“I have observed many runners who are moving their arms and legs and going through the motions of running, but what is missing is the sense of integrity that comes from having a strong center” (Danny and Katherine Dreyer, Chi Running, 36).
What happened made me.
And then it made me.
I want to write about running up and down Campbell Ridge Road. What makes this possible are muscles that I imagine and (so experience) as two giant fists pistoning up and down from my lower abdomen into the center of my pelvis. This is where I understand (from the Dreyers, Chi Running) the bottomless, most sustainable, most powerful energy in my body resides. I am very new to this practice. But when I tuck my tail, lengthen my spine and drive out from this center, I find I can run stronger and faster.
I am running 3, 4, 5 miles a few times a week, beginning with a tough mile and a half up and over Campbell Ridge as it quickly inclines through 4 hairpin turns. In places this road is so steep, it seems I am climbing hand over fist. But I am running. And when I have made it through to where the road eases off a little, the rest of the hill feels…reasonable.
My dog, who normally runs like a deer all over the mountainside, has taken to running with me like a little coach. She meets me ahead, as if cheering me along.
With this running practice comes greater access to my core. And amazement at myself.
Great hands reach into the bowl of me, into my center, and lift me up the mountain.
There is pleasure in running from this place too. For moments I have felt like I am flying. I have felt super human. Running has become a kind of craving. Even now as I write, I am wanting, looking forward to the next run.
And this is still my body able to do this, the very body that in November of 2010 experienced such pain that I considered disk replacement surgery, the body in which I could not sit, nor lay flat. The body without a core, as I discovered in physical therapy. The body at first given giant rubber bands and tiny imperceptible movements. Then given strength building, yoga, manual therapy.
It is my body back. As I had requested, speaking over and over bath water, please give me my body back. Back from my life. Back from what made me.
And then made me even more.
There is a reason why, at age 44, I am learning how to run all over again, to run, as the Dreyers put it, like a kid.
I have just finished reading a novel about a man who survived a horrific childhood and who was so beautiful and so beloved, but who never recovered from the belief he had learned as a child that he deserved all the violence ever done to him.
“He rarely got angry about things that happened or had happened to him: his pains, past and present, were things he tried not to brood about, were not questions to which he spent his days searching for meaning. He already knew why they had happened: they had happened because he had deserved them” (Hanya Yanagihara, A Little Life).
Before I was ten years old, I had learned to disconnect from the center of me. I had taught myself to leave, to go away from my skin. I had buried other people’s harms to me down deep in my core, in the place in me strong enough. I had owned them, incorporated them. They seemed fundamental. They were the secret truth about me.
And each time those great hands reach into the bowl of me, that shame is what I have known they will touch. Of course I had felt fear. It was to this that I knew I must return.
But shame is always a lie.
How can a person come to believe this? That the violence of others or their neglect, of a parent or a brother, of a perpetrator or a crowd of people holding signs that say God Hates Fags is not in some way deserved?
The first eighteen years of our lives: the first 6,570 days. That is 160,000 hours. 72 seasons. Whatever we learn surviving those hours and days and seasons is stored in our bodies. In our very cells. The whole of us learns to survive, right down to the cellular level. And as the cells die and are replaced, they teach the new cells what they know. They teach them how to be kidneys, how to be nerves, how to be marrow, how to be skin, how to be heart…
And how to survive.
Fuck Everything And Run.
The cells know and pass on and so remember. Sorrow. Shame. Fear. They know to flinch. To flush. To freeze. And to give up sensation. To deaden desire.
“He had all sorts of rules he’d constructed for himself over the decades, based on lessons someone must have taught him—what he wasn’t entitled to; what he mustn’t enjoy; what he mustn’t hope or wish for; what he mustn’t covet—and it took some years to figure out what these rules were, and longer still to try to convince him of their falsehood. But this was very difficult: they were rules by which he had survived his life, they were rules that made the world explicable to him. He was terrifically disciplined—he was in everything—and discipline, like vigilance, is a near-impossible quality to get someone to abandon.”
And yet, like me, the character in this novel is loved by incredible people who believe he is deserving, not of pain, but of love.
They have sat across tables from me. They have heard all my secrets. They have wept before me. They have believed me. In me. They have told me their secrets. They have shown me how to love. They loved me when I could not love myself. And I have done all of this now too. For others like me.
I have told you things that were so risky they could destroy you. They did a little. I could see it in your face. A long time ago, these things that happened to us, made us. Then surviving them made us even more. Now they heal us.
Face Everything And Recover.
What happened made me. And then it made me. And now it makes me.
On my first long run a month ago, I had some moments of bliss, of the joy that comes of running on those Chi pistons. In those moments, I had risen up the hill on wings from the bowl of my pelvis, on the arrow of my spine, on light beaming out the crown of my head.
So when I was done, walking home through the pine woods and wildflowers at Toho Trail, I was suddenly flooded with memories, beautiful golden memories from when I was 4, 5, 6. All the hours embracing the rough oak tree out front of our house. Playing red light green light with the neighbor kids in the summer evening. Kittens born on my bed. My calico cat Psyche. Kicking a soccer ball against the garage. Halloween costumes. Learning how to make French toast. New shoes. Sitting at the sunny breakfast table. My sister on the phone talking to her imaginary friend Olive. Jumping in mud puddles. Riding my big wheel through the shady streets of Greenwood Drive. All in a flood of golden light. Beautiful memories, all of them.
And I was also crying as hard as a little kid who has fallen and is shocked at that sensation. I was beside myself. But I wasn’t surprised. I knew this could happen. I know why I have been afraid to draw from that powerful place.
I had buried other people’s harms to me down deep in my core, in the place in me strong enough. I had owned them, incorporated them. They seemed fundamental. They were the secret truth about me.
But that was a false belief.
And as I walked along, crying like a child, I told myself, you are safe now. I said, it wasn’t your fault. And I hugged myself.
I soon finished my crying.
And that same golden light now filled the woods.
The peace that came after everything. Because of everything.
I was beside myself.
Face Everything And