Filed in Zen (Chan), Health

Genesis Run

After a storm, a runner sees the world with fresh eyes.

Ed Brickell

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I ran past the spillway, just below the dam. What had long dried into the barest of trickles, no more than enough for a few gulls to land and get their feet wet on the spillway’s sloping concrete surface, had transformed overnight into a broad, foaming explosion of water, filling the air with clouds of mist. Slowing a bit, I jogged past a crowd of people lined up along the spillway fence to watch. An older woman and her husband huddled close to each other and simply gazed into the massive, raging surge just below them. Everyone silent, eyes on the thundering water.

Even though we’re making our way through an enormous mystery, we often think we do a pretty good job of trying to explain just how things are—until we actually experience the thing we’re trying to explain. Then we realize our words and ideas are like trying to grab a single drop of rain in a thunderstorm. There is an old Zen saying that you can try to explain to someone how an orange tastes, but how can you describe it, really? Until you’ve tasted an orange, you have no way of truly knowing. And once you’ve tasted one, what is there to say? The water rushing over the spillway and the birds crying above it were saying everything that needed to be said, and for once no one seemed to feel the need for explanations.

I continued into the final miles of my run, winding around the gentle curves of the western shore. Overhead the grayness repeatedly folded and turned in on itself, reflected in the restless, rippling surface of the lake. The birds circled and dove, circled and dove. A breeze picked up and pushed waves hard into the shallows against the cattails, where striped bass thrashed. Everything from the skies to the earth in perpetual motion, sounding a vast chorus of Mu. “And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters…”

What is creation? What is evolution? What do we really mean by “God,” or “science”? What is this tiny turtle baptized in mud, the squish of my Mizunos heavy with rain, these discarded cans and bottles bobbing in the boiling shallows, the whirring twitter of a red-winged blackbird hunched on the tip of a reed, the rumble of a jet engine somewhere far above it, this toddler bundled in a stroller, clutching her tiny fists and staring fearlessly at everything as I run by? What is this, and this, and again this?

The philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein said, “What we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence.” When running, I pass over or by many things in silence—thankfully often without the breath to add my own commentary. Instead of trying to answer the questions, perhaps living them is the right way… moving along this lake path and letting the world rain on me, soak into me, without my adding a single thing other than the sound of my breath, the tread of my running shoes.

As I came to the final couple of miles, a stooped older man was moving slowly but determinedly forward just ahead. I passed him and he turned to me, smiling freely and squinting at the breeze blowing a fine mist into our faces.

“Great day, isn’t it?” he said.

“It feels terrific,” I said, and we both kept moving forward on the path through the misting rain, fellow travelers in a journey through a universe recreated in every passing second, a genesis told and experienced for the first time again, and again. ▼

Ed Brickell works and runs in Dallas, Texas, participating in ultramarathons (races of 50 kilometers or longer) around the United States. He writes about the crossroads of his Zen practice and running at

[Image: © Clarissa Leahy / Getty Images]

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