Readers are drawn to stories of people who demonstrate exceptional determination and disciplined drive. The blood, sweat, and tears expended as a protagonist attempts to accomplish some enormous feat rivets us with anticipation while we read along in hopes that there’s a rightful payoff in the end. But the story that award-winning journalist and ultramarathon runner Katie Arnold shares of recovering from a potential life-changing river rafting accident takes a different tack. Her new book, Brief Flashings in the Phenomenal World: Zen and the Art of Running Free, explores how she coped with an abrupt downshift from elite athleticism by discovering new depths of knowing.


Following surgery on her injured leg, she faced the daunting prospect of sitting static for what she felt would be an interminable stretch of time. After a friend brought her a copy of the book Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind by Suzuki Roshi, she began to view her accident in a new light. Suzuki Roshi’s insightful teachings awakened Arnold to a new way of perceiving herself, her injury, and her world, and gave her renewed purpose. Concepts such as “Don’t fight the current. Go with it, not against it,” and “No good, no bad — just this,” helped her discover a sense of joy instead of loss.

Arnold’s first book, Running Home, a memoir that related how she reckoned with her father’s death by running long distances through the wilderness —“using my body to heal my mind.” But in Brief Flashings, she learns to use her mind to heal her body. 

Brief Flashings in the Phenomenal World is much more than musings on recovering from injury. Arnold simultaneously explores the turbulence of marriage, motherhood, authoring books, and the world of ultrarunning. Her heartfelt ruminations while coming to terms with life as it happens to be opposed to life as one imagines is an entirely different type of feat than that of a driven athlete — and yet they are ultimately connected. Searching for wholeness in each aspect of life is a universal theme that Arnold approaches with a Zen-like wisdom all her own, and that readers can savor, learn from, and apply in their own life circumstances. 


From descriptions of running up a mountain trail near her home, riding through rapids on the Salmon River with a mangled leg, enduring silent spousal stand-offs, and experiencing a salvo of sensory sensations while recovering on her patio, Arnold’s writing is captivating. And notwithstanding her altered feelings regarding running races, her final running triumph puts the full two-year span of injury, renewal through recovery, and flashes of awakening into full perspective. 

For anyone who has had to face the possibility of losing all that they’ve painstakingly worked for and refined, Brief Flashings in the Phenomenal World is a relatable and beautiful treatise to reinterpreting who we are and what is ultimately important in our lives.

Garth Thomas