I had to run this morning.
I knew that it was an absolute must because I needed to stay sane this day and the coming days.
These days tend to be crazy because I have resumed writing a lot of my academic research work in the form of monographs and reports and journal articles. This kind of writing, as someone pointed out after the run this morning, requires a great deal of focus and concentration because research questions change/sharpen/become irrelevant as we record our insights and cross-check our work against existing research from the field. On many days, you feel that what you are writing is absolute trash. Some days are ‘eureka’ moments when you have hit upon some fantastically fantastic insight. And the immediate next day, after the ‘eureka’ day, it feels like heck, why was this finding/problem statement/analyses so fantastically eureka yesterday when it reads like trash in retrospect today! And of course, there are those innumerable days when you have that famous writer’s block, where nothing seems to pour out of your brains, from the tips of your fingers doing all that clickety clack clack on your keyboard, when actually there is nothing, null and void – the mind is blank, the fingers have no thoughts to translate into words! At the end of each day, you wonder whether you are getting anywhere ahead with your writing and whether you will ever see any light at the end of this long, long, never-ending tunnel. Duh! Duh! Duh!
In sum then, this kind of writing produces immense amounts of anxiety, not to mention the myriad mood swings. There are many moments of self-doubt, including doubts about self-worth and intelligence, your existence and what not! And our spouses, parents, siblings, friends, etc are often targets of these intense emotional states – everything and everyone seems irritable, unhelpful, crazy, weird and what have you on days when there are lows. On the days of highs, everything is beautiful, bright, purrfect and optimistic!
I took to running, and now, writing this blog, partially to not let the anxiety get the better of me, and to continue prodding myself as I write what I must. At various points in my research and writing, I have felt it important to be optimistic, productive and honest in explaining how things are and why they are the way they are. It is easy to get pretentious and didactic when doing academic writing or for that matter, any kind of writing (including writing this blog! Waaaaah!). How do you stay reflective, introspective and most importantly honest as you move from word to word, sentence to sentence, analyses to analyses, insight to insight? It is a tough askance, frankly and it cannot be achieved always. But if you look at research as a process where as much as you are looking outside for explanations and answers, you are simultaneously checking your own world views, prejudices, anxieties and hypocrisies, then I guess we’d all do fine as fine researchers. That apart … (and the fact that the world needs all kinds of people to constitute it!) …
Running – Writing – Running – Writing (and writhing!): There are parallels between running and writing. The intellectual and emotional courses and tracks which I run through as I write are often no different from the terrains, trails, hills, tracks, paths and roads that I run on. Some of the courses with respect to writing are sticky, especially the the courses and trajectories of theories which can bind you, limit you and even liberate you. I mentioned last time that technique can be limiting and binding at times, especially when technique reigns so supreme that there is no scope left for imagination, innovation and invigoration. With thinking and writing, theory can limit and bind when the theory, primarily the world view and the explanations offered for phenomena and processes, becomes so overarching that you cannot think beyond it. You don’t even think with the theory because there are many of those times when we kowtow to theory as if theory were god or god-sent. The challenge of research and writing then is to recognize that existing theories are only among the many explanations that exist regarding the way the world is and the way things are/have been, now/in the past. There are many things unknown, many charted and uncharted journeys that have not yet received any mention in books, articles, journals, etc. The world is out there to research. I am as much a part of the world as of the research process. Therefore, I am the researcher, the researching, the researched!
Writing Another Course: This morning, I ran 8.4k. The first 4.2k were highly revealing. Even as I enjoyed the run, I only realized in the second half of the run why some of the paths on the course led me to get tired and slow. Parts of the loop were somewhat uphill which is why the breath went out of sync and the feet felt heavy, like logs of wood which I had to drag with the rest of my body. Come to think of it, almost 12 hours after the run, I realize that the relationship between breath and pace is terribly fundamental – the breathing develops in sync with pace over time as much as pace develops over time and the rhythms with the breathing. This relationship develops and transforms with more and more practice. You never know your pace and you never know how to adjust your breathing with pace very consciously, every time. The body authors and follows these patterns as a matter of its science and constitution. Your job, as a runner, is to keep running and discover your body, your being and your self as you run more and more.
The pace-breath connection applies as much to running the writing courses – the trials and travails of intellect and emotions. Breath remains fundamental here too. It is when we are anxious that the breathing becomes heavy and out of sync. Recognizing this requires a great sense of awareness of the mind and the body. In part, running helps to develop this awareness. The daily experiences of running help us to get in tune with our bodies and understand when and why and how the body reacts the way it does to different sensations, emotions and reactions. As this awareness becomes more developed and sharper, it becomes easier to recognize the responses and reactions of the body in other aspects of life too. With this recognition and awareness, it becomes somewhat more easier to understand how to intervene (which usually translates as not intervening which in turn requires a great deal of strength, effort and wisdom).
Travelling intellectual journeys is tough. Writing them down in coherent forms is even tougher. Here is where running comes to my rescue. It enables me the space to recognize when to put in effort, when not to put in effort (which in turn requires a great deal of strength, effort and wisdom), when to sit back, when to move forward, how to climb uphill and run downwards, when to adjust pace and breath rhythms and how to focus. Do I become a better writer or a better translator of thoughts into words? I don’t know and maybe that don’t even happen. But this space between writing and running makes me sublime …
In the spirit of continuation, the end to today’s ambling!