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Running Through Sprinklers, Super Mario Flames, and the Gap of Discernment

Updated: Aug 30, 2023

I was halfway through my four mile run the other morning, and had made it to the downhill descent. It was an already beautiful morning with a steady blanket of forming clouds, and a Dreamcicle sunrise in the distance. The air was a pleasantly chilled 64 degrees in June, which is atypical, but the 2023 norm in Utah for some reason.

The sun sets in the spring of 2023 in Magna, Utah
Sun in Magna, UT

Recently, my body had been responding to these types of runs more favorably, so I found myself not so absorbed in my breathing or aching calves. I turned the corner from a busy road into a neighborhood path and was running down a narrow path that bisected a narrow park situated between two private neighborhoods. The park seemed inserted in that space the way that grass grows between the cracks in the sidewalk at the height of summer. At 6:30 a.m. it was early enough that the sprinklers were still inefficiently watering as much sidewalk as they did grass. It wasn’t warm enough that getting wet beyond my sweaty shirt was that appealing. As I started running down the path hoping to avoid most of the sprinklers, a type of Indiana Jones meets Super Mario Game started to form in my mind. The bands of sprinklers were moving relatively slowly and I could time them well enough to run behind some of the sprays through the grass, while weaving back and forth onto the pavement and across to the other side. I imaged I might look like a water skier slaloming through the narrow park and pathway if there had been another soul out there to witness me.

I couldn’t help contrast that moment of playfully avoiding the undesired strands of water with what had been on my mind. A small disagreement and misunderstanding with my partner that left me unceremoniously saying goodbye to her before she went to work without the usual kiss or “I love you.” This is the same relationship that a year ago I cried almost every day out of heartbreak only to be surprised and mesmerized by at end of last year.

My consistency and playfulness was turning obstacles into a game on the running path. I was dodging sprinklers with a smile on my face. I attribute this mostly to the joy of seeing their pathway clearly and avoiding them by the width of a shoe before the came whirling into soaking position. I had to laugh at the irony that I was unable to do the same when it came to relationships and found those problems to be too in my face to see a thrill to the challenge they provided.

It was in that moment of comparison and noticing, that I realized the fundamental difference in the two situations I was hoping to avoid: getting wet and being distant from my partner over a small issue. The biggest difference was the proximity I felt my ego’s proximity with respect to each situation.

This is the last motivation sign on Magna's Magna in Motion initiative near the Magna Cemetery in Utah.
Magna Cemetery Sign

When I’ve talked to other people, whether it’s clients or friends about overcoming a perceived negative habit, or introducing a new one, awareness is the single most important factor. Awareness is the noticing of one’s thoughts, feelings, and physical state while the moment is happening. Once this habit of noticing is happening consistently, catching one’s self before action takes place becomes known as the gap of discernment. This gap is the space between trigger and action, stimulus and reaction.

Noticing how I was behaving in response to the sprinklers gave way to me noticing how I was responding in the relationship, and it also reminded me of this concept. Expanding one’s gap of discernment or awareness doesn’t automatically change behavior. I was able earlier in the morning to notice that I was bothered and growing more resentful and distant. That didn’t change the fact that I left without really saying goodbye or I was acting in a way that I would be content with later on. I could acknowledge that I was upset. That was important. That’s my awareness. But action doesn’t automatically follow awareness.

With The Gap of Discernment, it’s like a muscle that I then had the opportunity to exercise. Like all muscles, they don’t always respond the way we idolize they would. And like all muscles, they get stronger the more they get used. It was really my reaction to dodging sprinklers that became the tool for how I hope I can approach other challenges in life. I aspire to be able to playfully move through them, rather than experiencing the most miserable outcome. In my relationship, it’s being able to laugh without bypassing when I’m acting stubborn or petty. It’s being able to recognize that my partner has had a long day and might be more stressed, shorter tempered, or just in need of some quality alone time for a few hours, or even the night. When I sit back or meditate on the highest version of myself, I see myself flowing through life, encountering all problems as if they are those sprinklers, or those flaming strands of fire balls in Super Mario Brothers. I see myself weaving through them, going off the conventional path at times, and masterfully seeing what’s in front of me and timing the obstacles well enough to avoid getting wet or burned. I also see myself laughing if those stands do catch up with me every once in a while. Either way, the smile is on my face, and playful feeling pervades.

This is a picture of Tony Pizza, the author of this blog, having fun while running.
Tony Pizza Running Fun

The most important part of my experience with the sprinklers, my relationship, and the gap of discernment is the feeling that I’m able to commit to memory of how it felt to flow through those experiences. It’s a good enough visceral reminder, that the next time I find myself in challenge, whether it’s in rush hour traffic, or dealing with a less-than-personable client, that I can look for the playful maneuver rather than the one that leaves me feeling less in command, and more responsive and reactionary to what’s happening all around me. And If I’m not able to respond that way, Awareness and The Gap of Discernment are able to be valuable tools there, too.

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