“When you have one eye on the goal, you only have one eye on the path.” – Zen proverb
When I was six, I was hospitalized for a tick-borne illness, and I was unable to walk for sometime. When I was better, my doctor had me demonstrate my run for him. As little six year old me trotted happily down the hall, he leaned in to my mother, “Has she always run like this?”
She nodded, “Yeah, that’s how she runs.”
“Very clumsy child.”
And while that probably was an accurate analysis of my coordination at the time, it’s one of those experiences that has stuck with me ever since. I didn’t go through life whining about how that doctor that one time made fun of me. At such an impressionable young age, when an adult made an evaluation it simply got filed away in my brain as just another trait: brown eyes, small hands, clumsy. Clumsy really defined me. I did trip and run into things frequently. I wasn’t that great at sports, but I also didn’t have that much interest in them. Now, I often wonder if my desire to stay still when I was young was more about this clumsy definition than my actual interests. I didn’t stumble into actually liking exercise until developing a yoga practice, and eventually a few years after that I began enjoying running.
Trail running is my absolute favorite, which might be surprising since there’s just so many obstacles to traverse. I mostly enjoy it because there isn’t a lot of room for extraneous thoughts. Your gaze has to fall right in front of you. You can’t go over your to-do list. You can’t start thinking about what happened yesterday. There’s only room for what’s immediately in front of you. If you want to keep running, you can’t hem and haw over technical or directional decisions. Obstacles appear, and you either go over them or around. You have to trust your body to judge the height of that fallen tree branch or whether you can jump over that rock or not. Learning where my body is in space is still a work in progress. I stub toes, trip over rocks and tree roots, and roll my ankles all the time. I start thinking about my own running schedule, if I should get new shoes, what I’m going to eat for breakfast, and BAM! I jam my toe on a rock and spend a half a mile whimpering and limping.
When I first began running in the woods, I fell a lot. Maybe that’s even another unrealistic judgment I make about myself. It’s possible that all the other trail runners fall down frequently, but I’ve never bothered to ask anyone else. I would slip on a leaf or a rock, and as I hit the ground I would hear my doctor’s deadpan voice say, “very clumsy child.” Sometimes, I would rise again triumphantly, but more times that I would like to admit that voice would get the better of me. Yes, I shouldn’t even be doing this. I could hurt myself.
Then one day I was shuffling across some wet leaves when my toes hit a tree root. My body propelled forward, and I observed as my legs attempted back underneath me. Usually, this would be the moment where I would only make my fall last longer as I flailed my limbs about. This time I noticed that my body kept trying to get it’s footing. I heard my doctor’s voice begin again, “Very clum…”
I wasn’t thinking. My body, these legs kept positioning themselves to stay upright and recover as if being upright was my body’s natural condition…not falling and crawling on the ground. In that moment, his voice stopped along with my feet, and I was surprised to find myself eventually standing on two feet. Not clumsy. Upright. Strong. Embodied.
I was no longer a clumsy woman trying to get coordinated. Me and my body were upright, strong, and working together, and I then became a crazy looking woman crying in the woods while jumping up and down with excitement. I might have even sent some choice words to various medical and physical education professionals of my youth who doubted my coordination and athletic ability. Who’s clumsy now?! And with a sigh, I continued running forward with both eyes held tightly to the path.