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Running for Understanding

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When you build a community it eventually takes on a life of its own. It self-organizes and it self-regulates – and we get to witness it. The Freetrail community does that, sometimes in surprising but uniquely authentic ways. One of those ways is in the championing of its community members. One of those community stalwarts is Ari Sonnenberg. 

While Ari has become a community sage for us, someone who can hit you with just the right quote from the Bhagavad Gita at a profoundly perfect moment, he is also a veteran of the United States Army. During Ari’s fifteen years of service, he was deployed on combat tours that took him from Bosnia to Mosul, Iraq, and like so many veterans in this country has dealt with the mental strains that so frequently accompany those who serve to protect us and others. One of the things Ari has turned to since leaving the army has been performing austerities – particularly now over the Memorial Day weekend. Austerity and performing austerities is a disciplined practice wherein you voluntarily work for purification and advancement – but it is not so much an act of denying oneself things as it is removing the obstacles that prevent you from growing. Which is beginning to sound a lot like an ultra. 

NYE beach vibes in california

From Ari

We have all been there, losing the motivation to run. The last few years were tough, divorce, a major surgery that took over a year to fully recover from, and the death of my spiritual teacher – life was just stacking up. I attempted to make a return to racing but it was a dumpster fire of a performance.  Leaving me lost, to be honest, struggling to train and struggling to find myself. 

The Bhagavad Gita teaches us about how our ego keeps us from advancing. Our ego is so strong that it makes us think we are the doer, that we are the center of the universe and because of this we identify with the body. I am a runner, I am a walker, I am a male or female. We don’t realize how harmful to our development this false ego is.

 So I came up with a project, traversing the length of the Netherlands, with no pressure and no stress, no goal other than seeing how far I can go in 72 hours – 305 miles/500km from North to South. The training block for the Pieterpad traverse was born. To let the ego go and not focus on the results of the action. To just accept what comes and be grateful. To remember I am not the doer – I am.

I happen to be reading a book called The Srimad Bhagavatam about Hiranyakasipu, a fiendous person filled with hare that performed austerities to gain immortality. He received that boon [a favor] from Siva and thought nothing could happen to him. He abused that boon and became proud and abusive. Eventually, his demise is met by the hands of Narasimha, an incarnation of Krishna.

 One thing I took away from this was doing austerities can make the heart hard like a stone, but doing austerities in a meditative mindset, with a goal of self-discovery could make the heart soft and gentle. 

During this training block, I reaffirmed my spiritual practices and applied the philosophy I learned as a monk to my life in a practical way. This meant truly trying to practice appreciation of all that crossed my journey. It can be hard at times to only see the good in people after experiencing the bad of humanity. I took the time to search deeper into my heart and make sustainable changes to my character. To accept my faults, sit with them, and analyze them. 

In this mindset, I approached this project. To tackle the Pieterpad traverse – detached from results and hype, hardly talking about it and doing it for my own reasons. Externally it is to help raise money for the Wounded Warrior Project. Internally I am running to ease the darkest aspects of my heart, to make it soft and gentle, and to emerge with a better understanding of myself. I am running to learn and grow as a partner, a father, a friend, and a devotee of Krsna. To run is good for the body but running to develop love in the heart transforms the endeavor to one of goodness and purity. 

I don’t know how the run will go, I don’t know how far I will get. One thing is for certain, this project, this austerity will change me and reinvent me, it will bring me closer to understanding the nature of the soul. 


If this moved you, feel free to touch base with Ari directly at his email address, sonnenbergari@gmail.com. You can also follow him on Instagram.

Beyond that, if you have the means, we’d encourage you to donate to the Wounded Warrior Project in Ari’s name. The Freetrail community has raised almost $3000 so far this year! 

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