One 161cm x 63cm x 0.6cm dark purple mat. This is my world. For now.
Purple. Ironically the colour of peace of mind, spiritual fulfilment, good judgement? And magic and mystery…
From those soaring, wildly beautiful trails under the wide open sky to one purple mat.
Where, how, what, why, when?
Since February I’ve been back in Nepal, living, exploring, training, racing, writing …. (not necessarily in that order, or in equal measure). The stories are many and beautiful. But those stories must wait. It has been a good time. ‘Good’ being a somewhat inadequate description. A time of learning, feeling, changing, growing, loving, living – as the poem was telling us when I wrote about ‘fear‘. Living life moment by moment. Nepal gave me a ‘home’ in so many senses of the word. I’m deeply grateful for that time, and for the friends I shared it with.
Then. Injury ….
So, I’m back off my feet (foot, other, to be more exact). Again. Did I not keep my promises?
Pain struck after my last running jatra into the Khumbu to join the 60km ultra of the Everest Marathon on 29th May, marking the 60th anniversary of the first ascent of Everest. Not during the race, but in the two long days of training that followed, ‘running’ back to Jiri (and from there, this time, returning to Kathmandu by bus). Two long days of becoming one with the pouring rain, the mud and the paths that had become rivulets of yak and mule dung.
A stress fracture is unequivocal in its demands: no running.
Feeling like I was standing on shifting sands, I decided to try to yield to the changes rather than resist. To try turn the injury into a positive opportunity. Hence, I find myself half way through a month long yoga teacher training course in the land of the rising sun (Japan). Full immersion into a new culture, a new way of living (ashram style for a month), and without all that had become my ‘normal’. Arriving, I felt like all the rugs had been pulled from under my feet in one go. But it is then that you realise you will land back on those feet (eventually) or at least learn to fly in the meantime.
“When you have come to the edge of all the light that you have, And step into the darkness of the unknown, Believe that one of the two will happen to you, Either you’ll find something solid to stand on, Or you’ll be taught how to fly.” (Richard Bach)
Flexibility of body brings flexibility of mind. Or so they say? And ‘doing without’ cultivates strength? Challenges lie in the unexpected corners. Life is a strange mixture of austerities (tapas) and luxury, probably very different things for me than the other 59 Japanese students. I’m learning to love the onsen and the decadence (after months in Nepal) of full immersion in hot water. I’m still getting used to the idea of constant electricity (no need to keep the headtorch handy), a washing machine rather than a bucket and a brush, and the provision of freshly ironed white sheets. No bread, cheese, cappuchinos or beer in sight. I’m (finally) becoming adept with chopsticks (it was either that or go hungry) and trying weird and wonderful food (some weird, some wonderful). No running. No mountains. I’m (re)learning to sit, and I’m learning to breathe. The day (starting at 5am) consists of a mixture of meditation, kirtan, asana, pranayama, karma yoga, swadhyaya, philosophy, anatomy, physiology, the list goes on. Not many spaces ‘in between’, so you learn to make the most of the ones there are. Just as the body is learning to adapt to the new spaces it is finding within.
The Japanese people I have met are very nice, very kind, very polite, very studious, very quiet, very private, very diligent. Diligent even down to the tucking in of t-shirts for headstands and handstands, yet remarkably comfortable with washing in public (in the sento), and the concept that such physical proximity brings emotional intimacy. The roads (near our ashram style lodging) seem strangely empty, yet those vehicles that are moving do so with unfeasible speed. This is in stark contrast to the roads of Kathmandu which are jam packed with pedestrians, bicycles, scooters, motorcycles, taxis, buses …. but mostly moving at a speed slow enough to stop for a moment’s hesitation.
So here I am, learning, experiencing, living. And, hoping that at the end of the month I’ll have a new skill to offer, a new gift to give, as well as a new way of looking at things.
“If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One’s destination is never a place, but rather a new way of looking at things.” (Henry Miller)
This month ‘training’ is in a very different form, but what we learn and experience in yoga, is mirrored in ultra distance running, and in life itself. Yoga tries to help us cultivate concentration, focus, mental endurance, dispassion and equanimity of mind. The mindset so eloquently described in Kipling’s ‘If‘. And it is this mindset we need to take with us on the trails, together with a healthy pair of feet.
Oh feet, again I’m sorry for all the times I have neglected you. I’m sorry for all the many, many miles you have run with too little appreciation. I did take you back to run on those wild, beautiful sky high trails, but maybe I still didn’t say thank you often enough.
We’ll go back again …. in search of that magic and mystery ……