How to Read a Book While Running and other thoughts on the changing seasons

I had intended to revive this blog at the end of the summer, but the end of the summer was filled with moving to a new apartment, beginning my last semester as an undergrad, and getting my graduate school applications in order.  I just never got around to writing about my summer experience, even though it was a pivotal summer.  It isn’t that a lot happened externally; it was a very empty summer, honestly.  But so much happened internally that I don’t always even feel like I am the same person anymore.  The biggest difference is that I don’t feel lonely when I’m alone anymore.  I used to hate being alone for extended periods of time, but now I relish it.  I can’t know all the reasons for this change, but I do think one activity in particular changed me for good.

Last spring, around final exam time, I got very bogged down and stressed with all the reading I had to do.  I also had started to rediscover how much I loved being outside in ‘nature.’   I was beginning to spend more and more of my time at parks.  So, naturally, put 2 and 2 together, and I started doing most of my reading and studying outdoors.  I would take my backpack down to a river bank, for instance, and sit on a tree branch overhanging the river and read.  When I was walking to and from, I would be listening to podcasts or classical music on my iPhone.  Gradually, these listening times got longer and longer, and I started exploring longer trails before I would settle down to read.  I discovered some free audiobooks from Librivox and listened to those as well.

One day, I decided to abandon reading altogether and just take a long walk while listening to The Voyage Out by Virginia Woolf.  One downhill stretch was so steep that it was more comfortable to jog down than walk, so I let myself go.  When I reached the bottom, I found that I wanted to just keep jogging.  This turned into an almost daily routine: I’d get up early, drive to a trail, pretend to not intend to jog, and then start jogging spontaneously at points.  One day I decided to drop the charade and just ‘go running,’ still with a book on tape, of course.  I consciously worked on extending my running times and shortening the walk breaks.  Near the end of the summer, I was jogging 8 mile stretches, which was miraculous for someone who had been as sedentary as I.

I never dreamed I would be having such a wonderful time exercising!  This was the highlight of my days, and I sorely missed it when I wasn’t able to.  The combination of being active and thinking deeply at the same time acted like a drug for me, a very healthy, positive drug.  My mind went to beautiful, playful, deep places of imagination while I was still very much a part of the physical world, pushing my body to its limits.  The totality of my being was unified; I didn’t feel tension between the mental and the physical.  I started to view my physical self, the thing here with skin and such, as the very being who is thinking.  It’s me, the body, that thinks.  Why do we see them as so separate, the mind and body?

Another positive thing that came out of this activity was that I started to become a friend to myself.  I remember when discussing Plato’s ethics a few years back coming across the concept of being a friend to oneself.  The idea is that a person’s primary relation is to him or herself.  This relationship must be healthy in order for relationships with other people to be healthy.  That’s what makes things like lying wrong even if no one else ever knows.  YOU will know, and you’re relation to yourself will be harmed.  You won’t be able to like yourself, and that will spoil your ethical relationships to others.

Running and listening to intellectually stimulating material were helping me time with myself in a self-conscious way.  Sure, when you are watching tv you are spending time by yourself, but you aren’t so aware of yourself being there.  Your mind is placed outside of yourself as you are engaged with the hyper-real world of the screen.  But when you are outside by yourself for long periods of time, you encounter yourself.  I was starting to enjoy my own company.  I liked the reflection and the dialectical thoughts I was able to have, spurred on by audio material.  I treasure my ‘dates.’  For once I felt comfortable in my skin and comfortable in my mind.  Since I was paying attention to myself, I had less inner turmoil.  I felt in control of myself and aware of what I was doing.

Being comfortable with myself has made me SO much more comfortable around others.  Because I have a more stable relation to myself, I can approach others with confidence and the ability to not let things affect me.  I’m not hanging on someone else’s opinion of me, and I’m not searching for validation.

Life has changed once again now that fall is setting in.  I’m fully invested in my classes and career goals.  I’m spending more time inside.  It’s getting colder and darker.  I’m running only twice a week for about an hour.  But the transformation seems to be more long lasting.  Being content alone has opened up a lot of creative opportunities for me.  I spend more time writing creatively and theorizing about art.

Hopefully I can use these new qualities to help me get through this winter.  I usually begin to feel depressed as winter sets in, and this year is no different.  I’ve already begin to feel a twinge of short-day blues.  But I’m hoping that I can carry over the lessons I’ve learned from running while listening to books on tape to help this winter be a little more emotionally neutral.

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~ by falleninparadise on September 23, 2013.

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