“To keep the body in good health is a duty… otherwise we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear.” – Buddha
I leave my house. Running shoes tied tight. Final stretches complete. One foot in front of the other. My pace is slow, my muscles tight. My Achilles heel reminding me of its presence with every step.
I start down 7th as I always do. I decide to take a right, up the hill towards 8th. I cross over 8th and decide to head towards 9th. A spur of the moment decision. Arriving at 9th I see there is no 9th. It is Prospect Park West.
I’m not sure where I am and decide to go left. My sense of direction notoriously bad. In a few short blocks I find myself at the entrance of Prospect Park. Surprised that I live this close to the park. Excited that this world just opened up to me. Another reminder of my freedom. A reminder to not take for granted the choice to go left or to go right.
I love parks. Always have. I love being out in nature. I enjoy the city but miss the suburbs for their open spaces, wooded preserves. Being alone with nature. So grounding. A reminder of how beautiful the world is. A reminder of how small we are. A reminder that we are all connected.
I run into the park, almost unsure of what to do with my new-found discovery. My mind still trapped within the confines of routine. Trying to process the possibilities of my expanded boundaries. Even with freedom I find myself occasionally trapped. The mind a powerful prison. Its bars imaginary, yet so strong.
Fears, insecurities, the shadow of the past, the glare of the future.
I see a pine tree branch, it runs parallel to the ground. Ideal for pull-ups. My workout begins. Pull-ups, push-ups, dips on the park benches, jump squats on a box by the softball field, bear crawls between light posts. Focusing on each pull, each push, each step and jump. Each contraction of muscle. My heart pumping, my lungs breathing deeply. Sweat forming on my forehead and chest. My shirt becoming heavy.
There are no prison walls. There are no bills to pay, no anxiety, no divorces, no money troubles. The past and the future cease to exist.
It is only me. My mind and body a unified entity with a single goal. The completion of another rep. Pushing myself. Feeling the blood flow to the muscles as they work. Each rep a victory. Each rep a mantra keeping me focused on the task at hand. I feel no pressure. I feel no regret for the past or worry for the future. Only this present moment and each contraction of muscles.
I am within a bustling city and yet alone in the woods. Not afraid of being by myself. Quite the opposite. Embracing myself, feeling at ease through the pain. The pain that only exercise can bring and the pain that those that exercise crave.
The last rep complete, my breath returning to normal, my veins popping from my arms. I leave the park.
I walk home, enjoying the new neighborhood. Realizing it is on my checklist of places I wanted to see. There is a brownstone, covered by trees, a small fish pond in the front. The sound of the water trickling down makes me smile. I like this home. I like that I can stop in front of it and admire it.
Not just physically, but from my mind. Different pathways opened, old ones closed.
Exercise and freedom. So powerful together. I will do this again. But not the same way. A different path, a different routine. Ruts are so easy to get into and follow. Even more difficult to get out of.
Best not to get in them in the first place.
This is the path back to who I am. This is the path forward to who I want to become. This is part of the journey that will set me free.
Move the body. Expand the mind.