Out of movement comes clarity

“If an act tires your body but puts your heart at ease, do it.”

Xunzi, Chinese philosopher

Today I ran for 30 minutes without stopping. I did not plan to run for that long, but I was really proud of myself for making it. The most interesting part is that my best running came as a result of focusing on something other than running.

I used to see people run and it confused me. Some were barely moving, trudging along in what looked like pain, and I could only think, ‘Why do that to yourself? There must be some better way to accomplish your goal, whatever it may be.’

I have never enjoyed running and couldn’t understand how other people did. Put a ball in front of me and I will play a game for hours, but tell me to run and my eyes get wide and I look around to see if you’re talking to someone else. I have tried running off and on as an adult but it has never stuck. When my wife wanted to run a 5K, I was happy to train with her and run the race, but as soon as it was over, so was running for a considerable chunk of time.

Although I don’t know when it changed, my mindset shifted from confusion and judgmental derision to awe and encouragement. I now think to myself, ‘Good for you! That looks really tough (even awful) but you’re still going.’ I’m proud of that person I don’t know, especially the ones that are moving slowly but doing anything they can to keep a pace above a walk. I’m even tempted to yell this out the car, but I’m pretty sure that would be inappropriate and probably scary.

Weirdly, Instagram and Facebook may be part of that mindset shift. Seeing a few of my friends share about their running (but not overposting about it) has helped me understand it better. For some it is to get in better shape, others as a mentally challenging part of their workout routine. The common thread is purpose. Each person clearly has their own, and running is a way to accomplish what they need.

From a distance, and without knowing it, they have motivated me to give it a try again. I doubt I will ever be a ‘runner’, but after some trial and error, today I found some purpose in running. Over the summer, I’ve set goals of running a certain distance, for a certain amount of time, or to match some of those Instagram friend’s mile times, knowing full well that I am not ready to put in the real time or effort to match them.

Some days I felt encouraged with my effort, but without a longer term goal, it always felt a bit empty. Today was the first time I ran and felt full. My purpose today was to run so that I could think. I am a pretty avid consumer of podcasts and TV shows, and I’ve been trying slowly to break away from what feels like over-consumption. Getting out of the house, without filling my ears with someone else’s ideas gave me time to think.

After reading Stillness by Ryan Holliday, running felt like the best way to move and think. Holliday hit home the importance of movement as a way to be still. Movement helps some people focus. For others, it provides the mental and physical break we need to be focused later on when we really need our best mental effort. I needed to move to let my mind wander with purpose.

Holliday shares numerous stories about Winston Churchill, his various hobbies, routines, and frequent naps. By all accounts, Churchill led an incredibly productive life, but it wasn’t because he worked all the time. He took intentional, and some unintentional, breaks from his ‘real’ work, which gave him the energy and stamina to be productive for much longer than many of his peers.

I was surprised to learn that Churchill took up oil painting as a hobby. He was not a good painter by any real standards, but he enjoyed it and it allowed him the mental break from arguably some of the most difficult decisions in world history. It allowed him to physically and mentally keep active, but also separated him from the most important thinking he would need to do.

I am not a good runner by any running standards, and I may not even stick with it. While my mile times were slower today than when I’ve pushed myself, I ran longer and farther today than I have since the 5K. I think it’s a safe assumption that, if I can create a running routine, I will get better at it, but that is not my purpose.

My purpose was to open my mind, and movement was the key to unlocking that door. Today running was the movement that allowed me to accomplish my purpose. My choice of movement may change, from running to walking, or even oil painting. I have known that purpose for a while now, but today I gained clarity around how to accomplish it.

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