Saturday, September 26, 2009

The "spiritual practices" of sea kayaking and trail running

Growing up in my house meant that books on the coffee table would include Hogben’s Mathematics for the Million (a scholarly primer on everything mathematical), F.J.M. Farley’s Elements of Pulse Circuits (huh?!), Maurois' The Life of Alexander Fleming and Scott’s Poetical Works. Thing is, they weren’t just there for display like many expensively illustrated and oversized coffee table books – amongst other “classic” titles, they were being fondly read and re-read!

Makes me feel a little intellectually “thin” when I look around our house at my current “reads” – a newly arrived Runner’s World and an August edition of Sea Kayaker Magazine, a well-thumbed Mountain Equipment Co-op and LL Bean catalogue, and oh yes, my current favourite (a 20 page brochure!), Explore the World – the University of Toronto Alumni Travel Program 2010. (“Hey Joan, we can both go to Tibet for $17,000! OK, so we’ll go camping instead – hey, for $15 a night and just an hour from home that ain’t bad! Yeah, we’ll do Tibet next year!) Mmm, just noted another good “read”, the Panago Pizza flyer – you gotta love the "delicious" pictures!

To be fair though, come late evening, the real books do come out. I will share that I am currently enjoying the classic 1978, and originally self-published novel, Once a Runner, by John Parker while Joan reads the last few astonishing chapters of Born to Run by Chris McDougall.

Anyway, once when report card time was looming and I felt I needed to “massage and prepare” the home front, I devised a strategy that would involve positioning myself at the dining room table with Mathematics for the Million open at the chapter titled: "How Logarithms were Discovered". (As if I really cared?!) The look my father gave me, without breaking stride, revealed clearly that the scenario was as believable as Martians landing on the driveway of our east Toronto suburban home - and bearing gifts of Cheezies and Mars Bars! Ah well, seemed like a good idea at the time…sigh. Flunking math in first term, Grade 9, did not lend much credibility to my “posing”. (Yup, there was a fair amount of father-son tutoring after that episode!)

The books and magazines we find in our homes and favourite reading places often reflect where we are in life. They may also reflect who we yearn to be and what we strive to do to put into place our own personal dreams and aspirations. The running books and magazines you'll find at our place reflect a desire to “run and not grow weary” as Christopher McDougall, and other writers, have convinced us our bodies were made to do (and before my middle-aged body fails me - or I fail it!). In addition, I share with many these days a deep and compelling need to increasingly connect with nature, to be “outside” as often as time and schedule permit. Nature is changing around us and it would seem that we must know her if we are to work together to preserve and protect her. As an aside, Richard Louv's book, Last Child in the Woods, speaks to the increasing health and behavioural problems experienced by today's children - who are, sadly, spending less and less time out of doors. He has coined the phrase, "nature-deficit disorder", I think we need to listen-up here.

Paddling on the local waters or running on the nearby trails bring a sense of peace, not unlike traditional spiritual practices like contemplative prayer or walking the labyrinth. Paddling and running has been this for us for a very long time. My vocation requires at least some understanding of what it is to nurture an internal peacefulness and serenity and so it has always been a priority to find the avenues that lead to where there may be, at the very least, a touchstone. Some who share my vocation seem harried and distracted and, to be honest, so anxious about so many things. The well-loved Biblical story of Martha and Mary speaks to this. Mary could have been seen to be avoiding her responsibilities as a host, she could even have been seen to be lazy – she, however, knew in her heart what was really important in life.

Central to my oh-so-limited understanding of the “purpose of life” (now there’s a topic!) is a desire to unwrap the gift of life in meaningful ways that it might be celebrated as fully as possible. For me, the “gift of life” is dramatically revealed in the depths of the forest, amidst the inter-tidal life along the shore, and in the yearning for the deepest connections to the natural world as is possible. Therefore, there must always be time set aside to pursue this pathway to peace. If in doubt about this, just follow the footsteps along the forest trail or the paddle eddies on the ocean’s surface. Of course, there are many other paths. It would be wonderful to hear of the paths you have found.

I suppose that may account for the books and mags you will find around our place these days - in many ways they represent a spiritual practice, and insomuch, are deeply meaningful.

Hey, that veggie pepperoni pizza in the flyer sure looks good! And, actually, Mathematics for the Million might (might!) just be a pretty good read!




  1. Looking around the books at my place makes me realize how much I am still searching for "my path". Hopefully by the time I reach the "elder" years (LOL) I will be as focused as you seem, knowing the path on which to travel to bring peace and meaning to my spiritual life. I doubt it will include running trails asthe more contemplative life seems to call me.

  2. Hi L,

    That's a good "call" - pursue it with passion! D.

  3. I can't believe you still remember the titles of those books -- or do you, in fact, still have them in your library (unread)!? And that's a pretty fascinating question of how logarithms were discovered -- which reminds me of that joke about snakes -- adders -- under the log table....but I forget how it goes now. You didn't really fail first term grade 9 math, did you?? O well, if you did, I'm sure your grade in vocal music made your average look pretty good.

  4. Yes, I still have a lot of my dad's books. And knowing you, you would probably enjoy "Elements of Pulse Circuits"!!! Yup, I did fail math in first term - and because of that, in second term I didn't have a "life"! (math marks, however, did vastly improve). You still have an "attitude" about the vocal music classes considering we both pondered the possibility of a career in rock 'n roll! Haha!


  5. Interesting reflection - found myself reviewing the significance of the magazine subscriptions that find their way into our home. In many ways, they do, indeed, reflect where we are on life's continuum.



  6. Hey J-G, thanks for dropping by - appreciate your comment!