“Once there was a shop owner who wanted a sign to put up in front of his shop to bring him good luck and many customers. He went to a Zen monk, and asked the monk to write a sign using Chinese characters for that purpose. The monk agreed to do it, but said it would take him at least a day. He told the shop owner to return the next evening, and the sign should be ready. The shop owner agreed to that.”
“The next day when the shop owner returned. When he saw the sign that the monk had written, he was horrified at the message he saw written on the sign, The sign read, ‘Grandfather dies, Father dies, Son dies.‘ He confronted the monk asking, ‘What is this terrible thing you have written for me? I asked you for a sign that I could put up outside my shop…and all you give me is this story of death. Do you intend to curse my family?’
The monk answered, ‘This is not a story of death. What I meant by the sign is this. First, when I said Grandfather Dies, I meant that no man should die before he has a Grandson. And when I wrote Father Dies, I meant that no man should die before he has a son to carry on his family name. Finally, when I wrote Son Dies, I meant that no son should die until both his grandfather and his father have passed away before him. This is the natural order of things, and therefore it is not an evil curse, but a great blessing for your family.'” – As quoted on DharmaWheel.net
One day last week, I went for a run, which was not unusual.
It was cold and raw and threatening rain, which was not unusual for late November.
It was not unusual that in preparation, I pulled on three layers for my upper body, half-tights and shorts for my legs, and a hat and pair of gloves — an outfit that I hoped would keep the chill away until my body had generated enough heat to warm me from within.
It was not unusual that I started slowly, and only gradually and unconsciously picked up the pace.
What WAS unusual was that after thirty minutes of running, my legs were feeling the strain, aching with honest effort of what had become a respectable tempo. It was unusual, and it brought me deep satisfaction.
For months, beginning with the first warm days of spring, my body has struggled with what I’ll call the transition to exercise. Within the first few minutes after starting out an easy trot, I feel like I’m climbing a steep hill. My heart pounds, my breathing is labored, and my quad muscles feel like they’re shutting down. I’ve learned that if I stop and rest for a couple of minutes, there’s a good chance the feeling will be gone, and I’ll be able to resume running normally. But in really hot weather, the condition seems to persist, and so many of my summer runs were punctuated with frequent rest breaks. This was particularly frustrating to someone who has always loved running in the heat.
Normally, I would be sad at the departure of the warm weather, but this fall, I’ve welcomed the cold days of November, and an easing of my strange symptoms. And then, on that particularly nasty day last week, I felt almost completely normal.
I thought about how nice it was to have my legs ache before my lungs did, and then to have my lungs have to work hard before my heart started pounding in my chest. The normal order of things:
And like the monk in the story, I didn’t see that sequence as a story of death (or illness), but a story of health. How lucky we are that we can run until our legs get tired and ache! How unfortunate it is when our lungs and our heart keep us from using our muscles until they are weary with the effort.
With a sound heart, and ample air to breathe, aching muscles are a gift, and even raw November afternoons with their glowering skies are a small slice of paradise.