Just read a book about running, by a man who’s immensely passionate about running. And something compelled me to not only read it but also write about it!
Those who know me, will be surprised about how the book landed up in my shelf, and secondly in my hands! Well, I have a fairly simple and plausible explanation to the first, I am married to a runner. So it didn’t so much land up on ‘my’ shelf as it did on ‘ours’. 🙂 What made me read it (at least at the time when I decided to) was the hope of finally being able to understand what makes running so precious to my husband. What goes on in his mind. Why does he call it ‘his meditation’.
Before you judge me as being naive, let me say this, I do understand that any form of physically intensive activity would be calming for the mind, but meditation to me is being able to channelize the mind towards something. It’s mastering the mind. In my Yoga practice, the mind is as much active and attentive as the body (I am talking of Iyengar school of Yoga). So yes, my practice is my meditation, it detaches me from the world outside and makes me focus within. But running? Forgive me for saying this, but isn’t it ‘a mind numbing exercise’, like literally!? How does that combine meditation then!? Well, I’ve argued about this for years, finally I decided to unravel the mystery. Not by running, of course not, so this book was probably my best chance.
Enough and more has been said about ‘what I talk about, when I talk about running’, Haruki Murakami’s memoir, where he confesses to being a runner as much as a writer. Most people I know who’ve read the book talk about why it works for a runner, how they resonate with it, or how they don’t! But I’m no runner, so that doesn’t merit my opinion. Nonetheless, I have a few things to say about it.
Is it really for a runner?
Does it work for a non-runner?
What did I take back from it?
This is really not so much of a critique as it is memoir of the memoir itself! Here it flows…
The book IS really about running. From the vivid description of the marathons he’s run (especially his first one in Greece which he ran alone!), to the ones he missed, and everything in between, i.e. the training. So yes, on the face of it, it is most definitely for a runner. Especially a newbie, an aspiring ‘marathonist’ (a term I just coined). What better way to get a low down on what marathons are out there, how to approach it (to my lay mind, it was a step by step guide) and be motivated to keep going by someone who is self admittedly ‘not a natural’ (not to mention the inspiration it can be to several smitten fans of the man!). But dig deeper, and you can peel layers and layers of this tiny book (173 pages only) to reveal the magic.
Human beings are a complex mix of many personality traits. Add to that the complexity of life experiences, and what you get is a heady concoction. A man, who grew up in the suburbs of Kobe, an international port near Kyoto in Japan, goes on to become one of most coveted postmodernist novelist. That long journey, was intercepted by a jazz bar and a few immature attempts (in his own words) of writing. Each of these experiences have clearly contributed to the man that he is, which in turn has influenced his work (think jazz music in his books, or the element of travel or movement from one end of spectrum to the other, or simply his obsession with cats (his jazz bar in Tokyo was called ‘Peter Cat’)). What goes on behind the scenes, in the mind that thinks of those characters, the situations, the stories, all subtly falls into place when you read the book. Murakami is unabashedly candid about how the human mind thinks, how it can be tamed, even tricked into doing exactly what you want, so long as you remain focused on your goal! The book introduces you to passion and perseverance, like it’s the ONLY way to be! And that works, for a runner, for a non-runner, basically, for anyone who cares.
…whether it’s differentiating between being ‘uncompetitive’ (not being bothered about reaching your own goals)
and being ‘uncomfortable with competition’ (where you are pitted against someone else)…
… or when he tells you how stopping each day’s work at that point where you think you can do more, gives you a jump-start the following day (and this, I know really works for me!)…
… from accepting age with grace to pouring your experiences and maturity you gain with age into every aspect of your life, into your work…
He speaks of everything from the ‘runner’s mind’, in the context of running. But does it apply to every ordinary (and non-ordinary) situation in life? I’d say – yes.
‘What I talk about…’ is positively the best lessons I’ve read on life, some of which were an eye opener and some corroborated and reminded me of my own thoughts!
This brings me to what I took back from the book. I am tempted to say the ‘mood’ which I can best describe as ‘free flow’. There’s something so organic and honorable about the book, you can’t help but let it stay with you. In the words of the genius, ‘like the music of lovin’ spoonful’, ‘unpretentious and commonplace… yet meaningful and valuable’.
Thanks HM, for running, for the passion, for the determination, all of which you’ve poured into the book and passed on to many like me. I never ran, but I got it.