Running in the dark

(written JULY 2009 while preparing for my first marathon and undergoing regular therapy).

Most of my runs are at night.  Nearly all of them.  Even times that I start off in the late day, an hour long run will take me into the night.  But mostly I run just shy of midnight.  I love it.  The path that I run follows Fanno Creek and I’ve run it before in the daylight.  Yet it never fails to amaze me just how much detail I miss in the light, that I am forced to attend to while running at night.  I was at a nearby running store one day and was talking to a running enthusiast there about running at night.  He was surprised to hear, having run the trail many times in the day, that there is a very discernible bicycle rut running down much of the path.  Yet when I run down at night I am forced to take the edge as the rut is too iffy to run down.   As I run I smell a million smells.  I pass through areas of coolness and areas of warmth.  Up and down hills that I never noticed were changes incline during the day.  Bumps and roots and sights, all become clear.

A lot is said about the darkness.  For the more fearful it is something to be shunned, to be afraid of.  We are told that we are fearful of this because of some biological imprint upon us from times when we lived at the mercy of predators around us.  We watch horror films where things lurk in the dark.  Yet the dark is sacred.  It is holy.  (those who know me and my tradition will poke me in the ribs and remind me that I routinely assert that all things are holy, yes… but I am making a point here).  We are afraid of the dark because we are more intimate with things.  In the light we are able to see things before they come near to us.  We can keep it at a distance.  We can shield ourselves from it.  Yet in the dark things come and go around us, a world of autonomy exists around us, sometimes paying us no mind, sometimes interacting with us.  We are forced to acknowledge our connection to things around us, of if do not we search for that connection.. straining eyes and ear and tactile senses to connect with the greater world around us that is so tight upon us it is as though it were a blanket.

When I grew up as a child in Arkansas I was never afraid of the night.  I was afraid of the dark in my bedroom.  But this was usually after watching some scary movie on t.v. and then keeping my lights on.  I would make up rules that monsters could not break (such as not look under covers) or invent superpowers that could obliterate whatever monsters lurked in the dark.

Yet the night, outside, was different.  I was not afraid.  One night I did hear a cougar scream nearby in the woods and I ran back to the house as fast as I could go.  My father was inside and asked what was going on.  He seemed not too concerned about a cougar on the property.  I suspected then, and now, that perhaps he had slipped out into the woods at night and got near me and gave the fake call.  Yet if he did, he managed to outrun a scared 13 year old who was high tailing it straight back to the house.  Not an easy feat for a middle aged man.  Regardless, I was back out in the woods at night soon after.

When I first began my therapy sessions, filled with a hot and volatile rage and shakiness about me, I remember trying to go out into a local forest at night.  Several times I tried this and could not enter.  It was pitch black and I imagined all manner of things.  Ever danger and demon, every fear and raw emotion, were there in the shadows.  I could not enter into the dark, the dark that had been my ally, my friend, my solace.

In Iraq it was a friend.  One time we came up on some IP’s that had been shot at.  They were standing at a major crossroad trying to determine what to do next.  We showed up and set up security with them, ready to react.  I noted that they were all in a brighly lit area.  Darkness was all around.  I immediate broke the lights around us, putting us all in darkness.

Once in the past I found myself in West Hollywood, alone.  I had gone into a convenience store and saw that I was being watched by a group of four guys, thugs.  Outside it was night, after midnight, and across the street was a park.  I did not want them to have the advantage of night.   So I left first and crossed the street into the safety of darkness.  They lost me.

A great disservice has been done to darkness by some religions.  They create foul charactes and give them over to darkness.  Darkness is equated with evil.  Yet not for me.  Not for pagans.  Darkness can mean safety but also a different perspective.  All the things you miss in the light, all the things you skip over in your hurry, all the things you focus on (because you are blind to its essential nature… ironic in the light) you begin to pick up on in the dark.  It is in the dark that we begin to percieve (instead of only seeing) the things around you… the things within you.

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