The night was cooler so sleep did not come easily since having become used to the warm summer weather. As well, the dozen cups of coffee during the day certainly did not help with the sleep patterns. Waking up at 4 AM and getting ready to run I need to first scan the messages on my smartphone. This is definitely not my usual morning routine as I really find that checking messages floods my body with adrenalin and work related issues easily surface to the top of my thoughts like a film across what would otherwise be still clear water. Picking up the phone there are plenty of messages that ping-pong between my siblings to report how our father is doing with cancer, and now his hospitalization. From a great distance, it is emotionally draining in different ways as I am not able to be ‘on-hand’ to help out if necessary. Included in the mix of messages is a notice from a good friend that our much loved former boss has died from an inoperable brain tumour. This former boss, and my father, share the same name.
With these reports, and yes, one nasty work email slipped into the mix, I started my run with the feeling that I had a few pebbles in my shoe to contend with. As my pace picked up through the rows of corn fields and early morning tractor harvesters my thoughts drifted around like the clouds of dust kicked up by the large rubber wheels of the farm equipment. As the run picked up another notch in effort the sun played off the cornstalks in a way that made me feel like I was in an old cinema with the film flickering at an uneasy speed. Light and dark flashed past my eyes making me wonder at what speed I would need to run in order to have some light induced seizure.
Winding my way in all directions of the compass I in turn got to focus on my shadow as it fell just within sight on the ground. In the Disney animated film Peter Pan, Peter’s shadow is a character unto itself, and that is much the same for my own. No, I don’t mean to say that my shadow flies around me sprinkling pixy dust or anything like that. I do mean that my shadow, from more of a Jungian point of view, is something a bit ‘other’. The shadow can represent the things that I fear most about myself, or the negative views that I personally hold, the little voice that shouts out, ‘You can’t!’ rather than, ‘You can!’. My shadow is a great personal friend of the Black Dog that chases me down every now and then.
As a runner, I have this particular view of myself while running that I hold in my head. I think of my form, my stance, my speed, my muscles and the sound of my breath as my feet plod along. When I get a glimpse of my shadow a whole realm of doubt springs forth. “Are my arms really doing that? Do I look so gangly when I run?” are some of the thoughts that stick in my head. Like looking at your reflection in a distorted mirror, running with my shadow can have disastrous effects if I think too long and too hard on it.
To run with my shadow is also something I have reflected on this morning given the news of my father’s health and the death of my friendly boss. In what ways are the things that I dislike about myself also represented in these people. Is it genetic dispositions to live as a manic depressive or can nurture play a large role? These thoughts chase along side me as I run through the fields and I find my self bending lower and lower, head down looking for that place of darkness. My watch beeps and vibrates to tell, and to shock me, out of my stupor and so I put away the sticky molasses thoughts of shadow and start looking, head raised to the horizon. French mountain peaks rise up in the distance, the Black Forest misty valleys awaken with the morning light. I know that my shadow is still there, and always will be, however, it is not the main focus of my life. I can run as far, and as fast as I ever will, and my shadow will always be at my side. When the shadows seem the darkest, it also nice to remember that the sun must also be shining the brightest – I just have to keep my head up and look to the horizon.