I run barefoot

Friday, August 19, 2011

I run barefoot.


I have been running barefoot for one year and one month. In that time I've amassed 265 miles of barefoot running. Running barefoot has made running enjoyable to me for the first time in my life. For that reason, running barefoot has introduced me to the whole world of running, and gotten me back into doing daily physical exercise for the first time in quite a while.

One of the clearest results of this, even though it took me a very long time to be aware of it, is realizing that my emotions are embedded in my body. What I mean is that my body seems to be the vessel for my emotional self, and I've found that exercising my body opens my emotional self up to conscious awareness to a degree I don't ordinarily experience in everyday waking life. In part I began to run again last year as catharsis, and I think many people run and do other forms of exercise for that very reason and are very conscious about it. When I pause to reflect upon it, it seems rather obvious, but my experience of the effect running has on being more aware of my emotions is anything but obvious. In contrast, it's quite illuminating.

Over this summer it has been quite interesting as I became more and more conscious of this daily transformation that would take place by simply going for a run. I would go through my day trying to accomplish as many tasks as I could. Most of my thinking throughout the day would be about tasks, things, doing. In the evening I go for a run, and when I return my thought patterns shift and I cannot focus well on tasks and doing. Instead, I think about people and long for connection. My focus transforms to being instead of doing.

The more I have witnessed this transition, the more acutely aware of it I have become. I now notice shifts happen during my runs, distinct moments where I become cognizant that something just changed. As I've increased my distances over the summer, I even began to notice that this shift tends to occur quite strongly at around the 7 mile mark in any given run. What's most interesting to me, however, is the phenomenology of how I experience the changes.

When a shift occurs, or even just after my run is over, I notice this very strong feeling of relaxation. There is an obvious bodily relaxation that occurs with exhaustion and recovery from the physical effort, but what's more interesting is a sort of mental relaxation. It feels almost like a bunch of barriers or walls just dissolve before my conscious witness, like I let go of a bunch of things I was holding onto. This effect can be quite strong at times, and as a consequence the shift can take on almost nihilistic overtures. Sometimes it feels like nothing that I was thinking in the previous 10 minutes, last hour, or entire day matter one bit. Sometimes it immediately transports me to a place that wonders, in almost an existential sense, what matters in this life anyway. But more often, it's more subtle than that, and just causes me to think about friends old and new, longing to be with someone, longing for connection. In more extreme instances, which usually come when I run longer distances, this feeling is tangibly immediate and I want to connect directly with fellow runners and walkers on whatever trail I'm on. 

In my ordinary daily life I can get so absorbed in todo lists and accomplishing things that I'm unable to relate to my own emotions, let alone anyone else's. As a result, this feeling of relaxation and heightened emotional connection is something I welcome and want more of. I am starting to view running as a technique for breaking me free of my singular focus and disconnection, a reliable tool amongst very few others in my toolbox. During and after I run I feel more connected, compassionate, and forgiving. I'm less hard on myself and more understanding with others. Perhaps most important, I desire to be with friends and family, something that for me is an elusive feeling in my ordinary solitary lifestyle and circumstance. 

Using a more archetypical abstraction, I feel more in touch with the feminine archetype of humanity that is more in tune with the body, more focused on being instead of doing, and more aware of emotional states. Becoming conscious of this is a meditation for me, one that has made me more aware of just how bifurcated my ordinary day-to-day life is, biased towards the masculine archetype of doing instead of being, and rule-based rational thought patterns rather than intuition-based awarenesses. In sum, I feel more whole, and this is a good thing.

I want to become more and more aware of the impact of running on my inner balance and be able to know that it is a tool I can use to evoke a more whole representation of my self. I also want to take heed not to transform this tool into a dependency ie. something I feel I need otherwise I'm not ok. I simply want to be able to use it when appropriate, and be aware when things are not going well, that it might be able to help. I know from experience that it is not simple for me to be aware of such techniques and employ them when they're most needed. Indeed, a large part of my realization about the effect of running on my awareness of my emotional self is a lament that I did not wake to this reality sooner, and save unnecessary suffering in the process. 

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