Good runs happen when you least expect them, and sometimes when you most need them. Tonight was a good one.
Lately I have been feeling knotted up in my running. My body seems to be working at cross-purposes, the muscles creaking, inflexible, and out of order. I can sense strength beneath all the struggle, but it rarely shows itself. My psyche gets like this, too, its different parts at war with itself. So much energy is wasted on unseen and absurd battles, inchoate and internal strife.
The incredible thing about a great run is that the body simply loosens up and begins to go. The feeling is effortless because there is no internal resistance. These are the moments in which we feel as if we are born to run. What we mean by this is simply that running can be a state in which living is not a chore or a task, but simply a happening. Instead of fighting against life, we are born into it and "borne" by it, floating upon it. Experience responds to effort in harmony, as in a song. Effort is rewarded by speed, life gives back what we put into it, and we capture a glimpse of what it means to be free.
It is tempting in these moments to say: this is why I run.
But I guess I also want to think that these moments are created by the blockages. As we are blocked up, energy is being held in reserve, like water in a reservoir. Suddenly, these dams can break, and we are caught up in the exhilaration of flow. Tonight I could roll because I had been getting out there on weary legs, despite being tired and less full of running. Because of the fight, I was able to be free. I'm not sure how far the analogy can be extended beyond running. Do the difficult moments in life prepare us for happiness? Is joy funded by torment, anger, and despair? Is the faith that we place in life deepened and enriched by our deepest doubts?
In an essay I read this morning, Jonathan Lear describes Socratic irony as a practice of wisdom. He says its function is to reveal the difference between pretense and aspiration. In each activity that we undertake, we carry some sort of pretense. We act as if we are intelligent. We act as if we want justice and truth. We act as if we are happy, strong, and in control. We act as if we love our friends and companions. This is pretense. Of course, we also aspire to these things, and to take up a philosophical attitude is to inquire into whether we really are intelligent, whether we really do want justice and truth, whether we really are happy, strong, and in control. Whether we really are capable of love. Philosophy checks our pretenses against our aspirations: it tries to find the reality beneath appearances, and to release it.
This is difficult. The aspirational attitude of philosophy is difficult to maintain, and it can wear us down in its constant scrutiny of pretense. And even when we uncover our own pretenses, it can be more difficult to change them. Fortunately, the rawness of experience sometimes bubbles through in its glorious and sometimes painful intimacy and reminds us that there is something beyond the difficult and ideal dialectic of pretense and aspiration. The good run shatters the distance between the runner we pretend to be and the runner we aspire to be, and we simply find ourselves as the runner we are.
Afterwards, perhaps, the traces of power that we felt during the gift of the good run can rekindle the spark of aspiration. These traces challenge us to fashion a gift of our own to return to life: a body and mind capable of enjoying more fully the unexpected gifts of experience.
The good run is a blessing. If it could speak, it would say: "May your as ifs turn into really ares."