I just returned from 3 days in Mexico, celebrating as our good friends got married on the Playa Mujeres. We lived in the lap of luxury at an all-inclusive resort and we drank the days away at pool bars and on pirate ship cruises, but somewhere in all that I still found time for some reflection against the backdrop of the ocean water.
I had a couple hours to myself Friday afternoon so I headed down to the beach to play in the ocean for a while. In between bobbing in the waves and drying off in the sun, I took a walk along the shore, admiring what a purifying force the ocean is. The great vastness, the unceasing ebb and flow of the tides, the omnipresent roar and the blanket of sun that drown out the earthly “monkey brain” – not even the serene forests or the beautiful mountains or the quiet canyons have the ocean’s unique and mighty meditative power. Just yesterday, I’d been listening to some new friends at the wedding talk about all the half and full marathons they run, and I had a sudden fierce longing for the days when I was in long distance racing shape. I missed that feeling of being in great shape; where I am now feels so far from the breakthrough races I had in the spring of 2015 and the gritty marathon PR I ran this past May. Now, as the salty waves lapped at my ankles, I thought about that moment from yesterday and the great quieting effect of the ocean. By washing away my busy thoughts, the ocean’s great purity was getting me back in touch with my needs – the things that bring purity into my life.
The goals I made for this year aren’t just about achieving success, or even about the more commonly cited motivation of enjoying the process of working toward something. There is no “something”. There is only a calling back to the things that make me feel pure, and immersing myself in these specific goals/resolutions is a way of answering that calling.
Eating well, which I’ve never been awesome at, is the easiest example here. It is purifying in the most literal form: I strive to put better things in my body so it feels better and maintains more energy and vitality.
There is a lyric in a famous Blind Melon song that goes: “all I can do is read a book to stay awake/and it rips my life away, but it’s a great escape“. That “ripping” is how reading invigorates me, how it purifies my mind. Immersing myself in literature, different stories and viewpoints and lives, is like a big hydrating glass of cold water for my brain.
The practice of minimalism makes my soul feel pure in a way that’s harder to put my finger on, that is mysterious and promising. Having less – physical clutter, mental clutter, schedule clutter – makes me feel more connected the world around me and the life I lead. Acquiring clutter and stuff is like building a skyscraper – as I add more floors and get higher from the city below, I feel less centered, further away from my roots. The practice of minimalism is my short, stocky building: keeping me grounded and in touch with the world around me.
And, of course, running. Like eating well, it is purifying in the physical sense – Exercise! Endorphins! Fitness-building! – but there is very much a spiritual component to it as well. Running is very meditative. The steady rhythm of heartbeat and striding feet, the air in your lungs, moving through the world on foot (even if, in my case, it is usually just on unattractive city streets). It’s being present in time but removed from the social media updates, the news alerts, the gravity of life. It’s letting your mind be active without being consumed. I want running back in my life not just to get fitter but because my life needs more of these special meditative sessions that only running has been able to give me.
Now, I’m trying to reflect on the goals I’ve set in a new way – to remind myself of this calling they answer, not just the rewards they provide. I’m trying to remember the waves and the dull roar of water pushing out the noise – the purification.