“Our lives are more like fragmentary dreams than the enactments of conscious selves.” John Gray, Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals
The reason I run – the real, underlying, “ground of being” reason – is that running enables the enactment of my conscious self. There are lots of other reasons, of course, some of them being that it helps me stay fit, that it staves off the depressive states I’ve long been prone to, and that it gets me outside in all kinds of weather. Not to mention that it’s helping me age well…
I believe, along with the British philosopher John Gray, that the vast majority of people are basically asleep at the wheel. Most of us, most of the time, go through life “dreaming” rather than “living.” There are exceptions, of course, those times when ecstasy or terror move us to real awareness of ourselves, but those times tend to be few and far between indeed.
(John Gray and I are in good company, by the way. The story goes that Gautama the Buddha was once asked whether he was a god, a magician, or a man. Gautama’s reply was simply “I’m awake.”)
Right now, my yearning to enact my conscious self is being helped greatly by two things. One is that I’ve started my journey to being an ultra runner. I’ve done only one ultra so far (the Niagara 50K in June of this year), but plan to do more – two or three 50Ks and perhaps my first 100K next year, and in 2013 the Comrades 90K Ultra in South Africa. I’ve discovered some quite remarkable things in running for six hours and beyond. Short and simple, I’ve found that the false mind/body split can be overcome by exerting myself over a long distance. In those long, lovely hours of running, I become conscious of who I am, what I am, and why I am.
The second is my discovery of barefoot and minimalist running. I did about three weeks of barefoot running earlier in the summer, and then switched to running in Vibram Fivefingers KSOs (for “Keep Stuff Out”). In lighter moments I call them my “happy feet.” They’ve transformed the experience of running for me. It’s not simply that running in minimalist footwear allows me to feel the surface I’m running on, but also that it allows me to run consciously, with an awareness of the interplay between the road surface, my feet, my legs, my back, my lungs, and my heart and mind. Running barefoot or in my KSOs means I’m awake, in every moment and at every level.
I want very much to enact my conscious self. And, to my ongoing delight, I find that I’m doing it!
(p.s. I originally found the John Gray quote in the preface to M. John Harrison’s Nova Swing, an extraordinary piece of space-noir fiction. Highly recommended!)