Words by Hakim Tafari,  images by Sarah Cotton

Every time you run,
you create the quality
Of your own experience.
Runners often speak of pain
and of course, if you want that
You can have all you want
merely by pushing yourself
beyond your limits
Every time you run.
It’s your choice of whether
to run to punish yourself
Or to experience yourself.
If you choose, with me, the latter,
Then every run can be joyful
the key words are,
Take it easy!
Create yourself as a runner
Gradually, patiently.

-The Zen of Running, Fred Rohé


I would like to start by saying that I am not an “Elite” runner, nor have I run a myriad of marathons, BUT I have been running for many years and I have had battles of my own. I’ve battled depression, anxiety, fear and very low self-esteem to name a few. Running not only opened my eyes to new horizons but it also helped me release the EGO and helped bring an inner sense of calmness and peace to my life that cannot be quantified by words, stats or numbers.

The passage above was taken from a book written in the year I was I born, which was 1974. And although this approach maybe not linear or constructed by a world class running coach or gold medalist athlete, the foundation and the base is the same. Taking time, not being afraid to push limits, focus, drive and determination and last but not least, being free.

There is a powerful sense of freedom when running. This is especially true when running long distances by yourself, which I really love to do. Losing yourself in nature, your surroundings, and your mind. In essence I call this running in Tao, the principle underlying the universe, the harmony within the natural order.

As a Zen Buddhist practitioner and student of Tai chi Chuan, I feel that running is like a meditation and I try and treat as such, but let’s be honest, fewer and fewer runners are doing the same. For most, it really isn’t about that, it’s about the PR, making sure I am logging miles for the leader board and it seems like the EGO is always a part of the journey. I guess the point is, everyone has some version of why they chose to run and as much as they do. People just need to remind themselves of why they really run, beyond that ego. To many it’s used as an escape mechanism, running away from something that you really hate or loathe or trying to shake off a feeling of loss and pain. Running becomes a search for catharsis. I mean it really it is that deep on some levels for certain individuals. Others run to a goal or some type of purpose, one they might not even be able to describe with words.

Either way, there is almost always that innate feeling that cannot be explained, recaptured or illustrated, it is unseen to the physical eye, an underlying passion, current or force, which leads to you get up at some ungodly hour of the morning, when you really don’t want to. Like hot summer days when it’s 98 degrees with no shade and you need that long run to complete your week. Or perhaps when it is blistering cold outside and you have a loved one in a warm bed. It’s in these times where you really see that energy in play, that reason beyond the ego. This is your Tao, this is your practice, this is your journey, your mission. If you are like me, it is also where you get to truly practice mindfulness 101. Where you listen to the animals in their natural habitat, smell the rich culture of the environment, being mindful of one’s breath, the cadence of your footsteps and of course flowing with the natural consciousness of your surroundings. Focus on that. Lean into it.

Running is really what you make of it, however you do it, whenever you do it and as much as you put in to it. It can only be explained or given purpose by the one who laces up their shoes and bangs out those miles. The main thing for many of us is just to have fun and to be free and limitless, once you enter that gateway and miraculous things happen, it truly is beautiful feeling.

This is running in Tao.

Based out of Los Angeles, runner, buddhist, and Tai chi practitioner Hakim shares his wealth of knowledge on mindfulness and meditation with his crew Koreatown Run Club..