Still Running and the Benefits of Meditation in Motion
How much time is available in your weekly schedule to just be still? If you’re like most moms, the answer to that question is… not much, if any. Zuisei Goddard, author of Still Running, joins the show to introduce the concept of meditation in motion and help you, as a runner mom, find a better way.
If you currently feel like you lack mental clarity or are always craving stillness, but can never seem to find it, you aren’t alone. Most moms are too busy managing their households, juggling work and family schedules and putting everyone else’s needs before their own that they never seem to have any time left over to just be still.
As mom runners, running is usually our main alone time. Rather than treating running as just another task to check off of your to-do list, you can use it as an opportunity to achieve increased mental clarity, recharge your energy, embody your life through your breath and more. In this episode, Zuisei provides advice for finding the the ‘why’ behind your running practice and discusses how to use mindfulness to discover what we’re feeling and how to respond to those feelings skillfully rather than reactively. We also talk through the importance of teaching children how to accept the discomfort of boredom rather than continually entertaining them with activities and screens.
Whether you’re interested in learning more about the idea of meditation in motion or have been searching for ways to bring more stillness and clarity to your life, this is a must-listen episode for all runner moms.
Born in Mexico City, Zuisei graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English: creative Writing and a minor in Psychology. Soon after, she moved to Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, where she lived and trained from 1995 to 2018. Today, Zuisei is a writer and Zen teacher and is currently based in New York City.
Purchase Still Running: https://amzn.to/2XoVsHs (affiliate link)
Connect with Zuisei:
- Website: https://vanessazuiseigoddard.org
- Instagram: @zuiseigoddard
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/vanessa.goddard.718
Learn More about Running Meditation: https://runnermoms.com/running-meditation/
Welcome to the Runner Moms Podcast where we help women embrace their inner strength, take time for themselves and lead healthier lives. So, settle in and soak up some inspiration. Then rise, lace up those running shoes and embrace your inner strength because, momma, you run this world.
Hello Runner Moms and welcome to episode 11 of the Runner Moms podcast! I’m Shayla, founder of the Runner Moms community and I’m so appreciative that you’re including this show in your day.
This episode is being released at the start of 2021 after what, for many people, was an extremely trying year. We all know what 2020 will be remembered for and I really don’t want to belabor that topic. I do, however, want to focus on a shift that happened for me this past year after the pandemic took hold. Last spring, I was training for a marathon and was very focused on maintaining a training schedule while juggling all of my other career and family responsibilities. Then the marathon was cancelled and I, like so many others, was left wondering, now what?
As the world slowed down around me, I too began looking for opportunities to slow down. My focus shifted from ticking runs off my schedule to using running as an opportunity to clear my mind, check in with my mental well-being and recharge my mood. I began leaving my watch at home and turned off my music. I also began searching for books that could help with my new mission of finding stillness and clarity through running and that’s how I came across the book Still Running by Zuisei Goddard, who is today’s guest.
Born in Mexico City, Zuisei graduated magna cum laude from the University of Pennsylvania with a degree in English: creative Writing and a minor in Psychology. Soon after, she moved to Zen Mountain Monastery in upstate New York, where she lived and trained from 1995 to 2018. Today, Zuisei is a writer and Zen teacher and is currently based in New York City. Her book Still Running appeared for me at the exact time that I needed it this year. In reading through the posts and comments of the Runner Moms community online, I know that her book will be of value to you as well. I’m excited to bring Zuisei on the show to share her wisdom and advice with you. So, with that, welcome to the Runner Moms podcast, Zuisei!
To start us off, could you maybe introduce yourself to the listeners? Maybe give us an overview of where you’re from and what you do?
Sure. Well, thank you first of all, Shayla, for having me. It really is a pleasure. Well, my name is Zuisei. My given name is Vanessa. Zuisei is my Buddhist name. My dharma name, we call it. I’m originally from Mexico. Mexico City, but I have now been in this country much longer than I’ve lived in Mexico. I came here to go to college and just stayed. Really went to the monastery, Zen Mountain Monastery straight after college. Actually, I went while I was still in college but then moved in pretty soon after I graduated and pretty much stayed. I had a couple of breaks but I stayed so I was there for almost 25 years, really devoting myself to Zen practice and I’ve also been a runner my whole life. I started running formally when I was about 10. By formally, I mean in a team and actually doing it as a real practice although I didn’t know about Buddhist practice at the time. So, it has been my main form of movement and exercise my whole life. Once I was at the monastery, it just seemed a very natural connection to make between seated meditation and moving meditation. So, I began to explore that, first on my own and then with others. Then, eventually started teaching it and started doing workshops. After some years of doing that, I realized, oh, I have enough material to actually create a book. So, I decided to go ahead and do that. That’s how Still Running came about.
Well, let’s go ahead and dive into talking about your book, Still Running. So, to tee up our conversation, just as a little background for the Runner Moms community, I first discovered your book while searching online for content on the idea on the idea of meditation in motion. As a mom of three, I don’t often have many moments of stillness in my house. Truly, the moment I sneak off to try to have a few moments of peace to myself, my kids will start fighting or they’ll come find me in about two minutes or so and I’ve just struggled to break that cycle of, I hate to call it chaos, but just, constant movement and distractions.
So, just looking at my own life, running has become kind of my time of stillness and I’ve just became interested in learning how to use running as an opportunity for increased mental clarity and, really, I can’t even express how thrilled I was to find your book because, honestly, it appeared to me at really just the right time that I needed it. I know that other moms also have the same struggles that I just covered. That’s one of the reasons why I wanted to bring you on the show today was to talk about your book and this concept of using running as a form of moving meditation as a tool to increase mindfulness, awareness, presence. So, to introduce the Runner Moms community to this concept, if you wouldn’t mind, maybe just start with the back story on how you discovered the art of meditation in motion and you use it in your own life.
Well, while I was living at the monastery, we, as part of our training there, we do what is called body practice which is really exactly what it says. It’s the study of the body in order to realize who you are. So, every aspect of life, from the perspective of Zen and Buddhist practice, can be used to realize the nature of the self, the nature of reality, very simply, what things are and how they work. How they’re put together. Hopefully with the purpose of living a life that is more in harmony with the way that things actually are. So, body practice was one of the areas of training that we all had to do and it was some form of movement. It tended to be more traditional, what you would associate with a spiritual practice. But it wasn’t limited to that and we were, at a certain point, if you had been there long enough, you had the opportunity to choose your own mode of movement. Like I said, because I had been running for so long, I had already on my own started to do it, to practice it was a form of Zazen, as a form of moving meditation.
So, I don’t normally listen to music when I run. I never have. So, it was very natural for me to just see this as a period of running meditation and I began to practice it that way. I began to take some of the concepts of a seated meditation that I was learning and practicing myself and applying them to movement really with the idea, as I say in my book, it’s not that I’m interested in people becoming better runners because there are so many books that will teach you how to do that much better than mine. What I’m really interested in is creating a bridge, some form of transition between stillness and movement. Meditation and activity. Because, that is the question that people most often ask once they go to a place like the monastery. They’ll say, “How do I take this into my life?” So, my premise is that, if you can do it in movement, begin to learn how to bring the presence and stillness and concentration of meditation into a form of movement, in this case running, you can start to learn how to do that in other areas of your life. So, as you’re spending time with your children. Or, as you’re going about your work. Or, as you’re having a difficult conversation. It’s not a transition that happens automatically, I find. You can actually become quite adept at seated meditation, yet might not necessarily know how to apply it in your day to day life. So, this was one way for me to begin that process of translation if you will.
Thank you so much for that background. A chapter in the book focuses on finding your intent for running. In your opinion, what is the significance for taking the time to find the why behind a running practice?
I would say that it’s the significance that you would find in anything. Knowing why it is that you do what you do because you’re more likely to do it at times when you don’t feel like it’s working or you’re not sure you want to do it or when others things get in the way. The clearer your intent, the clearer the other two aspects of practice that I speak of which are commitment and discipline which are then paired with effort. So, I just find that really in anything that you take up in your life, the clearer you are about why it is that you say to yourself that you want to do it, the more likely you are to actually follow through. But, also, the more likely you are the sooner you will notice when that’s changed as it inevitably will. Perhaps you reach a point where what mattered to you doesn’t matter so much anymore. Or different things matter to you now. So, you can shift without guilt or feeling bad about yourself. You realize, oh ok, this is not something that I really want to put my time and energy into. So, you just shift and do something else. It’s basically clarity. It’s basic clarity about your desires and what you need to do in order to fulfill them.
Yeah, I love that. I mean, for many people out there, me included in that sometimes, clarity is difficult to come by. I just think of the example where you’ve done something for so long, maybe it’s helping out with a certain volunteer effort or doing this or that and you just continue to do it even though it’s maybe no longer serving you. Or it’s no longer something that you can even really commit to but you still feel that you just have to continue doing it even though maybe you should be shifting in a different direction. Yeah, I think clarity is something that a lot of us would gain value from.
The chapter in mindfulness also really spoke to me. In that chapter, you gave the example of someone waking up with a vague feeling of discomfort and how that discomfort that easily turn into agitation with the world around us and even lead to fights with our partners or kids. Could you talk for a bit about the importance of mindfulness in recognizing what we’re feeling and how to respond to those feelings skillfully instead of reactively?
Sure and that actually kind of nicely ties into your previous question about intent because the example that you gave of being perhaps doing some volunteer work and doing it because you feel you have to. I think so much of what we do is externally driven. We don’t necessarily know that that’s true but you know, we’re relational beings and we’re constantly influenced by our environment and of course the people around us. It’s not unusual for us to feel like we have to or need to do something out of a certain sense of obligation or duty or because it’s the right thing to do. It may well be all of those things but, is that how we actually feel inside? Is that what we actually think? Is that what we actually feel? Is that what we actually want to pursue.
So, mindfulness. I describe it very simply as seeing what’s in front of you. So, sati means bringing to mind or recalling. I think of it in less technical terms as seeing what’s in front of you. What’s arising in your awareness. So, in this case, it allows you to begin to, one, make space for and, two, get closer, so that you can begin to recognize what your experience actually is. What are the thoughts that you are actually having? What are the feelings that you are actually having? Not the ones you think you should have but the ones that you are actually experiencing because that is what will give you the information you need about how to proceed. And, this is not a small thing and I would say probably especially in our culture because we’re so conditioned I feel to, one, move away from discomfort and feel bad or feel ashamed about feelings that we think are inappropriate in some way, even in they’re completely true. So, again, to me, mindfulness is making the space to see what is actually there. Not what you think should be there. What you wish was there. But, the reality inside you and outside you.
As you were talking there, it just came to mind, thinking of my children and the societal pressures that are put on us from such a young age to think a certain way, act a certain way, kind of give into the peer pressure of others. I just think there is so much value in teaching kids from a young age to tune into their own thoughts, their own feelings, and learn how to examine them and get clarity on how they’re feeling. Just because, I would envision that would help them to stand strong in the face of peer pressure for example or to stay true to who they are as they grow up. Maybe have more power there than some others of us didn’t have growing up if that makes sense.
Yes, and, if I may, and I don’t think it’s just children. As an adult, I feel, myself, it took me a while to really recognize that I was feeling something. What I was feeling. So, I think it’s a process that we can all benefit from.
Yes, absolutely. And a tool that I’ve found helpful in focusing my mind is tuning into my breathing. It’s still new in my life to be tuning into my breathe. It’s a tool that I’ve also started teaching my kids to turn to in moments of frustration or overwhelm. Would you mind talking through some of the tips that you offer in the book about practicing mindfulness of breathing both while running and also through daily life?
Sure. The breath is really the anchor and there is a text in Buddhism, in fact, that speaks of this as the stake of your awareness. So, you put the stake on the ground. The mindfulness of the breath is the stake and the rope that lets you, as your mind is wandering and as you’re having your feelings, it’s what keeps you steady. It’s what keeps you grounded. The Buddha himself spoke of breath as the entry into, the gate, into liberation. So, it is such a simple activity in one sense and the moment that you actually start to do it, the moment that you actually start to pay attention to your breath and try to follow your breath, you realize, actually how challenging it can be because most of us are not used to putting our attention on one point and keeping it there for any length of time.
I would say especially now with social media and our phones and we’re constantly distracted. So, this is basically saying, I will do what it takes to be with myself, my experience, for however long. It could be five minutes. It could be ten minutes. It could be one minute. It could be a breath, a single breath. I had a teacher who used to say that returning to your breath is reclaiming your life. I believe that he was really right in saying that because we don’t realize that, in the midst of, what seems like very innocuous distractions, we’re really missing our lives. We’re missing hours and days and sometimes years of our lives that we don’t get back. So, the simple activity, the simple practice of returning to your breath is that, if you’re doing seated meditation, is to place all of your attention on your breath.
Normally, when we teach it, we begin by counting the breath because that gives you an extra anchor. You know, to focus on. But, really, the main focus of your awareness is the breath itself, not the counting. Every time you see a thought that takes you away, you just see it without judgement. Without even labeling it and you come back. You return to the breath. If you have to do that 5000 times. That’s fine. It’s 5000 times that you are reclaiming your attention and reclaiming your life. And, of course, because we always have our breath, you can do that at any point. You can do that before you’re starting a meeting or before you’re starting conversation. Like I said before, when you’re starting a difficult conversation. Or you can, as you’re walking down the street, pay attention to your breath in rhythm with your steps just as I described for running. So, you can always return to your breath which means you can always return to your body, to your mind, to this moment where your life is actually happening.
In your book, you use the metaphor of the mind as a lake and thoughts as rocks. Would you mind talking through that metaphor as well as the power that comes from studying our thoughts?
Sure. I’ve always liked the metaphor and I use it in fact in different ways. A mind that is clear and that is stable is like a, in fact one of the texts says that it’s like a body of water with no outflow. Which, what it does if you let it is it just settles. So, the water settles so that you can see all the way to the bottom. So, you can see what is there. The mind is the same. If you give it enough time and space, it will settle of its own. I know, for most people who start to practice meditation, it feels the opposite. It feels like there’s just complete chaos and that it takes an enormous amount of effort to actually stay quiet and centered. But, that’s just because we’re not used to it and because we haven’t given our mind the opportunity to do what it does so well. So, I really think of even that sense of being effortless of, instead of trying to concentrate, which, you are, there is an aspect of effort involved. But, at a certain point, you realize it’s more about not doing than doing. It’s more about not creating thoughts and stories and ideas and opinions about what is happening, but just letting them rest. Letting them settle and that your mind will do that again, will do that naturally if you allow it. I describe thoughts as actually two different ways. I’ve used rocks and I’ve also used pieces of paper. Let’s use the piece of paper analogy. A thought is a single piece of paper. If you throw it onto the surface of the lake, it’s not a big deal. There’s just a little piece of wet paper. But if you keep doing that with bit after bit after bit, after a while, you’ll just end up with a pulpy mess. You won’t be able to see anything. Same with a rock. One rock is hardly going to disturb the surface of the water. But if you keep pelting it with rock after rock after rock, then all you will see will be the disturbance. That is what most of us are experiencing throughout our days. So, you could say that working, practicing following your breath is stopping just before you throw in that rock or before you throw in that piece of paper. It’s looking at it and kind of asking yourself, do I want to follow this stream of thought? Do I really need to do that right now? Maybe I don’t. So, you just put it back in your pocket and you do that enough times, the water remains clear and still.
Something that seems to be increasingly difficult for many people these days is practicing stillness. In the chapter on stillness within your book, I just want to quote a paragraph quickly. You wrote, “Most of us rush through our days driven by impatience, ambition, or fear. We move faster and faster in our constant effort to do more, acquire more, experience more even as we buckle under the weight of all the things we need to accomplish in order to make it. Why be content our culture demands, when we can be successful. Stress has become our baseline. Calm is a luxury to buy at a spa or meditation retreat.”
Oh, that’s so true. Our society in many ways has taught us to see stillness as laziness. Additionally, the moms who are listening, they may feel that they can’t stop moving from the sheer overwhelm of the responsibilities of parenthood. I think a lot of us feel that we have to constantly keep our kids entertained. When they come to us whining that they’re bored, we offer them an activity for them to do or give them a screen to watch. However, I recently heard advice that boredom is the path through which you find your true self. If that makes sense. For example, if you let a child be bored long enough, they’ll learn to listen to their thoughts and come up with their own ideas of what to do. I have to say, as a mom, that’s really hard sometimes to just let your kid continue whining that they’re bored until they go do something, find something that sparks their interest. Just, with all of that in mind, would you mind talking a bit more about the power of moving into stillness?
Sure and while the example you gave, you know, I’m not a parent myself, but I have worked with children my whole life and you said something interesting. You said that it’s hard for a parent to have your child be complaining that they’re bored. A key aspect of stillness is learning to deal with your own discomfort. And, so, whether it’s discomfort at your own restlessness and boredom and feeling like you should be doing something. You know, that you’re just wasting your time doing nothing or somebody else’s discomfort or boredom. I think it would be extremely valuable for moms to begin to practice tolerating the discomfort of not rushing in to fix their child’s own discomfort. Right? Because, if you think about it, what is happening more and more in our culture is we are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with our discomfort. I see this developing over time as a decreased ability to cope, really, with how life really is. Which is full of change and sometimes pain. Right? I make the distinction in my book between pain and suffering. We are physiological beings, so we will feel pain. That could be physical pain. That could be psychological pain. That doesn’t mean that there’s anything wrong. This is how it actually is and our ability to meet it determines whether we then experience suffering or not. So, if your child says, “Mom, I’m bored, I don’t know what do” to, to be able to say, “I’m sure that you can figure it out, I’m busy.” Or, “I’m sure you can figure it out. Mom is going to take 20 minutes to do her meditation. So, I’m going to close the door and, for 20 minutes, you figure out what you’re going to do.” And I realize that it is hard because I do have a lot of friends who are parents. But, if you think about it, it’s really training. It’s training yourself and your children that stillness is, in fact, important.
That that is something, not just valuable, but necessary that you’re cultivating when you stop, again, for however long. Maybe 20 minutes is too long. Maybe you can only do it for 5 or 10 minutes. But, you’re teaching them to do nothing is actually giving you something. That it’s allowing your body and your mind to recharge in a way that is even different from sleep and is sometimes deeper than sleep. What message does that tell them? Does that give them? For them to begin to see, “Oh, maybe I don’t have to be entertained all of the time. Maybe I can come up with my own resources” Imagination, I mean, you know. Instead of plopping them in front of a screen, remember when kids used to like make up stories and act them out? I mean, I’m sure they still do. But, I think we’re going to lose that more and more as we ourselves become afraid of just being with ourselves. So, I am passionate about stillness and silence. About protecting them and cultivating them. At the same time, I wouldn’t want to be a hermit. I love people and I love working with others. I love life in all of its complexity but without the time that I spend in meditation, frankly, I don’t know how people do it. I don’t know how I would be recharging myself on a regular basis.
I love what you said about, we need to learn how to tolerate the discomfort of our kids coming to us and whining about being bored. I don’t know what it is about that situation but, yeah, it just brings so much anxiety for me. But, you’re so right. It’s so important. I often talk about the importance of modeling healthful eating and modeling moving your body for my kids personally, that’s very important in our household. But, yeah, modeling the importance of being still. That’s just as important, if not more important, so, that’s really great advice.
And, really, more and more studies are coming out about the damaging effects of putting kids in front of screens and of having cell phones from early ages and all of that stuff. Not having the time to just be with themselves and examine the world around them causes anxiety and all sorts of other problems. Thank you for that, that was really insightful.
Sure, and you don’t have to do it all at once. Just as it would be training for you to stop and take time to do meditation, it will take time for them to do that as well. I’ve been working with a child actually who is 7 and his mother asked me to work with him because he’s so active and sometimes physically he doesn’t understand his boundaries and can get aggressive and stuff. We went at the beginning, he couldn’t be still. We’re working over Zoom, so we’re not even in person. And, in the beginning, he couldn’t sit still for more than 10 seconds. After, I don’t remember how many weeks, I think it’s been a couple of months, he’s up to almost 5 minutes where he’s sitting almost completely still. So, it’s possible. You just have to really stay with it.
That’s really impressive and I’m sure he’s wildly proud of himself for that accomplishment. That’s really amazing!
He is, actually! Which makes it nice. I do it as a challenge. Like, how long are you able to do this? Each time, he’s improving his record. So, I’m making it also a fun, turning it into a fun game.
Yeah, that’s great! In your book, it’s mentioned that you offer meditation retreats. Would you mind talking about those for a bit and how you got started with those and what you offer in those?
Sure, um, how it got started was, as I had said, I had started experimenting with really practicing running as a form of moving meditation. As I did it more myself, I really saw the potential to use it really as a tool for self-study both to help people be more embodied because, as I say in my book, even us as runners, so often we’re so disembodied. We want to be done with running, but we don’t really want to be there while it’s happening. So, part of my impetus was to help myself and others to really be present and in my body as I was running. Then, also to see what kind of insight could we glean about the self if you use this more deliberately as a meditative tool. So, then slowly I started working with people at the monastery.
So, with some of the residents and stuff and when I felt I had enough material, I approached one of my teachers and suggested this as a possible retreat. At the time, I mean, the monastery continues to offer retreats. Now, everything is online but, the body practice retreats continue to be part of their offerings. So, at the time, I suggested doing a running retreat following this format. So, I did that at the monastery. It’s in upstate New York. That seemed to go well. So, then I did a few more and I’ve done it both at the monastery and we have a city branch here that is called Fire Lotus Temple. I should clarify that I’m not teaching with the monastery and the order anymore. But, that’s how I started. Now I’m teaching independently. I’ve done the same retreat in a couple of other places. So, it was really that. Like I said, it was the idea of taking a form of exercise that is relatively accessible. I mean, anybody with a little bit of willingness and well-being health and a pair of running shoes can do it. Then, to see, can we go beyond running as exercise and see it as something with quite a bit more potential.
So, we covered only a portion of the content within Still Running. I encourage everyone to go out and read the book. It’s really a great thing, obviously for everyone, but especially mom runners. There’s just something that really spoke to me throughout the book. But, as we wrap up today’s episode, is there a main takeaway that you’d like to leave with the Runner Moms community today?
Sure. I think recognizing how incredibly busy all of us are. I would encourage anyone who is interested in really, forget about formal meditation. Anybody who is just interested in finding ways to be more at ease with themselves in their lives so consider what, there was a Buddhist teacher, she died in the 80s or 90s but she was Burmese. She used to say, “Do you have time to take a breath? Then you have time to meditate. You have time to be mindful. Because that’s all it takes.” You can stop and take one breath. Or you can stop and take three breathes and that’s a moment that you’re taking for yourself. So, don’t think of this as one more thing to add to your list that now you need to learn another skill and devote all of this time to because then you might not do it. I would just suggest that being with yourself is always accessible and it’s really just a matter of wanting to do that and then slowly discovering the benefit. The profound and life changing benefit that stopping or at least slowing down and being with ourselves actually has. Buddhist. Not Buddhist. Runner. Not runner. All of that is really incidental. It’s really just taking time and energy to, like I’ve said already a couple of times, to recharge. To be with yourself so that you can continue to do the things that you want to do and live the busy but hopefully fulfilling lives that you have.
That’s a great takeaway. Thank you very much for that. If listeners would like to learn more about your book or connect with you online, Zuisei, where should they go?
I have a website, vanessazuiseigoddard.org. I’m also on Instagram @zuiseigoddard and I have excerpts there from my book and information about the work that I do. So, I would say my website is probably the best place to reach me.
I’ll be sure to link to your website and Instagram account within the episode’s show notes. Well thank you again for this conversation and for joining me. I really appreciate it.
Thank you, Shayla.
I hope you found a ton of great takeaways from today’s discussion with Zuisei. If you’re interested in the concept of meditation in motion, I hope that you’ll also get her book, Still Running. I know it’s one that I’ll reference again and again.
In reviewing the past year, there are a lot of lessons that can be learned. Personally, I’m choosing to use 2020 as a reminder to slow down and enjoy the world around me and also to make the most of the little solitary time that I have at this stage in my life. Looking ahead to this coming year, like many of you, I plan to return to race training. But, I also intend to enjoy the journey more rather than just checking each run off of my list and moving on to the next task in my day. The discussion with Zuisei also inspired me to be more intentional with teaching my children about the importance of stillness and of tuning into their thoughts and feelings. I hope that, by finding a better personal balance between stillness and motion, I’ll serve as a model for my kids to lead balanced lives as they grow older.
That’s all for this episode! While you wait for the next episode to drop, be sure to check out the latest content at Runner Moms dot com. We just released lots of great new recipes. Also, if you’re enjoying the show, I’d greatly appreciate if you could leave a review as it will help other mom runners find the podcast.
Until next time, happy running and happy momming!