Summer Running: The Uncarved Block

The uncarved block

I often find a theme, motif, or meditation topic that will carry me through a particular period in my running program. A few years ago, it was Jiddu Krishnamurti’s statement that “Truth is a pathless land.” This past year, it was about sorting through my experience of being an Aspie. Looking at – and experiencing – my running through such lenses is a good way of gaining new insights and learnings, and almost always informs the rest of my life as well.

Lately, I’ve been thinking about the running I’ll do this summer, both “free” running and as training for the Vulture Bait 50K Ultra I’ll do in October. I’ve also been reading the Guidebook to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which has introduced me to the Taoist concept of the uncarved block.

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P'u

The Chinese character p’u, often translated as “the uncarved block,” refers to a state of pure potential which is the mind’s primordial condition before the arising of experience. The Taoist concept of p’u points to perception without prejudice, i.e., beyond dualistic distinctions such as right/wrong, good/bad, black/white, beautiful/ugly. It’s said to be a state of mental unity which places the Taoist practitioner into alignment with the Tao.

Seen through this lens, our potential is what we might be, and reality is the shape we actually carve out for ourselves. The metaphor suggests that each of us is born with a personality like an uncarved block of wood. Ideally, we want to leave our shape untouched and unformed, so that we can experience life fully. But everything we experience and all that we’re taught carves away pieces of that original simplicity. Taoists try to regain the early sense of unlimited possibility by trying to “unlearn” things until everything becomes a new experience.

That’s what I want to do this summer.

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With the Mississauga Half Marathon done, I can now go back to more free running, at least until it’s time to start training seriously for the Vulture Bait. Or perhaps – just perhaps – I can use the concept of the uncarved block to blend training and free-form running into a harmonious unity. That might, in fact, be a very appropriate way to train for a 50K ultra.

Summer’s a big deal for me. It’s when my weekly distance goes up, I get to wear as little as possible while running, and training needs recede and free-form running takes over. All that lends itself very nicely to incorporating the concept of the uncarved block into my runs.

During the coming months, I’ll run – both barefoot and my Soft Star Moc3s – on the roads, on some trails, and on an indoor track. That’ll be a nice mix, and will keep things from getting stale. Better still, it’ll provide me with a lot of different contexts from which to explore this uncarved block thing. It’ll help immensely that it’ll be my kind of weather – warm to hot, mostly sunny, and a little bit humid. That will relax my muscles and free up my head, so that I can run freely and in peace. I will happily get into total lizard mode.

Maori Lizard Tattoo

I’m looking forward to this part of the journey!

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6 comments

  1. Nice post, Alan. I forgot about that book. I read it 20 or 25 years ago…I bet you I would read it today and gain completely new insight from it as my perspective has changed a lot over the years. I think “free” running is the way to go (sometimes a little structure is good too but running for the sake of running is certainly the most rewarding in my books.)

    1. This was my third time of reading ZMM, Steve, and probably the first time I really understood it. There’s something to be said for aging, I think. And I’m trying to blend the best of free and structured running. It’s an interesting exercise.

  2. I love this. I am going to try to remember this and keep it in my mind during this summer. LOVE, LOVE. I may have to pick up that book between gumption and the uncarved block.

    1. As the book is a commentary on Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, I’d suggest you read ZMM first (or re-read it if you’ve already read it). ZMM is available at public libraries, which would save oyu the cost of the book. The Guidebook isn’t, though.

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