the liberating independence of running
This article was also published on Thought Catalog.
Independence is something I value above all else.
I hate addiction. I hate dependence. I hate craving. The independence is in itself an addiction at times.
In some ways, this month of solitude in Devon was partly an attempt to prove to myself that I could be 100% independent. A test to see if I need people at all. God, it sounds bad put like that. Or rather, it was an effort to assert myself as a complete human being
This newfound freedom from any sort of educational establishment still makes me giddy. It hits me anew each day how abysmally they prepare us for real life. In general, making people do things by force is usually a bad idea because they will go the opposite way as soon as the opportunity arises.
And yet, this solitude also leads me to become dangerously entangled in my own mind.
By the time I have been writing at my desk for 4 hours my thoughts are a mess. Without the segmented structure enforced by education, I have no idea when to stop. Or when to breathe. The irony of writing is that spending too long on it in one stint is detrimental. You loose track of the overall narrative and become wrapped up in details. In my case, I start writing drivel about unrelated topics. If you ever ask yourself what is she talking about? in the middle of one my essays, that means I was about 8 hours in.
I took up running when I came to Devon for the first time as a way to handle that problem.
Running has never been my thing - I am not built for it. It has always appealed to me but I have always been too short and chunky for speed. So my usual exercise involves throwing heavy things around at the gym for an hour or so each day. Except that is not possible whilst traveling, so I started forcing myself to run 5k each day. Even if some of that time was spent walking. All that mattered was lacing up my sneakers and being out for that distance.
Surprisingly, I soon started to enjoy it. Something about the independence, the sense of growing physical strength, of appreciating the countryside instead of staring at the sweat dripping off people at the gym like usual. I actually like running. I like running through muddy fields, trusting my feet to keep balance by instinct. I like seeing birds in hedgerows fly away as I approach, the way fields of cows all turn their heads in unison. I like running in a t-shirt, letting my body warm itself against the February air. I like returning, peeling off my trainers and taking an ice cold shower until my body stabilizes. It forces me to take stock of the landscape and notice small details.
The same goes for meditation. I love the sense of self-containment. The sense of doing something you don't have to do. Even though it's uncomfortable, it's difficult, it feels like a waste of time. Of pushing against that urge until it fades. Knowing that I will get the time back tenfold.
There is no end point to aim for.
I have learned to focus on consistent habits rather than singular goals. It is the difference between deciding to run every day and signing up for a marathon. The difference between deciding to write 1000 words a day and choosing to write a book. It is about playing the long game. My sort of running is about staying strong for good, not getting to a finish line.
Colin Wright wrote something on his site which has stuck with me: wings not anchors. Whilst the specific line referred to relationships, I have adopted it as a mantra of sorts. As far as I am concerned, it should apply to everything in life. Possessions should help, not hinder you. A job should be a source of growth, not of misery. Entertainment should be mind expanding, not mind numbing. Sure, everyone has commitments. They need not be anchors.
That is as good an explanation for what I am doing at the moment as any: removing anchors. Finding wings. Identifying my dependencies, my fears, my assumptions. Then challenging them and eliminating them.
So, running feels significant. It feels like another form of independence. It has a linear simplicity which is difficult to find elsewhere. Just like I choose one thought to digest whilst I sleep, I do the same when I run. I select one idea to mull over and write about upon my return.
Writing is an odd profession because most of it is done in the process of doing something else.
It is a task which becomes entangled in everything else. Everything becomes potential material. Sitting at a desk for hours is the transcribing part. The actual magic happens in the middle of something else.
When I was a sad teenager, I used to take crazy 2-3 hour walks most days. Often even at night. No music, no phone, no plan. Those walks were one of the few things which kept me sane. I would find isolated, silent places to write. I wrote crap, but at least I wrote and I moved. If I can write, read and move I am content.
There is that haunting moment in Girl, Interrupted where Lisa mocks Daisy's new house and tells her she has just switched one cage for another. I was terrified that I would do that when I left university: fling myself into a new crutch. This is so easily done. We cut loose one anchor, then crash into the rocks. Or an unnoticed iceberg.
I like to imagine that each time I run, I am growing wings and shedding anchors, bit by bit. Shrugging off the oppressive past and moving towards something better and more meaningful. I like to picture all the runs to come when I will strategise and plan. I like to think of everything I will plan and how I will make it happen.