Thursday, 7 March 2013

Me, Myself and I

“It is the constant thinking activity of Self 1, the ego mind, which causes interference with the natural doing process of Self 2. Harmony between the two selves exists when the mind itself is quiet. Only when the mind is still is one’s peak performance reached”    W T Gallwey “The Inner Game of Tennis”

This one’s taken a few weeks to write, an exorcism of thoughts that have been rattling around my consciousness, influenced and shaped by many observations, particularly over the last couple of months but, in fact, even over years.

In running terms, I’m drifting, unfocused, no targets on the horizon and no goals to achieve. And, perhaps because of that, the training has been sporadic (at best!) and I don’t have a set schedule I feel I should be following.

And the question that kept coming into my head was: “does it matter?”

In such times, I usually turn back to “The Inner Game of Tennis” as a source of inspiration and guidance. Its simple philosophy and principles make perfect sense to me. Life can sometimes seem to be a battle between consciously thinking and actually doing. It’s all to easy to judge yourself (both positively and negatively) rather than just being, observing and learning.

And it, invariably, comes back to ego. We all suffer from it: the thought that somehow what we do IS important, that there is some greater meaning.

“I wonder about the probability of surviving in the mountains and then I look at the stars, at an infinity of other worlds, and I realise that it doesn’t matter that much......We are unimaginably ignorant and, in the context of space and time, we are an utter irrelevance....We are no more than the blinking of an eye between two eternities”      Joe Simpson “The Beckoning Silence”

The truth is that nothing I do really matters. In the short term, my ego cares whether I run or not, and how well I do it, so my challenge is to strip back that ego, quieten Self 1 and see what happens. In the medium term, my name may remain in the records of races run and challenges undertaken, all games made up by people to amuse themselves, none of them having any significance or resonance in the history of this vast universe.

So I did the Bob Graham a few years back....what did it matter? Of course, to me, it meant everything and nothing. At the time, it boosted my ego greatly and I felt a huge amount of pride in having done it. Now, a few years on, I understand that what it taught me most of all was to allow myself to be in the moment, to quieten the doubts, to not fight against but to go with the flow and allow my inner self to perform to its potential. And, overall, I appreciate that it means nothing at all, of course. Just a list of names of people who’ve done something in their lives, but which doesn’t have any real relevance.

“But to anyone reasonable, my life will seem more or less normal-under-the-microscope, full of contingencies and incongruities none of us escapes and which do little harm in an existence that otherwise goes unnoticed.”    Richard Ford “Independence Day”

I’ve been agnostic for all of my adult life. I see no evidence for any greater being, any greater purpose to our lives and I’ve always believed that, when we die, we are just a piles of bones or ashes in the earth, marked only as a place of remembrance for our kin.

Some people seem to find that to be a negative, pessimistic view of life. I see it as the opposite, the older I get. It frees me to do whatever I want in the remaining years I have on this earth. I came into this earth via a natural process, I’ll leave via one and what I do inbetween is entirely my choice. It doesn’t mean I don’t have morals or ethics. I clearly do, and I do my best to live harmoniously on this earth (within the constraints of modern life), appreciating all the great beauty around us.

And, of course, I regard humans as no more important a species than any other. Why would anyone? To do so would only demonstrate massive ego. We’re all here to co-exist, we all have a place in the complicated balance of nature and, the only thing we can be sure of, is that, if we tip the scales too far in any direction, nature will wreak havoc.

“Does this sound very "green" to you? To me it sounds like a society fixated on growth and material progress going about its destructive business in much the same way as ever, only without the carbon. It sounds like a society whose answer to everything is more and bigger technology; a society so cut off from nature that it believes industrialising a mountain is a "sustainable" thing to do.”     Paul Kingsnorth  ”AWindfarm is Not the Answer”

As my thoughts have become concentrated and focused, and as I’ve contemplated the direction my life will head in from here, it just so happens that I’ve also hit upon some writers who have managed to encapsulate my thoughts and feelings.

In a modern world with which I increasingly feel at odds, it’s comforting to find that others feel the same and perhaps, just perhaps, that feeling is growing (and, yes, I appreciate that in finding that comfort, I am demonstrating some level of ego!).  

Although I don’t regard procreation as a “purpose”, it is a fact of life and the very least I can do is treat the earth properly and not join in with the wholesale destruction of it on which the human race seems hell-bent, for the sake of my children and my children’s children.

If I can live my life so that, at the end of it, I personally have had no detrimental effect, then I will be content with that. If I’ve used my time to do things I enjoy and, perhaps even to spread my enjoyment to others, then even better.

After a while, my meditations and studies began to bear fruit. It really started late in January, one frosty night in the woods in the dead silence it seemed I almost heard the words said: “Everything is all right forever and forever and forever”. I let out a big HOO, one o’clock in the morning, the dogs leaped up and exulted. I felt like yelling it to the stars. I clasped my hands and prayed,”O wise and serene spirit of Awakenhood, everything’s alright forever, and forever and forever and thank you thank you thank you amen.” What’d I care about the tower of ghouls and sperms and bones and dust. I felt free and therefore I was free.”    Jack Kerouac “The Dharma Bums”

So where does all this leave me? Feeling more calm and serene than I ever have before, not chasing dreams, not setting targets out of some requirement to be seen to be doing so, just enjoying living in the moment, in the here and now. I’m enjoying loch-side walks, where we see ducks, heron, otters, seagulls, seals, cormorants, and all manner of other creatures. I’m enjoying nice, slow explorations of unseen glens, where huge slopes tower above us on both sides. I’m enjoying my imagination running wild at the thoughts of lives lived in these glens in times past and the certain knowledge that lives will be lived for equally as long in the future.

And what of my running? I’ll be out there when I want to be, and when time allows. Sometimes I’ll go out and push myself, because I’ll feel like it. Sometimes I’ll just go out and plod, enjoy being out in the wilds and taking in all around me. I’m not going to put any pressure on myself and not going to have any expectations. Races? I’ve entered a couple, not with any great plans or hopes, just because they’re in beautiful places and provide me with an excuse to go there.

I’ve got a wee route planned in the area as well. Straight from the house. It clocks in at around 50 miles and 20,000 feet, almost all pathless, never touching a road. I might give it a go around midsummer. And then again, I might not. If nothing else, I’ll enjoy getting out there and checking some of the lines between hills, using slopes and gullies rarely visited by humans these days, although a few of the wiley old characters around these parts will be able to teach my knowledge of these places from their years tending to their flocks on this inhospitable terrain.

Jon Gay’s fantastic winter Ramsay quite inspired me as well. Maybe I will have a look at the route. I think the truth is that I probably won’t though. Why spend all my time getting to know mountains 20+ miles drive away when I’ve got all these hills in my back garden and I could spend a lifetime getting to know them?

Whatever I decide, I’ll enjoy myself and know that it doesn’t really matter in the grand scheme of things.....

The wind will still blow, the world is still turning,
Somewhere exotic, the sun is still burning,
But here the night's fallen and so must we rest,
Your head by my heart, gently pressed to my breast.
The whispering ocean with tall tales to tell
Is done for the day as he settles his swell,
The flickering stars so impossibly high
Are yawning and waving from far in the sky,
And old Mother Moon, with her pale, peaceful light,
Keeps watch from above as she sings us goodnight:
'Goodnight, goodnight, oh my children, goodnight,
Sleep deeply, sleep safely. My children, sleep tight'

Aidan Moffat and Bill Wells   “And So We Must Rest”

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