Running to Korichiloo
First entry in almost a year, and I confess it's just a slightly edited copy/paste from my journal. Running is one of the most important aspects of my life here, physical and spiritual, so this seems like a good way to start. Again.
These days I run with a high-vis rain jacket on. It features this cool modular system where the sleeves attach with magnets, which means I can run in shirtsleeves but also carry rain protection in case of sudden downpour. Which is of course likely during monsoon season. I heard two teachers talking today in the staffroom, one telling the other that he’d heard reports of the monsoon having reached the Maldives. Funny, I thought it was here already. But isn’t that cool, the rain moving like a living being with a clearly traceable route of progress, his arrival anticipated much the same way an important rimpoche’s would be…
Along with the jacket, the other notable pre-run detail is the important items I pack with me: I carry a bag of salt in case of leeches. That’s it. No watch even.
There’s a path behind the kitchen that leads past the unpleasant garbage dump and to the farm road that leads to Korichiloo, so I kind of walk-jog-skip through there, trying to keep moving as fast as possible to avoid leech attack and come out one bend below the top of the hill, marked by the chorten and the telecom tower. Old and new, old and new.
The time spent before the run is very important, vital preparation time in which I stretch, or, ok, I don’t stretch, I pretend to. These days this part of the run, now that I think about it, is in some ways the best part, because the scene, with these huge, beautifully shaped trees half-obscured in the mist, which isn’t really mist but low-lying clouds. Lately I’ve caught myself exclaiming out loud at this scene: “how ***ing cool,” etc. It’s pretty great.
Yesterday, for the first time ever, I saw another person out running. She came down from the chorten, a sound before a sight, just as I was getting ready to start. I was completely stunned, but I said hello; she took off her headphones, asked where the road led, where I was going, I asked where she was going (just to the next turning), where she had run from (wamrong somewhere), then, all shy, said, well, I’m sure we aren’t running the same speed, so I’ll be off, have a nice run… What a strange thing, to have this woman just come running down out of the clouds… Yeah, yeah, it’s things like that that make this place for me.
So then the descent begins. I’ve always felt like the descent is like skiing, especially skiing on a shitty day at Cannon Mountain, with sections of smooth, serene speed, and other passages of bumpy, teeth-chattering, holding-on-for-life descent, equal parts fear and fun. The best part, though, is that you actually run down and out of the clouds, passing from that surreal, low-visibility beauty of the beginning, into the huge panorama that is the valley, all perfectly clear and softly lit below the clouds. It’s 15 minutes of this pleasure to get to the farmhouse where I turn around, home of a class 12 student’s family (another son, an elder brother, is the village gup). Sometimes, more often than not lately, I keep going another 5 minutes beyond there to where a little stream sometimes crosses the road. I haven’t seen it this year; monsoon is much later starting than last year, and it’s been pretty dry, but I see puddles growing on the road and it’s kind of exciting to watch the water table rising slowly to saturation.
At some point along the way I inevitably run into a herd of cattle, wide, big-horned animals who wander with no human company down the road, big bells hanging from their necks and warning me of their presence before I come upon them. Just like a car, I have to slow down and find a way past them. As always when I run, I feel a sense of connection with these animals, and it’s nice to idle past them and see their eyes rolling curiously at this strange sight. Sometimes calves buck nervously as I approach them, running and half-kicking across the road a few meters in front of me. Once or twice I’ve had calves run in front of me for a few hundred meters before they realize that they can just move out of my path and I’ll go past them. But those few hundred meters are such fun, me moving at high speed in stride with this different species.
A few days ago, Sunday I guess, the 7th, I went even a few minutes further, down the section where the road is so rocky it looks like badly crafted cobblestones, and came to a bend overlooking a ravine angling down the hill. I stopped and stretched, in that state of mind where I’m just breathing and staring, and stood there, gazing across the ravine, totally quiet, totally still. I remember that I was transfixed by the sight of one lone bird flying from left to right across my field of vision, from one side of the ravine to the other. Then, as I stood contemplating the beauty of that moment, a thick cloud appeared below me, as if from nowhere, and began to gradually efface the scene I’d been enjoying. Like a sand mandala, the ravine, the bird, everything faded gradually into white.
Then, as ever, I found myself climbing without ever really having decided to run again. It’s strange to say, but yesterday I caught myself really struggling to decide whether I like the descent or the ascent better. That’s so strange. 45 minutes of nonstop, steep climbing, and I’ve grown to love it. But where the downhill is all handheld shots, noise and excitement, the uphill is the opposite: steady horizon, quiet, peace. Going down, I have to devote all of my attention to my safety, constantly scanning the road ahead to choose the best path, focusing on my form to avoid catching a toe on a rock. Climbing, I just lose myself in a mantra: oo—oohm—aah-aah-hu-um-ba-za-gu-ru-pe-ma-si-de-hung, in sync with my footsteps. I lose myself to the activity and marvel at how quickly time passes, how quickly I make my way back up the hill without any pain.
But the cool thing is, that’s wrong. Not without any pain, without any suffering. I guess my attitude is that since I know I’ll never make the whole climb without stopping once, I don’t really have to worry about pain. I’ll run until it’s time to stop, then I’ll stop. That and knowing that I have often successfully completed the climb means I don’t panic, don’t fight against the pain, I just accept it, welcome it almost, and remain serene the entire time. Often I find myself so comfortable with even the most brutal ascents that I’m looking into the trees, noticing birds hopping from branch to branch and even smiling to myself as I go.
The climb is of course the reverse of the descent, with the world slowly retreating behind the clouds again the higher I go. I remember a small moment from yesterday’s run, looking up the road, soft and muted with mud, trees closing in above, the clouds only as low as their upper branches, and thinking… even as I gasp for breath, even as my quads burn and I strain with fatigue, I just have to note how almost laughably beautiful and perfect this scene is. The pain was nothing compared to the pleasure of simply seeing that in front of me, running into it, through it, past it.
These days I have a deal with myself: if I can make it back to the starting point and honestly still feel pretty fresh, I go the long way, climbing past the chorten and dropping down the other side to join the school driveway, then making the short, steep climb to the school gate, enjoying the luxury of a paved surface for these last few minutes. But I haven’t done that for a while and instead I take the same route home behind the kitchen.
When I run uphill, I find that the process is much easier when I flex my abdomen, engage my core, whatever you want to call it. It feels like doing a permanent, mild sit-up and it solves all sorts of problems: I get less tired, my breathing is better and more controlled, my form is better, etc. etc. etc. It’s not even really tiring, in the physical sense. But it takes a kind of focus that is very demanding, and sometimes I just want to rest, let my focus wander, relax my discipline. And as soon as I do, everything gets tough and unpleasant until I notice the lapse, refocus, and start running right again.
I note that because I’m finding lately that happiness is exactly the same way. I read these texts and even get the same teaching from my friends – control your mind, control your mind, and I know it’s true. It is indeed possible to control your thoughts, to lead your mind in a different direction when sadness comes. It is possible. But it’s just like the running, it takes discipline and focus, and that discipline is itself tiring.