This morning, I took myself for a short birthday run. Truth be told, all my runs are short. Now and then, I find my moxie and manage to push more pavement under my feet, but not lately. I run to prevent the downward physical slide that can happen at this point of life and to increase my endurance for my upcoming Black Belt test, so distance and time aren’t really the point. Moving is.
Note: My neighborhood is flat. Aside from the gentle slope of the driveways and what my children call “the big hill”, a slope of about a foot over five sidewalk squares a few blocks from home, there are no hills on my running route. While I’ve been told the fun in running is in the variety hills offer, I’ve been satisfied with my flatland route.
But I’m not home. I’m west, visiting my mother, where the land rolls up and down. My mother lives at the top of the of one of these hills, and my view from her second story deck includes farms interspersed with new housing developments and confirms she’s at the top of all the hills I can see. I’ve walked her neighborhood, another confirmation that it’s all downhill heading out from here.
The run down that first long hill exhilarated me. I ran with a speed and ease I don’t experience on my flatland route at home, although the further down the hill I ran, the more I considered the way up yet to come. There are no gentle routes back up the hill, just steep, long climbs. The flat at the bottom gave me some time to rest, running at my usual pace, and to ponder how far down I’d come. And how far up I had to go to get back. But having gone down there was no other choice but to go up, and while my ragged breathe twice broke through the music coming through my iPod, causing me to walk for a bit, I made it back up.
It’s like that. Sometimes, I stand on top of the hill, seeing all around me, secure in my height, knowing the downhill path before me will fill me with exhilaration. On the way down, I know a climb is coming. Life isn’t all mountaintop experiences, after all, it’s largely long, flat patches punctuated with “the big hill” at the end of the block. But we know the uphill is coming, either slow and gentle but requiring endurance over months or years, or steep but short. Either way, it’s coming.
A bit of planning can help that ascension, although not every hill allows for that. Planning and anticipation, however, can easily interfere with the journey, if that planning keeps us out of the present moment. By nature, I’m a planner and worrier, although with age and some long slogs up unanticipated hills, i”ve learned worrying and planning decades in advance is largely fruitless and destroys the exhilaration of the downhill moments and relief in the flat patches. In fact, staying in the moment of those easier parts of the path makes the uphill a bit easier, or at least allows a pleasant memory when the steep part returns.
So somewhere between mindfulness of the moment and planning for the future tempered with objective recollection on the past seems to be the spot to sit. It’s the place where hope resides and the breath is easy. It’s where there is peace in the journey, even when it seems to be uphill both ways.