Al Haraka, Baraka: In Movement is Blessing
A personal reflection on running to heal.

“Al Haraka, Baraka,” is an Arabic idiom that translates to: “In movement, is blessing.” It’s often used to convey the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, and the “goodness” that ensues with any sort of activity which requires full consciousness. Several years ago when I lived in Brooklyn, I ran the perimeter of Prospect Park habitually. This sentiment echoed in the back of my head, yet I never completely understood it’s merits. I first read it online in English, signed off as a quote from a Patti Smith poem — only to realize it was an excerpt from her book, ‘Wool Gathering”. Years later I came back to the phrase, enamored by it’s etymology.  When I started researching, I came to learn that a version of this phrase is also regarded in Swahili. In short, the Swahili proverb, “haraka haraka haina baraka,” translates to “hurry, hurry has no blessings”. Here, the proverb leans on the philosophical approach that conveys: to lead a life with a calm demeanor, is to lead a better life. 

Running through the park, breathing deep, it was almost always impossible to forget these translated principles because of the abstract insight they provided me. They thwarted like an arrow through a single dynamic phrase, I accidently read so long ago. “In movement, is blessing”, has become rampant in my daily life. The words relayed the same foundational principle pushing me ever onward during long-distance runs; all these years later. They have especially helped guide me through traumatic events.

It is easier now, then it once was – to pay gratitude to simplicity. I am enthralled by knowing that I have a functioning human body, that is resilient, that is kind, that  might need more care than I’d like to give it some days. Sometimes, it is that simple. We, as humans, take our movement for granted. We don’t think about it’s natural function until grief hits and paralyzes us, or an accident happens that temporarily or forevermore, disables us. The Notwist, a band I used to listen to when I was younger, puts it best: from the lyrics of One Dark Love Poem, 1992, “Luck would be a child with two arms, two feet, and a brain to hide a picture”. It is true. Luck in its simplest form is ability and imagination against the odds – after that, is qismet. 

After a mental or physical trauma, or a dark surprise in life – we can surely become befuddled, blind, and immovable; we cannot think. Sometimes, we can barely move. Even if we can, is it really with clarity? Do we ever really heal? The answer is different for everyone. Running, or any other exercise during life altering experiences, isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s actually impossible for periods of time. Walking or running (or really any movement) requires you to depend on yourself and your own mind which is a feat in itself. For me, the solitude it encouraged once I could finally gather myself, was momentous. So much, so as to give me further and deeper back to myself.

The concept cannot exist without periods of reflection. In my healing narrative, I realized the return of a stronger self came from simplicity of action and reflection, but also sport and the provided solitude.  While this concept is common and very unspecial (exercise…), a considered sport where the only player is you (running), requires personal resilience to get you from one point to another. A symbolic parallel for everything in life. Accountability. Despite how terrible I felt from the things that had happened to me, my body eventually was slowly able to return to a movement that was present with the world around it. It took time. I could not feel the way I used to, but if I put on my shoes, left my apartment, and ran – I would eventually feel better. I would run at least six to seven miles each time. It made me feel physically stronger. The ground on Earth felt like a punching ground, for an anger inside.

There are so many wonderful things about running to heal. One of the best parts about running in the park is the people I see and have seen, who indirectly contributed to my healing just as much as the actual running itself. Many days, I’d see the same man whom I assumed was over 80, running barefoot in the park much faster than me. Completely shirtless, with a burnt back, loose skin. Even in winter. Immediately, I would think – if he can do this life thing and carry on,  I can do this life thing and carry on with it. Suddenly, I’d find myself in an invisible competition with an 80 year old stranger, who was inspiring me in ways he didn’t know. My obsessive self loathing dissipated into better thoughts. Once, I saw a group of runners with prosthetic legs and I nearly began to cry on my own run. Not because I felt bad for them but because the thought that people can carry on, despite their odds, their physical limitations,  and setbacks is a concept that pitted me in the gut and shattered me with gratitude, even if it was only for a single moment. On my slower running days, I didn’t mind watching the people in front of me. I never tried to put the pressure on the pace, just the action. All the while, it was a park, afterall, so you’d see life spinning around you – children stumbling, and couples holding hands. All of it, poetry. Al Haraka Baraka. In movement is blessing. I was healing.

Some run’s… were harsher. Physically and mentally. There were nights I tried to prove my resistance and survival to myself (whether this was consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know, I just know… that I was aware). I remember one specific night as I was running, it was pitch dark in a specific portion of the park, the lights had temporarily gone off, and it was freezing cold. I could barely feel my hands or my body. There was no circulation. My phone had died. I realized running the loop was the fastest way home, which was still about an hour away. As I was running through, almost no one was around and I became strangely alert. My spine perked up. This intense vague fear filled my body. A few leaves fell off a tree by a gust of heavy wind, and I became  suddenly terrified by the rustling. So terrified, I ran as fast as physically possible. I didn’t look back.  It was late, and everyone looked like a gargoyle to me. In retrospect, it was all dangerous. I had done these late night runs with a dead phone a few times. (Sorry Mom and Dad). When I got home, I remember feeling a dark comfort in knowing I could get through these conditions, despite triggering emotions. But it wasn’t right. I realized this entire experience revealed to me something deeper that I needed to resolve within myself and my own psyche. Running in a dangerous environment isn’t smart. It’s dumb and it’s dangerous especially when you haven’t told anyone where your going. Using it as a parallel to show you, you can survive isn’t at all clever. It’s not worth risking your life. Somehow that specific run helped me pave a new understanding of myself and why often I did what I did, and what I needed to work on. Forgiveness, and moving forward. Forgiving myself too. 

All to say, I had to, like the best of us, face and accept what was happening in my head and what had happened in my life. I’m not saying running solves everything. It didn’t, and it definitely doesn’t. It’s just a tool. It’s exercise. All science shows we benefit from exercise. Ways forward are different for each of us. I read books that helped, like: “The Body Keeps Score”, “All About Love”, and a lot of poetry. I did what I consider, forms of therapy, but never actually went. My parents are both psychiatrists whom I have a healthy relationship with, so having them was a privilege for me. Through them, and opening up, I quickly learned I was dipping in and out of phases of dissociation, a side effect for PTSD, which is a side effect of trauma.

So what happened? I’ll keep it simple since this story is more about healing and running, not about what happened. A few years ago I had been in a very abusive relationship that ended in a restraining order. It’s remnants were primarily psychological, although sometimes physical. It was the most invasive and terrifying period of my life. About a month or two prior to that experience, my aunt whom I was close to, very suddenly passed away. The crazy part is, the day before she passed, I woke up and told my mother that I felt something terrible was going to happen because of a dream I had that night – crows filled up the sky with their matte feathers. A little bit earlier that year, my parents both were in a car accident on Thanksgiving, surviving but I’ll never forget the feeling of what it felt like knowing they were both in an ambulance at once. My mother told me she thought my Father had died in front of her eyes during that crash. I couldn’t shake the fear off. I had a hard time letting everything go, and very much felt it living in my body – because they were all strange experiences of loss with gaps. The only thing that helped me was running through my thoughts, and the strength of my friends and family. 

In Bessel Van Der Kook’s book, “The Body Keeps Score”, he states, “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard.” So, I suffered more than I would have liked to, but it was so visceral and internal I didn’t realize this was suffering. I became a deep well of triggers and pranced around things and people without ever really touching them or allowing myself to get emotionally  close. Confrontation is a difficult task. It studies shame. It strikes our ego. All the while, the world teaches us to bury emotions, to be strong. But what does it really mean to be strong? When the truth is, we are all at some points in our lives, utterly weak.  That is a human experience. Vulnerability is the only ounce of strength we can ever have.

I eventually learned part of the reason I had been running was to battle a darkness that loomed, but of course other simpler thoughts eventually came. As I ran, my mind changed shapes. Sometimes my head would sit back, blank like an empty room painted white, other moments I would sporadically think about trivial things: the temperature, the neighborhood, life and death, who came to me in a dream and what they said, the light on the street, what I’d eat when I get home…anything and everything. As Ingar Bergman once said, “I have always had the ability to attach my demons to my chariot. And they have been forced to make themselves useful.”

These days, I still run, but I run during the day mostly, in Central Park or along the East River in Manhattan. Each time I run, it’s a meditation that amounts to a substantial period of reflection, especially after the pandemic. The increments of thoughts on the best days might lead to writing. On the worst days, it leads to relief.  I am further into my healing, into my writing, into my relationships. 

I press my feet to the ground. The wind kicks my back and the sun kisses my cheeks. I lick my dry lips which only makes them dryer from the cold air, swallow my saliva to coat my throat. I move, and I move. Al Haraka Baraka. In movement, is blessing. I am healing, and healing is forever.

Photos via Meetra Javed. Photography by Giles Pates.

Al Haraka, Baraka: In Movement is Blessing
A personal reflection on running to heal.

“Al Haraka, Baraka,” is an Arabic idiom that translates to: “In movement, is blessing.” It’s often used to convey the physical and emotional benefits of exercise, and the “goodness” that ensues with any sort of activity which requires full consciousness. Several years ago when I lived in Brooklyn, I ran the perimeter of Prospect Park habitually. This sentiment echoed in the back of my head, yet I never completely understood it’s merits. I first read it online in English, signed off as a quote from a Patti Smith poem — only to realize it was an excerpt from her book, ‘Wool Gathering”. Years later I came back to the phrase, enamored by it’s etymology.  When I started researching, I came to learn that a version of this phrase is also regarded in Swahili. In short, the Swahili proverb, “haraka haraka haina baraka,” translates to “hurry, hurry has no blessings”. Here, the proverb leans on the philosophical approach that conveys: to lead a life with a calm demeanor, is to lead a better life. 

Running through the park, breathing deep, it was almost always impossible to forget these translated principles because of the abstract insight they provided me. They thwarted like an arrow through a single dynamic phrase, I accidently read so long ago. “In movement, is blessing”, has become rampant in my daily life. The words relayed the same foundational principle pushing me ever onward during long-distance runs; all these years later. They have especially helped guide me through traumatic events.

It is easier now, then it once was – to pay gratitude to simplicity. I am enthralled by knowing that I have a functioning human body, that is resilient, that is kind, that  might need more care than I’d like to give it some days. Sometimes, it is that simple. We, as humans, take our movement for granted. We don’t think about it’s natural function until grief hits and paralyzes us, or an accident happens that temporarily or forevermore, disables us. The Notwist, a band I used to listen to when I was younger, puts it best: from the lyrics of One Dark Love Poem, 1992, “Luck would be a child with two arms, two feet, and a brain to hide a picture”. It is true. Luck in its simplest form is ability and imagination against the odds – after that, is qismet. 

After a mental or physical trauma, or a dark surprise in life – we can surely become befuddled, blind, and immovable; we cannot think. Sometimes, we can barely move. Even if we can, is it really with clarity? Do we ever really heal? The answer is different for everyone. Running, or any other exercise during life altering experiences, isn’t easy. Sometimes it’s actually impossible for periods of time. Walking or running (or really any movement) requires you to depend on yourself and your own mind which is a feat in itself. For me, the solitude it encouraged once I could finally gather myself, was momentous. So much, so as to give me further and deeper back to myself.

The concept cannot exist without periods of reflection. In my healing narrative, I realized the return of a stronger self came from simplicity of action and reflection, but also sport and the provided solitude.  While this concept is common and very unspecial (exercise…), a considered sport where the only player is you (running), requires personal resilience to get you from one point to another. A symbolic parallel for everything in life. Accountability. Despite how terrible I felt from the things that had happened to me, my body eventually was slowly able to return to a movement that was present with the world around it. It took time. I could not feel the way I used to, but if I put on my shoes, left my apartment, and ran – I would eventually feel better. I would run at least six to seven miles each time. It made me feel physically stronger. The ground on Earth felt like a punching ground, for an anger inside.

There are so many wonderful things about running to heal. One of the best parts about running in the park is the people I see and have seen, who indirectly contributed to my healing just as much as the actual running itself. Many days, I’d see the same man whom I assumed was over 80, running barefoot in the park much faster than me. Completely shirtless, with a burnt back, loose skin. Even in winter. Immediately, I would think – if he can do this life thing and carry on,  I can do this life thing and carry on with it. Suddenly, I’d find myself in an invisible competition with an 80 year old stranger, who was inspiring me in ways he didn’t know. My obsessive self loathing dissipated into better thoughts. Once, I saw a group of runners with prosthetic legs and I nearly began to cry on my own run. Not because I felt bad for them but because the thought that people can carry on, despite their odds, their physical limitations,  and setbacks is a concept that pitted me in the gut and shattered me with gratitude, even if it was only for a single moment. On my slower running days, I didn’t mind watching the people in front of me. I never tried to put the pressure on the pace, just the action. All the while, it was a park, afterall, so you’d see life spinning around you – children stumbling, and couples holding hands. All of it, poetry. Al Haraka Baraka. In movement is blessing. I was healing.

Some run’s… were harsher. Physically and mentally. There were nights I tried to prove my resistance and survival to myself (whether this was consciously or unconsciously, I don’t know, I just know… that I was aware). I remember one specific night as I was running, it was pitch dark in a specific portion of the park, the lights had temporarily gone off, and it was freezing cold. I could barely feel my hands or my body. There was no circulation. My phone had died. I realized running the loop was the fastest way home, which was still about an hour away. As I was running through, almost no one was around and I became strangely alert. My spine perked up. This intense vague fear filled my body. A few leaves fell off a tree by a gust of heavy wind, and I became  suddenly terrified by the rustling. So terrified, I ran as fast as physically possible. I didn’t look back.  It was late, and everyone looked like a gargoyle to me. In retrospect, it was all dangerous. I had done these late night runs with a dead phone a few times. (Sorry Mom and Dad). When I got home, I remember feeling a dark comfort in knowing I could get through these conditions, despite triggering emotions. But it wasn’t right. I realized this entire experience revealed to me something deeper that I needed to resolve within myself and my own psyche. Running in a dangerous environment isn’t smart. It’s dumb and it’s dangerous especially when you haven’t told anyone where your going. Using it as a parallel to show you, you can survive isn’t at all clever. It’s not worth risking your life. Somehow that specific run helped me pave a new understanding of myself and why often I did what I did, and what I needed to work on. Forgiveness, and moving forward. Forgiving myself too. 

All to say, I had to, like the best of us, face and accept what was happening in my head and what had happened in my life. I’m not saying running solves everything. It didn’t, and it definitely doesn’t. It’s just a tool. It’s exercise. All science shows we benefit from exercise. Ways forward are different for each of us. I read books that helped, like: “The Body Keeps Score”, “All About Love”, and a lot of poetry. I did what I consider, forms of therapy, but never actually went. My parents are both psychiatrists whom I have a healthy relationship with, so having them was a privilege for me. Through them, and opening up, I quickly learned I was dipping in and out of phases of dissociation, a side effect for PTSD, which is a side effect of trauma.

So what happened? I’ll keep it simple since this story is more about healing and running, not about what happened. A few years ago I had been in a very abusive relationship that ended in a restraining order. It’s remnants were primarily psychological, although sometimes physical. It was the most invasive and terrifying period of my life. About a month or two prior to that experience, my aunt whom I was close to, very suddenly passed away. The crazy part is, the day before she passed, I woke up and told my mother that I felt something terrible was going to happen because of a dream I had that night – crows filled up the sky with their matte feathers. A little bit earlier that year, my parents both were in a car accident on Thanksgiving, surviving but I’ll never forget the feeling of what it felt like knowing they were both in an ambulance at once. My mother told me she thought my Father had died in front of her eyes during that crash. I couldn’t shake the fear off. I had a hard time letting everything go, and very much felt it living in my body – because they were all strange experiences of loss with gaps. The only thing that helped me was running through my thoughts, and the strength of my friends and family. 

In Bessel Van Der Kook’s book, “The Body Keeps Score”, he states, “Trauma victims cannot recover until they become familiar with and befriend the sensations in their bodies. Being frightened means that you live in a body that is always on guard.” So, I suffered more than I would have liked to, but it was so visceral and internal I didn’t realize this was suffering. I became a deep well of triggers and pranced around things and people without ever really touching them or allowing myself to get emotionally  close. Confrontation is a difficult task. It studies shame. It strikes our ego. All the while, the world teaches us to bury emotions, to be strong. But what does it really mean to be strong? When the truth is, we are all at some points in our lives, utterly weak.  That is a human experience. Vulnerability is the only ounce of strength we can ever have.

I eventually learned part of the reason I had been running was to battle a darkness that loomed, but of course other simpler thoughts eventually came. As I ran, my mind changed shapes. Sometimes my head would sit back, blank like an empty room painted white, other moments I would sporadically think about trivial things: the temperature, the neighborhood, life and death, who came to me in a dream and what they said, the light on the street, what I’d eat when I get home…anything and everything. As Ingar Bergman once said, “I have always had the ability to attach my demons to my chariot. And they have been forced to make themselves useful.”

These days, I still run, but I run during the day mostly, in Central Park or along the East River in Manhattan. Each time I run, it’s a meditation that amounts to a substantial period of reflection, especially after the pandemic. The increments of thoughts on the best days might lead to writing. On the worst days, it leads to relief.  I am further into my healing, into my writing, into my relationships. 

I press my feet to the ground. The wind kicks my back and the sun kisses my cheeks. I lick my dry lips which only makes them dryer from the cold air, swallow my saliva to coat my throat. I move, and I move. Al Haraka Baraka. In movement, is blessing. I am healing, and healing is forever.

Photos via Meetra Javed. Photography by Giles Pates.

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