As I walked, I was listening to one of my favorite authors, Pema Chödrön, a buddhist teacher. The talk was called "The Joy To Do What Helps Us." This is something I think about constantly—the fine line between discipline and what she calls "joyful exertion." Too often we think that we have to strive in a painful, pushing way—tolerating the worst for a scrap of reward. But "exertion" is different. Chödrön talks about how we can create an "armor of exertion." This she describes not as a barricade, but as protection against hurting ourselves and hurting others.
I immediately thought of this video of the pebble toad. (Watch the video and look at his joyful armor of exertion!)
I want to be this toad. But yesterday I was just plain grumpy. Tired of things going wrong, feeling achey against the cold weather, just HMMMFFF about it all. Then I got curious: what might make me feel lighter? It was no mystery. I already knew and I already know. I put on my running shoes and all my "joyful outdoors armor," and despite my aching joints, I set it in my mind to run to the freeway overpass and back, and to watch the cars and pretend like I was on a bridge over a river. I have no idea where this specific idea came from, but at the same time it came from a place that I know. It's what Chödrön calles your "bodhichitta"—trust in your basic nature.
I ran in the cold as the sun set. It was dark but I could still see the brightness of piles of yellow ginkgo leaves. At the overpass, I watched the cars coming and going. I did a hiking ritual that a friend taught me: look at the water flowing away and let something go. Then look to the water flowing towards you, and ask for something. (My bodhichitta says this works with cars too, if you want.)