Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Running through Heaven & hell

Running through Heaven & hell:
My account of running through Heaven and hell, and finding God in both.

[Before I continue on, I’d like to clarify a few things as I don’t want to offend or dissuade anyone from reading.  First, I am going to use “God” in reference to our Creator or Higher Power.  Unlike some things, this is simply the name that stuck with me from my Catholic upbringing.  I don’t care what you use: Allah, Yahweh, Azna, Universe, Creator, or Mother Earth, whatever.  As long as it works for you, the name you choose doesn’t really matter.  In addition, I will go back and forth between He/Him and She/Her. With that, I always hesitate to talk about God.  While I myself consider myself spiritual, I don’t consider myself exactly religious.  Plus, I think when a lot of people talk about God, it comes as too preachy for most of us (or at least automatically assumed as that way).  My goal here isn’t to convert anyone to believe in any different way of thinking.  This blog is simply an account of my running and exploration in reconnecting with my Higher Power.]

“The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make a Heave of hell, a hell of Heaven.” – John Milton

            As Steve and I first walked the streets of Telluride, Colorado I texted my sister “I think I died…”  Without missing a beat, she replied back “…and went to Heaven?” “Exactly” I said.  I was surrounded by mountains colored in majestic purples, pinks, and blues.  A mile or two away, I could make out a waterfall falling in between two of these beautiful and massive structures.  It had just rained, so the air was fresh and sweet.  The sun was peeking out of the clouds, creating a mist around the place, and making the town sparkle. 

My only complaint?  It was a bit cold.  I’m not a fan of cold.  However, I remembered to bring a few warm jackets and didn’t even mind the chill as Steve and I walked around and took the gondola up the mountain.

As we walked around more the next morning, I was delighted to see dogs walking around everywhere, many even off leash.  I knew all dogs went to Heaven. 

I felt blessed to be able to experience such a beautiful place. I knew I was seeing beauty that not everyone gets to, at least not on this earth.

The next day was the Telluride Mountain Run, with the course taking the runners through the mountains circumnavigating the city.  The morning was sunny with only a slight child. 

We instantly climbed. I was instantly out of breath, both from the sheer slop and length of the climb, but also from the views.  As we reached the top of our first mountain at around 13,000 ft and finally made the turn downhill (yay, I could run!) I held in my gasp.  Only in my wildest dreams could I imagine so much beauty.  I was looking down into green valleys, crystal blue lakes, and orange, pink, and purple wild flowers.  All were untouched from human hands. 

To be honest, I almost cried.  I was witnessing Heaven, and it was overwhelming.

I thought to myself that it was impossible to witness this and not believe in God.  I felt so small, yet I felt Her power and could feel Her presence surrounding me, comforting me.  As I breathed everything in, I felt stronger, happier, and content. 

I wish I could have bottled that moment. 


Fast forward a few hours and another steep climb, a lightning storm, and a mix of sleet, snow, and rain later. 

Despite being back down to around 8 or 9,000 feet, I was running through a cold rain and I was freezing.  The garbage bag I had over me did little to shield me and I was soaked to the core.  I didn’t know where I was, having missed the 25 mile age station and having no one around.  I had no idea how much farther I had to go until I reached an aid station, a road, a car, or anyone who could help me.  I feared I was on the verge of hypothermia.  This was not fun. 

Later I told Sandi and Steve “I feel like I’ve been to Heaven and hell in the same day, only hell isn’t hot, it’s freezing.” 

I had visions of myself curling up under a tree, letting the cold overtake me.  But I couldn’t “give up”…not just for myself, but for all my loved ones who could care less if I finished a race.  I just wanted to see them and be there for them.

So instead, I ran as quickly as I could, hoping my movement would generate some heat.  I started pleading with God “Just get me to the aid station, just get me inside someone’s car.”  After still seeing no signs of life I begged “10 more minutes” thinking that’s all I had left as I sprinted (at least that’s what it felt like) down the trail. 

I remembered back to before the start of the race when I had joked as trail runners often do “even if I die up there, at least I’ll be in Heaven”.  I realized it then that it wasn’t true.  Heaven wasn’t simply a place.  More important was who I was with, and I wanted to be with my family and friends again. 

Finally, I saw the white tent.  I raced up to my angels, the volunteers, and informed them of my decision “I need to drop.”  They asked if I was sure.  I was at mile 31 with only 8 more miles left.  But I knew God had help up his promise to get me there, and I had to hold on to my promise to live my best life.  Purple lipped and shivering, I said “I’m sure” holding out my wrist with my RoadID with both Steve’s and Sandi’s numbers so he could call one of them to pick me up.  An angel led me to her car and turned on the heat. 

With what seemed barely to be 10 minutes, I saw my sister’s car roll up the hill, missing her awards ceremony (she won 3rd female) to get me.  If I wasn’t still shaking uncontrollably I would have ran out to hug her in my delight.  Driving back to the hotel for a warm shower, I was happy.  I had survived, I was with my sister, and later Steve (he got caught in a snowstorm on top of the mountain and had to turn back with another runner). 

It wasn’t until after my hot shower and my limbs unthawed that my mind began to play tricks on me, with the pain of regret fully kicking in the next day.  I had never planned to have a DNF on my resume.  Did this mean I was weak?  What would others think?  (“That silly girl from Ohio, did she really think she could come out here and finish?)

Classic ego talk. 

Why was I now negating what I had known with certainty before?  I had stopped the race as not to risk life, to see the faces of my loved ones. (Yes, I know this sounds dramatic, it sounds dramatic to me too as I sit in the comfort of my house with the bright fall sun shining through the windows.) I realized that this time, I was about to put myself in hell, simply by listening to my negative thoughts.

I had been there before.  I did not want to go back.

Knowing my thoughts, emotions, and actions were under my control, I did my best shrug off my negative thoughts and harness positive energy.  I still had a few days left to explore Colorado with my sister and my boyfriend.  Those days were mine to make most of. 

It wasn’t easy. I wasn’t perfect.  But it was a step in the right direction and far from the destruction I may have cause myself years ago. 

Upon reflection, I realized one of my own great truths: While I can put myself through hell on earth, I can also make it my Heaven- my place of wonder, beauty, and love. 

Recently, I have come upon the teachings of Swedish philosopher Emanuel Swedenborg who spoke on Heaven and hell.  He taught that on a continuum, hell was simply the part of the creation farthest away from the Lord and Heaven as closest to the Lord.  Furthermore, he said “human beings themselves choose hell by consistently choosing to act selfishly or cruelly toward others.” (http://www.swedenborg.com/emanuel-swedenborg/explore/spiritual-world/)

I considered my Heaven, what it was, and what it was not. 

Despite my love of valleys, mountains, rivers, and all the beautiful places I have ever been to, Heaven was not merely a place.  I could, if I had to, live without those beautiful views. 

What my Heaven includes, however, is that powerful sense of being and spirit in those amazing places.  It is that sense of both oneness and belonging that connects me with the world.  And with that belonging is the love and compassion that I can only truly and fully feel when I am around others. 

In more simple terms, my family and friends, all the people have loved, love, and will love that makes me complete.  Without them I would have no Heaven.

The last step is getting my thoughts in alignment with light and energy that surrounds me.  When I run, I have the time and space to think about these things.  The trail gives me added inspiration as I get to breathe with nature and learn from its mountains and valleys. 

While I have a ways to go in conquering my thoughts, I realize what a blessed life I have.  I am lucky in so many ways.  Every day, I am one stride closer to Heaven.

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