05/07/2012 01:19 pm ET | Updated Jul 07, 2012

Running With the Mind of Meditation

I would have been happy to have come across Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind 20 years ago, before my lower back and my hips and knees started telling me that enough was enough. Authored by Sakyong Mipham, the leader of Shambala and himself an experienced marathon runner, the book is part inspiration, part invaluable instruction manual in the parallel arts of running and meditation. Running, I have always maintained, is a mug's game: do it often enough, run far enough, and you'll get good at it. Mipham's book proves my old theory wrong, at least in the sense that training is about a good deal more than the simple pounding of the pavement: there is also mind work to be done.

Although... as the author of this book makes clear, the separation between mind and body is an artificial and misleading one. As I train the body, my mind inevitably learns new habits. As I train the mind, I teach the body new paths to discipline, stamina and strength. My own running career had its origins in my adolescent years at public (read: private!) school in England. A duffer at any sport that involved a spherical object, no matter its size or shape -- whether soccer or rugby, cricket or tennis -- and required nonetheless to participate in afternoon physical activity, I chose cross-country running because it took the least amount of time. I became relatively proficient on the school's five-mile steeplechase course, up hills, down dales, over gates and stiles and through icy water obstacles. It felt like torture to me then. A reading of Mipham's book would have helped me to direct the pain into more productive channels.

Leaving school, understandably I think, after this ordeal, I abandoned physical activity of all kinds for a good number of years, returning to running only at the urging -- and following the example -- of my wife, Ellie, when we were both in our mid-thirties. Again, over the years, I became reasonably proficient over a five-mile stretch. At a time of great professional stress, I was even up to an eight-mile daily stretch, proving the point that the practice of challenging disciplined activities serves as a mutual enhancement. And even though I never acquired the ambition to run a marathon, I greatly admire those who, like Mipham, achieve this feat. Perhaps, had I been aware of the benefits of meditation at the time, it would have been a different story.

Both prolonged meditation and long-distance running are, after all, about discipline and practice. This book offers an exhaustive (and thankfully not exhausting!) program for success for both the runner and the meditator. Mipham explores the many areas of common ground between the two, and lays out principles and practice that can lead to a rewarding fulfillment of one's personal goals in both. He accomplishes this with reassuring ease and unflagging good cheer, suggesting that the discipline of hard work and the pleasures of relaxation are not, as we too often assume, mutually exclusive -- that the two go hand in hand.

You don't need to be a marathoner -- nor even an aspiring one -- to learn from this fine book about the benefits of conscious living. In a sense, each one of us is committed to his or her own marathon as we make our way through life. Mipham's eminently practicable strategies demonstrate how it is possible to run this course with a more generous spirit and a greater lightness of heart.