The Soul

dark-striverMy friends.  What follows is a piece I constructed specifically for my friend Eric who is running his third Leadville 100 this week.   But, you are welcome to enjoy it on any of your endurance races or workouts.  I had in mind a modern, endurance sports version of a Pilgrim’s Progress or Dante’s Journey or any other spiritual journey metaphor you like.

Those spiritual journeys that strip away the dirt and fluff of life and lay bare the soul.  It’s a bit of performance art, an endurance poem or prayer and I hope it makes you think, or, even better, makes you feel.

[audio:http://www.RunRunLive.com/PodcastEpisodes/TheSoul.mp3]

Link to Mp3 -> TheSoul

Breath deep the gathering Gloom

Is everybody in?  Is everybody in?

The Ceremony is about to begin

Awake!

Let me tell you a story.

A story not about a runner but about a soul.  The core of a transient being that strives and learns and grows and fights is the soul – the spirit, the essence, that thing which is unbreakable and infinite within each of us.

Picture if you will a small house nestled closely in the jack pines.  A rustic fence runs close by.  The grass is tall and wild, not with neglect, but in keeping with the nature of the place.  There is a sense of warmth and comfort and homey-ness.

This soul awakes in a comfortable, warm bed in a homestead on the edge of the prairie to the shout of bird song and glow of a rising sun.  The bad is warm and well-worn with the wakings of many morns.

But today after many years of comfort the soul is restless.  The soul sense an emptiness.  Nothing particular, just a ghostly nag of a feeling that tugs at the fabric of the mind like a cat clawing the curtains.

The kitchen is warm and the coffee soothing. The wooden chairs creak with comfort.  The soul’s gaze crosses the prairie to the great purple mountains.  The one forbidding peak majestic among the rest, rising from the prairie like a great cruel master.  Restlessness and the stirrings of wanderlust climb up the soul’s spine.

The soul is a searcher.  The searcher could stay here behind the gnarled fence posts of day to day existence but the purple mountains call.   A whispering buzz on the wind like the cooing of a seductress – the mountains song a sirens paean that is stitched into our souls.

The soul could stay but the searcher cannot.  To stay is to give away that unknown part of life that calls us.  To stay is to give up.  To choose an empty comfort over a fulfilling hardship is for the weak and equivocating – the cold and timid souls.

The searcher puts on shoes and socks and wraps in skins.  The searcher stuffs some sustenance in a bag and strides forth into the dry grass of the Prairie.  Pausing at the fence the searcher is filled with the joy of adventure.  Not the completion of the adventure, not the embarking of adventure – the searcher is filled up to the brim with the ambition of adventure.

For in the ambition of adventure is infinite possibility.

The searcher does not know what is out there. The searcher does not know how the mountain will be climbed.  The searcher does not know how to survive.  The searcher knows only that the kinetic joy of moving forward into the unknown greatly outweighs the pain of sleeping through life.

Hours into the journey to the mountain the searcher is tired and thirsty.  The feet are hot and the back is sore.  There is doubt.  There are those small voices that nag and promise to forgive all if only we can turn back now.  But the die is cast and there is only one way out. There is only one way through.  That way is forward. Forward into the unknown heights of perilous adventure.

The searcher stops to slake at a cold clear stream the cuts the prairie mounds. Stooping to splash cold water on a hot neck and head.  The great refreshment of effort and rest well earned.  The great trial not yet beginning, not yet known.  The searcher is filled with joy.  The joy cascades through the body like the cold water running down the neck and back.

It is the joy of freedom.  The joy of tossing away constraints and assumptions.  The joy of throwing all caution to the wind and swaggering like a fool into a fight with an adversary bigger and meaner than oneself. The joy of passion and the joy of the fight. To give oneself fully; truly fully in a worthy fight. That is to know Joy.

As the ground begins to rise up to the purple mount the sun p high and hot.  This day will come and go on this quest with this loss of self and the searcher is at peace.  The ground begins to slope steeply into a rough trail filled with loose rock and bounded by dry, prickly chaparral.

Sweat drips from the eyebrows and runs down dusty arms in brown rivulets tracing ancient waterways.  Feet slip and knees grind with hands for purchase in the dust.  The searcher pauses and looks upwards into the purple mist, in the moment unsure.

And in that moment the seed is found and the searcher becomes the climber.  Serenity falls like a great dark carpet and the climber pulls upward with purpose.  To do this thing, to do this work. From one crumbling foothold to the next with the metronome cadence of labored breath – the climber climbs on.  The honest purity of the work cleanses sin and absolves the climber of all earthly dues and in the moment the climber is alone against the mountain and free.

Hands on knees, bracing, pushing the mountain into the gravity of the earth, climbing towards the purple summit.  Peacefulness and serenity in the motion.  First one leg, first one foot, followed by the next over and over in peaceful communion with the mountain.

The simplest thing in the world is to defy gravity and climb.  The climber is in the moment.  The climber does not see or imagine the top of the mountain or the other side the climber simply climbs and in that climbing is truth and beauty and soul.

The summer sun is now falling into the horizon, slipping like a raw egg into the purple void.  Long shadows lick the trail and sweat chills in the small of the back in memory of the climber’s efforts.  Afternoon insects lift up their voices and afternoon birds shake the heat from their wings.

The trail hooks upwards behind and ancient outcrop of reddish-brown sandstone heaved up for the bottom of some forgotten sea swarming with trilobites and fairy creatures.  The climber is tiring.  The sweat has wrung the water from the soul.  Humanity is stretched thin as a silk thread and an aching tiredness fills the body and soul and brain.

Adventure is fine.  Ambitions is great. But the body is a physical thing and has its limits.  The muscles run out of fuel.  The tendons tire and lose their elasticity.  The joints creak from the repetitive impact and strain.  Fluid filled blisters grow in shoes as the feet swell and rub with each labored push.

In a flash a tired foot fails to raise a tired foot and a tired toe is caught on a wayward root concealed in the mottled sun of the afternoon.  Before conscious mind can engage the ground rushes up.  Knee impacts rock and dirt.  Hands and elbows reach out feebly to save the climber.

The dust settled around with a rush of adrenaline and clarity.  Red, red blood, rich and wonderful drips from the knee and the elbow like some ancient sacrificial right.  The climber sits in the dirt and collects thoughts and emotions and feelings to weigh and balance the event.  The climber smiles then curses and laughs.  The climber pushes erect to tired legs and spits, wiping the excess grit off.

The Climber rears back and straightens up in the trail, hand on hips, expelling a great weary sigh of breath to the gods.  But the climber knows that the truth lies, not on the other side of the purple mountain but on the other side of tiredness and exhaustion.  The truth can only be found by striving through the haze of exhaustion, through the veil of the known and into the sweet pain of the unknown.

The climber let’s out another great tired breath and with that the Striver bends and begins to push through the loose dirt upwards.  Beyond the tiredness of exhaustion is the goal which has ceased to become a thing but has been lost in the simple act of moving forward.

The Striver grimly and gamely puts one foot in front of the other pushing forward up the trail.

The striving is cut at times with a weird and senseless euphoria.  At times the cloud of tiredness will break with great rain storms of laughter.  Snippets of half remembered songs from the past will emerge with have broken trebles croaked up as offerings.  The act of striving replaces the point.  The means become the end.

Stunted trees give way to gnarled bushes and the trail becomes rougher and broken.  The Striver with sweat dried dirt and clotted blood works onward.  Above the tree line the altitude starts the thin the air and life comes in gasping breaths.   At times the trail drops precipitously down into the scrub and rocks waiting for the miscalculated step.

Beside the trail are the sun-blanched bones of some pack animal long dead.  That animal lost its bet with adventure.  That animal’s contract was collected here on the hot dry slope of the mountain.  The final commitment.  The striver pauses and wonders about final thoughts as that animal gave up the fight.

The striver has spent all that can be spent and stops to drink warm water from a carried flask.  It soothes but slightly the burned lips and throat and lungs.  Doubt now hangs in the air like a fetid smog.  Sadness comes and the great joy of adventure, the peacefulness of striving is subsumed in a great brown wave of emotional exhaustion.

Dirty and drawn the Striver fights the tears and mumbles nonsense vitriol into the gravel.  Until sadness and defeat tickle the depths of a third emotion – Anger.  Anger like a great bomb explodes into the body and mind.  The anger of the trail.  Angry at yourself.  Angry at the world.  Angry at this stupid quest and this stupid mountain.

Anger fills the void where exhaustion has left a hole.  Anger fills the void with a red energy and the Fighter is born.  Cursing the trail, cursing the heavens, cursing the world the fighter drives numb legs and feet into the dirt and pushes an uncooperative shambling body forward.

The purple peak looms near now.  The purple has grown into black as the evening expands across the barren steeps.  A pale moon hints in the low horizon of the night sky.  Night breezes push unbroken against the landscape chilling the fighter’s core.

The fighter laughs maniacally and curses the wind.   Clawing with angry tenacity at the storm and slope the fighter feels nothing and rejoices in the numbness of pain and effort.  The dirt and fluff of life is stripped away and inconsequential.  The fighter is left bare at the core punching out against the force of gravity and nature.

In this battle, victory and failure hang in the balance with each tired swing of the leg, each angry punch of the hand and each stubborn movement.   There is a purity in thought and motions when all humanness is stripped away by effort.  There is a suppleness found in wandering deep past physical boundaries, deep past exhaustion and deep into the pit of trial.  To have a great endeavor hang in the balance and not care, just fight, that is honesty in the human animal.

In the cold gloom of the evening the summit solidifies in the climber’s field of vision.  It is a surreal march, the last few meters, after these many hours of ricocheting between suffering and joy, between sadness and euphoria, between the wretched sands of defeat and the golden shores of triumph.

At the summit is triumph.  A golden shower of self-affirmation that when all is said and done you have the strength and power to rise about petty things of this existence and do the impossible.  Triumph in the knowledge that we can do anything we set our minds to and cannot be constrained by what is known.

We are have risen above the common.  We have shirked off the skin of comfort and adventured far from our warm cabins and tender beds.  We are Spartans to our sport and to our world.  What can challenge us? What can beat us?  What are we afraid of?  Nothing.

The soul is indestructible.  The will transcends the body.  The journey of the spirit transcends the mind.  We are indestructible.

 

 

 

 

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