By Fang Wei
As an easy deep sleeper, I was unexpectedly hit by a night terror a few weeks ago. The teenage me gave an anguished cry and yelled at my father, “because of your extramarital affairs, I have abandonment issues and I can’t trust in intimate relationships. It’s all your fault!” My father didn’t say a word but came closer and held me tight. The angry teenage beast turned into a little weeping animal. I woke up with tears on my cheeks. I missed my dad.
My father married three times and divorced twice. My mother married twice and divorced twice. I am the only child from their second marriages and grew up in a complicated family. Don’t get me wrong, I am from a good family. My parents are good hardworking people. Dad was a public servant and Mum used to be a Chinese literature lecturer at a local university. They had smarts and financial security but lacked the necessary emotional maturity to deal with the frustration marriage threw at them.
Cheating was my father’s way out of misery and my mother responded with doubt, control and shaming. When their child became the sole reason to keep two unhappy people together, they felt trapped and I felt trapped, too. My parents’ 20-year relationship ended when I was 15, with Dad marrying someone much younger and Mum burying herself in anger and resentment.
I felt relieved that their marriage was finished. In fact, it was the beginning of my adventure – my self-healing journey. I moved to a big city. Then I moved to a foreign country. I read books about psychology and healing. But just when I started to feel free, my father, the rock of my life, died of late-stage lung cancer. At 26, life sucker punched me so hard that I was knocked down, an unspeakable amount of pain crawling all over me. I had no idea how to cope with death, the anger and the sorrow.
(Photo by Juli Kosolapova from Unsplash)
I turned 35 recently. Twenty years into my healing journey, I still struggle from time to time. I still have issues to work through. Yet I feel peaceful, happy and whole. I am healed and grateful. The self-centered teenage girl became a mature, loving and compassionate adult who found her path.
The secret to my transformation? Running.
Running taught me who I am, made me a better person and gave me an exceptional spiritual experience. I don’t run to lose weight or win a race. I run to reveal the best version of myself. I run to express my gratitude to Mother Nature. I run to celebrate life. I was born to run.
Running, at its core, is about growth and self-understanding. And for many cultures dating back millennia, it’s about spiritual growth. Survival. Healing. And even transcendence. Native Americans still use long running as a coming of age ceremony. In order to seek enlightenment, Japanese marathon monks of Mount Hiei put themselves through an excruciating endurance challenge: 1,000 days of long-distance running. We were all hunter-gatherers until 10,000 years ago. Running is the most primal activity that unites us all.
(Photo by Nathalie Desiree Mottet from Unsplash)
I started my first 10k trail run in Hong Kong on a hot, humid mid-summer night. I was soaked with sweat 10 minutes in. My lungs nearly exploded while walking up Wan Chai Gap Road, a 1.2km steep hill climb in the middle of a metropolitan jungle. Unexpectedly, during that torturous 90-minute run among the hills, my mind shut down. I neither worried about my future nor felt lonely, which I experienced often at that time as a newcomer to Hong Kong. I was fully present, feeling the heat and humidity, feeling sweat dripping off my forehead, feeling my heart pounding, feeling my feet hurt as I ran. I lost sense of time and space but kept my legs moving. When the organizer told me we had reached the finish line, full exhaustion and excitement hit me, and at the same time a sense of inner peace and calm arose. I knew my running journey had really begun.
Over the last four years, I’ve run an average of 30km to 50km a week, which equates to more than 1,500km a year. The longest single run I have done is 50km. For a non-running enthusiast, that sounds crazy and boring. Running is repetitive. It can lead to physical agony, boredom and even anger. However, at some point, with discipline and focus, that repetitive motion translates into joy and bliss. Deep feelings and emotions surface. There is no suppression, no avoidance. Just whatever flows in your body, your mind and your soul.
The most difficult race I have done so far is finishing a 40km night race in Lantau Island with an ankle injury. I started the race with ease and confidence. About 20km in, the pain in my left ankle slowed me down considerably. A top five female placing was out of the picture. But I wanted to finish. I knew I could finish. I fast-hiked the rest of the race, my initial agitation and disappointment evaporating with every step. Only determination and gratitude remained, and I burst into tears in the shower room at the finish line. That’s the power of self-transcendence.
(Photo by Manyu Varma from Unsplash)
Over time, I’ve learned my ability to finish a race is directly proportional to my ability to overcome problems and realize most problems aren’t actually problems. We can change a problem by changing the way we approach it and changing our mindset.
Life isn’t easy on anyone. Each one of us must overcome hardship, trauma and pain. My advice? Don’t just sleep on it. Don’t hide away and eat ice-cream or play video games and victimize yourself. Address the pain the way our ancestors did by connecting to your breath, to your feet, and to Mother Earth and Father Sky.
Get up and run, beyond the pain and limitations.
Get up and run, towards a better self.