In his 2012 book, ‘Running with the Mind of Meditation‘, Sakyong Mipham describes applying age-old theories of meditation to running and training. Sakyong is the leader of Shambala Buddhism and has a life-times experience of meditation. He is also a serious runner having completed nine marathons, his first in 2003, with a personal best of 3:05 in the Chicago Marathon. Sakyong reports that he runs about 45 miles a week during the winter and 50 to 60 miles a week during the summer.
Sakyong describes four phases of development, or, as they are known in the Shambala tradition, ‘four dignities’. In meditation practice, the four dignities represent the inner development of a courageous individual. The objective is to develop both balance and integrity to bring about ‘long life, good health, success and happiness“.
The four dignities are a tiger, lion, garuda and dragon.
Becoming a Shambala warrior begins with the tiger phase which represents mindfulness, learning to focus. Sakyong describes the four dignities in detail in his book and the interraltionship between running and meditation.
Training to be a runner, and indeed while practicing meditation, this is where we focus on technique, building up a strong base slowely but surely. Sakyong tells us that in Shambala teachings, “the tiger is friendly to himself and merciful to others”, others including our own bodies.
We all know people, maybe we are those people, who dive into new sporting activities, like running, only to overdo it with supercharged initial enthusiasm and get burned out or injured in the early stages, never to start again. Being aware of the tiger symbolism helps us to avoid this common mistake. When i started running, i was slowly building up my strength and energy after many years of chronic illness so i didn’t really get the opportunity to overdo it initially – i’d already had nearly twenty years of learning the softly, softly approach. I remember after the first few Urban Trail Races i ran, just over four years ago, all of which were about 4.5km in length, i used to head home and sleep for a couple of hours. Couldn’t stay awake in fact but that sleep allowed me to recharge my body so that i didn’t feel any negative after effects from the races.
I didn’t know the theory of the tiger dignity in those days but it would certainly have helped me through the early days of building strength and stamina. I was blessed at the time by the advent of the parkrun, that wonderful weekly 5k Saturday morning run in our urban parks. Regular runs got me running more regularly and helped me develop my running technique – all part of the tiger phase.
Gentleness is one of the key attributes of the tiger, not necessarily a trait we would identify with tigers, or warriors. In Shambala teachings, though, a tiger represents confidence and this is partly what makes it so powerful. The tiger has full command over its own being and this gives it the ability, and confidence, to be gentle.
Gentleness with ourselves is one of the key lessons we must learn if we are to develop as runners; we must learn to both respect and love our bodies and accept our frailities with a gentle mind.
Mindfulness is key in the tiger phase as we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings. We become fully aware of the attitudes we bring to our activity – sometimes, many times, probably, we take our running to seriously. Another great runner and meditator, Sri Chinmoy, advises that we run with the attitude of a seven year old child – full of joy – running for running’s sake. Sakyong tells us, ‘you get an intimate look at your own mind – its strengths and weaknesses. The tiger is refreshing in its humbleness and honesty” – more need for gentleness. Our mindfulness makes us more aware of ourselves, our minds and our bodies, in a way which we never were before and if we are not gentle with ourselves we may become frustrated and give up on our running.
And so, gently, we begin to see results. Our bodies become more powerful, stronger and fitter. We begine to exude confidence and charisma. The tiger dignity is becoming obvious. “It is the feeling of being full and alive”.
We will look at the other dignities in a later blog, for now let us concentrate on our tiger phase, developing our strength and technique and becoming familiar with ourselves.
Keep training my friends.