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Night Running

I like running back roads at night.  

By day, I’d rather sit still and let my muscles slowly atrophy than be caught on a paved surface logging miles.  The constant drone of vehicles, sun beating down your neck over the sweltering, black sun-magnet, and lack of variety in the running surface all combine to make what is, in my opinion, the worst possible experience you could have on a run.

However, I don’t mind it so much by dark.  There is something altogether different about road running at night, particularly on back roads with no traffic nor lines.  Perhaps the cool air, lack of vision, and relative speed at which you can run makes the expedition infinitely more appealing than the same run during the day.  

To be even more specific, I like running through the pitch-black night without a headlamp, blind to the road ahead; the faster the better.  It is at these moments, sprinting cooly past fireflies and sleeping houses, when you can’t see a thing in front of you, that your other senses sharpen.  Unable to trust your eyesight, you notice the changing pitch of the road beneath your feet more through your ankles and legs themselves, physically rather than visually noting the curvatures and inclinations in the road.  You hear every rain drop or scurrying squirrel off the roadside much more clearly, and the metronome of your breath and heartbeat help you stay more in tune to your body and keep a healthier pace.  You smell the heat or cool of the night and can feel the freshness or the humidity running through your nostrils.

And perhaps most importantly, your brain plays tricks on you.

Running down a road that you know to be clear of branches, potholes, gates or other obstacles, you still flinch.  Or you want to flinch.  Your face draws back, ready to receive a branch or a spider web to the eyeball.  Every shadow becomes a root or a log to catch a toe on, every piece of moonlight cast upon the pavement an irregularity to trip you.  Even though you know this is not the case, your brain still falsely alerts you to these perceived dangers.

It is because of these false alarms and insecurities that night running presents the beautiful opportunity that turns it into such a pleasurable experience (for me.)  It presents the opportunity to confront the fictitious obstacles, to trust yourself in face of the unknown, to be confident that you will be safe in spite of these nervous tics.  

In life too, we often run blind to what lies around the bend, down the road, or perhaps even right in front of us.  Tomorrow.  In life, as in running, we must meet the unknown head-on, confidently and fearlessly.  If not, we would never move forward.

And you run.  Once the hurdle is lept, and you are running fearlessly through the night, no headlamp, you become free to look up at the stars and contemplate everything else that has muddied your mind in recent hours, days, or weeks.  Unconcerned with traffic, you run where you please.  In the lanes, on the curb, in zig-zags, or perhaps right down the center line.  Freed from preoccupation with the next three or four steps, you are granted the pleasure of considering the larger picture of your nocturnal surroundings.  It is at these moments that I can taste sweet liberty.

Nobody to tell you how or where or when to run.  No humans or vehicles or other noises that would lead you to suspect that there was anyone else with you in the universe, as far as you can tell.  Just you, the stars, and your thoughts.  

On nights like these, basking in the sensation of boundless liberty and heightened confidence, I feel that I could run forever.  

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On Gratitude and Mountains

Gratitude is a sentiment that has often evaded me.

That may sound brash, and perhaps it is, but let me elaborate.  It’s not that I have nothing to be grateful for because I, like everyone else, most certainly do.  It’s not that I ever drew a blank at Thanksgiving dinner and froze with my fork in the air somewhere between the stuffing and the cranberry sauce when asked what I was thankful for that year.  I am not entirely unacquainted with the concept of gratitude.  

I will venture to draw a certain distinction, however, between the intellectual and sensual experiences of gratitude.  That is to say, it is possible to differentiate between what I’ll call understandings and sensations of gratitude.  I’ll call the mental acknowledgment that someone has helped you in some way, or that you have good fortune not available to everyone by some providence divorced from meritocratic sources an understanding of gratitude.  On the other hand, I’ll call the visceral sensation that evokes an emotional response to the same understanding a sensation of gratitude.  I’ll venture so far as to say you can have the understanding without the sensation, but rarely vice versa.   

There are many people to whom I am eternally grateful for innumerable reasons: to my mother for the values she instilled in me as a child, to my grandparents for the never-ending and unparalleled support they’ve given me throughout the years, and to the universe for dropping me into this particular plane of existence on Earth amongst the cosmos, for example, but amongst all these cases of gratitude it is rare when a distinct moment in which gratitude comes crashing over you like a tidal wave.  Instead, I tend to carry more steady, constant understandings of gratitude for these people every day without necessarily feeling overwhelmingly grateful in any particular moment.  

But today I want to cast some attention on those rare instances in which the overwhelming sensation of gratitude surges from the deep spiritual caverns within and overflows with as much warning as your average lightning strike.  I’ll speak to this situation in the context of the mountains.

I have experienced this wave of gratitude on mountain tops on two occasions.  Once on Mount Garfield for sunrise, and once on Mount Carrigain for sunset.  In each of these moments as I crested over the summit and basked in the immense expanse of contoured green, masses of tree and rock and moose and river before me, I experienced a sensation so powerful that the proper words to describe it escape me to this day.  Unknowing of what to do or how to interpret exactly what I was feeling, I simply burst into tears both times.  Resigned to the potency of the moment, I sat at the top of these mountains, by myself, sweat dripping and legs aching, and sobbed and whimpered like a baby.  

Yes.  I actually choked back tears.  In retrospect, I think the only explanation for the sentiment I felt in those moments was gratitude.  I was so immensely grateful.  Grateful that these mountains and forests existed, grateful that I grew up so close to them, grateful that I lived in them today, grateful to be alive, to be there in that place at that time, healthy and fit enough to actually stand at the top of these mountains.  I was grateful for the people who fought for the land, grateful for the people who maintained it, and grateful for its mere existence.  

These are the moments when the raw, unadulterated beauty of the moment are enough to fish understandings of gratitude out of the cavernous depths of the spirit and reel them to the surface with the power and poignancy to bring you to your knees in mercy of the puissant sensation of gratitude.  This is objectively beautiful.  

I think this striking phenomenon of the sensation of gratitude is especially interesting because it is part of the cohort of emotions that we all share as part of the uniquely human experience.  I encourage you to leave stories in the comments of such times when the sensation of gratitude overtook you in the mountains as it did to me on these particular occasions. In an age of division and of differences, intolerance and indignation, nationalism and neglect, racism, misunderstanding and misanthropy, disconnects and derision, war and hate, I think it is more important than ever that we focus on these distinctly human experiences that we ALL share as homo sapiens, each and every one of us.  These experiences make us very much the same, not different.

Indeed if we look closely enough we might find much more than we expected.  

Pemigewassett Wilderness from Carrigain 6.14.17

 

Lessons from a Moose

I learned a lesson from a Moose out in the Wild River Wilderness the other day.  (Thanks to Flickr for the photo, I did not take a picture of my moose.)

I had put together this massive run for myself (well, by my standards); an epic loop that served as my plan B due to impending weather and a Subaru derby in the Presidential Range (I still managed to hear the engines echoing through Carter Notch and Perkins Notch, respectively).  East Branch to Wild River to Black Angel, spur off for Mt. Height, bag Carter Dome, down to Carter Notch, grab Wild River back over to Perkins Notch, out on Bog Brook, down Carter Notch Road, over Black Mountain and down the East Pasture, then grabbing Baldlands to scoot behind the Doubleheads and back to the truck on East Branch.  Epic.

If you’ve ever hiked out in the Wild River Wilderness before, then you know that at any given moment moose probably outnumber humans 100 to 1.  The trails aren’t exactly runner friendly.  It is all muck, mud and moose droppings and you spend most of your time bushwhacking down the ‘trail’.  In short, if you are one of those hikers who thinks no hike is complete without mud-caked toes, a mild case of insect-induced insanity, a surprising wildlife encounter, and a little bit of second-guessing as to which path is the trail and which is just a moose path, then you need look no further than here.

Anyways, I was at a canter, ready to log some miles and be out by early afternoon.  On the trail at quarter to six and feeling great.  I was however briefly interrupted in the first half hour.  I frightened a moose cow over to the right side of the trail in the brush, and she galloped off rather quickly.  I waited a moment and, seeing that she had already vacated the area, proceeded down the trail with caution.  

On the other side of the bend she was waiting for me.  Staring me in the eyes down the trail and blocking it with her body broadside.  Not moving.  ‘Okay moose’ I said, ‘you do your thing.’  I turned around, gave her some space, and waited some five or ten minutes before making some noise and continuing down the trail again.

She hadn’t moved a muscle.  The way she eyed me down from down the trail seemed to say ‘Nope.  This is my trail.  I don’t know where you’re going but I’m standing right here.  My ground.’  Consequently, I retreated down the trail once more to examine the situation.  I felt I was pushing my luck with the moose’s patience if I came around again and she was still there.  I resolved to wait it out.

I gave her half an hour or so, during which time I stood still, examined a mushroom on the ground, listened and watched as a ruffed grouse beelined through the brush in front of me, and enjoyed the warmth on my skin as the sun continued to rise and began to penetrate the trees.  

I really enjoyed the half an hour standing still.  I wondered to myself why I haven’t done that more often this summer.  I realized that while I have been doing so much trail running, increasing mileage, going faster and exploring more peaks and trails than ever before, I had begun to lose sight of the fundamental reasons I like to spend time outside on the trail.  True, I find movement to be inherently meditative in its own right, hence all the time I’ve spent doing it.  But I feel that somewhere along the way I had again been absorbed by results and end goals and forgotten about the simple pleasure I derive from listening to birds and trying to guess which they are, looking at mushrooms and taking mental pictures so I can look them up later, and trying to identify all the trees along the way.  I had been so focused on the meditation in movement that I wasn’t giving adequate attention to the meditation in stillness.  

I came to the conclusion that I would not run the whole loop.  Sure, I would run pieces to make sure I finished before dark, but I would also slow down and take time to look at mushrooms, listen to birds, and think about trees.  This was my Saturday, after all, and I didn’t have any legitimate reason to be rushing along.  Indeed, that is besides the point.  I would sit in the sun on a rock on the Wild River, and on a boulder in the Ramparts in Carter Notch to enjoy some of the snacks I had packed for myself.  I harvested some chaga from the side of a birch tree I found, and now I’ll be able to make some tea later.  I connected a common bird call I recognized to the Blue Jay.  In summary, it was a very beautiful day in the woods.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

After about thirty minutes standing still farther down the trail, I continued on down the path once more.  My friend the moose had finally moved on.  I trodded forward with a smile, a newfound walking stick in hand, feeling thankful that this moose had so firmly stood its ground, given me this time to reflect, and reminded me to slow down every now and again.  

Thanks Moose.  

The Pants’ Last Wear: A Dirtbag’s Eulogy

Here’s to pants.  

The pants you never wanted to let go.  The one’s you wore dirty even in the presence of others clean.  

Sewn, sewn, and sewn again.  Ripped, torn, sew and repeat.  Holes in the butt, holes in the knees, holes in the crotch, holes no-one ever sees.  Here’s to pants with holes with three levels of priority: sew sooner, sew later, and not. worth. sewing.

To pants that hiked me to the top of Machu Picchu, and know just as well as I do that it’s not worth the crowds and tourists that trivialize a place that is supposed to be sacred.

Pants that have gazed down into the valley of Huazcarán, high in the Andes, and consistent with local Quechua legend, could almost feel the Shakespearian anguish in the proverbial tears falling from the glacier above.  

Pants that in the same summer (and without a wash in between) stumbled serendipitously onto the boat that would shuttle me and 150 peruvian comrades down the Ucayali River, to the headwaters of the Amazon, and watched pink river dolphins leap across the oceanic expanse of the world’s largest river as the sun cast rays of goldenrod across the ripples they left.   

Here’s to a pair of pants that knows the heart-wrenching symphony that is the rainforest at night time.  Here’s to a pair of pants that knows neither Beethoven nor Bach, Tchaikovsky nor Chopin could ever compete.  

I harvested yucca, aji, and coconut in these pants.  I dug burdock out of holes 4 feet deep, for each root.  I herded goats and tested an electric fence in these pants.  The fence worked.  I fished my own sabalo with my own fishing rod on our own raft, all built by hand, prepped the fish, cooked it and ate it in these pants.

Here’s to pants in which I clambered to the top of 14,000 foot coloradan peaks, ten steps at a time.  Pants that I rolled to ¾ length so as not to trip as I climbed massive Flatiron, Bastille, and Cathedral rock faces.  They trekked me faithfully across the Presidential Range of the White Mountains, and they fought their way up the fierce splitter cracks of the Utah desert.

Here’s to pants in which I stood on 4 different continents.  They maneuvered the marketplaces at Marrakech with me, they scrambled the overhung walls of La Foixarda, and strolled the beaches of Barceloneta with me.  These pants roamed the Red Light District of Amsterdam, got plastered at Oktoberfest in Munich, and got soaked in torrential rain on the side of an Andorran mountain in the Pyranees with me.  They got sunburned in Brazilian sand dunes, and super saturated with sweat in Manaus and Teresina.  They were wine-stained with the French on the banks of the River Garonne.   

These pants taught me how to sew.  They sat still for hours patiently as I stitched them up by headlamp in the dark cloudy rainforest, while I swatted mosquitos and struggled to push the thread through the eyehole with my stubby sausage fingers.  In this way, these pants also taught me patience.  

When times were good or times were sour, these pants pulled onto my legs just the same.  They never quit when they were tired.  

And believe me, they were tired.

These pants are patched with the fabric of other pants that quit sooner.  Sometimes I wonder how much of the original material is even left.  These pants taught me perseverance.  

Here is to this valient piece of fabric, buttons and a zipper that most people just will never understand.  A pair of pants with more stories to tell than the average wardrobe.  A pair of pants that holds a book with so much more depth than its cover.  

You may call me a dirtbag, but in these pants I carry the record of a million adventures never to be forgotten.  

 

Mountain-Top Stops

I wish only to read, write, explore,

and think.

I pledge allegiance to the red, white,

and pink

of sunsets that tint billows of cloud-pillows

from a mountain-TOP.

STOP. and admire that you are ALONE

Please suppress the desire to reach for your PHONE

the portkey to the world and the path to inner blindess

leave your hands unfurled and let it DROP.

STOP. and recognize the lies realized by one who is

ALONE, and are perpetuated by the mental confines of a PHONE

Please STOP.  And sit ALONE

atop of a STONE on a mountain-TOP

STOP.  And understand you are naught but a

PROP of a show as it unfolds across the time, space,

and cyberspace

of the society that you behold from your Mountain-TOP.

Please, take a second, to breathe and to reckon,

for the hills of enlightenment beckon

Please just STOP, and sit on your mountain-TOP.  

Foggy Summits

Some of my favorite hikes don’t lead to a view.  

Not even a decent lookout.  They really are phenomenal.  I love those hikes when you bust your back for miles on end, preferably in the rain and cold, up the unforgivingly steep, half-maintained, technical and straightshot trails of the White Mountains, only to reach the top, muscles aching and wanting nothing more than a good rock to sit on, and you find yourself standing in the middle of a bunch of trees, next to a miserable-looking pile of rocks that is supposed to denote a summit, and not a good rock or a view to be found.  Shivering, you about-face and tromp your butt back down the trail as soon as you’ve caught your breath, preferably slipping and cursing most of the way down.

Yeah, those are some of my favorites.

In fact, it almost irks me at times when I reach a summit on a cloudy day, and as I stare off into the infinite expanse of impenetrable gray that I have worked so hard to enjoy, I hear people down the trail make remarks of disappointment and reluctant promises to themselves to ‘come back another day’.  

First of all, I agree, they should come back.  You should always come back.  But damn, why would you hike in the first place if it was such torture to do it?

I like these viewless, cloudy summits because they represent life in some ways.  Sometimes, you are going to bust your a**, and not get the slightest reward.  So it goes.  But you still did it, and on those occasions it is important to remind yourself:

  1. Did I accomplish what I set out to do?
  2. Did I enjoy doing it?
  3. Did I learn something?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to these questions, then the hike was probably ‘worth it’.  I come back to some previous ponderings about ends and means.  If you hike as a means to the end of looking at a view, then maybe I just don’t understand well enough, but I am sorry for you.  If you are one of those people, I challenge you to find what is interesting along the hike.  What types of forest are you walking through?  What other hikes does it remind you of?  What does it smell like walking through a stand of hemlock trees (hemlocks are my favorite :))?  I encourage you to remember that every hike can be an adventure, and a learning experience.

Personally, I hope that all of you get to a viewless summit and smile.  I hope that you chuckle at a time in your life that you accomplished something big, nobody noticed, and you felt the warm fulfillment of a task accomplished just the same.  I hope that you stare into the fog and think about how people who have never known the temperamental nature of New England weather couldn’t fathom the beauty of pure fog.  I hope you look out into the mist and imagine what might be out there.  I hope you finish your hike happy.  

I hope you find warmth in the fact that you could’ve easily stayed home but you got after it anyway.  Because after all, from the moment you set foot outside, you had already won.

To all who may read this, remember: It’s not about the view, it’s about the trail that brought you to it, and the trail is the same in sun and in fog.

 

 

Going Fast : Going Slow

 

I’d like to share some of the reflections I have had on some of my previous runs as I continue to fight back from an ankle sprain a few months ago.  This thought has come back to me repeatedly as I continue to notice the way I trail run differently now than I did before the sprain.  

I used to run downhill fast.  Very fast.  Ungodly fast.  Pardon me for leaving all modesty by the wayside in saying this but I say with confidence that I could move very quickly downhill over very technical terrain, and did.  I would categorize this reality mostly as a side effect of brute force and ignorance, with a dash of youthful delusions of invincibility, and the simple reality that a life of being an elite soccer player and thousands of hours spent with a ball at my foot has developed an acute sense of foot-eye coordination that lets me jump onto and off of just about any surface I so desire.  

So during my first foray into trail running I fueled my ego with the eccentric down-hill rock-hopping, with excited mantras like “I am the mountain goat!” flipping frantically through my brains as I jumped from uneven surface to the next rather effortlessly.  I did admittedly scare myself a few times, coming around a corner and jumping on a rock only to find a 12 foot drop over menacing boulders before me, luckily managing to stop on a dime, shoulders well past my toes, teetering one-footed on the precipice and waving my arms around like a poorly constructed wind turbine, holding myself back with sheer core strength, only to then fall forward in a slightly more calculated manner.  A number of times I was close to roughing myself up pretty good.

The ankle sprain happened as fast as any injury does trail running.  Anyone who suffers from the affliction of a relentless desire to run over mountain tops knows how sobering a slip and fall can be, and how fast it jerks you from your trance.  It happens fast.  In my case, I was pursuing some dry ground in March just before another huge snowstorm.  I had a little time in the afternoon and the skiing was to come, so I shot out for one of my favorite low-key loops, White Ledge.  I knew that, after slipping around the snowpack for a few miles with my microspikes, there would be about a half mile or so of dry ground at the top, on the south-facing side.  I was after it.  Microspikes off, barreling down the hillside in my usual cocky and careless manner, I was truly psyched for the trail running season ahead.  Laughing to myself as I jumped from rock to rock, I leapt onto my right foot, slipped on one of those god forsaken oak leaves with the waxy coating from last fall, and caught my left foot on a rock, subsequently twisting it the wrong way and hearing a modest pop.    

The narrative is not the point.  After a few curse words and rolling around in the dirt for a few minutes, I limped my way out at a brisk pace, recognizing my lack of layers, sweat-covered body, cold temperatures, and wishing to make the most of the fleeting gift of adrenaline.   

However, the point is how it popped my invincibility bubble and changed me as a runner in the aftermath.

After a long road of recovery that is still not 100% complete, I still run much slower downhill.  I know that I can barrel down a hillside like a mad man on the loose, but I choose not to (most often).  I am much more calculated, I don’t jump on the ridiculous pointy rocks, I notice the oak leaves, I am careful for wet stone.  Besides, it is probably better not to juice my muscles so quickly on the longer runs that I aspire to.  

The point I keep coming back to, to which I alluded at the beginning of this entry, is that by running slower, I am less apt to make those reckless mistakes and injure myself.  For injury is NOT how you end up running faster.  By taking my time I can avoid injury and ensure that I can run tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year.  This more sustainable approach to running will be better for both my body and my training, and I’ll end up a faster runner in the long-term because of it.

Now, whenever I run downhill, I slow down just a bit, and pay extra attention to the hazards and my own naïvete, knowing that I’ll be able to run more mountains, faster, because of it.  
I run slower so that I can run faster.

Momentum: On Skis and in Life

I’ve been thinking a lot about momentum lately, which is more or less wrapped up into my larger ruminations on habitude and addiction, previously expressed.  On my cross country ski the other day, some of these thoughts crystallized (do thoughts crystallize?), or otherwise were further developed in the insane yet lucid delirium of moderate but sustained exhaustion.

In cross country skiing momentum is very important.  It is critical, for a sport that rivals competitive swimming in overall physical demand, to make the most of every bit of kinetic energy possible.  Coming down a hill for instance, it is imperative that you skate hard in order to build as much speed as possible.  This accomplished, upon properly buckling the knees and launching into the next incline you can shoot farther up the hill using less energy, and then jump right into gear and augment your momentum with muscle-power to crash over the crest of the hill in stunning V2 form.

In trying to establish healthy habits I have consistently reminded myself to keep building the momentum.  That is, a habit attained is painstakingly broken.  The more you do something, the more entrenched you become and the more likely you are to continue the activity.  Indeed, at some point, it becomes hard not to.  

At this point in my efforts to establish these desired habits, I feel as though I have done the necessary skating, and am approaching the time in which I have to buckle my knees over the bump and start engaging my muscles to leverage my momentum in the beginning of the uphill.  My minor ankle sprain last week leaves me feeling as though I am coming into a small uphill.  It is in times like these that momentum becomes critical.  Just like I leverage momentum to shoot over the hill on my ski, I must capitalize on the work I have done to train differently and heal properly and effectively, instead of stopping  in exasperation and losing all the momentum I’ve accumulated in the downhill of the past couple of months.  Then I will meet the next hill with even more momentum of habits further entrenched.    

 

Keep building the momentum.  

On Ends and Means

On my run today a funny thought occurred to me.  It struck me as I was microspiking over the snow, ducking under a striped maple bending over the trail, and dodging a bit of thin ice over a puddle, that I did not always love running.  I remembered the days in which I actually dreaded going for a run.  The contrast is stark when you juxtapose that reality with today, when I found it difficult to sit still at my desk this morning in anticipation of the modest jog that I was planning for the afternoon.  

And I really did dread running. Surprisingly enough, in spite of my disdain for the activity I actually ran quite often.  It was essential to my success as an elite soccer player, which was central to my identity for most of my young life.  I often proclaimed that: “I would far rather run short distance faster, than long distance slower.”  I wanted to get it over with, and I started every run with a deep sigh.    

So my thoughts landed upon the question: When did I begin to enjoy running, and why?  As is often the case on my runs, the answer struck me mid-stride.  Before, I always ran for some ulterior motive.  To train for soccer.  After I stepped away from my soccer career, I ran to keep my weight down for rock climbing.  Whatever the purpose, I always used running as simply a means to some other self-important end.  

Somewhere along the way I stopped running.  I became far too busy as a student, I had other motivations, I smoked cigarettes (a mutually exclusive behavior with running, some might argue), and for a variety of other unimportant excuses.  Perhaps I lacked an end to justify the means.    

About one year ago when I had some time clear up in my schedule I started running again.  I incorporated the practice as part of what I called the “Austen wins his body back campaign”, the idea being that I would begin exercising again so as to not feel so dreadfully out of shape.  At this point I began running, or mostly power-hiking to be honest, as regularly as possible.  A couple times a week at first.  I had a habit of running over Mt. Sanitas in Boulder, Colorado semi-regularly.  Then I added Green Mountain.  Then I would do a Chautaqua Loop, including a free-solo up the second flatiron.  

In any case, I did whatever I felt like.  I was just having fun.  Regardless of what I was doing, the point was just to get my heartrate up as enjoyably as possible.  The exercise, getting outside, or even the excuse not to stare at a screen or be buried in a book for a while was enough.  In short, it was a release that I began to look forward to.  This was the pivotal moment.  At this time, I began running just to run.  It became my release.  I was no longer running for some other cause; I was running for the sake of running itself.    

That was it.  Running had at some point ceased to be a means to an end, and become an end in itself.  Beautiful.

Snap back to the present day.  I am digging my microspikes into the ice as I head up one of the final climbs to the top of White Ledge.  The frozen lakes break up the mass of green before rising into the hills beyond, moving into Maine.  Route 16 snakes along Iona Lake through Albany below.  Keep moving.  

So great, running became enjoyable to me as soon as I discovered how enjoyable it was in its own right, and stopped conceiving of it just as something I had to do to get better at something else.  The natural progression of thought, then, led me to think:  what else did I used to lament and learn to love when I changed the way I looked at it?  

Another moment in my life came immediately to mind.  I remember sitting in a backyard garden drinking red wine with a close friend in the August sun, wholeheartedly contented as I examined a number of bumblebees making their rounds of the flowers.  I was explaining to her my recent epiphany.  “I no longer care about my grades  I told her.  This was at a time in my college career in which I was particularly disillusioned with the structure of post-secondary education in our country, and had decided that to protest the inanity of the system I would simply stop devoting any more energy to a personal preoccupation with a silly quantitative analysis of my performance.  This is not to say that I wouldn’t do the assigned coursework; I am too type A and OCD for such negligence.  Instead I would simply approach the work from an entirely new frame of mind.  I would study what and as often as I wanted to study, and I would write whatever the hell I damn well felt like in my notes, for simply copying down whatever was written on the board is a mindless, monotonous activity that I had lost the patience for entirely.  My studies would no longer be a means to a grade, but would be of an interest to me in and of themselves, regardless of what the professors wanted to hear or otherwise selected to put on the examinations over which my peers were so astutely determined to stress.  

At that point in time I quickly grew far more interested in my studies than ever before and in my last two years of school, despite more difficult coursework and a heavier workload, I earned the best grades of my entire college career.  Only after deciding that I didn’t care about what they were!  I had divorced myself from obsession with the outcome, and become immersed in the process itself.  Inside the process I found the intellectual liberty that motivated me to write an undergraduate honors thesis and to pursue graduate school one day.  I had stopped considering studying as a means to the end of a high grade, and begun to consider it as an end in itself, deserving of my time and attention irrespective of the eventual outcome on paper.  And it changed my life.

I’m over the summit, beginning my descent.  On the south facing side of the ledge there is no snow, so I remove my microspikes and continue on, getting very excited for the trail running that the coming spring promises.  I pay special attention to the slippery oak and beech leaves left over from last fall so as not to slip.  I do anyways.  So it goes.

Focusing on my breathing, I return to my thoughts.  As I consider my newfound discovery, I am eager to ruminate on other areas of my life in which I might discover the same fascination within the ostensibly mundane simply by considering it less a means to an end, and focusing instead on the process itself and the value I might find if I just. slow. down.

I would very much like to live my life as less of a means, and more as an end in itself.  
The sun is setting and the air beginning to chill as I approach my truck, ready to call it a day.  

On Habits, Addiction, and the Blog Before You

A wise person once shared with me the personal conviction that addiction cannot ever be entirely eliminated, only replaced by other addictions.  As a person who suffers (or reaps the benefits of, dependent on context), of what many call an “addictive personality”, I can certainly understand such an argument.  I would also, on the other hand, venture so far as to comment that even the sagest of wise folk say silly, erroneous things from time to time and that such a claim is not necessarily true just because it fell from the lips of someone I personally regarded to be wise.  As with anything, such an assertion will be as true as you believe it to be.

Personally, I’ve been thinking a lot about habits lately.  Really, habitude is just a different way of thinking of addiction.  While some may correctly draw inarguable distinctions between the two, those related to brain chemistry, disease and otherwise, I think that some attention ought to be cast upon the relationship between the two as well.  Indeed, those who suffer from the disease of addiction certainly see an effect on the routine, day-to-day habits in their life, and there are no shortage of habits that lend themselves to addiction, or otherwise social circles in which the susceptibility to addiction is elevated.  

You don’t have to agree or disagree; I believe it to be true.  In any case, I have paid considerable attention to the habits that I and/or those close to me have developed, tended to develop, would like to develop, and have not developed in the recent months and years.  Some have been very healthy habits.  Some have been remarkably unhealthy.  Cigarettes exist in my past, but follow me ever so close in the present.  I’ve watched the demons of alcoholism progress, ebb, flow, and linger for most of my life.  I’ve watched friends suffer from drug addiction.  Workaholism exists in my past and present.  At some point, some people come to realize that they have an “all or nothing” personality, and that moderation is a difficult balance to strike with anything of any true importance to them.  I’ve noticed that this “all or nothing” trait predisposes one to addiction, or an increased affinity for habitude.  Ça, c’est moi.  

I have an addictive, all or nothing personality.  It has been a blessing and a curse and has led me to both the most rewarding and most painful experiences of my life.  The blessings of eudaimonistic perseverance, and the curses of hedonism in continuity.  The nocuous effect it can have when it grows attached to a romantic relationship.  It follows rather logically, then, that it would be nothing shy of prudent for any self-respecting individual to try to guide, cater, or shoehorn his or her habits into those that would construct the most healthy or otherwise sustainable lifestyle (easier said than done, I know.)  It is precisely this undertaking that I have pursued recently.  

I ought to be clear; this is not a new year’s resolution, in spite of the fact that it originated around the new year holiday.  I think that the mission with which I have charged myself is better than a new year’s resolution, and is dynamic enough to account for the changing person and the tides of emotions and anxiety that will ebb and flow in the coming year.  Resolutions are too specific.  “Quit smoking.”  “Lose weight.” “Don’t eat sweets”.   Great.  Power to all the individuals that find following such strict, binding directives rewarding or in some cases successful.  I for one would never put such chains on my sense of personal liberty.  Keeping the directive vague allows for its revision, revisiting, and specification at a later date, or several thereof.  “Make healthy habits”.  This is at once far simpler and far more difficult.  I now am charged with not only the chore of interpreting this directive, but making consistent, often, multifaceted changes.  Moreover once forged, these habits will be once again resistant to change.  Therein lies the reward.  

At the end of the day, my point is this: I have given myself this open directive (not out of adherence to any particular tradition, mind you) to forge healthy habits in 2017, in hope that they will follow me for years to come.  I find this important for my long-term sustainability of mind, body, and character.  Some of these habits include running, reading, and writing, all of which I do regularly but not often enough still.  It is for this third reason I stated that you find this page before you now.  

The intended purpose of this blog is unclear to me still.  More than anything else, it just feels like the right thing to do.  As I have often reiterated to myself, I only do things because I want to do them.  This could turn out to be a rambling mess of thoughts that usually end up in my journals, representing a transposition of my thoughts and feelings into something far more permanent, and public.  It might end up a running journal of sorts.  Maybe it becomes a medium for practicing the languages I have learned in the past and will learn in the future.  Maybe noone reads it.  Maybe thousands read it.

The paragraph above doesn’t matter.  What I am trying to stress is that the importance of this blog lies in the process.  Whatever comments come, discussions it sparks, reflections it inspires, are all secondary to the inherent value of just doing it.  It will be a step towards healthy habits; channeled addiction.  It will be a reason to write, and to keep those skills oiled and the words flowing.  It will be a reason to run, and a reason to read.  If not for inspiration, then simply for the sake of being a package-deal.  Like I said, I tend to be very all or nothing.  

 

So here it is.  I’m going all in.  

Austen Bernier