Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Day 3 - The Matrix

Reality hides behind appearances. ~  Greek philosophers

From what I gather, the movie The Matrix is about a computer hacker Neo who is contacted by underground freedom fighters who explain that reality as he understands it is actually a complex computer simulation called the Matrix. Created by a malevolent Artificial Intelligence, the Matrix hides the truth from humanity, allowing them to live a convincing, simulated life in 1999 while machines grow and harvest people to use as an ongoing energy source. The leader of the freedom fighters, Morpheus, believes Neo is "The One" who will lead humanity to freedom and overthrow the machines. Together with Trinity, Neo and Morpheus fight against the machine's enslavement of humanity as Neo begins to believe and accept his role as "The One".

There is one scene in the movie that is well known and that is the scene of Neo trying to decide whether he should take the blue pill or the red pill...see the clip for yourself!


The definition of a matrix is 'an enclosure within which something originates or develops (from the Latin for womb)' With that said, All of us are enclosed with the wrappings of our humanness, and therefore, all of us have our own matrix to deal with. Each and every one of us is enclosed within this cocoon called the flesh.

There is an outer man and an inner man. The outer man is fleshly and whimsical. It wants everything for free. It always wants something for nothing. The outer man looks for the way that takes the least amount of effort and follows the path of least resistance. The outer man lives for the moment, never really looking beyond the superficial feelings of the moment to the consequences that are inherently contained within every decision we make! The thoughts of the outer man are like ripples on a pond, the impact of a thrown stone has far reaching effects, yet the outer man, the fleshly carnal man, only sees the excitement of throwing the stone (fulfilling a thought) and stimulating effects of the splash. But beyond the surface our fleshly desires, deep within the matrix of every one of us, there lies an inner man. An inner man that knows better and not only knows better, but wants better. We know there is more. We know we don't really want to eat that piece of cake or stay in bed.

Deep down, I believe all of us want to be healthy and dislike falling prey to the lies of the outer man. None of us desire to be sick. Not one of us is or can be happy when the sickness of eating the blue pill engulfs our bodies. We know the only way...the real way to victory lies in NOT giving into the outer man. Of not taking the blue pill. I believe, deep down, many of us are tired are swallowing the blue pill of doing the same old thing the same old way. There are many of you that are reading this blog and are tired of swallowing the same old lines of the outer man and believing the deceptive ploys of his imaginations. I know this because if you weren't tired of the blue pill's powerful doping affects you wouldn't be reading this article in the first place!
Yet, all of us know, the red pill means change. We know to consciously accept and follow the desires of the inner man, means life as we know it will take a drastic step in a completely new direction. A one hundred and eighty degree turn toward a new way of life and 'seeing' things. We know there will be a battle. We know there will be a fight. We know the strength of our bad habits will continually try to pull us back into the ruts of the outer man. We KNOW this and many times in the past, the outer man has used this against us. While we yet reached for the red pill, the threat of a bloody inner spiritual war, made us hesitate, and then pull back from our true desires and once again settle into the lull and dullness of the blue pill.

But today...TODAY...I want you to know...YOU...YES YOU!!! have far more power in you than you ever thought you had. You can go further than you have ever thought you could. You have far more potential than you believe you have! But none of this will ever be realized until you swallow the red pill. Until you make the commitment to once and for all, never go back to eating the lies of the blue pill. You be saying...what makes me so sure that I can make such a statement to you. Well, because I have been there. I have felt the long term affects of habitually eating the lies of the outer man, but I have also experienced the powerful effects of entering the matrix of my inner man. I have battled and waged war against the outer man to come up with my hands raised in victory! I have trained for weeks on end and have waded into the depths of my being. I have confronted the 'I can'ts', the 'I don't want too's', and all the other voices of how to quit without a fight. I have confronted the enemy, met him in the mirror, and I have won enough times to know how he works. After completing nine marathons, I have met the enemy on the battlefield and I can say I won!

Does the outer man ever quit his antagonizing ways? NO, but it gets easier because there is nothing like overcoming the voices, and there is nothing more rewarding than feeling the power and strength that comes from truly becoming who the Lord has called you to be! Today, you have choice...eat the blue pill of same old, same old OR grab the proverbial bull by the horns and take a ride into the matrix of your mind, body, and soul. You won't regret it...but then again...the choice is yours!

Monday, May 30, 2011

Day 2 / Sense-sational

The unexamined life is not worth living. - Socrates

Sense-sational! That's all I have to say about this mornings run! After it rained the proverbial 'cats and dogs' last night, it seemed the world around me had awakened with an array of sights, sounds, and colors. Now, I understand this could just been me wiping the sleep out of my eyes and finally waking up after the deadness of long night's sleep, but it seemed to be different this morning. The trees looked greener. The smell of flowers and fresh lilacs filled the air with its delicious aroma. My senses were stimulated. My soul was uplifted. It was one of those mornings where you thought to yourself, 'It's good to be alive!" To be able to run is one thing, to be able to run and enjoy the run is a whole different story.

We, by nature, are creatures of habit. We tend to get methodical in our daily routines, which in turn, can make not just our runs but life itself, well, somewhat dull and boring. The trappings of our ever so technologically oriented world seem to enclose us within a cocoon of sense deprivation. We live in sealed houses of recycled air conditioned or furnace pushed air. The sounds of life on the outside are excluded to world that is created for us in the inside of our homes. Sometimes the closest we get to nature is viewed through the Discovery Channel or some National Geographic documentary of some weird pigmy tribe in the Amazon Rain Forest. Leaving us with a fairly tempered view of the real world and nature itself.

I can remember as a young boy ( not too long ago... :-) ), that being inside the house was tantamount of being locked up in a prison cell. Our daily lives, especially when summer break was at hand, was spent outside. The woods down at the end of the street served as our playground and our 'new world' of exploration. We lived, breathed, and died to be in those woods. From tree forts, to bike trails, to playing army, those woods were home to countless memories. It was there we played our first 'Truth or Dare' games. It was there we shot our BB guns. It was there we powered through the trails on our bikes in a imaginary motocross race as the summer breeze blew through our seventies style shaggy hairdo's. It was there in the woods we experienced our 'first kiss'. It was was there we could leave our homes of parental tension and escape to a land of awe and wonder. It was there, in those woods, we spent nights around the camp fire, telling scary stories and spooking one another to death. It was there we laughed, and played, and even cried til the sun went down. It was in those woods, we shared our dreams, our hurts, and wondered about who or what we wanted to be when we grew up.

Those woods, the woods of my youth, though long since removed in the name of progress and subdivisions, still exist in my mind. I can, to this day, vividly remember the sights and sounds of many happy moments with my best of friends. There is no doubt in my mind that these memories of my youth are some how, some way a part of my love for running. There are moments during a run, like this morning's run, that will jog (no pun intended) a memory loose...a flash from the past will incredibly flood my mind. It could be the smell after a spring rain, the fresh fragrance of lilacs, or high stepping it past some squirming worms that stimulates my mind, and the next thing I know, I am lost in one of those childhood moments. Suddenly I am there, back in the woods with my friends, enjoying the 'freedom' of my youth. Sometimes the memory is fleeting, it may last but a moment, and I quickly find myself back in the here and now, and yet, sometimes the moment captures me and the next thing I know, I am lost in the memory as it floods my senses and infuses my mind. The next thing I know, without realizing it, a mile or more of my run has passed.

No doubt, this is a part of the reason I have come to enjoy running so much. Its here, where I remember, what I told myself way back then in my childhood that I never wanted to forget. The freshness of life through the eyes of a child. A time and place where the world was mine to behold and anything and everything seemed possible! Maybe this is why, when I go out for a run, that something within me secretly wishes for one of those threatening clouds to open up and pour out a gully washer in the middle of run. When I was young, walking home in the rain or splashing through the puddles was something I didn't try to avoid, but it was something I couldn't wait to do. Now, as I approach the age of fifty, I am relearning to enjoy these moments again...I am learning its good to have a cloud burst open to wash my mind clean from time to time!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Day 1 / 50 Miles or Bust!

But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved. ~ Matthew 24:13

     Well, here we are...finally! We are 90 days out from my first personal 50 mile ultra marathon. Over the last few weeks I have been spending time learning about Ultra Marathons and of the handful of men and women who have ventured to take on such a journey in mind and body. From reading books written by ultra marathoners themselves to watching documentaries, I have been trying to glean as much as I can to prepare both physically and psychologically. With this said, I can honestly say, this morning I am full of apprehension and do not enter this event with rose colored glasses. As a matter of fact, after learning and reading about the adventures of those who dare to go beyond the marathon, and run into the dimensions of an ultra, it has definitely sobered me up. Which I am sure is a good thing.

     I remember my first marathon like it was yesterday. As I write this blog an influx of memories arise within me. Like a digital clip, each memory is as real as the day I ran the 2003 Bayshore Marathon in Traverse City, Michigan. The nervousness of an early morning start. My fellow runners, along with barefoot runner, who I thought was crazy as a I passed him, and then not so crazy as he passed me near the end. The rain that fell near the end of the race. The blister on my right foot. The first time, as a runner, 'hitting the wall'. The incredible pain of the last few miles. Coming to mile 24, tears began to stream down my cheeks, not because of the pain, but because I knew at that point, without a doubt, that I would finish this thing. Then, the euphoric feeling of crossing the finish line. The tears, the joy, the elation...all bottled up in a sea of emotions called this human body. I can also remember, saying, "I will never run another marathon again!" You see, those memories reside within me. They have become me and who I am.

     A fellow runner, Jerome Drayton said, "To describe the agony of a marathon to someone who's never run it is like trying to explain color to someone who was born blind." And after running and completing nine marathons, I can definitely ascribe to the part about the pain. During the 26.2 miles of a marathon, there are places your mind and body take you. Places of euphoria, and then there are those places of pain. Sometimes the pain is in the body and sometimes the pain is in the mind...and yet, sometimes the pain resides in both, body and mind! Like the old Wide World of Sports intro I watched as a youth, when the announcer says, "The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!", I have been to some of these places.  On the one hand...I have 'hit the wall', I have 'bonked', and after sixteen weeks of hard training, I have had my marathon fall apart at mile 16. Then I have also felt the elation of meeting my goals, from qualifying for the Boston Marathon, and even finishing all nine marathons. Every marathon I have run in holds a place in my heart. I remember every marathon. Each individual marathon run has taught me about me. In the depths of a marathon race I have confronted the enemy, and the enemy was me...and it was here I found out who I am and in some sense, who I want to become.

     So then, I have wondered, if a marathon holds such a 'place' of contradiction in body and mind, THEN how much more does an ultra hold? All the stories read and told of ultras talk about the confrontation of self. It doesn't matter what place you come in or where you finish, it is about finishing! To confront yourself, to battle the voices, and to exercise dominion over the inner demons seems to be where the victory truly lies. It is the ultimate confrontation, like the Lord's prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane. He knew what laid ahead for Him. He knew the torturous pain of the cross, and He prayed, 'Not my will, but thy will be done.' All runners, whatever level of running they are at, have to pray this prayer...'not my will be done'. Because if we were to follow our will, many trophies with the word, 'quit' would populate our shelves and mantels.

     Herein probably lies the key to why so many people run marathons or for that matter, end up 'enjoying' running at all. When everything says 'quit', 'stop', 'don't go one more step forward', the runner must make a decision. He must consciously confront himself and then take full responsibility for the decision he makes...whether he quits or runs on, he must live with that decision, because it is his decision and his decision alone. Maybe in its purest of form this is a picture of life. Maybe because it seems so many of these decisions or choices have been removed from our lives or have been made so fuzzy by an ever encroaching society, that running becomes one of the few places we are able to say, 'we made the choice'!

     "There are as many reasons for running as there are days in the year, years in my life. But mostly I run because I am an animal and a child, an artist and a saint. So, too, are you. Find your own play, your own self-renewing compulsion, and you will become the person you are meant to be." (George Sheehan) So today, I choose to commit my body and my mind to train for an ultra marathon. I don't really know what lies ahead, but if its anything like training for a marathon, I know one thing, I will learn about life, and there is no doubt, I will learn about me. Not just the superficial me of who I think I am, but I will confront me in the deeper depths of me and who I really am, and who I long to be. So in the words of Jeb Dickerson, "My feet have several thousand meetings scheduled with the dirt on a trail not far from here. Who am I to keep them waiting? Time to run."

Friday, May 27, 2011

Why Run?

"The miracle isn't that I finished. The miracle is that I had the courage to start." ~ John Bingham

Why run? Over the years this is a question many have asked me and to be quite honest, sometimes, I have even asked myself! When I try to answer the question, I cannot say or pinpoint one specific reason. Nor has there been some surreal epiphany of some sort that directed me to purchase running shoes. Seeing that I have only been 'running' just a little over decade, I can't say that I loved running, and have been trying to reconnect with my youthful track days. I was a wrestler, not a runner and running was NOT my favorite thing to do. Running was just a vehicle that helped to condition me to become a better wrestler. Back then, our wrestling practices started with running, and ended with running, but it was more of a drudgery and a way to lose weight than a love affair.

So, again, the question, "Why run?", begs an answer! But the answer to the question is just as elusive as it is concrete. I have found the act of running itself has produced a plethora of mind boggling and even life changing answers to this question. Some of the answers are easy and yet, some of the answers are contained only within the act of running itself. There is a 'freedom' that can only be enjoyed and explained within the actual act of running itself. To a certain extent, running is a paradox. It is a self-contradiction of extreme opposites. On the one hand, running is not fun, but it is enjoyable. Running can be painful, but also euphoric. Running causes mental anguish, and yet it clears the mind! Ahhhh, the 'joys' of running!

If the truth be known, maybe, somewhere in the origins of the movement of running are the seeds of understanding life itself. Running is a metaphor of life and life is a metaphor of running. Running is a parable of life itself! There are so many physical attributes of and in running that relate to the spiritual dynamics of life itself. From hydration, food, diet, and nutrition to the more ambiguous principles of perseverance, consistency, dedication, and habit...these can all be understood in a deeper spiritual sense through the 'act' of running. Maybe this is why the Apostle Paul said, "Run, that you may obtain"! He didn't say sit and meditate. He didn't say chant and light candles. He didn't say watch television and eat ice cream to obtain, but he said, RUN, that you may obtain the prize!

There is no doubt in my mind the human body was built to move, to exercise, to run! Yet, most of us, live a very sedentary life of little or no amount of movement at all. Many people, when they hear about my running adventures, they laugh it off with a remark about how they 'run' to the mailbox and back, and thank God its me doing the running and not them. I am quick to laugh with them and I too understand their perspective of me as being a 'little crazy' for running so much, because I once had the same attitude. In the past I once laughed and wondered at what could be so beneficial about running. I too would think, "Why in the world would anyone want to punish themselves like that?" But now, when this dialog occurs between my friends and others, I feel a certain prick that wants to tell them about the great things that transpire when I do run, but I also know, how difficult it is to relate this message to them unless they actually decide to run for themselves! So...I run on...hoping the example will be inspirational enough to compel them to lace up a pair of sneakers one day and set off on their own road of run-elation!