On running, resolutions, buddhism and other things best done in groups
This is my 100th post now since challenging myself back at the end of January to try and write every day on this site. I've cut corners a couple times, but there is definitely a post to be found for all the days that have transpired since.
Around that same time I challenged myself to participate in some kind of organized run every month this year. In keeping with that, today I participated in the Cinco de Mayo Half-Marathon. It took place mostly through downtown Portland, and though the weather was not so gorgeous as it had been last week it was still pleasant enough for a run.
Over the course of those 13.1 miles (Amusingly, I used RunKeeper to track the run for fun and their results were way off. What I thought was an okay 13.1-mile run at an 8:40ish pace was logged as a 22-mile run at a blistering 5:14 pace. I know GPS signals must've been poor in parts of the hills but I'm still amazed it was off by this much.) I had a lot of time to think about the events of yesterday. I played a short set of music with my group at a Buddhist center of sorts out in Lake Oswego (More specifically it was the Soka Gakkai International U.S. chapter. I'm really not the person to ask about it — read the website.).
We played our tunes towards the very beginning and we actually kind of nailed them, though the nice acoustics and attentive audience might've helped that perception. Also the more peculiar the venue the more relaxed I feel, sometimes. Four songs in all, our shortest four, and then the rest of the evening was filled with announcements, some poetry, some chanting and a lengthy video featuring seemingly random highlights from speeches delivered by the man who founded the group over the past... 20 years? He was an interesting speaker but the speeches were from 1998, 2007 and some other year. It was odd.
And truth be known, I zoned-out for a good portion of it, reveled in the droning, the silence and the generally good intentions that linger in the air when groups of people get together for occasions like that. It reminded me of my younger years when my dad would take my brother and I to church. We'd never really much talk about what was discussed there or how it might affect our lives outside the 60 minutes every Sunday or Saturday night we'd attend, but I really valued the silence and introspection. Sometimes you get things from the stories and words people share and sometimes it's enough to sit quietly in a softly-lit room, smelling incense and thinking to yourself for an hour.
Speaking of words, a phrase stuck out to me: Shared-suffering. Kyōyū kurushimi (There was another word used, I think, also Japanese, but I cannot find it. For today I will trust Google and roll with this). 共有苦しみ. That was the word and theme of the 37-minute video we watched towards the end of the meeting. We can help each other be happy, was the thing I took-away, or perhaps was supposed to. Life is difficult, it is a struggle, it is challenging, and though we cannot always choose our outcomes and paths we do have a choice regarding how we can feel about those things.
For the most-part I might agree and I don't find it difficult to silence my inner-pedant looking to poke holes in it. He might say genetics and brain chemistry can make the concept of choosing how to feel a lot more difficult for some people; he might say it's easy to conflate being told you "choose how you feel" with perceiving any negative feeling as a failure to effectively ignore it.
And that wouldn't be healthy. We feel how we feel, and the first step must always be acknowledgment, and in that brief moment of recognition I'm not certain there's much choice. I might even argue we don't always get to choose how we feel beyond that initial reaction; no one would reasonably say such as thing about their physical well-being. I would love to choose to never get the flu again, but I know the best I can do is try to lead a healthy lifestyle, and I think it's silly to regard our mental health and somehow distinct and impenetrable. It may be a hidden facet of human health but it does not exist separate from this body.
Where I see something more like choice arising is in what we choose to dwell on, and I mean that positively and negatively. We can wallow in bad feelings, generally out of some kind of fear, and let opportunities pass us by. We can cling to good ones so tightly we ignore or discredit the bad ones that might serve as warnings for future discomfort or contribute to our grow as human beings.
Maybe somewhere in there I'm willing to concede a choice... And again, there can be many hurdles. That's probably why we band together in groups and start religions and all those things. Group activities to get through the more difficult things in life: existential questions about feelings and choices, long-distance runs and musical performances in unusual venues.
My less-spiritual-sounding summary of all this might be: "Try to be optimistic." As a guideline, I see the appeal and healthiness of hitching your wagon to that.
Tomorrow I'll do my best to write about something lighter.