Music

No deep philosophy today. At least, none that I am aware of!

I usually run with music played from my phone via Bluetooth to a headset. I am a big fan of Audiofuel, because they produce music that is set at specific beats and tempos with guided instruction for particular sorts of runs (long, intervals etc.). However, I sometimes find the use of the same tracks over and over does get a bit monotonous. Music like that is excellent for setting a pace, but I want more from music: I want motivation and ‘umph’ to push me along. For that I use variety of playlists. I am also a fan of Spotify and that provides other tracks for just this purpose. I have the usual store of rock classics that can be exactly what is needed as you are reaching the low-energy point (about two thirds of the way through any run for me), but my real ‘go-to’ music for running is EDM. I find this fascinating because a friend of mine recently pointed me to an interesting (and infinitely entertaining) map of all music varieties: Every Noise at Once; what I discovered is that my running music preferences are in the top right, electro-pop and EDM (structured, open, simple textures), whereas the rest of time I mainly listen to classical music, especially of the avant-garde variety at the bottom left (organic, complex close textures). So I was wondering if this reflected something about my use of running as a  way to ‘tune out’ from normal life and escape from my usual tasks and environment, and whether my choices had been an unconscious attempt to find something furthest away from my accustomed sound environment.

I do sometimes run without music at all, especially when I am in the countryside (which I often am, living as I do on the edge of the West Pennine Moors). This is a different experience altogether: I run at a slightly slower pace, but with a much greater awareness of my body and environment. I tend not to push too hard and take more walk breaks on longer runs. Maybe this is better. Or just different. No choices are necessary.

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Ordinary authenticity

My running is now back on and seems fine. It’s always a tad ropey picking up after a lay-off of more than a couple of days, but all seems well. I should get around 8kms under my belt this afternoon (maybe 11km, depending on my pace). Thinking about running, however, is not running. Running is something that we just do. Knowing how to run is a ‘know-how’ rather than a ‘know-that’. Additionally, unlike other sports, it is extremely simple in its fundamentals, a very ordinary and everyday kind of thing to do for anyone able-bodied and at an ordinary level of fitness. Two philosophers, giants of twentieth century thinking, concerned themselves with the everyday experiences of life: Martin Heidegger and Ludwig Wittgenstein.
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein spent a great deal of time showing how we get so much of philosophy wrong. They approached the task in different ways, but essentially tried to demonstrate that the ordinariness of life – embodied, physical, skilled, messy, connected, meaningful, linguistic, diverse, directed, goal-oriented, social … – is all the metaphysics we need. All the rest, the problems and questions about the ‘fundamental’ nature of things are based on mistakes. There is a good book by the philosopher Lee Braver, Groundless Grounds (Braver, 2012), that explores many themes that overlap in the work of Heidegger and Wittgenstein, which I highly recommend.
On Heidegger’s side of things, his central concern throughout his life was to investigate ‘Being’, that is, the way things are, how they turn up in our world. He wanted to overturn the idea that best way to understand things and ourselves is from a perspective of abstract reflection and a passive ‘objectivity’, and to show that things have a variety of different meanings and different ways of being in how they are used and interact with us. Additionally, the being that we are, which he calls Dasein (‘being there’, ‘existence’ or ‘presence’), is rather more than a mere ‘rational animal’. In fact, people have written vast tracts on what Dasein is, but, very crudely, it is a being with some awareness of its own way of being in the world (being-in-the-world), and with a concern for its nature and its connectedness to everything else. In that Being, it is our projects and goals that really shape our existence, the vast majority of which are ordinary, everyday acts and orientations. Sometimes, however, we choose to do things that develop a deeper skill or a use of ourselves that heightens (or deepens?) our awareness of our being while we are engaged in it: it becomes what Heidegger would call an expression of authenticity. Of course, as already suggested at the top of this post, we can’t effectively reflect on this being or authenticity, only do it and, perhaps, catch it in language that does not repeat the errors of metaphysics (which I have failed to do here!). So, perhaps, running – or more specifically, training and improving – while ordinary and everyday, can become deeply authentic. Something else to explore further …

REFERENCE
BRAVER, L. 2012. Groundless grounds : a study of Wittgenstein and Heidegger, Cambridge, Mass., MIT Press.

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“Anyone can achieve their fullest potential, who we are might be predetermined, but the path we follow is always of our own choosing. We should never allow our fears or the expectations of others to set the frontiers of our destiny. Your destiny can’t be changed but, it can be challenged. Every man is born as many men and dies as a single one.”

Martin Heidegger

Not running

For the past week or so I have been unable to get out for a run. A combination of the return of the tricky right knee pain and low-level cold symptoms have drained both capacity and motivation. However, I know that a few days off to recover won’t actually do me and my training that much harm. What are interesting are the psychological states that follow. First, the sense of disappointment with oneself for ‘allowing’ the injuries; then the frustration. These are fairly obvious. It’s what comes next that intrigues me: a feeling, tucked away at the back of my thoughts that I might not be able to run again, that somehow my muscles and heart and lungs will waste away so that I simply won’t be able to put the effort in, and, most oddly, that I won’t want to. It’s an odd, niggling concern that I know from past experiences of injuries and illness just isn’t based in reality. However, it’s reoccurrence on every occasion of lay-off suggests it is pointing at something about myself that running is showing me. That thing is a fear of failure. A fear of failure that has the potential to paralyse me into inaction and retrospective ‘excuses’ for why I didn’t want to do it in the first place … Further reflection is required.

Running yourself human

A lot of my life is in my head. As a consultant a significant fraction of my professional time is spent thinking, researching and developing ways of sharing ideas and creative solutions to other people’s problems. I also read a lot: fiction, philosophy, history, Zen texts, politics … I read a lot. And then I write fiction too from time to time. There is a real danger in living through ideas and imagination that the present, the here and now, is swamped out by planning and speculation, by the ideas of others and the dreams of what was, what could have been, and what might be. And this can be a problem.

I am not going to claim that running is an instant solution to these tendencies. However, I notice a pattern of thinking on a long run that suggests there is something important happening in my deeper mind that is related to the process of running in the outdoors. Usually it goes something like this. I start out with thoughts about the run itself: how much my knee hurts, how I don’t feel up to it, how cold it is, what my aim is in terms of pace and distance, whether I did actually lock the car … Then as I get into my stride and rhythm I shift back to concerns about my life: not enough money, where the next project is coming from, whether I made the right decisions about a particular approach to a presentation … But as this goes on it begins to open out to more generally worries about life itself. It starts to get a bit negative. But, something always kicks in. And it is the simple fact of the running itself: the effort; the sense of physical being, in contact with the ground; simply being and moving through the environment, with the wind and trees and water. Then, if I’m lucky, there is just running, but at that moment there is no thought at all. It’s only later as my thoughts and thinking slip back in that I realise they have been transformed and are about the here and now and are not separate worries. They are about my current state, how good it feels (or not as the case may be), but it’s a much more mindful state, without judgement on it.

There is only one other activity that has the same effect for me, and that is zazen, Zen ‘just sitting’ meditation. More on that another day.

I think this non-conceptual, unifying aspect of running is really very important and I will write about this more soon.

Introduction

And my name is Lars. I live in Sweden, in the fifth largest city, Linköping, which has around 150,000 inhabitants. So to be referred to as one of the largest cities in the country is indubitably dubious. In some countries in the world one would probably not say the words ‘150,000’ and ‘largest’ in the same sentence, if you’re not making a point saying “well, it’s not the largest city we have in the country, but it is nice”. But in a Swedish context it all makes sense. Linköping have many advantages. You can ride your bike everywhere, and rush hour is, yes, let’s say manageable. I live there with my significant other, and two children. One of the biggest problems with Linköping is that it is not by the sea, as Kalmar is, where I grew up. I’m in my forties, 43 turning 44.

I’m like David: interested in philosophy. But unlike him I haven’t studied philosophy. However, I wrote my PhD thesis inspired by the philosopher Wittgenstein. So in some senses I have a relation to philosophy, but mainly to ordinary everyday philosophy. I’m quite curious, and I have a tendency to think a lot.

Indubitable. This is a crucial word for this blog, because it relates to the first time I met David. It was at a conference at Roehampton University, England, in September 2005. I was presenting a paper on a highfalutin subject: Theoretical and Genuine Doubts on Moral Education. And I had to speak English, and I was a bit nervous. Everything turned out okay, I guess. Somehow David and I started to talk after my presentation; about what I can’t remember. The one thing that I do remember is that I asked David if he understood my English. Yes, it was all good, he said; but when you said undoubtable, perhaps you meant indubitable. I remember that I genuinely appreciated it.

And, I like to run. Or, I don’t know if that is all true, but I run. Every day. It started with a slightly broken meniscus. The knee specialist told me that it would have to be either surgery, or to wait and see what happens. I choose to wait. Then I read an article in Corren, the daily newspaper in Linköping, about a man of my age who had a similar condition. He was recommended to run shorter distances, but more often. Now he runs every day. It seemed preposterous to me. We all know that it is important to have a good rest between the workouts, I thought. But why not give it go. I decided to start with one week, at the end of April 2014. Now I have been running every day for 22 months. It’s not always fun, but I will come back to this later on. Today I had a run in Kigali in Rwanda, the land of the thousand hills. As a runner, I would like to add that there are pros and cons with that type of terrain.

Introduction

My name is David. I am a 46 (very soon to be 47) year old man from the northwest of England. I was born in Manchester and have lived most of my life in Lancashire. I live with my partner, Lawrence. Professionally I am a consultant in management and higher education, specialising in flexible learning and aspects of change and values in organisations – more details are available here: David Mossley Consulting.

Since I was a child I have had an interest in philosophy and how the concepts and ideas that we take for granted (or are unaware of altogether) structure how we think, talk and act in the world and with each other. At school I had a talent for science, particularly biology, but I chose to study philosophy at both undergraduate and postgraduate level, eventually gaining a PhD in 1997 with a thesis on topics in the philosophy of biology. I also have management qualifications including an MBA; and I spend a lot of time now thinking and reading about how our understanding of work, business and management is underpinned by ideas about human nature, evolving organisations, social being and rational action, as well as the ethical aspects of business life.

I have never been particularly sporty, but I have always tried to keep myself reasonably fit. I did not learn to drive a car until quite recently and used to cycle a great deal simply to get about. Around ten years ago I cycled from my home in Lancashire to visit a friend in Bristol, over 200 miles away and covered the distance in under two days. About five years ago, however, I realised I was getting lazy and unhealthy in my habits, so I decided to take up running. At first it was awful. I found I was actually rather less fit than I thought I was. Simply running the half mile or so to the next village left me feeling sick and unwell. Since then I have improved somewhat. I have had a number of injuries, as all runners do, including tendonitis in my left foot, bursitis in my hips and right knee, and a badly sprained ankle from a fall while running in the dark. However, I persevered and annually run the Great Manchester Run, 10k, raising money for Mind, the Mental Health Charity. This year the GMR falls in May; but I have also signed up for my first half-marathon in Southport in July and my first full marathon in Chester in October. (Somewhere in the back of my mind is a plan to run a 50 mile ultra for my fiftieth birthday, but that might be a crazy thought!)

I recently started using Mapmyrun again after a break and will record my runs there. Today I ran 7.3km at lunchtime.

This blog was the idea of my friend, Lars. It seemed to me an excellent thing to do. I spend a lot of time thinking about life and work and politics and the world while out running so it will be interesting to see how our conversation evolves here. I am looking forward to it. 🙂