Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind (Michael W. Austin and Amby Burfoot)
– Highlight Loc. 1685-87 |
One of the aptitudes of the wise is the ability to put off present pleasure or overcome present pain for greater reward down the road. It takes “the art of measurement,” Socrates tells us, to make right choices. The art of measurement is the ability to see things for their real value independent of present appearances.
There’s so much reading material on running, how to do it, how to improve [posture, pace, &tc.], what are the existential ramifications of running, a.s.f yet what stands out to me, subjectively, as a runner is the vast gulf that separates the words on the page from the feet on the concrete. It is bridgeable but the two shorelines run parallel rather than connecting.
For example there is the matter of whether or not running can be, from a subjective perspective, the “only true/truest” experience of being in as far as with each stride one decides to run instead of walking [no pain, usually, depending on distance] or standing still [even less so] thus actuating one’s free will as well as will-power through the very act of running [right, left, right, left, right…] and so becoming a “genuine” individual…again and again and again, until the self-inflicted pain/effort is in excess of one’s willpower.
One of the many problems with this line of argument, in my opinion, is that while there are certainly many times within a single run that one needs to consciously activate or deploy one’s willpower [to maintain one’s pace or to accelerate] there can also be stretches of, for lack of a better word, automatism. One does not need to exercise one’s free will with every stride and I imagine that if this were so, running would become an almost unbearably self-conscious exercise, much like deciding consciously to in- then exhale with every single breath in the course of a life. Indeed, one of the more agreeable sensations of running on a regular basis is that there are phases when one feels almost like being on auto-pilot, like one’s own body has become this well-tuned machine or running robot that can just perfectly carry on on its own. Again, not all the time, but in stretches…sitting there in one’s own head just enjoying the ride, watching the lakes, forests, mountains, pedestrians parallax by.
And just as suddenly, running goes back to being demanding or bothersome or even excruciating: it’s too hot, you are experiencing stitches that make you want to slow down but the second you do, you feel like a weak peace of sh!t for doing so an speed back up to regular pace [my stitches usually last around 5min], you can’t really breath or at least the amount of oxygen coming in seems definitely insufficient [either again because of heat/humidity or for reasons unknown], the freaking ankle hurts [because of how many times you twisted the bloody sucker in the past], you’re “batteries” are empty, meaning your whole body suffers this general sense of exhaustion, meaning you can’t run your usual pace [which is a sort of spiritually bad feeling, as you infer you must have ill-treated your body the last couple of days, somehow], it’s that final stretch running up-hill and you can feel your thighs turning into liquefied muscle or it’s the last one or two clicks and your lungs are becoming something fiery, inside. Not to run away with this but there are any number of physically unpleasurable sensations that come with running, sensations associated with suffering and death.
One of the philosophers I’ve been reading posits that there is such a thing as a “good pain” and that the runner learns to experience the strain in running as something enjoyable. I don’t quite agree. Too me its more about the nameless, indirect satisfaction of being able to exercise one’s willpower even against the body’s desire for [effort-free] equilibrium. There seems to be something slightly perverted about this satisfaction that points in the direction of the circumstance that body and mind are, if not one, if not two, then at least inseparable and thus should work towards the same end. If that makes any sense.
The last few weeks I again took up the Nike+ training regimen for the 10k with the simple goal of improving my time over that distance. I enjoyed the variety of the exercises and how, despite its inanity, the simple fact of the program asking me to run, say, 17k today, motivated me to go out and do so. Despite my soles going numb and what-have-you. After three weeks however, I’ve cancelled it. In the beginning I just thought it’s a matter of slacking, that is, lack of discipline. And this explanation made sense because I usually do one run less per week than the regimen has scheduled. However, thinking through it now, I realize that perhaps running for me after all is about a certain degree of freedom: I don’t want to be instructed, especially not by some heartless computer program [and its ultra-idiotic avatar], to run so and so many kilometers on this and that day. Often I felt like running more or less…and I’ve been of the opinion for a while now that 12k is the natural upper limit of my physique after which the symptoms of break-down are pretty darn blatant. It became too much something to be done [so and so many clicks] rather than something I actively go out there to accomplish: run. And once you fall a single day behind it feels as though you are playing catch up with that last work-out you happened to miss out on, which to me feels infinitely infantile, whereas running to me is supposed to be this adult activity: something not necessarily pleasant, which I choose to do freely but which redeems its time in subjective gold in the medium- to long-term.
And neither is running, in my experience, all that meditative really. Often times I have these massively jumbled, non-sensical, not-inspiring-at-all thoughts that just flash through my head. Which I think might in part explain why people will listen to music while they are running: not the mystifying phenomenon of power/motivational songs but the fact that you don’t want to deal with an absolutely incoherent downpour of thoughts. At least in my case I don’t. I have that same experience before falling asleep occasionally: instead of thinking proper there is this vicious tempest of thought fragments, rapid, tornadic, unpleasant, and the only reason why you’re not afraid of loosing your mind is because beneath it all you are somnolently aware of the fact that you’re moving towards the border of LaLa-land under this massive Stratocumulus of crazed anti-thinking. And I sometimes move through this same identical black cloud when I run so then I’m happy for my mp3, which magically dissolves it.
Running and Philosophy: A Marathon for the Mind (Michael W. Austin and Amby Burfoot)
– Highlight Loc. 1802-3 |
And this is clearly one key to reaching the good life: the ability to see through the appearances of things – especially the appearances created by our biology because they can be so powerful – and see things as they are.
• • •
I am sitting in my ROOM right now.
It, the room, has what is considered a high ceiling. The walls are near perfect white: the whitest of white whites. They have a slightly three dimensional texture to the, which looks like vertical columns of the long Morse dashes, varying in depth according to a strange sequence, which yet seems to be, at least in my pattern recognition’s perspective, non-random. My light-brown, wooden desk has five very low piles of books, four of them against the wall which I am facing, one off of my right elbow, resting 10cm inwards from the desktop’s edge. There are two cheap Ikea milky-boxy glass lights sitting between the book piles, dispensing slightly albumescent, cold light. Atop four of the piles and both lights sit smiling family photographs: my brother and sarah, my sister and ray, our nuclear fam, my dad’s nuclear fam, my grand-dad on my dad’s side looking very dire, us siblings on Daniele’s wedding in 2004, which I find hard to grasp is seven years ago. I am sitting in my room right now. I am obviously typing. When you read this, I’ll be doing something else, equally inconsequential I am sure. As are all things: irrelevant. I hope you didn’t expect me to describe my whole room, after all, it’s mine and not yours; I hope you hoped I wouldn’t.
The room in all its specificity lends me a certain irreducible sense of individuality: things will never again be like exactly this: the books’ [dis]order, the two water bottles next to my chair, the Chocolate Chip Cookies down by the left leg of the desk on a black placemat [black in black, shiny continents, matte Oceans] – never again. How the fuck the non-human objects manage to co-constitute my sense of self, I have no theory to even begin with.
I’m having one now: the cookies are delicious. But with the crumbling dough and the melting chocolate chips on my tongue that word itself looks disconnected and irrelevant.
I am sitting. I am typing. I am. You are. We co-exist. Until one of us dies.