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The joy of stopping
This newsletter was originally published on Patreon on 1 February 2021, as lockdown dragged on and on
The gods are really testing us right now. This is what in India they call Lila. My eldest daughter’s name means “divine game” in Sanskrit - or, in more detail, Lila is when everything is conspiring against you, but rather than despair, you smile and say, “ah, the gods are trying to teach me something, this is Lila”.
The lockdown drags on here in the UK, and so does the cold and the rain, while the mud gets thicker, and the house gets damper. Then the internet goes down. Then I bump the car.
And breathe. This is Lila.
What can I possibly learn from this game? What are the gods trying to teach me? Well, you can always imagine things are worse. Imagine we all actually caught the coronavirus. Then we would be looking back at these days and thinking how lucky we were, we just didn’t know it. Or say I got injured. Then, rather than complain about the rain and cold, I’d look at it longingly, wishing I could go out and run in it.
The key, then, is to appreciate what we have. A simple idea, perhaps. But it’s not so easy. It actually takes effort - in some ways even more effort than slogging through those five miles in the mud. It’s an effort to slow our minds down enough to just take stock, and to really feel that sense of appreciation. You can’t do it while checking Twitter, and you can’t do it mid Zoom call. Maybe you can if you’re a sadhu, but for me, every now and then I just need to stop and stand still, listen to my breath and think, yes, all is well, I am alive, the Earth is still spinning.
Twice this morning on my run through the soggy, misty, desolate valley, I stopped my watch, stopped running, and just stood and listened. Eddie Izzard told me the best thing about running is the stopping. Although I don’t totally agree with that, I think we all understand what she means.
So why not, on an easy run in the midst of all this grayness and gloom, do a bit more stopping. I find it calms the soul. Even if it’s just at the end of your run. Rather than getting straight back in the car, or racing back into the house to get showered and dressed, take a moment. Fully embrace that moment of stopping, take it in, appreciate the sense of stillness and satisfaction that exists in that moment. It will help carry you through the day.
I love the way, at the end of every run, the Kenyans like to just stand around. They might do a little half-hearted stretching, chat a little, make some jokes. But they’re never in a rush to get home. Of course, many of us don’t have that luxury, we have to be somewhere*, but just for a few minutes, be like a Kenyan and allow yourself to absorb the feeling of having completed the run. Breathe it in. And maybe things won’t seem so challenging.
If this is Lila, this situation in the world right now, then what I’m learning is to take a few minutes here and there to stop, and to be still. And the absolute best time to do that is right after a run. Or even midway through. And the mistier and grayer and more desolate the day, the better.
So, that wasn’t what I was planning to write this morning. I was going to talk about my song title challenge on Strava, or the heated debate going on over equalising distances for men and women in cross country races, or even about my recent chat with author Michael Crawley. But they will all have to wait for another day. Today it’s all about the simple joy of stopping.
* Top Kenyan coach Ian Kiprono has a saying: "The wazungu (westerners) all have watches, but the Kenyans have time."