Zen and the Art of Running Very Slowly

My family does things real fast. “Let me make this clam dip real fast.” “I have a story I have to tell you real fast.” “Just a sec, I gotta go the bathroom real fast.” Normally we are a family who enjoys the use of proper grammar, but when it comes to doing things real fast, we just don’t have time for –ly. That would constitute a whole other syllable, and syllables take time. And so, we get up out of bed real fast, we load and unload cars real fast, we make a drink real fast, we fix meals real fast, we get errands done real fast. We’re perpetually in a race, a race against doing anything real slow. My brother, what with his “chess” and his books on “neurology” is an outlier, but nonetheless he shares the underlying trait that fosters this obsession with real fast – a complete and total absence of patience. It is a quality possessed by exactly no one in my immediate family.

My sisters, although they may protest, are also real fast in the literal sense. Back in the day Becky used to run around Lake Morton, a small lake near our house, and it would boggle the mind how quickly she would make the journey. So, too, with Cindy, who likes to pretend to be unaware of how speedy she is. While my dad is not real fast he is real quick, the kind of real quick that astounds the eye. My mom was not just real fast but extraordinarily fast, and put on an exhibition of her still formidable speed last year when she sprinted to prevent a mare and foal from reaching an open gate and a highway beyond. My brother is also real fast, at least when sprinting, a fact few know.

I am neither real fast nor real quick. I am simply real slow. But this does not stop the impatient spirit of real fast from burning brightly in my heart. And so it was that when I took up running, I was obliged to also take up the art of zen and running very slowly.  When I first begin my run – even to this day – there is a flurry of panicked thoughts. “But I have to get to the grocery store! I don’t have time for this!” “I still need to do laundry!” “I need to hurry!” “I need to do this real fast!” But I cannot do this real fast. My body will not let me. If am to do this, I will be doing it real slow. And so, one by one, I have to reject the messages from that panicked voice.

As the run goes on the voice changes. “This hill is hard. If we can’t do this real fast, let’s just not do it at all.” I always answer the voice, “are you dying?” “No,” responds the voice. “Then I say good day to you, sir.” Considering that the benchmark required for stopping is being near death, the voice always loses. Although it may sound like an odd sort of encouragement, I cheerlead the negative voice by saying, “let’s resign ourselves to the idea that we will be running forever. We will never stop. It doesn’t matter how fast or slow, hill or flat, pain or no pain, we will run forever. So we don’t need to keep thinking about it.” It takes a couple of miles, but eventually, this voice wins. Once the win is had, the run settles into something continuous, neutral. When I get back no longer matters. Neither do the pending chores. Thoughts flit by and go along their merry way, but the mind is quiet. It no longer asks the body to do anything but continue on, slowly, steadily. Patience is at hand. And it stays with me for a good ten minutes upon arriving home.

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