On how we occupy our minds
When there's ample time to think, what do we do with it?
“But the longer and further I ran, the more I realized that what I was often chasing was a state of mind — a place where worries that seemed monumental melted away, where the beauty and timelessness of the universe, of the present moment, came into sharp focus.” — Scott Jurek
“If you want peace, stop fighting. If you want peace of mind, stop fighting with your thoughts.” — Peter McWilliams
When I was growing up, I remember those first few years of school when I tried to study. (Emphasis on “tried” 😃) I’d sit at my desk, open up one of my school books, and stare at it, wondering exactly what it meant to “study” it. Did that mean to simply read it? Scribble down notes? Look at it from multiple angles somehow? Something else?
I’m not sure I ever found the answer, or that I ever really learned how to study. But that memory popped back into my head when I was running eight miles on Saturday morning along the Savannah River in my hometown of Augusta, Ga., which I snapped with my phone in the photo above.
Unless you bring along headphones, running gives us so much time and space to just think. Imagine sitting by yourself in a room, for an hour and half straight, and just thinking. Even if you spent that time outdoors, without a book or your phone to keep you company — it’s almost impossible to, isn’t it?
But the time we spend on the run, especially the longer runs we’re getting to now that we’re deeper into our training, allow us that. And one of the things I’m learning (or, I should say, re-learning) is that maybe I never really learned how to.
Of course, I learned what to think about; I did, in the end, make it through school and earned a bachelor’s degree in English. So, I’m not saying I can’t apply myself.
No, what I’m getting at is how we think when we aren’t bound by necessity to achieve some task or goal — not when we have a project to complete at work, or an essay to write in school, or homework we need to get done. Rather, when we’re alone with our thoughts, and we have time to contemplate exactly what they’re telling us; are we at peace with what they’re saying, and can we live with what they tell us?
For the past decade, my life has been filled with the stuff mid-life often is. I’ve married, we’ve had young children while also working, changing jobs, moving into a new house, raising our children, coaching youth soccer, etc., etc. Because the whirlwind of all of that leaves you with precious little time to just think, I’ve found myself getting swept up in the kinetic activity of it all, in the forward movement of our lives.
I’m noticing, however, especially now that I’ve had one child leave home to start college and see other friends whose children have graduated — and others I know, for whom these events are long since past — that more periods of silence, of stillness, are starting to poke their heads out on the horizon. I’m not experiencing many of them just yet (!) but I can see a time out there when they will.
What this leaves me with is the feeling that, soon enough, I’ll enter a time in my own life when I’ll need to have learned how to occupy my mind again — that the activity in my life won’t take care of that for me, and I’ll need to know how to take the reins and lead this horse myself.
Some people I know — at least as far as I can tell — manage this with an equanimity I’ve only rarely known, in moments here and there. They’ve learned how to manage their emotions, how to calm their anxieties, and to keep themselves moving forward in their lives, even after the sun has set on their careers, and their children have grown up and had children of their own.
Is this a skill they learned, or something innate they were born knowing how to do? And, if it’s the former (which I hope it is), is it something anyone can learn?
Or, does this simply come with age, as the number of our years goes up? I remember, in my teens and twenties, I felt my most acute emotions so much more intensely than I do now. Does that keep happening? (At 52, I’m still in the middle of this process; perhaps I’ll find the answer in a few years.)
In the 1984 movie The Natural, Glenn Close’s character Iris has a line I’ve always remembered: “I believe we have two lives,” she tells Robert Redford’s Roy Hobbs. “The life we learn with, and the life we live with after that.”
In the scene, Hobbs is struggling with being hospitalized for an injury he suffered years earlier, because he can’t leave to join his baseball team, the fictional New York Knights, in the World Series. He’s facing the loss of everything he’s ever dreamed of since he was a young kid, and can’t seem to process what his life might be like without baseball.
Then Close, as Iris, says something else I’ve always carried with me:
“With or without the records, they’ll remember you.”
As always, keep in touch and let me know how your running/life is going — is it fall yet where you are? The weather is finally changing here — let’s hope it stays that way!
We’re running Richmond this fall!
Join us when we get together in person to run the Richmond Half Marathon in Richmond, Va., on Saturday, November 11 — and, add yourself to ‘The Half Marathoner Newsletter’ group during the signup process. Can’t wait to see you there!
Our training miles for this week
If you’re following our training plan, how did your eight-mile long run go? I ran on a soft dirt path, mostly in the shade along the Augusta (Ga.) Canal, where I spent the weekend visiting my parents, and still felt it the next morning — so, if you needed a little extra rest, I get it. We’re keeping on with building our base and adding a mile this weekend; it’s fun to see those numbers rise, isn’t it?
Here are this week’s miles:
Tuesday, Sept. 19 — 5-6 miles
Thursday, Sept. 21 — 4-5 miles
Saturday, Sept. 23 — 9 miles
Sunday, Sept. 24 — 2-3 miles
As always, feel free to reach out with any questions about our schedule, your running, or anything else 🙌 — Terrell