You know how part of what runners love about running is just the sheer fact of being outside?Once in every dozen runs or so, I have these moments where I lift my head up for just a second or two and I'm like: damn -- just LOOK at those trees. Oh, and the sky: it's still blue as all get-out. Or I will see a buzzard drifting on an up-current and think: he and I are the same, in a deeply inarticulate way. We're just here in the world, without much more to it. He, buzzarding about in his (yes, somewhat nasty) buzzardly way; and I, down here below looking up at the buzzard, running along doing my thing.
Back to the same old question: why do we run? Here's another insufficient answer to throw on the pile: it's because running is a practice of presence. Though the new-agers are all a little loopy and smoked way too much dope back in the day and tend to be over the top with their purple colors, etc., they are right about one thing. We have a tendency to live almost everywhere but in the present.
I have a new daughter and among many other things, this is a lesson that she teaches. To be with her is to be in the present because the present is simply where she lives, in her animal way. (Incidentally, this must be why so much of early childhood parenting is obsessively centered on scheduling. Almost every question we get about our daughter is posed in terms of time -- when is she sleeping? when will she crawl? what time does she eat? and the biggie: what's her schedule?) Our world runs on time, and time is almost never about presence. It's most often about what anxiety causing event is about to get here, and it's about the crap that happened. Sometimes it's about the awesome thing that we have planned to make happen if everything goes right, and it's about the sweet things that we once did back in the day when things were different. Time is delaying and deferring, hurrying and rushing, or pacing and holding on.
But presence is of course about none of these things. It's about just being. And, as I was saying, running is a practice of presence. I find when I am out on a run, time can quite literally not happen. I get into a timeless state that I believe is somewhat like the state of a hovering buzzard, or perhaps the state that my infant daughter occupies. Running, I am not in time, but I am present to the world.
|The little one and I at MoonPie this weekend. (Thanks, Rafal.)|
In the timeless state of mind, details are amplified, but a sense of order and purpose is diminished. More ordinary states of consciousness are highly purposive -- they are states of mind that have beginnings, middles, and ends. They are involved in projects that carve the world into a set of goals to be accomplished. This purposiveness strips experience of its nuanced and complicated quality and thereby mutes the world of the true wildness of its possibility -- the point of most of conscious life not being to render all worlds possible, but to actually make something singular happen. I think, for example, of my drive home and the way its severe intentionality renders almost all of its experienced qualities into the simplest of categories: the idiots in front of me and the jerks behind me. But of course the blindness of intentionality is one of our most cherished resources. It's how we get 'er done.
These thoughts came to me I suppose because of the race I ran this weekend. It was the Bell Buckle RC-Cola Moon Pie 10 mile race, and I won it. This is pretty much my favorite race -- the hills, the heat, the country roads, the atmosphere, all of these things combine to diminish the temporal and purposive dimensions of running. There is always a point in that race where plans fall away, and you have to tune into the atemporal animal presence (whoah dude) that I have been describing.
I thought about this as I ran out in front of the field. I had chosen not to wear a watch for this race for precisely all of these reasons, but of course being the leader I ran behind a pace truck that had a giant red clock staring me right in the face. Although I was winning, although I was running across beautiful terrain in Middle Tennessee, although I was enjoying being fit and outside and in the world, I could not help but find myself tormented by that clock. Its digital numbers stared at me coldly, reminding me incessantly of the inescapability of time, how it would tick away and be lost forever, and that it could never, in the end, be outrun.
Those same thoughts about the ceaseless passing of time occur to me occasionally when I am with my little one. But then she will smile or cry or just reach towards me, and the world narrows and intensifies and time is lost for a moment, and I am there, without memory or anticipation, an animal once more.