If I Let My Mind Wander, Will It Come Back?

Posted on February 3, 2012. Filed under: Running | Tags: , , , , , , |

One thing I’ve always loved about running is the freedom and peace it brings me.  No matter what life throws at me, I’ve been able to catch it on a run, reframe it, shrink it, smooth it out, and move on.   When I’m outside and let my mind go, it seems to know where to run on its own.  Until recently, I’ve only associated that freedom and peace with being outdoors.  As a result, each time I lace up and move out, I get excited.  But each time I lace up and move in—to run on a treadmill—I get weighed down by dread.

Lately I’ve been running on a treadmill to heal an injury.   My task is to overcome muscle memory from years of running crooked, the result of a glitch in the spine and a pelvic girdle that swivels to the left like a broken bar stool, culminating in tremendous hip and knee pain.  Our bodies, brilliant as they are, adapt to our movements, however inefficient and “wrong” they are.  This is muscle memory.  Bodies unconsciously perform the way they’re trained to.  In trying to retrain my muscles to work right, I have to make a conscious effort to intervene and redirect them to reshape their memory.

Running on a treadmill where I can set my pace and forget both it and the terrain is something I should have been doing for months, but it took me that long to move myself inside, to face the deadening dread I’ve come to associate with treadmills and ceilings.

I’ve come to realize, however, that as much as our bodies have muscle memory, our minds do too.  What’s more, the two are linked.  Runners particularly seem to get this, whether they know they do or not.  Runners often feel the connection between mind, body, and soul.  When they are in harmony, we forget ourselves; we feel a runner’s high. When they are not, we feel everything, including pain.

Our mind’s muscle memory is at work all the time.  What we think, feel, remember is tied to places, people, events.  What we think effects our emotions; what we feel affects our body.  This explains why our stomach knots up when we enter a certain building or see a particular face. Our bodies have been trained by our thoughts to react in a certain way.  Muscle memory is part of the mind/body relationship. There’s no separating them.

Like our body, our mind can be retrained.   We can let our thoughts go out to wander while we run—such is the joy and peace of running—but how mindful are we of where they go?  We hold thought in our hands like a bird.  Is it a dove, sent out in hope of returning with the olive branch of peace? Is it a falcon, unmasked and driven to hunt down the answer to a problem?

Where your mind wanders is up to you.  You can choose to let it be contained, to surrender to dread, or you can choose to set it free and bring you joy.  If you let your mind wander, it comes back—but it will always wander out in the direction it’s been trained to go.

Now, I make a conscious effort to train my mind as much as I train my body.  Where my mind goes, my body follows.  And as my dad always used to say, wherever you go, that’s where you are.

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