Transcendence and Echoes

Sequence of a runner disappearing in to the distance

Photo by Jay Ray

Written by Jay Ray

Oh, the rose-colored glasses and euphoric recall through which people “remember” their youth: those magical late teen and early twenties years when abandon was without consequence and limitless energy abounded. Nonsense. I remember something different; I remember being confronted with tough choices and, when weighing positives and negatives, thinking: how much is this going to hurt? In most cases, the pain for gain was easy enough to equate. For the independence afforded by an apartment, I had to suck it up and pull double shifts waiting tables. The demands of college courses required the discipline to sometimes forgo the lure of social joviality. The lure of social joviality sometimes resulted in the agony of hangovers and/or sleep deprivation that was compounded by the looming responsibilities of school and work. I understood the motivations, rewards, and consequences of my decisions — but clarity amidst tumultuous times would have benefited my decision making skills. The difficulty of convincing already busy/overwhelmed people to endeavor in physical fitness is that the motivations and rewards are often misunderstood.

The syllabus is throttling me, my work schedule is brutal, so many good bands coming through town, that girl/boy is going to be at the party tonight — why the hell would I go running? And what’s with runners, anyway? The pounding on the body, the time it takes, mind-numbing miles of neighborhood scenery or laps upon laps — aren’t there  more advanced ways to stay in shape? Yes, there are, but none that I’ve encountered that rival the catharsis of running. The first mile or two, I always think: why am I doing this; my body is screaming for me to stop. Even once I warm up and become more fluid with the process, the act of running itself is never what I would describe as a thrill. But the physical act becomes secondary and, dare I say, seemingly effortless. Like a drug, a sense of well-being floods the soul and senses. There is transcendence. For the rest of the day, there is a sense of peace that comes from ascending above the clatter. Work is less of a drag and the most minor enjoyments are truly appreciated. There is balance. There is perspective. The spiritual overwhelms the corporeal.

But where does the elation, this unique reward attainable only through physical exertion, come from? It is the hard-wired echo of the ages. For our ancient ancestors, movement was essential for survival; our activities of physical recreation mirror their realities: sporting events are a vestige of hand-to-hand combat; running for fitness is an extension of chasing game or fleeing hostile forces; weight-training is the substitute for earth-moving, civilization building labor. Instead of thinking of exercise as a demand we place on our bodies, it might be helpful to think of exercise as a demand our bodies place on us. Instead of weighing the pain for gain equation in terms of sacrifice for physical gain, perhaps a more enlightened, encouraging perspective is that physical exertion eases existential pain.

At an age in life when so much time and energy is spent forging identity and dealing with present challenges while working for future gain, it can be difficult to galvanize oneself to invest the time and effort required for physical fitness. But, by doing so, one might achieve an elevated, joyous existence approaching the fond memories that older people so often romantically ascribe to youth.


Posted on April 8, 2012, in Fitness, Fitness and Nutrition, Healthy Mind, Physical Health, Self Confidence, Work Out and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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