Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Tiny Joy

Each year when I run Reach the Beach, there is one lucky person who gets to start their run just before sunrise and to be the runner who gets to run into and through the dawn.  Those of us who are not running always comment on the beauty of that run, and how we are jealous of the timing enjoyed by the runner who gets to run "into the light."  There is just something magical about seeing a new day dawn (particularly when you have been up all night, stuck in a van with no real food, freezing and realizing that there are enormous number of body parts that can be sore if you run enough). 

Renee and I were talking about this a few weeks ago as we ran around Fresh Pond in Cambridge, because while we were running the sun was coming up.  And it was directly in our eyes.  We were, to be honest, complaining about how bright it was that morning.  It is also annoying because there are a lot of trees, so we are constantly running through a series of light and shadow that mimics a strobe light; I am pretty sure that one of these mornings I am going to have a seizure halfway around that pond because of the sun. 

But as we were complaining, it occurred to me (and I said aloud) that it was funny how the dawn is so amazing at RTB, like we never get to see it, but in reality, we see it almost every day.  We just never notice  it.  So that morning, we noticed it.  It was beautiful.  From Fresh Pond, you can see across the water and into Cambridge, and there was the sun just peeking above the tallest buildings (probably apartment complexes and Harvard buildings), turning the underside of the clouds all pink, orange, and breathtaking.  There were even a couple of surly swans floating in the middle of the reservoir (that is what the pond really is--it is the drinking water for the city of Cambridge), looking all majestic as the morning light warmed them up for a day full of being all evil (look, I had a rather negative encounter with a swan as a child; I get that they are pretty but I still don't trust them). 

At that moment, I came to the realization that I need to pay more attention to the world around me, and all the tiny joys that it offers to me every day.  Each morning for months I have been up at or before sunrise.  Yet, I had never taken the time to look up and appreciate the fact that I was getting to see the sunrise on an almost daily basis!  I am always so wrapped in my run, or my conversation, or just simply putting one foot in front of the other in a pattern that does not result in me laying face down on the pavement.  I never noticed what was around me.

Most of you who read this probably already know that I visited a Buddhist monastery more than once last year.  One of the major tenets of Buddhist is mindfulness, an active engagement with the world around you in that moment where you find yourself.  Too often, we are worried about what happened yesterday, or how we are going to do something in the future, and we forget to pay attention to what is around us right now.  That is what was happening to me while I was out running.  I was focusing on then instead of now. 

Since then, I have tried to be much more mindful when I am running.  I look around, and try to notice the tiny miracles all around me.  I have paid attention to the sunrises.  They are amazing in their variety, and in how they seem to set a tone for the entire day.  Yesterday I didn't make it out before work, so I went in the evening when I came home.  As I was huffing my way up a hill, I looked up.  And saw that it was a full moon--a beautiful, huge white moon; it was a sort of perfect antithesis to the sunrise with which I have become so familiar. 

I notice non-celestial beings as well.  This morning there was a dog running around Fresh Pond, in the opposite direction as I was heading.  When he passed me, at a full gallop, tongue out, fur blowing around him, he was ECSTATIC.  Not just happy, but truly full of joy and life.  And you can't see that in another being without it bleeding into your own soul; I smiled the rest of my miles (especially when I saw the same dog about 15 minutes later, going significantly slower but still just as happy). 

Of course, being aware has its downsides.  When you take the time to notice the joys, you also notice the pains.  Just as I saw the happiest dog on the planet running full of life, I also saw squished squirrels, litter, and unhappy commuters slogging their way to work.  As much as I wish these things didn't exist, they play an important role.  Without the bad, there can be no good.  If every thing I saw was beautiful and happy, then it would lose its meaning; I wouldn't know that it was special because it would just be normal.  Instead, as painful as they are, I appreciate the unpleasant things.  And I am glad that I am aware of them, because the alternative is to be oblivious to everything--the good and the bad--and that is no way to go through this world. 

These tiny joys--a sunrise, a loping dog, a full moon--are small things, things that I could have missed if I wasn't being intentional about seeing them.  They are not life changing on their own, I will never look back on yesterday's full moon as the happiest day of their life.  But taken together, I am using them to build a joyful life.  Maybe I could compare them to Legos (which also make me smile), a bunch of brightly colored blocks that are boring alone but can be used to create just about anything imaginable.  But they aren't building something tangible like Legos would, they are building something intangible but essential.  When I figure out how to explain it, I will.  For now, I am just going to go out and keep collecting all the tiny joys that are waiting out there for me. 

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