Daily life can be stressful. It can almost feel as if acknowledging the stress makes it real and accentuates it. To counteract those uncomfortable feelings, I sometimes go outdoors to bathe in nature and fuel my curiosity for the world. Isn’t it wondrous? Doesn’t it allow for such exploration? It’s truly a sensory experience.
I went for a run this afternoon in an attempt to calm myself down and let go of some useless fury and strain. I set out in the heat of the day. It was in the mid-80s. The sun was raging sun with little to no shade on my path. I felt the warmth of the sun on my back and on my legs. It was in my chest. It was almost overwhelming. I poured sweat until I could no longer take the heat. I had to free myself of the cage in which my shirt had been. Stripping while running is always fun. Freeing.
I ran until I felt a point of exhaustion. In the heat with no water, this was (embarrassingly) just a few miles in. But I love that feeling. Exhaustion*. It’s the feeling where I can’t think of anything other than moving my feet. There are no other passerby thoughts. No ephemeral notions of what to do next, what was, or what will be. It’s just me and my feet and the breath that I almost hopelessly try to catch while my feet somehow glide with me and catch up with my mind. It’s telling me to: “keep moving.” That’s sometimes the only thought that persists while I near the end of my runs. Keep moving. Until it’s finished.
When I finished my run this afternoon, I felt much better than when I had started. And I realized that running is my form of meditation. It’s almost a forced meditation. I have such difficulty quieting my thoughts and focusing on my breath or any one constant idea, but the run puts me in a place of obligatory focus. It requires conscious thought and my inner voice reminding me to “just breathe” and to “keep moving.” These mantras allow me to calm my thoughts and to calm my body as I focus on only the breath and the movement.
At the end of my run today, I rested by the creek on a stone. I sat just where the stone met with the water. I listened to the brook clash against the rocks and watched the bullet ants scurry near the stream and topple over small sticks. I admired the greenery of this little place tucked between the busy streets of the city, and I found myself just lying there on the stone. I covered my face with water from the creek and a cooling towel, and I just let myself lie still with my back against the earth.
I lifted myself and placed my feet into the water. The coolness soothed me from the heat of the sun and the strain of the run. I felt renewed, if only for a short time. I felt like I had escaped the hurried thoughts, the endless problems, and the ever-growing to-do list. Just for a little while.
The health benefits of the natural world have been backed by research. Spending time outdoors is linked with longevity and overall wellbeing. Running outdoors and experiencing the sun’s warmth and the creek’s coolness are some of my methods of nature bathing and inducing calm. What do you do to experience temporary refuge? How do you find a sense of quiet and stillness in the noise of the day?
*I have been running as a form of exercise for over 10 years, so I’m aware of when my body truly needs to rest and when it’s okay to push myself. I recommend staying hydrated while running. I do not recommend pushing yourself to a point of true exhaustion.
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