By Patrick Dean
It had been a month since I looked down and saw the bruise.
Dark purple and brown, roughly circular, right over the place where the fourth metatarsal joins the toe. The very spot where an injury a couple of years ago had bounced me out of trail-marathon training and into a walking boot.
This time, because of the bruise and a little soreness there, I took a month off from running. Finally, in mid-October, it was time to return to one of my usual trails to test out the foot.
In the intervening weeks, black-gum leaves had turned color and come down to decorate the trail in a russet and scarlet carpet. The early-morning early-fall sunlight slanted though the trees. The temp - mid 60s - was perfect.
I found myself in such a beautiful moment, so overwhelmed by my surroundings and the experience of running through the place, that I thought to myself:
“I don’t ever have to run again to enjoy this, right now.”
And that was a bit of an epiphany about what it really means to be present.
If you’re like me, you’ve gone out for a trail run and, while you physically were cruising through the woods, your head was all caught up with your to-do list, or on a problem in your work, or thinking about dinner. You may have had to stop, realize what you were doing, and make yourself clear your head so you could pay attention to the place and time that you were in. For me, it happens all the time.
This moment, though, felt really different. It was so startling in its purity, so immediate in its force, that I’ve thought about it quite a bit since then. It made me wonder whether, when we say ‘be in the moment,’ we do so even while subconsciously assuming that there will be more moments.
Could we actually, without even knowing it, be thinking “I’ll give my attention to this moment, and then go on with my life and lots of other moments in the future”? After all, there’s a good chance that that’s accurate. Most of us will have another run, another visit to those woods, another glimpse of those leaves, that sunlight. But thinking that way can lead to experiences that are protected, sheltered — maybe even softened — by the comfort and security of our lives.
But on this day, in this moment, I separated it from the future. The act of thinking, totally accidentally, “What if I can’t ever run again after today?” gave where I was, and what I was doing, all my focus. I was “in the present moment” in a way that I don’t think I’ve ever been before.
It didn’t have anything to do with other runs in the future.
It wasn’t just testing my foot to get back to running, to training, to races.
It was enjoying where I was for its own sake. Not as part of anything else.
If we tether an experience to something else — to our plans, hopes, fears, assumptions — then it’s not fulfilling its potential to be a full moment right now. It’s being shortchanged.
I’m not going to say whether my foot was fine. Not to be a jerk, or to score cheap writer points. But because, for this, for now, it really doesn’t matter. In fact, that’s the whole point, isn’t it?
The run that day was the thing. The moment. And it was gorgeous, and wonderful, and deeply satisfying.
That’s all that mattered.