Something needed to be run out. Not for my usual orthorexic reasons: wanting to punish myself for eating poorly or out of anxiety. The motivation was pure and kind and undeniable. My body just wanted to run, and run, following the coastline with my eyes on the waves and my ears filled with the sweet sounds of people I admire (podcasts) while they opened their hearts as the sun rose over the island. Those morning jogs were joy-filled. I never wanted them to end. Have you ever run outside without an end point in mind, and no clock to keep track of? The feeling is freeing.
I arrived in Hawaii one day before the turn of the new year, with a pounding head and aching teeth; a nasty sinus infection. I still ran 5 miles on arrival, to loosen the congestion and suck in the salty air. The second day was just as bad, but I went for 4 miles anyway. The next day was awful, but maybe just a little less bad, forgetting now what it was like to be healthy, and still went out for 6 miles. As the days progressed, the pressure dissipated, washing my sinuses with saline every morning became more productive and my breathing less labored. The weight on my molars lightened. The length of each run grew a little longer. I had shown up, literally and metaphorically, with a virus in me that needed to be healed in a beautiful, peaceful chakra corner of the earth, and despite it being painful and disgusting, the process was holy magic.
It wasn’t only ‘in my head’ - although it was very much there, too. As we crossed the threshold from 2023 to 2024, the infected parts (negative thoughts, harmful habits of self sabotage, dooms-day predictions, over protecting myself, over thinking, the tense and constricted muscles and memories of past traumas, one in particular) were getting washed out of my physical and emotional body. The sinus infection was a cheap mask for what was being bettered underneath.
By the last day, I could finally dive down below the water without my ears and eyeballs feeling as though they’d burst out of my skull, and I didn’t need to pour salt water up one side of my nose and out the other to start the day. My face visibly shrunk without the swell and puffy under eyes. I ran 9 miles on my last morning. And I could breathe in more ways than one because of what I worked through on those runs; a tale for another time (or, post.)
Some spiritual lessons take such hilariously literal forms, it takes more work to ignore them than to address them. In this case: a bunch of mucus blocking my airways, at the exact time I’m learning to be safe within myself and breathe easy amidst the knowledge of life’s inherent and unavoidable danger. The problem is the answer. There is an answer to your woes that wants come to light (a memory to heal, an insecurity to challenge, whatever that is for you); the ‘problem’ is bringing the need to your awareness. Go into it, embrace it, be all in it rather than running from it.
“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.”
It wasn’t till I got home to LA that I realized why running had been part of the process: I was walking the maze of my neighborhood on a workday, listening to a guided meditation on safety. With each step and the milky softness of her guidance, my muscles loosened, my heart released an anxious grip, my shoulders dropped, my breaths through the nose rose into high tide and became deeper, more productive waves.
And then she said: when we keep moving from our trauma, we are paralyzed. We must move toward it.
In Hawaii, there had been mornings that I ran with the anxiety and worry and fears that used to run my life. I’d wear them out, and encourage them to just keep the pace, keep running through all the terrible scenarios and what-ifs and the laundry list of why I shouldn’t trust someone with my heart or put my work out into the world (yet here we are). Other days, I’d run while the thoughts chased me. I’d run and sprint to the next street sign and wear myself out, and there they’d catch me with all the awful possibilities of a future in which I trusted the wrong person and was heartbroken and abandoned. It would always catch up, and I’d be panting beside the road in tears until I could slow-walk forward again and pick up the pace later down the road.
There are many ways to run from trauma. It can be trying to outrun it by doing too much, pushing too hard, never having one of those quiet moments alone at home where you finally let yourself think about it and process it all. You can try to run into the future before the past can catch you. But, ironically, no matter how fast you go, you stay in the same place, because the healing and processing never happens. I have traveled the world to get away from trauma. I have run from one lover to another only to find the same problems in both relationships. I’ve put on blinders like horses wear during races, thinking if I didn’t look at it and just sprinted and accomplished something great, it wouldn’t hurt me. But in all these attempts, we are paralyzed. We end up taking our bodies many places and keeping our hearts and souls stuck in the same spot. We aren’t even fully present to what’s around us physically. We inhibit feeling all the real and tragic and beautiful and perfect magic in the moment, because our deeper selves are stuck.
The trick is to run with it. Run toward it. Run right into it, as if meeting an old friend in a coffee shop, wherever you can. On the running trail, or in the bathtub, or in your journal. Whereever you can meet it. Don’t run from it, run through it. Move with it. Move for it. Move through it. If your body comes along for the ride and does some physical movement at the same time, great. If not, and your body needs to lay down and not move and just allow the heart and soul and mind to come together, that’s great too. There is no wrong way, as long as you move for it and with it and through it. This is how we sanctify the spaces of hurt that live in either the past or the possible future and transform them into power. This is how we honor the pain as holy, by recognizing it and greeting it as the divine teacher it is.
The place we think we are the least safe, (where we are afraid to feel and see and process) is ironically the only safe place. Because it’s the place we heal.
Now back in my normal routine and responsibilities, I find myself more exhausted than at the height of the sickness, even after 7 miles on the road. I can see the demands and schedules I had, the expectations I forced myself to meet and told others to rely on, are constricting and confining and keep me as a hamster in a wheel, sprinting. I’ve vowed to find more safe places, like afternoon walks and hot baths in the middle of the day and quiet hours with a book before bed. I’ve promised to attune to that stillness, the non-running, so as to move forward the needle of my highest and most healed self. I’ve committed to zooming in on the spot that my fears and I currently inhabit, rather than trying to see the entire map of what’s ahead (the future) and what’s behind (the past) on my life’s journey. Thus, I’m no longer looking down at a map of a long and winding path. I’m looking up, and seeing a big, wide open sky above me, and feeling a healthy sense of freedom I’ve never known before.