s like taking the backpack off during an uphill hike—it allows us to recover our energy. Then we let go of the smaller thoughts and concerns. Conversely, after a day at work, if we take on more thoughts and concerns, that is not resting. If we come home from our day and immediately turn on the television to watch the news, we become overburdened by hearing about the various tragedies that are going on all over the world. Even though those global concerns are very important, what is more important at that moment is relieving the mind of overload and stress. Often what people like about watching television and movies is that it allows them to temporarily exchange their personal concerns for those of others. The news of something happening far away has a less immediate effect than what is happening in our own life: we are distracted from our own mental concerns. We feel a certain amount of relief, but it does not allow the mind to fully rest, relax, and rejuvenate. According to the meditation tradition, the negative visual images we see and the emotions associated with them go deep into our consciousness.
In the meditative tradition, there are said to be eight levels of consciousness. The first five are associated with the five sense perceptions. The sixth consciousness is the mental consciousness, the thinking consciousness, which has dreams and memories. The seventh consciousness is the emotional consciousness. Then, there is the eighth consciousness, which is the base consciousness that includes all the others. It is said that the eighth consciousness is where images and actions are stored. In the West, this is sometimes referred to as the subconscious. The longer we live, the more images we collect, both positive and negative. These images are not always at the front of our mind; they fall to the background of our mind. But when we have a buildup of images, especially of negative ones, they come to mind more and more as bothersome thoughts, wreaking havoc on our sleep and our relationships. Since the mind is neutral and adapts to its environment, we become accustomed to this experience, like becoming accustomed to dirt and clutter in an unkempt house. A rundown and irritated feeling becomes the norm, and after a while, we can’t imagine feeling a different way. We just assume that nobody is happy because we are not. We can use meditation as a cleansing process—the time of the day that we do our mental laundry. Doing the laundry, we feel fresh and uplifted. Therefore, after a long day, take ten, twenty, or thirty minutes to meditate. Sitting there, placing the mind on the breath instead of on your worries, you are developing the ability to alleviate your stress and strengthen your mind.
Then try applying that skill to your running by placing your mind on the environment rather than on your thinking process. This is how to give your mind and body a relaxing and rejuvenating break. Let them discover their innate intelligence and well-being. The next time you come home from work, instead of turning on the television or going online, sit and meditate for ten or twenty minutes. As you switch allegiance from the concerns of the day to the health of your mind, know that by being present even for ten seconds, thirty seconds, a minute, or two minutes, you are enabling a great weight to be lifted from your mind. Your mind is being cleansed because you are bathing in the moment. In this way, you are coming into contact with your big, naturally healthy mind. As you rest in that strength, you are becoming more openminded and caring. Then go for a run. Let your sense perceptions, your connection to the elements, and the movement of your body enter you into the larger world. Know that with the discipline of being present in your run, you are purifying your mind, allowing its natural qualities to shine.