Fronting the Essential Facts of Life

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.

– Henry David Thoreau

AJWs TaproomAs daily life grows increasingly complex, distracting, and scattered, finding time to focus on the essential facts of life becomes increasingly difficult. Lost in the hubbub of our lives is the need for appropriate mental space to provide reflection and renewal. That space is a necessary ingredient for a satisfying existence and yet it has become less and less possible to find amidst today’s hectic pace.

Through running, and trail running in particular, those spaces open up. I recall a difficult point in my life several years ago where I was struggling with a decision that could alter the course of my life. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was longing for change and having difficulty weighing the options and sorting out the outcomes. Running became the place where I could hammer out the pros and cons, ask the questions that needed to be asked, and muster the patience and focus to allow the right choice to be made clear.

Running my favorite loop one warm late summer afternoon that year, a massive thunderstorm began brewing in the east. The wind whipped up and the skies darkened. The squirrels and birds began to squirm and the trees swayed. Aspen leaves that were a month away from falling were swept across the trail. Surprisingly, as the rain began to fall, my mind quieted, my heart settled, and my pace quickened. In that potentially chaotic environment I turned inward and the voices in my head turned off. I spontaneously took a right turn where I normally took a left and added one big 800-foot, one-mile climb to my loop. The burning in my legs increased, my heart pounded, and my lungs burned. The rain intensified as I crested the saddle of the climb and began the winding descent back to my house. Suddenly, pounding that downhill, as if waking from a dream, my decision became clear, I no longer waffled. I knew, in that moment, it was time to make the change I needed in my life and I was prepared to confront what it would take to get it done. On that seemingly workday run, clarity of thought, purpose, and direction emerged out of the clouds, wind, and rain.

Certainly, there are other ways to find lucidity of thought and conscience. Meditation, mindfulness, martial arts, and counseling can all provide a means to this end. For me, however, and I would guess for other runners, our clarity space is out on the trail. And, the funny thing is, sometimes those moments of clarity come when we least expect them and don’t necessarily even know we need them. It is in the letting go that taking to the woods allows us to live life deliberately and it is in the midst of the natural state of grace that accompanies such efforts that truth, both personal and collective, can be made plain.

Bottoms up!

AJW’s Beer of the Week
Smuttynose Winter AleThis week’s Beer of the Week comes from Smuttynose Brewery in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. Their Winter Ale is true to the Belgian tradition and full of flavor. Certainly a winter beer, this Dubbel is a great, warming beer that goes great with your favorite comfort food or as an après-run beer to take the edge off.

Ps. Today is the last day to enter the Ray Miller 50 free entry contest. If you’re interested simply tell us why in the comment section of the November 30th column and we’ll announce the winner in next week’s column.

Call for Comments (from Bryon)

When have you unexpectedly found moments of clarity on a run?

There are 13 comments

  1. Charlie M.

    The psychology of nature…

    "There is something inherently restorative about natural setting–places without people are good for the mind."

    http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2010/08/the-psy

    "The human species is urbanizing at an unprecedented rate. (In the next century, at least 3 billion people will migrate to cities.) And yet, we’re only beginning to understand how living in dense agglomerations of perfect strangers, surrounded by skyscrapers and concrete, actually affects the brain."

  2. Andy

    When you come to the hill in the road (trail), take it.

    Running in the wilds serves as both an escape and, simultaneusly, a way of "fronting the essential facts of life" head on. And the potential metaphors for life are endless, which in and of themselves are powerful agents of change.

    I always look forward to the Friday morning read, like the trusty loop: comfy and familiar, yet always rendered anew with subtle variations of light, sound, and texture. Thanks, AJW.

  3. Tom

    "I only went out for a walk, and finally concluded to stay out till sundown; for going out, I found, was really going in. "-John Muir

    Words to live by.

  4. Matthew C Bryant

    The quote was published 158 years ago. I sometimes wonder how much has really changed. Perhaps our lives grow more complicated and scattered on an individual basis, rather than a collective one.

    Running and skiing certainly have helped simplify things for me, because when I make them priorities other things simply have to go away. I'm fine with that now.

  5. Zach S.

    “Now I see the secret of making the best person: it is to grow in the open air and to eat and sleep with the earth.” Walt Whitman

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