Sweet Like Vinegar

“There is something to be learned from a rainstorm. When meeting with a sudden shower, you try not to get wet and run quickly along the road. But doing such things as passing under the eaves of houses, you still get wet. When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed, though you will still get the same soaking. This understanding extends to everything.” ~ Tsunetomo Yamamoto, The Hagakure

January is a month but it’s also a color. Today’s rainy seven miler with Milo pre-tornado watch was a fresh reminder. But there’s a truth in running that says if you want to run the really great miles you have to run the ugly ones too. Needs must when the devil drives.

(Haunted florist is my big energy for 2020.)

“When you are resolved from the beginning, you will not be perplexed…”. We were sitting there in the dark and the wind was making the rain sound like sand hitting the windows. It was almost the start of the Chattanooga 50 miler and my friends Mary and Marty and I were sheltering in Marty’s rental car. Mary and I were running and Marty was graciously crewing for me for the second time, but there in the dark the only presence I felt was the one outside trying to claw its way in.

(The realness of it.)

I’d never run a 50 miler before. This was supposed to be a test and tune run for Georgia Death Race in March, but there in December in the cold dark rain the start line at Vogel was a lifetime away. This was right now and right now sucked. I’ve been in the Bering Sea in winter though. I know what it means to not just be cold and wet but to stay cold and wet. I know that they both eventually get down to your bones. But I also know that if you can just accept the unpleasantness and mentally detach yourself from it you can physically withstand it for a lot longer than you thought capable.

“…though you will still get the same soaking.” Twelve and a half water logged hours later I crossed the finish and bagged my first 50 miler. There were a lot of memories and memorable moments along the way, but it’s the one in the car that will always stand out. I had a good plan and I had trained well and my crew was awesome but it was that time in the car where my race was decided. I truly believe that. Being resolved that it was going to be cold and wet and miserable for a very long time we piled out of the car to catch rain in our teeth while we waited for the start. But at least I wasn’t perplexed. And I finished.

(Hey girl.)

Back to Saturday’s moist miles with Milo. We’d both been in the kennel longer than either of us wanted. We were both whining to stretch our legs. It wasn’t the single track I wanted but it was miles we both needed.

We moved through the city putting in our work. When you run in the rain you see the world from a different pace. Everyone is in their cars passing in a blur of spray or darting to and from doorways. No one is moving at your speed. Even though your feet move faster than some you’re not frenetic. You’re not to be hurried. You’re not perplexed.

We basked in that moment Milo and I. Two crazy animals out running in the rain. Before long it wasn’t an ugly run at all because we were taking it all in for what it was. There’s beauty in the natural way of things and a sense of freedom that can only be felt running in the rain not just unbothered by it but accepting of it. Discomfort comes when we can’t accept things as they are. When we can’t look past the circumstance and see the moment. When we can’t be resolved to what is. The Taoist parable The Vinegar Tasters does a great job of illustrating this. From Wikipedia:

The Vinegar Tasters (三酸圖; ‘three sours’; 嘗醋翁; ‘vinegar tasting old-men’; 嘗醋圖, 尝醋图) is a traditional subject in Chinese religious painting. The allegorical composition depicts the three founders of China’s major religious and philosophical traditions: Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. The theme in the painting has been interpreted as favoring Taoism and critical of the others.

The three men are dipping their fingers in a vat of vinegar and tasting it; one man reacts with a sour expression, one reacts with a bitter expression, and one reacts with a sweet expression. The three men are Confucius, Buddha, and Laozi, respectively. Each man’s expression represents the predominant attitude of his philosophy: Confucianism saw life as sour, in need of rules to correct the degeneration of people; Buddhism saw life as bitter, dominated by pain and suffering due to desires; and Taoism saw life as fundamentally perfect in its natural state. Another interpretation of the painting is that, since the three men are gathered around one vat of vinegar, the “three teachings” are one.”

The same Wiki article has an excellent quote from Houston Smith further explaining the concept:

“In the vinegar tasters picture, Laozi’s (Lao Tzu) expression is sweet because of how the teachings of Taoism view the world. Every natural thing is intrinsically good as long as it remains true to its nature. This perspective allows Laozi to experience the taste of vinegar without judging it. “Ah this,” he might be thinking, “this is vinegar!” From such a perspective, the taste doesn’t need to be sweet, sour, bitter or bland. It is simply the taste of vinegar. By openly experiencing vinegar as vinegar, Laozi acknowledges and participates in the harmony of nature. As this is the very goal of Taoism, whatever the taste of vinegar, the experience is good.”

(East Seattle aesthetic but it’s North Georgia.)

I thought about that parable while we were running but I mostly thought about nothing at all. Thoughts tend to cease as the miles increase, but back home and dried out there’s time for reflection. A run doesn’t have to be what you want it to be to be a good run. Sometimes it can even turn into a great one. But before it can be anything you have to be resolved and just start running.