I live near Washington Park in Denver, Colorado, known as Wash Park to locals. It’s a beautiful park, with a running trail that circles the perimeter. It’s probably the best place to run within Denver city limits. I’ve lived near Wash Park for nearly seven years, and I’ve averaged 30-50 miles a week throughout that time. The trail is only 2.5 miles around though so when you’re running more than 15-20 miles a week and the majority of your miles are in that park, you end up doing a lot of loops. I’ve literally run thousands of loops around that park.
So for me running in Wash Park can get a touch repetitive.
About five years ago I started listening to books on tape on my daily runs around Wash Park. I’ve been running for 27 years, and I’ve never really listened to music or headphones on my runs. Running was its own activity. Being alone with my thoughts was the whole point. But I figured with runs around Wash Park, I wasn’t experiencing much new. So I started listening to books on tape.
And then I started listening to books at an accelerated speed. Most narrators speak slowly, and since the point of reading a book is to process information from it, I figured the faster the speed, the more I’d learn. Most of the time I’d listen at 1.5x speed, but I even experimented with 1.75x and 2x. I figured I’d miss a few things at those speeds, but I’d listen to more books – so the aggregate information I’d process would be higher.
Most recently, I’ve spent a lot of time reading about Zen. The main crux of Zen philosophy is to not allow one’s mood to be affected by life’s ups and downs. But the process to go about accomplishing this is to live a simple, rigorous life where each action is the subject of complete focus and attention.
It didn’t take much reflection to realize that listening to books on tape at an accelerated speed on my runs was not consistent with a measured, concentrated, and fully focused life.
So I stopped listening to books on tape. And now when I run, I just run. One day, I’ll focus in on the sounds of the day. The sound of my shoes as they hit the trail. The geese raising a ruckus. The humming of cars around me. The clickety clack of construction in all directions.
The next day I’ll focus on the sights. The white and grey half-frozen lake. The thousands of leaves crumpled and decaying and shifting with the wind. The naked trees with ever-smaller twigs branching off into hundreds of directions.
It’s made me come to appreciate again the park I’ve run around so many times before.
Run run. Sit Sit. Stand Stand. Don’t wobble.
I’m trying to make this my new focus. If there’s one goal I have every day, it’s to do only one thing at a time. When I eat, just eat. Don’t scroll on the phone or iPad. When I sit down between activities, just sit down. Don’t pick up the phone and read some random article.
I’m not missing out on life because I’m not constantly connected to new information. The opposite is true. I’m missing out on life because I feel the urge to be constantly connected to remote and distant events. Life is immediate. Life is what is in front of me. That’s the only life.
If I’m watching TV and surfing the internet at the same time, there is a good chance that neither activity is worthy of my attention. Better to do neither. Or better yet, do nothing.
You can have all the information in the world, but if you cannot focus on the present moment, it won’t make your life better.
Life is better at zero speed.