Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Running Through the Bush of Ghosts; a guest blog by Tim MacKay

Brother Tim; 

We have travelled many hidden trails through dense bush. We have experienced the beauty of running in extreme conditions and extreme distances. We have shared intimate stories of ghosts past and present. We have bared our souls and exposed our true selves, our true identities. We have cussed and laughed and then cussed some more.  We have have offered a hand up, literally and figuratively, to one another on many occasions.  You have dragged my posterior over several lines in the sand and I have cussed you in gratitude.

Tim, I identify deeply with this piece. Occasionally the ghost conspire and trip us on the path when we least expect their presence. You have shown vulnerability and have taken a risk. This, my friend, shows courage and strength. 

Thanks for this Tim. It's a good day to be alive, despite the ghosts or, perhaps, because of the ghosts?








The snow underneath my feet responds to my pace with a rhythmic crunch, matched by a parallel rhythm in my breathing. There’s great comfort in the rhythm. It’s soothing, healing. It’s important. Maybe essential. The rhythm - the consistent beating - is what keeps me going. It marks the mental space I find the most comfort in, with a steady ‘left, right, in, out’ bringing calm and peace. And when set along a trail in the woods, the forest bathing me in solitude and simplicity, this healing rhythm is as close as I can come to perfection.

There’s no mystery to this. I’m not alone in treasuring the healing power of running’s rhythm and calm. I’m not alone in needing the solitude of a trail to run out my demons. I’m not alone in using running as an antidote to the stressors of life that challenge my mental health. Like many, I run to stay well.

People sometimes ask chronic runners what they might be running from. For some of us, it’s a very simple answer - ghosts! It’s a bit like the experience of the main character in Amos Tutuola’s novel My Life in the Bush of Ghosts. The novel tells a series of stories about a young Nigerian boy who finds himself alone in a haunted forest, where he is completely unprepared for the strange spirits he encounters and the unusual and dreamlike experiences he faces. Life is like that for many of us. We are unprepared for the sometimes nightmarish things that happen to and around us. And we sometimes end up carrying the ghosts of these experiences long after the events have ended.

Yet this oversimplifies it a bit too much, because the kind of running I’m talking about isn’t so much a ‘running from’ as it is a ‘running with’! Many of us run to find peace with the ghosts that we have come across. We run alongside them. The reality is that we may never be rid of the ghosts that haunt us, so running with them instead of away from them, befriending them, becomes the purpose. The bush of ghosts never fully goes away, it rarely gets cut down completely. We may find our way out of it for awhile, but invariably it sits somewhere over our shoulder waiting for an opportunity to swallow us again. The cure isn’t to run away. No, better to acknowledge it, embrace it, and find a rhythm to safely move through it, to befriend the spirits and ghosts and run with them. This is where wellness lives. In this sense, it might be better to ask, what are we running to!

Running’s healing rhythm is no accident. Like an EMDR session for PTSD, the firing of left and right sides of the body, the deep and rhythmic breathing, they all make perfect sense, synchronizing a healthy rhythm across the hemispheres of the brain. Running is a metronome of wellbeing, beating out a steady rhythm of coherence and calm. It’s not meditation - anyone who has spent even a second on a mediation cushion could tell the difference. But the quiet, contemplative rhythm is powerfully therapeutic. It’s a healthy compliment to meditation and other wellness practices. And the resulting fatigue helps too. For those who sometimes struggle, the value of deep, sound sleep is unequalled. The research is solid on this - as part of a comprehensive approach to wellness, running can help to counterbalance many of the symptoms of depression, anxiety, PTSD, and other challenges to mental wellbeing.

Some of us run more than others. Some run distances that others would even consider unwell - ‘crazy’, in fact. Some of us tire and run shorter distances as we age. But run we must. To be clear, not everyone who runs is running with ghosts. Not everyone who runs is using it as a strategy to stay mentally well. But for many, like me, running helps them navigate the bush of ghosts and keep moving through life. We tend to find each other and cluster in small groups of running buddies. We are comrades on the road and trail, despite each of us running through our own private bush of ghosts. Together and alone all at once, the friendships and solidarity providing an additional buffer to the ghosts. We run, sweat, hurt, and laugh together, making our way along untold kilometres of road and trail, step after step through the bush of ghosts.

This January, when Bell encourages us to “talk about it”, some of us will run instead. In this sense, running is a form of communication akin to dance, a single-track ballet many of us perform as we navigate our way to wellness. Running can be our “talk”. It’s dark and cold through the month of January, yet many of us are out there running. And now you know why - the ghosts are fewer, smaller and far more friendly when outside on the run then they would be if we stayed inside and sat.

Tim MacKay