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The Birthday Run
by Christopher Nyerges
When I had my birthday this year, I did my annual birthday run at the track of a local college. I reviewed my life as I ran, running one lap for each year. For example, during lap one, I reviewed my first year, and during lap two I reviewed (whatever I could remember) of year two, and so forth. I have done this for 25 years, ever since some close associates shared with me a better way to commemorate birthdays than just blowing out candles on a cake and receiving gifts. In fact, this was introduced to me not merely as a way to "celebrate your birthday," but as a valuable tool of spiritual evolution. The birthday run provides a profoundly personal introspective. and it seems that running is the catalyst to get the memories flowing.
It was a cool and cloudy Saturday morning when I did my recent birthday run, and it felt good to be out there running. As I ran through my early years, I tried to put myself in my parents' shoes, and attempted to feel all of the challenges of being a parent, things that children never even think about. It made me appreciate them even more.
There was no one else at the track most of the time, and I was in a strange state of mind where I felt I was actually reexperiencing those years. Would I have ever wanted to "go back" to an earlier age? Probably not. I think everyone benefits from the experience that comes with age. Though I had some interesting and exciting times (and also confused and uncertain moments) I recalled that I often felt like I never knew what life was about, that every time I attempted to pierce beyond the status quo of living a normal life, I became aware there was something much more to life than most of us experience. However, the challenge was to find a way to fully live that deeper awareness. I suppose that's what I have been working at all my life. In a way, the birthday run enables me to stop and take a look at how well I've done at this life-long goal.
I ran through grammar school, through high school, through my seemingly random travels after I left high school, the college experience, various jobs, different places I have lived, different people that I knew so well—the frustrations, challenges, successes, failures. Each year the run never fails to amaze me. It is as if I am the observer and I can watch my entire life as if I am watching a movie.
I did not concern myself with my running form, or speed, or even the proper breathing. My only concern was to focus on re-living, as much as possible, the highlights of each year. I became like a detached observer, looking down on my life as I ran. Through my own ignorance and pain, I saw the pain of so many others, and I cried openly as I ran. When I was at that point in my life where I got divorced, or had some particularly painful experience, I felt I was experiencing it all over again, and my run slowed considerably. And there were also times when I felt light as a feather, when I passed through wonderful and joyful times.
Life is almost a parade of experiences and new faces, and the job is to quickly ascertain the point of life and the direction of life, and accomplish whatever it takes to make real progress. Most of what we do in life is of little or no value in the end, and I watched my past years where I battled with that realization — along with the urge to go forward in a real way, and the countless "real life" challenges and obstacles that everyone deals with, such as how do you pay your bills while contemplating the meaning of life.
In so many ways, the birthday run feels like dying and then getting the opportunity to see what your life was all about. At least that's how it's been for me. It seems that my normal sense of "self" is gone when I do this run, and see the big picture of my life, how I deviated from my path, the mistakes I made, what I did right, who I wronged, those who helped me. I was not attempting to analyze what I was seeing in my mind's eye—I was simply re-experiencing it. And then in the last two laps, the drizzle became a rain, and something inside, something of my past, seemed to die away as a part of me re-awoke to the present reality.
My run was done, it was pouring rain, and I was alone, laughing and smiling, looking out at the City of Pasadena, and feeling wonderful to be alive and to have opportunities to grow. It was as if I had died and was resurrected.
After 46 laps, I was glad to stop and go home into the rosemary scented bath that my wife Dolores prepared. It had been quite a journey to see all the faces through my inner vision while running, all the people I haven't thought of or seen in years.
This is just the tip of the iceberg about what I can tell you about my run. Much of it is too personal and not of sufficient general interest to warrant sharing. However, I urge you to give this a try.
I found it to be a memorable birthday—first to review my life as if watching a movie, and then to spend the evening with close friends and family. Who could ask for more?
Christopher Nyerges is the author of four books, including The Guide to Wild Foods and Urban Wilderness. He has conducted wilderness trips since 1974.
A schedule of his classes is available from:
All contents of this page Copyright © 2003 by the Institute of Noetic Sciences (IONS). Materials may be excerpted, reprinted, or republished only with the express written consent of IONS.