The Story Economy Blog

This is How The Balance Found Me

Spirit, body and mind, drawing  circlesThis is a story about the balance between soul, brain, and muscle. And how when they each do what they are good at, it makes anything seem doable. This spirit, mind, body balance is a pretty big deal in the world (having inspired a little thing called yoga and probably a bunch of religions). For me, it’s both elusive and everything. As in, I don’t always know it’s lacking until it’s there. And then I just want it back.

So when it all falls into place during a perfect moment, I want to take a snapshot and write about it. Which is what I’m doing this week, in an early celebration of Thanksgiving.

The story is that I ran a half-marathon a few weeks ago. The story-before-the-story is that I’d done this race before, and I had it in my head these past months that I was going to crack the two-hour mark this time. To train, I did all of these intervals up hills and at the track. And tons of long runs. This summer and fall were tough for me, for various personal reasons. I had many moments where I felt like my life was slowly unraveling. The miles and killer hill workouts helped me braid pieces of it back together. (They are still helping.)

So, back to the story: It wasn’t hard to find my groove once I started the race. I had my playlist on my iPod, and I was 100 percent focused on my goal. I tracked my time at every mile, doing quick calculations: I lost 10 seconds, I gained 20 seconds, I’m a minute ahead, I’m 30 seconds behind . . . It was going to happen. My fastest time to date was 2:04:11 and I was going to finish that mother at 1:59:59 or less. My brain was leading the charge for sure. I let it take over this part.

Around mile 8, I noticed this guy. The back of his shirt said: “Got Donuts?” and he was limping. He would run for a bit with a weird gait, picking up his right foot too high. And then he would walk. I could see his frustration. I knew he must have gotten an injury a few miles ago, and he was trying to just finish this half-marathon.

For a couple of miles, I kept seeing Got Donuts. I’d pass him. He would pass me, his gait always painful looking. I could tell that he was a faster and better runner than me, and would normally have been way ahead. But here he was, struggling through. I could say something to him, I thought. But it didn’t feel like the time for conversation. Because if it were me, I’d want to be left alone. So on I went.

And then mile 10 came, and brought me back to the same 3-mile loop that started the race. Having to repeat a loop is the worst for me. Having to redo something to finish it just messes with my brain. And my brain was now threatening to tell my very tired body all kinds of negative things. But my body, with its aching quads, told my brain to shut up already. “Thanks for the cerebral input, but I’ve got this now,” it said. If you think about the fact that you have to keep putting one foot in front of the other, it’s terrible. You just have to DO it. Thinking was no good. My body was now in charge.

I saw Got Donuts again around mile 11. I passed him before a short uphill, and then he passed me on the hill. He kept his lead on me (maybe 50 feet) for the last two miles. He still had that limp, but he seemed to have found his own painful groove.

Finally, I rounded the last corner and saw the finish line up ahead. My watch said 1:58, and I knew I was about a minute away from finishing. At this point, my body was just screaming, “Ow, ow, ow! Please let me stop!” and my brain absolutely could not comprehend the pain of the next 60 seconds. They were both useless. The only thing I really had left was my soul—you know, that mushy core stuff that’s illogical and impossible to pin down but if you surrender to it, it just carries you through. “You’re on,” I told my soul, and I sprinted like a mad woman, easily smoking Got Donuts a 100 feet or so before the chute (“Sorry, dude,” I thought). And there it was: I crossed at 1:59:03! I met my goal! Soul, brain, and muscle all in balance. A beautiful victory.

The story could end there: But there is another piece. In fact, it’s probably the only piece of the story that actually matters.

Here is what happened next: after I collected myself at the finish line and was reasonably certain I wouldn’t throw up or pass out (both of which are possible in the seconds after taking your body to its max capacity), I headed toward the recovery area inside, where I knew bagels were waiting. And I saw him walking in, right in front of me. Suddenly, I was overcome with the urge to find out his story. “Hey, Got Donuts!” I said. “You made it!” He turned to me and smiled, and it hit me that because we just kept passing each other, I hadn’t actually seen his face the whole time we were running. He told me that he thought he had pulled his hamstring around mile 3, and once he knew he wasn’t going to hit his goal time of 1:45, he was just trying to finish.

In that one little piece of conversation with someone I didn’t know and would (probably) never see again, I suddenly felt a surge of the importance of human connection. As we chatted, I realized that no matter what goal time I hit, the only thing that made me feel good and truly balanced as a person was human connection: looking at someone’s face, seeing them as a person, talking to them, feeling who they are, creating a story around it, and then adding it to the pool.

We’ve cast the spirit, mind, body balance as something all about us. Something we should strive for as an end in itself. As if it’s in a vacuum. But even an introvert like me can’t help but see that it’s about taking it into the world and connecting. What’s the use of being beautifully balanced in your own little world if you’re not connected to others?

So this Thanksgiving, I’m thankful that I have strong legs and lungs. A keen mind that hunts down goals. A soul that is learning more and more how to surrender. But at the top of the list is connection. It’s a gift out there for all of us.

I hope you get some downtime next week. I am going to try to enjoy mine. See you in two weeks!

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