M is for Monday, Mean Ladies, and Mindfulness

No Mud, No Lotus.

—Thich Nhat Hanh

MI hadn’t gone running in a few days, so the fact that it was Monday today had slipped my mind this morning when I headed out to my favorite trail. I was more preoccupied with how I was going to fare on this warm day, more interested in how well I would run rather than on the day of the week it was. But, when I pulled into the parking lot and noticed the proliferation of Priuses with Bernie Sanders stickers, I suddenly remembered.

Dammit. I hate running on Monday mornings when the Mean Ladies walk. Usually I try to arrive later in the morning in order to avoid them. I’ve been running on this particular trail most mornings for the past two years, but only in the past six months or so have the Mean Ladies become a problem. I’m not exactly sure how it all started, but a couple of months ago the issue kind of came to a head.

One of the things I like most about my favorite trail is that I see the same people there. After two years, I’m on a friendly basis with many of them. We smile and nod, wave, say “good morning” day after day, week after week, season after season. I’ve even gotten to be on a first name basis with some of the folks there: Danny, Lisa, Diane, Jeff. I often also see many people I know from various other contexts. After 35 years in this town, I know a few folks. Generally these encounters are friendly, so I’m a bit perplexed as to how I came to be at such odds with this group of ten or so mostly older (say, oh, over 60) women.no mud no lotus

Part of the problem is that they always walk side by side and have a tendency to not move over when I either come running up behind them and need to get by nor when I come running from the opposite direction. They meander four or five abreast across the whole trail, ignoring my need to get by and presumably the needs of other trail travelers as well.

And it’s not like I sneak up on them. I am a noisy runner: breathing heavily, my water bottles sloshing on their belt around my waist, my shoes flapping and splooshing in the mud. I am not a swift nor elegant gazelle. Most people hear me coming and, if they are walking two or three across, move over courteously to let me by. I do the same for others. I run on the far right side of the path, moving toward the center only to avoid hazards or large mud puddles.

But these ladies . . . if they were cars, they’d be driving in the wrong lane. There’s a larger one, more school bus than smart car, who always walks on the left, on the inside of the path and for whatever reason refuses to get out of the way or step a bit to the right. She will not cede the right of way, and her obstinance (or obliviousness) makes me crazy. Nearly everyone treats the running/walking trail like a road—slower traffic keeps right except to pass. Occasionally someone will walk on the left, against the grain, but generally they move aside to let others pass.

dontmessA couple of months ago, on a Monday (for I only ever see them on Mondays), I met the Mean Ladies on a wider part of the trail, but it didn’t matter because they were spread all the way across. I had to step off the path and into the brush to get by. They did not budge. Of course because I am running and they are walking, I met them again during my run, and this time, I resolved I would not step off of the path. I would hold my narrow bit of ground.

Also about this time, I had been meditating in the mornings before my runs as an assignment for my Transpersonal and Eastern Philosophies counseling class. One of the modalities we were studying was Mindfulness. So, as I approached this maddening group of matrons, I had a bit of an argument with myself. “Remember the sacred pause,” I admonished. “Take a breath.” But as I drew closer and as it became increasingly apparent that linebacker lady wasn’t going to move, I lost my mind a little. And, in my defense, if I moved a foot to the right, I would, in fact, land in the lake.keep-right-except-to-pass-8

I tried to make eye contact, but the Mean Ladies refused to see me. They continued walking and talking across the entire trail, ignoring my approach. I held my ground and continued running forward. I got closer and still they didn’t move, did not cede a single inch. I braced myself and continued apace, hoping for a last second miracle. But no. My left arm (where, incidentally, I wear my iPhone in a “tunebelt”) smacked into the left arm of the Largest of the Ladies.

In that moment of impact, I felt smugly satisfied and a little scared. What if she came after me? I could outrun her, sure, but I felt kind of bad. I mean, yes, she and her Matronly Mavens had Most of the trail, but why couldn’t I have remembered in that Moment to take the Sacred Pause? To be the bigger (metaphorically speaking, at least) person. Why couldn’t I have just stopped, waited for the Mean Ladies to meander on by, and then continued my run? Why wasn’t I More Mindful? I berated myself and vowed to do better.

The next Monday I again forgot what day it was and encountered them, but this time I was able to be more mindful. I managed to come upon them at a particularly wide spot on the trail that even they could not fill up, and then upon completing my first lap, I reversed direction in order to avoid seeing them again, at least that day. I took to running a bit later on Mondays for a few weeks and avoided them altogether, until last Monday when I approached them from behind. I mustered up my courage and my voice and bellowed out (nicely) “Excuse me!” And miracle of miracles, the large lady moved over. I think I surprised her, and she couldn’t see who it was coming up behind her. I plowed by, grateful, and gave a little wave of thanks as I passed. Maybe she was learning some Manners after all. Or maybe I was.

Today when I met them midway around the lake, I slowed down and made room for them—as well as I could—and again reversed directions after my first lap. I didn’t encounter them again until we all ended up in the parking lot together, where, I again gave them all very wide berth. Before I even started my car, I let them all climb into their Priuses and drive away. Then I made more than a mental note about Mondays. This time, I put Mean Ladies in my calendar. With an alert. Sometimes, being mindful requires a reminder.

In Which I Get a Little Obsessed with Fairness

Fairness.  I am a big proponent of fairness.  I’m an “all men are created equal” kind of woman.  Life. Liberty.  The Pursuit of Happiness, and all that.  Yes, I know, Life Isn’t Fair.  So I’ve heard over these many years.  Intellectually knowing this little truism to be sadly true still cannot quite triumph over my deeply emotional devotion to fairness.  I know true fairness is nigh unto impossible, but I still yearn for it, hoping against all hope that someday my foolishness will be redeemed by the universe.
I think the Buddhists or one of the eastern religions call this Karma.  The law calls it Justice (though that definition too is getting a bit unworkable).  Some would call it Just Desserts. As you sow, so shall you reap, I think Jesus might have said.  Or it could have been Shakespeare. Also known as Getting What’s Coming to You. And, in perhaps its most extreme form, Vigilantism.  I’m not advocating anything violent or nasty here.  I’m just saying, I can totally understand how vigilantism might take root.  An Eye for An Eye.  I find that difficult.  We need to Rise Above.
Fairness relies heavily upon its cousin “integrity,” and unfortunately that is one unreliable relative.  Also known as “Doing the Right Thing.”  Walking the Talk, and Standing Up for What’s Right. Taking the Log Out of Your Own Eye, Judging Not, Lest You Be Judged. Do Unto Others. I believe that someone famous once said “The measure of a person’s integrity is in how he/she treats someone who can do nothing for him.” Mark Twain? Neitzche? Ghandi.  Wikipedia is so unreliable. And this writer thinks that Integrity  is in all around short supply.
You know, fairness has been in the news recently—in the guise of taxes.  As in “fair share.”  In sports—as in “an unfair advantage due to the use of performance enhancing drugs.”  Is it Fair to let an alleged cheater raise money for charity?  How about this:  Is it fair to let the guy with prosthetic legs into the race? Honestly, I’m not being sarcastic here—what really is the Right Thing in this particular situation? King Solomon might be hard pressed to untwist that mystery.
Fairness is Elusive.  Is it Fair when an uninsured drunk guy runs into your car and doesn’t get a ticket because it happened on Private Property (a store’s parking lot)? And YOUR insurance company pays him but YOU have a $500 deductible.  Totally Not Fair.  Is it Fair when the old guy at work who knows nothing about computers only wants MEN to work on his computer?  Nope.  Is it FAIR that the father generally gets screwed in child custody cases?  Absolutely Not Fair.  How about buying things across the border in order to dodge taxes? See, now that’s a tough one, isn’t it? Buying a computer in Oregon to evade Washington sales tax? Hiding a gazillion dollars overseas.  Stocking up on subsidized milk and gasoline at the Bellingham Coscto? Is there really a difference? Taxes pay for things we all use.
Back to my earlier premise:  Fairness requires Integrity.  Do the right thing, even if no one is watching.  Listening to our consciences.  I think we’ve all gotten too far away from that still small voice that natters away in the remote recesses of our minds, frantically waving its little arms, trying desperately to get our attention. Having Integrity requires us to take a look around, put others first every now and then.  Not always—I am not saying we need to make a radical lifestyle choice here—I’m just saying, it never hurts to think before we act.  Like is anyone in the neighborhood still sleeping at 7 a.m. on a Saturday morning?  Would this be a good time to use my power saw?
Things I’ve learned while writing this blog:  I still believe in Fairness.  I will always hope for it.  We all should think about it more often.  And I totally focused on myself while pondering this concept. 
Okay, here’s a less selfish look at things: I know I could be more Fair.  I could use some patience behind the steering wheel.  I could stop sighing loudly in lines (any line:  traffic, grocery store, restaurant, movie theatre, ferry)—if I really wanted to be first and if I really was in such a gosh darn hurry, I should have gotten there earlier.  It’s no one’s fault but mine. I learned this little nugget somewhere—an event is as important to you as you are willing to make the effort not to miss it.  In other words—is it fair that you totally missed a concert because traffic was so bad?  How important was that concert? Evidently not so important that you made SURE you left early enough.  Is it important enough to get there a day ahead? Two hours ahead? Fifteen minutes?  Does my lack of planning make my emergency more important that anyone elses? Nope. Get in Line.  Life’s not fair. Not usually.  But when it is? Life is Sweet.
Lest I confuse anyone into thinking I’m saying we all need to get used to life being Unfair—not so.  That is implied in the Do Unto Others.  Listen.  We all need to see the humanity in each other.  Listen. Treat Others as YOU would Like to be Treated.  And when life is fair, when the abusive spouse gets justice; when the drunk driver gets a ticket and jail, when the bullied child pops the bully in the nose (yeah, I said it), when the parents listen to the teachers, when the father wins custody because he IS the fittest parent, when the gays can marry, when women can make their own decisions, about everything, when the cheaters and schemers have lost.  Life will be fair.