Someone recently asked me, "Why do you spend so much time running?" This is a question that has been proffered to me countless times, and I always respond with a variation of, "I love it," or "Why not?" This time though, I responded, half-jokingly, "Because I've got issues." To quickly backtrack, everyone has issues, we all just deal with them in different ways. But there is a nugget of truth in that running helps me catalyze my demons into something more useful. When I dig to the bottom of why I run so much, or write so much, or interrogate myself so deeply, it is simply to find peace.
There are many ways people search for peace, and not all of them are healthful. We drink, do drugs, isolate ourselves from relationships, hide our true feelings, avoid pursuing our dreams, all in the name of finding equilibrium, safety, or wholeness. We look for peace where we think it should be, instead of where it is.
I saw a huge monument of Buddha outside a restaurant the other day, and statues like this, I think, give us the wrong idea. The statue was sitting like Buddha always sits, legs crossed, eyes closed, relaxed expression carved into his chubby face. But Buddha did not find peace simply by sitting with his legs crossed.
In Buddhism, happiness is pursued by using knowledge and practice to achieve mental equanimity, or peace of mind. Because dysfunction begins in the mind, achieving true peace requires detaching oneself from the mental cravings that produce "dukkha," (stress, pain, or suffering). Peace is not a destination, but rather, a daily (or sometimes hourly) practice. Running long distances fosters the practice of peace simply by taking me away from all other distractions, forcing me to grapple with whatever mental disquietude currently plagues me, and enabling me to either accept or resolve any stress, pain, or suffering.
I have a hunch that if we cut open the chests of everyone on earth, we would uncover a lot of inner turmoil that has never been voiced, a lot of heartache that was never fully healed, and a lot of trauma that has not begun to be reconciled. It is incredibly simple to claim we are too busy to address our flaws or inadequacies or traumas. It is easy to drown them in alcohol or bury them deeply in other people, expecting something else, or someone else, to fix whatever is wrong with us. It may seem obvious, but we will never find peace in relationship if we aren't at peace by ourselves.
The other day, I ran up a mountain I'd never summited before with a liter of water, my phone, and no reception. After a couple hours and few missed turns, I reached the peak, relief washing over me. Near the sign indicating the peak sat an old man with a huge grey beard, who offered me a Cliff Bar, "You look tired," he said, "The mountains are no place to be tired." He was right; the mountain will always, inevitably win, but maybe that's the point. To push ourselves up as many mountains as we can, to connect with other human beings along the way, to fully recognize our infallible nature, feel with real certainty how easy it is to break. To push past exhaustion or fatigue to find elation in accomplishing a thing that felt impossible. To reach the top of a mountain, laughing. To run with joy, fully and completely in the moment, thankful simply for our ability to do so. This is where I have found peace-where have you?