Running On Empty
I recently invented a term ("inventing" being used loosely here) after I heard someone go off on how frustrated they were with losing some important information they were working on at their computer. The term is also relevant for all of us who spend far too many hours staring at either an hourglass or the spinning circle of Windows Vista. There needs to be a new type of therapy for these people where an expert on information technology (people who seldom have more to offer you than "oh well!") emotionally holds your hand and tells you things are going to be okay. Data Therapists may have a professional relationship with Forensic Therapists, who are those people who actually will take apart your computer for money in the hope of finding that lost school assignment or financial document that you hope will keep you out of jail. But they're not the same.
The Data Therapist's main job is to remind you there is life outside this box you are staring at. Interestingly, Google Chairman/CEO Eric Schmidt recently spoke at a graduation ceremony back east, telling the graduates exactly that: "Turn off your computer...and discover all that is human all around us."
So with that in mind, I decided to shift my attention to exercise, and where I do some of my best thinking is when I'm out, early in the morning, before most of the city is awake. Running.
Off the butt and into the street...
I'm not sure why I decided to be a runner when I was a kid, other than the fact I seemed to be naturally decent at it. Here's me in high school - my coach would get on me for being too ambivalent about the sport. I would practice with the guys, and would give an average effort, but wasn't as hungry as some of the others. Our cross-country team ended up winning the sectional championship (representing 6-8 counties, I think), our top runner coming in second in the State meet. I qualified individually and had a decent performance in the northern California meet - faster than I could do it now! But I never felt connected to the winning - the extra 2%, or whatever they tell you - that it took to be the best of the best.
What makes one person passionate about winning and another ambivalent? There are literally thousands of books on winning - I've read a bunch. We are a performance-based culture, where it's presumed that striving to win is the ultimate objective. Where we look in envy at our winning neighbor and want that sense of superiority, of adulation. We want something that's . . . . missing?
(Here's where you stop, hold your chin, tip your head back and say, "Hmmm.") ;-)
Fast forward into adulthood. The excitement of completing college, getting married, having a couple of children, advancing in a career, and then landing "thump" in the middle of life. Striving. Continuously striving throughout life, and it gets us to here.
I look around me and wonder how I got here. I know I was paying attention. What did I think was supposed to happen by middle age? I can do the math; I know there's a bunch of life left. I look in the mirror and I see myself at the age I can honestly remember my own parents being. When you're young, it doesn't really register. But we remember who we are as early teens, and we remember who our parents were. And now that's me; I've switched places. And my parents have taken the place of my grandparents. And it happened so quickly.
I look around me and most of my friends have reached the same threshold. It's jarring, in a way. Marriages end. Emotional dysfunctions emerge. Friends grow apart. Physical ailments increase.
And we find ourselves faced with a choice. To face each of our struggles and challenges and find a way to squeeze meaning out of little things, things we didn't pay attention to, or took for granted. Or to capitulate to the angst, grow angry and frustrated at our circumstances, to succumb to addictions, or to withdraw into an emotional shell. One of which is a deliberate choice; the other the result of non-choosing.
Back on the streets
And so now I find myself back to running. Not pushing or striving for anything, because it no longer matters. No one's watching. I don't need to prove anything to anyone. I'm not trying to get anywhere. I run to gain presence of mind; it is my own form of meditation.
What matters changes. The world doesn't change, we do. I recently told my daughter - referring to a discussion on the show "Are you smarter than a 5th grader?" - that as you get older, you don't necessarily gain more facts, or even get more knowledge. You may even get smarter through high school years and through college, and certainly any of us can and should continue learning all through life. But what we learn the most as we age are distinctions. Little things. Changes in perspective. Observations we may have made 20 years ago, that we can now flip on their sides and see from a completely different level of understanding.
Sometimes they're subtle. Sometimes they slap you upside the face. Either way, they cause you to stop and re-evaluate how you feel and respond to certain circumstances or events. The world is and always will be as it is. It really doesn't change in significant ways. We do. And if we're smart, and receptive, and resilient, we can make gentle, steady progress on improving the world, by improving ourselves. By improving our perspective. By accepting what is. By being present and fulfilled in every moment. Things that - after a lifetime of striving - should be easy, but are not.
And that's what I now strive to do.