We spend our time planning for the future or dealing with the past, and often fail to experience what's happening in the present. We are too busy to allow for idle moments as our thoughts grapple with the demands of our job, our family and our world. When we've thoroughly investigated and satisfied one subject, we jump immediately to another. Often the radio blares or the TV plays, so in the fleeting moments between mental tasks, we make sure something is there to occupy our brain. We're so engrossed in our obligations that we utterly fail to really see the world beyond our desk or outside our window. It's almost like we can't bear to let a minute be unprogrammed.
On our runs, while our legs pound along the roadway, our minds continue to stay on the job - making plans or working through problems. Meanwhile the scenery goes by and we take little note of it. The seasons change without us really being aware of them. Before we leave the house on our daily run, we check the thermometer or the Weather Channel so we're dressed for winter's wrath and the scorching summer heat. Then as we go out the door we add a layer of mental thought, which effectively insulates us from seeing or experiencing what lies along the roads that we run.
Much of the time I'm like that. As I run, I plan my days, relive events or listen to my iPod quite oblivious to my surroundings. But some runs are different. On those days I leave without a mental agenda or intent. Instead I see and hear whatever I find. In early spring I might note the first tinge of green on the twigs, which upon closer examination, prove to be tightly rolled miniature leaves. If I watch them daily I'll see them grow, darken and then finally spread open fully mature.
While I may decide to just pay attention to one aspect of my environment, like the leaves, or listening to bird cries and frog croaks, at other times I try to see the scene as a whole. Have you ever just looked at a forest or a meadow or shifted your glance above the first floor of an old commercial district? Merchants may modernize the street level appearance of their stores yet a glance above reveals building fronts from a distant era. Even though I may have run a route hundreds of times, when I just start really looking, I'll see things I never noticed before.
My grandfather, Ray Foley, taught me this. He'd come home after work, pull on an old red-checked hunter's coat and then invite me to walk through his 60-acre woodland. We didn't talk much. We just walked with our eyes and ears open to what was there. As a kid, I was just glad to be with grandpa and enjoyed when he'd point out an animal trail or a deer rubbing. Now I realize that while his information about nature lore was intriguing, what he really was teaching me was how to step away from the pressure and frenzy of daily life, and appreciate the moment.
With running, we all have those moments when the phrase "It doesn't get any better that this" fits the occasion. At those times, don't think about the past or future, just feel the present. I remember heading into the last mile of the Mackinac Island Road Race in 1981 and realizing that I was going to win. I thought, "This probably isn't going to happen again so I'm going to thoroughly enjoy it." After nearly 40 years of running, I've got photographic evidence, but the best and most vivid recollections are from those times when I gave myself completely over to the moment as I ran to the finish in Boston, weathered a blizzard in Cadillac, got drenched in Ontario and raced my son in Detroit.
Nowadays my daily run still offers me that release. As I leave the house I have the perfect excuse to stop trying to solve the problems of the world or the demands of personal life. Thanks to all the studies that show the benefits of daily exercise, I can run free of guilt, knowing this run will help ensure my good health.
We all get caught up in the minutiae of our daily existence and spend countless hours doing tasks that we absolutely think must be completed. Yet a year from now, will it be critical to mankind that you completed the last document you wrote, or finished that chore you were laboring over yesterday? Perhaps if we took time to just push our mental projects aside for a short time and headed outside for no other reason then to just experience the world around us, we'd be amazed.
Dave Foley is often enjoying the wonders of nature when he's running, but he also spends time thinking up ideas for Silent Sports.