Fall down seven, get up eight. - Japanese Proverb
The air is crisp, the sun is warm and the shining blue sky full of bright white clouds can't possibly be real. It looks like an illustration out of a children's book, the kind of story which always begins, once upon a time...
I'm wearing my new trail runners, which might lead you to believe that I'm sprinting through the fall leaves with the wind at my back. I'm not. Still, the traction my new kicks provide is just as useful for this meandering stroll.
See, I've made a pact. While I'm excited to try trail running and am anxious to test the new gear, the purpose of this excursion is not mileage or speed. I am here to practice mindfulness, to practice noticing, to practice being, all while bathing in nature's beauty.
Most of all, I am here to practice allowing.
The pact I've made is that once I enter the woods, I will endeavor to remain in tune with the moment. No thoughts of work, no replaying past conversations, and no planning for tomorrow.
I will walk or I will run for as long and as far as I am meant to walk or run and I will instinctively know which it is and when it is, by simply being wholly in the now.
And, go figure... it works! So yeah, that's cool.
I breathe deep, savoring the smell of pine and fallen leaves, luxuriating in the feel of warm sun on my skin. With each turn of the next corner, I am newly awed by the glorious reds and oranges alight in the afternoon sun, which filters in glittering streams of liquid gold through the trees.
The pace is slow, with long moments of stillness, as I am transfixed by a rocky path cutting through a mix of evergreen and autumn leaves, by a glimpse of idyllic sky beyond a rocky ascent, by a view from an outlook of a distant New England town.
At some point, I instinctively know it's time to begin the return journey. See? Allowing….
Today's excursion is an out and back - no loop, just a simple retracing of the trail. The full trail is 15 miles one way, so there is no formal ending for this shorter afternoon adventure. I am a planner and it is difficult for me to let go, but part of today's pact is practicing intentional spontaneity.
Feeling energized by an afternoon of bathing in autumn's splendor, I am suddenly inspired to run and so begin skipping from rock to root. There is an indescribable stillness and focus in this. I am simultaneously feeling a lighthearted freedom in the swift movement as well as a total absorption in the balancing and careful placement of each new footfall.
As I am running, I see a family of four ahead on the trail, so I slow to a walk in order to put on a mask before approaching. Once they feel me enter their space, they share a smile and a greeting as they move to one side and allow me to pass.
I thank them and walk past and then resume my run. Two steps in, I hook my foot on an unnoticed root and go flying forward on the trail, landing hard on hands and knees and elbows, shocked by the sudden pain and barely registering the startled gasps of the family who watched me fall.
I am hurting and I am mortified and I don't know which is worse. That young family just watched this clumsy, middle-aged woman fall hard on the trail, an ungainly mess of limbs and choice words, moments after breezing by so casually. I am not the graceful, outdoorsy athlete I so desperately want to be and this is not the image that I so desperately want them to see. I am also afraid of lasting injury, because the older you are the harder you fall.
Or something like that.
The family is watching me anxiously and wants to know if I am alright. With a huge smile and exaggerated enthusiasm, I leap to my feet and pronounce gleefully that I am just fine, no worries at all. The father looks skeptical and offers me an alcohol wipe to clean the scrapes as his daughter looks at me with huge eyes and says with a voice full of worry, "you're bleeding".
It's at this point that I realize that I am bleeding from my palms, my elbow and my shoulder. I can feel the bleeding on both knees but, mercifully, my pants didn't rip so the kids didn't have to see anything else to increase their distress. I accept the alcohol wipe and clean up the best I can while I cheerfully begin an uninteresting, babbling story of how I bought these trail running shoes because I wanted to run in the woods.
"You see, I know I'm pretty clumsy and that it's harder than running on the road, but I wanted to learn something new. And sometimes when you try something new, you fall down. But that's okay. So, I'm just going to try again."
We chat and then I thank the family for being so kind and taking the time to make sure I am well. I say, one more time, "Time to try again!" with a bright smile and set off down the trail, skipping from rock to root.
Of course, my suave departure was interrupted by the mother calling after me to return my glasses, which had flown off my face during the fall.
I love those glasses. Never have I been so grateful for a failed dramatic exit.
So, in full sitcom style, I return to retrieve my glasses, cheerfully pronounce one last time that it's "time to try again" and, again, set off down the trail.
There was pain but in that moment it didn't touch me. I noticed it, allowed it and continued to run lightly the rest of the way, feeling joy in the freedom of quick movement through so much beauty, energized by the unexpected compassion of strangers and empowered by the simple act of getting back up and continuing the journey.
I’d like to wrap this story up in a neat little bow but there are so many ways this could go. The moral could be about the importance of staying present in the moment. I mean, this is a blog about mindfulness after all. It could be about being centered and secure in yourself without concern for what others might notice or think. For sure, I fell because I was no longer paying attention to balance and footfalls. Instead, I worried about running while others were watching. In that moment, I was no longer in the woods with the scent of pine and the whisper of rustling of leaves, but rather in an indistinct place with an awkward, overweight child who is also a middle-aged women awash in fears of bad knees and aging joints and memories of being picked last for the team.
I am sure I wasn't thinking those things clearly or specifically, but the sensing was enough. I was living in my head instead of out on the trail. And, well, the roots and rocks were on the trail...
Still, this disaster of a run was surprisingly special.
To the family who was so open and so kind, thank you. To the children who were sincerely concerned for the well-being of a stranger, please, don't ever change. When you see someone fall, always reach out with concern rather than laughter and allow your light to fill this world.
And when you are older and trying out for the team or auditioning for the show and things go wrong, don't let it shake you. When that happens, treat yourself as kindly as you just treated me. Remember the clumsy middle-aged lady who fell face first, without an inch of grace, as she jogged by you on the trail. Then, my friends, try again. Success has nothing to do with falling down and everything to do with getting back up again.
So, I suppose we could say that the moral of this story is about compassion, but then again, maybe it is about the importance of perseverance and grit.
But that doesn't feel right, either.
Too obvious, too cliche.
I am left wondering about the stories we tell ourselves and the nature of truth.
It was a run through the woods which went terribly wrong. What started out as a gorgeous autumn stroll ended with an accident, embarrassment and pain. I started the journey happy and ended it bleeding, swollen and bruised, finishing the evening by painfully washing out multiple abrasions, icing swollen knees and wondering with fear how long it would be before I could hike again.
It was a run through the woods with so much beauty washing over me and through me, it hardly felt real. What started out as the perfect combination of cool air, warm sun and clear skies, of foliage and evergreen and rocky paths gleaming in the afternoon light, ended with a rare moment of loving, authentic connection with strangers as I was enveloped in kindness and grace. It ended with long, drawn out moments of time in which there was nothing but the scent of fall, the sound of birdsong, joyful movement and a feeling of peace it would take a far better writer than me to capture in words.
These stories are equally true. And there are far more than two versions of this afternoon, all of which use the same facts, yet each spinning a different tale.
I believe that words are powerful. I believe that every moment is made up of many truths. How we feel and how we move through this world depends on which truth we choose in each moment and the words we use to tell that truth. Might as well choose the ones which bring you joy.
So, yeah. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.