Running a Marathon in Life

Most of us admire marathoners, even if we don’t run ourselves. We love them because they are such a triumph of the human spirit over perceived physical and mental limits.

I live overlooking a bike path and river. Recently there was a marathon of 26.2 miles. The runners came past our house on the bike path. Tables were set up with water and Gatorade and people yelled encouragement and applauded just below our living room windows.

As I watched them I couldn’t help but think that a marathon is similar to what happens in our Buddhist practice when faced with a difficult goal or challenge.

Setting the Intention – Mental Focus

The marathoner sets a goal and the intention to reach it. Setting an intention just means using your imagination to see the goal as completed.

This is also true for someone new just starting the 90 day challenge to see if Buddhism is right for them.  They set an intention and chant Nam-myo-ho-renge-kyo for ninety days and see what happens. An experienced member who takes on a major challenge or one who is trying to surmount a difficult obstacle also starts out by setting a goal.

In order to reach the finish line the marathoner must condition his mind as well as his body. He uses his imagination to see himself crossing the finish line.

We do the same when we chant for a goal. We imagine what it will look like when we achieve it. We commit ourselves to chanting for the goal until it is achieved. We, too, have to condition our minds to complete a long term or difficult goal.

Practice and Preparation

Physical preparation

The marathoner must prepare herself for months or years. She practices running longer and longer distances. She must learn how to pace herself, so she can sustain the pace from beginning to end. If she doesn’t pace herself, she might burn out or sustain injury.

Mental Preparation

He has to learn how to monitor and change his internal dialogue to encourage himself as he extends his limits. These mental reserves are what make the difference between someone who crosses the finish line and those who give up.

We might not have to prepare physically as we chant, but we do have to prepare mentally to go the distance, one step at a time. We have to make a determination – that this goal, this intention, is going to happen, no matter what and no matter how long it takes.

Gearing In

The marathoner and the chanter have to give up distractions in order to focus their energies. Both must develop the discipline to do what is necessary to achieve the goal.

The marathoner practices. He learns what shoes to wear, how to use his body to avoid injury, how to keep himself hydrated, skills which allow him to be successful.

As you chant about a challenge you might have to learn skills in your area of interest, do research about something or acquire knowledge about yourself that will enable you achieve your goal. This is normal and  part of the process.

Hitting the Wall

The marathoners hit mile twenty-one in front of our house. This is the crisis point, when the body feels it can’t go any further and wants to give up. The runners have to dig deep and mentally overcome the body’s demand. Watching from our house, we can see the ones who do this successfully. The successful ones seem to gain additional energy.

You can see the determination in others, even if they are walking. I particularly applaud the ones who come by seven hours after the start and have the determination to hang in there. They win by just crossing that finish line.

When chanting for a difficult goal or trying to surmount an obstacle, there is a time when you will feel as though you can’t go any further and think of giving up. This is the time when you need to hunker down and increase the depth and focus of your practice.

Say Goodbye to Negative Thinking

This time of physical and emotional struggle is when both marathoner and chanter must focus on the successful completion of the goal, and refuse to harbor negative thinking, which says it isn’t possible. As Nichiren Daishonin says, “You should become master of your mind, not let your mind master you.”

Some examples of negative thinking might be:  ‘I can’t do this’, ‘It’s just not possible’, or dwelling on what you fear rather than the goal. At times like this you will have to turn your attention away from the negative thoughts and talk to yourself differently. For example, ‘I can do this’, ‘ Nothing is impossible with the practice’. Then refocus on the goal and imagine how you will feel when you achieve it.

Discouragement or a sense of being overwhelmed can add an emotional challenge as well. Mentally bring yourself out of this through giving yourself encouragement and refusing to dwell on your fears.

Staying Strong to the End

The chanter has additional tools to combat this crisis point. This is when it is important to deepen your faith and practice to stay strong to the end. So how might you do that?

  •  Chant longer:
  1.  If you’ve been chanting fifteen minutes, try thirty minutes or an hour. Someone with a serious issue might chant for hours.
  •  Study Nichiren Daishonin’s searchable writings and read Reply to Myo’o where he says, “This sutra can fultill their desires, as a clear cool pond can satisfy all those who are thirsty.”
  1. Go to and those of President Ikeda for encouragement.
  •  Go to a retreat at FNCC and renew yourself.
  1. To find a schedule of retreats go to
  •  Talk to an experienced practitioner, and get spiritual guidance.
  1.  To locate someone, call your local community center or ask the leader of your home group.
  •  Group Chant:
  1.  In a marathon the runners receive energy from the encouragement of people along the path. When people chant together about someone’s issue, that person receives a big boost over the hump.

When the marathoner goes the distance, he grows in his physical endurance, mental toughness and self-confidence.

When you achieve your goal, you will have grown in many ways as well. You will have grown in faith, in using the tools of your Buddhist practice and in mental toughness. You will have learned you need never be deadlocked and that you can rely on your faith to overcome major obstacles.

Join the Conversation

Have you ever had a difficult challenge where you had to dig deep? What worked for you?

Next topic: Buddhism Shows You How to Live Longer


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