mundane adventures in running
Consciousness can be a beast. A wild and crazy animal, one that rides roughshod across internal and external worlds. Consciousness hops erratically from thought to thought: jumping, attracted, waylaid, diverted by circumstance. The mind’s eye flickers and flits: breakfast plans; a good recipe for celery soup; an interesting hat worn by the woman in front of you on the bus; an itchy leg; an email unsent; a phone call unmade. Ear worms, nostalgia, snippets of news and analysis. When we’re sad, happy, stressed, flat, our minds are noisy. It’s the complexion of that noise which changes. The cornucopia of thought shifts: more happy thoughts, a surfeit of stress, a peculiar mix of memories and sadness, more phone calls capture our mind or fewer beautiful trees.
Digital culture has made life for the consciousness even noisier. We have computers in our pockets, ever changing, Technicolor encyclopedias in every room, everywhere. It’s hard to find opportunities for boredom; it’s hard to find a space where we’re not distracted. I pods, gameboys, kindles, phones vie for our attention. And we crave their distraction. How often do you get distracted checking social networks, when you were just checking your email, when you were just seeing how long the bus would take to come when before that you’d been thinking about your plans for the day? These digital stimuli pile up on top of and add to the glut of distractions we already suffered in a pre digital world.
We need a rest. Imagine just turning it off: just being. Imagine a still mind, a mind which chooses what to think about, which doesn’t just respond to whatever the conscious happens to land on. A mind that can be still can be patient, it can abide. A mind that can be still can conquer pain and discomfort: pain could be an internal construct to be dismissed as easily as a daydream about a plotline in Eastenders.
It’s easy to run, or to walk without giving any thought to the mind. We walk and run plugged in to phones, dividing consciousness between daily fears and Pitchfork playlists. Emails ping, street signs distract. Familiar places act as mnemonics for dim nostalgia. Cities tell your stories back to you. Environments tell you knew stories: new maps to learn, sites to see, messages to absorb. Bright, shining phenomena: graffitis of the city, accidental cloudscapes or new vistas out of the city all catch your eye. Without trying to still the mind, the conscious keeps flitting, keep bounding off wildly, crazily. The mind is constantly diverted, pulled every which way.
Can you transform activity into something else? Could walking, or running become activities to help you clean the aegean stables of your mind?
There’s a tradition of focused thought and exercise. Nietzsche would enjoy quotidian walk. s, two hours in the morning and more in the early evening: barely giving time to anything except work and meditative exercise. Murakami enjoys running as a way to escape work and to think at the same time. Others practice running as a religious rite. The Tendai monks in Japan practice walking as an expression of devotion and sacrifice. its apotheosis is the thousand day kaihōgyō: one thousand days of devotional walking over a seven year period to achieve enlightenment.
I can’t finish this essay with a blow by blow account of how to achieve a quiet mind. I can assure you, however, that on some level, running, walking repetitive exercise all help.
Maybe they let you focus wholly on one thing. The sheer effort of running, or of walking for any more than an hour or so, shift focus onto the physicality of what you’re doing; it’s hard to think about bills, earworms, new and old, internal external distractions when you’re just trying to keep going, to put one foot in front of the other.
Maybe your body channels oxygen to your moving limbs to the detriment of the brain, putting you into a partial mental shut down.
Maybe it’s the discipline. Running to the metronome or to hit the pace. letting all of life become footsteps and the click of a metronome, or the battle to drop under 4 minutes per kilometer. Just find the least distracting, straightest smoothest roads No wonder of nature, no excitement of city. long, straight canals and a-roads, canyon like country roads with high, never changing hedgerows. Just so there’s nothing left but running.
Maybe running and walking get us into a vestigial state of oneness with the world. There’s an incredible film of Saan persistence hunters featured in an Attenborough documentary where the hunters are so clearly in such perfect harmony with what they’re doing, with the world around them, each other, their prey, their long journey to the kill, there’s no question they could stop and check their email, or worry about their mortgage payments. Maybe when we run, we get back a little bit of that: we reconnect with the world, with the essence of our humanity, and we start to forget about the crap that clutters the modern brain.
Run, walk. Swim, row. hundred up. turbo train. Crawl. Bear crawl for 10k. Come on you fuckers: bear crawl! Repetitive exercise. Boring, tiring repetitive exercise, with no headphones and only think about what you’re doing. Let’s strive to get our minds as fit, healthy, lean and able as we strive to get our bodies to be. Let’s aim for Men’s Health abs and a Mensa mind.