Tibetan Buddhists believe Sakyong Mipham is the reincarnation of a great teacher from late 19th century Tibet. He’s also completed many marathons—nine at the time of this book’s publication. He’s certainly qualified to comment on meditation, running, and the nexus of the two–if there is such a thing. However, it may not be clear that the topics are particularly connected. Readers may have an intuitive sense that they are closely connected, but without sufficient understanding of both elements to draw sound conclusions.
The author, himself, proposes that one should recognize the points of contrast as well as comparisons between the two activities. A couple quotes make this clear:
“People sometimes say, ‘Running is my meditation’… in reality, running is running and meditation is meditation… It would be just as inaccurate to say, ‘Meditation is my exercise.’”
“The body benefits from movement, and the mind benefits from stillness.”
Later in the book, the author suggests that the apparent clarity after running usually has more to do with the “wild horse” of the mind being tired, rather than it being tamed. (Taming the mind being the objective of meditation.) That said, Mipham Rinpoche clearly believes that there are benefits to be had from an interaction between these two activities.
The book is divided into six parts. The first part gives background on basics like base-building, breath, what meditation is, and the challenge of starting to build a regime (either of running, meditation, or both.) The rest of the book is organized by way of a Tibetan Buddhist conception about how new skills are learned. This schema relies on animal symbolism. The first level is that of the tiger, and this is when one works on attentively and conscientiously building one’s technique. The lion level follows the tiger. The lion phase is a joyful one because a base capacity and fundamentals have been built and the initial struggle is in the past. The next phase is represented by the Garuda (a mythical eagle-like creature that features in Hindu as well as Buddhist mythology), and it’s expressed by challenging oneself to more demanding practice. The final phase is the dragon, and it involves moving beyond doing the activity for oneself to doing it for others. There’s a final part, entitled the windhorse, that is based on the notion of an energy that Tibetan Buddhists believe accumulates when one follows the aforementioned 4 phase path. This last part is a description of events that might be seen as the culmination of the author’s running career.
Within the aforementioned six parts, there are 40 chapters—most of which are only a few pages and deal with a specific aspect (or pitfall) of that phase of training.
I found this book interesting. Learning about the four phases (tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon) of skill development was illuminating, and I found myself thinking about how this idea could be more widely applied. It’s a handy conception with broad utility. The author uses stories from his own experience to add credibility as well as light-heartedness to the philosophy lessons being taught. While the book may seem ethereal, much of the discussion is on down-to-earth subjects like dealing with pain and injury. It should be noted that the introductory and tiger parts make up a little more than half the book—suggesting the importance of fundamentals. There’s a lot of valuable information on fear, confidence, and how to view pain.
I’d recommend this book, especially for runners and meditators—but not exclusively so. Many people who are interested in mind / body interaction will be able to draw useful lessons from the book, even if running isn’t your thing.