If you permit me a blatant tooting of my horn here, in contrast to a more typical muffled tooting of the horn, I am fascinated by what I can do with my body. Not to downplay the conscious act of willing myself to run as I do, but as the body sets the boundaries to the mind, I’m continually amazed that I can run the distances I do, without breakdown (often anyways), without a measured slowing, without interruption. I’m amazed, in part, because I live in a culture that leans on the crutch of excuses to do anything with the body that borders effort. We’ve all heard (or delivered) the lines about running only when chased, or sore knees, or any other myriad of justifications for not doing, well, anything. For it’s not just running that is avoided by most of those who find excuses easier than effort, but it’s any degree of physical activity. Admittedly, this odd fascination with a physically sentient lifestyle shouldn’t leave the physically active feeling like such anomolies, for we are blood and bone and muscle and mind more than anything else. We, as animals, exist to move. But on the other hand, we as animals, exist to survive and survival compels odd behavior indeed.
Although I feel no shame of arrogance in finding fascination with the body to complete amazing tasks, strenuously and unceasingly, I also recognize in an environment that facilitates paths of convenience, those paths will always be the ones taken. Animals are wired for energy conservation, for leisure, for avoiding obstacles to their survival, so should a path be forged that offers us the ability to rest, we don’t just find it enticing, we find it unavoidable. Maybe in a less domesticated context, this degree of rest and ease and convenience plays a crucial role in our survival, whether that was for nomadic travel, foraging, hunting, warfare, etc., but in the exaggeration that is modern civilization, such hard wiring for convenience and ease can turn against us. I will refrain from detailing the laundry list of problems associated with TOO MUCH ease and TOO MUCH convenience, but suffice to say modern life provides plenty of examples.
Not to say athletes have found any secret to a balanced life of activity versus rest, not by any stretch, but I think we can attest to the undeniable values, to both body and mind, for not always remaining so sedentary. Unfortunately, the compulsions of our animal nature, mired in the context of such great ease and comfort, create a normative sense that physical strain is actually UNDESIRABLE, and so even the best intentions and cultural expressions to “be active” fall into a realm of unprecedented LACK of activity. Get 30 minutes of activity a day. THIRTY MINUTES! When in human history and human biology could we have ever gotten by, ever survived, by moving for only 30 minutes a day. The effect is such that even an accumulated one hour of movement a day is seen as excessive, rather than just a starting point for activity whose value is measured in body and mind.
For those of us who have broken through this civilized veil, the values and joys of physical activity are not just understandable and a FELT experience, they are visualized all around us. Our coworkers succumb to common sickness on an almost predictable rotation. A generalized lack of motivation hinders ambitions of all sorts. Pent up psychological frustration spills into the complications of relationships. The distractions and false enemies of others take precedence over a zen like calm and inward confidence. The world is just, ugly. Mid-stride, with lungs taxed, muscles tense, and mind focused, there is nothing but a beautiful moment, over and over, with every push forward.
The psychological break from a sedentary mindset into a physical strain is, admittedly, not easy, not because it can’t be done. Not because it shouldn’t be done. Not because it involves some great task or developed perspective, but rather because our cultural environment prevents us from making physical activity a necessity. With all our animalistic survival needs provided for, our innate drives are redirected into a state of excess, where technologies flourish, leisure is expanded, and the corresponding sedentary and relaxing components of our existence feed into the built environment that feeds back into those components. We are in a feedback loop of leisure, of convenience, of ease, which will likely continue to feedback until unseen interruption. For our sake, it can’t come soon enough.
It is absurd and short sighted to place fault upon culture or individuals (who make up culture) for a primarily sedentary existence. As all animals respond to their environments, we do the same. The only difference now in comparison to the majority of our Sapien existence on the planet is the new development of carving ease out of hardship and the various built environments that followed. As we are born into this environment, still harboring a biological genetic inheritance, we are something at odds with our place in the world. We have so few options for alternative survival that we can only find our way in modern life, even if at the expense of our physical and psychological selves.
I paint a darkened picture it seems, but this obviously isn’t a necessity, for there ARE ways out, hence this blog about running. Through conscious and unconscious ways, I’ve found my way into a life of physical activity and all the benefits it affords my days. Begun at an early age through exploration and neighborhoods populated by so many kids and their boundless energies, we were always moving. Whether finding our ways through woods, two hand touch, imagination filled bike rides, structured games, etc., we were like molecules in a petri dish smashing into each other and bouncing off walls without stopping. Finding my way through the sedentary nature of schooling with it’s desks, passive information reception (“learning”), abstractions of the world, and training for the same in adulthood, I maintained some sense of physical activity through skateboarding. More tellingly though, it was the poverty (of a privileged sort) I found myself inhabiting that dictated my cycling necessity and then enthusiasm. The bike became both my economic and physical freedom, of which has returned rewards again and again to this day.
At one brief moment of our modern life bikes were the mechanisms of ease and convenience, but quickly surpassed by the automobile. Too bad. For those of us finding creative ways of navigating a privileged poverty, bikes still offer the benefits of debt avoidance, job access, and, most under appreciated, physical and psychological momentum. To rely upon a bike instead of a car to get to work, to acquire the necessities of daily living, establishes an environment and the mechanisms thereof that INHERENTLY lend towards physical activity and physical health. One part of an entire picture gets painted a little brighter.
Of course, this is just one small example suitable to my life, while others may have found environmental obstacles that necessitate other ways of finding physical and psychological health, in contrast to a culture that necessitates ease and convenience. For my own purposes, the combinations are what paint the most whole picture. Some days I ride to work, spend all day on my feet serving customers at a vegan restaurant, then ride home, only to immediately change into running clothes and stride through 10 miles of powerful efforts. On these days, when my entire schedule is comprised of physical activity, I feel most fulfilled, most alive, most primed for what comes next.
The sad state of modern life, however, is that the compulsions of our culture will lead others to see these days as excessive, bordering on absurd. They look at such a schedule as ridiculous, unachievable, even dangerous, when in actuality this is a normative way to move through the day, and an ACHIEVABLE way to move through the day, and our physical bodies inhabit the potential to do it all with both ease and fulfillment.
Despite the conditions of our current bodies (notable exceptions acknowledged), we are all animals with the capabilities to live in and through environments of wildness, of difficulty, of adversity. We will, again, always seek the easy way to find survival in these environments, but we should not lose perspective that the easiEST way comes with it’s own problems, it’s own adversity, it’s own dangers. I don’t expect any significant shift in perspective or behavior in an environment built around ultimate ease and comfort, but for those of us who have found the reward of momentum and velocity in a world of stagnation, I see you and extend a knowing nod and wink. Keep keeping on, quite literally.