the calm

Haruki Murakami has a book titled What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. First, I have to say that I would read any book by Murakami because I can find fragments of myself in his characters. I feel less alone, more understood. But I enjoyed reading WITAWITAR because it was Murakami’s book that was written as if it were only meant for him to read. Most writers, if they want to be successful, write for the reader, the audience. But this approach of writing for the self answers different calls, the calls from within, the questions that are buried deep within you. I call this exploratory writing.

Murakami’s story begins with why and how he began to run. He didn’t run in his track team. He wasn’t naturally gifted. His journey began at around 30 years old – relatively late, but age is nothing in these matters. At around age 30, Murakami also began to write seriously. He sold his restaurant to become a full-time writer. He gambled on himself.

To Murakami, running, as well as writing, were an escape. He did not use them to avoid his problems, rather they served as outlets for self-expression, for exploring his own character and purpose.

As a writer, you write in order for someone to read. As a runner, you race and train with others. But the joy of these pursuits, for Murakami, was how well they fit in and accommodated his propensity towards solitude.

The empty page that stares back at the writer as he sits at his desk to write; the lonely roads that a runner treads on his morning runs. These are the starts and stops of a journey with no end. When I sit here to write, I have the same thoughts – what questions am I grappling with? What is awakening my curiosity? These are things only I can answer for myself.

The same has happened as I ride my bike down winding roads, or stare at the bottom of the swimming pool covering lap after lap, or even while running on the trails. I encounter these questions, this inner drive to explore what lies within. There is also an internal calm when I can hear my breathing and feel my heart pumping furiously the blood that will course through my veins to deliver oxygen that the muscles need to keep on pushing. 

The calm is ephemeral, dharmic. By the time I recognize it, it is gone. Maybe that is because I don’t really know how to live in patience. I do everything fast, and I expect everything fast. I am learning this. I devour my meals as if I were timed, and I chug my coffee and water. I get anxious when people don’t respond to a text message. I cannot wait in customer support lines. Time is valuable, and I think that is why patience is hard. I am not ill-intentioned, but I am not ready in that way. So when I encounter the calm, I notice, and I am grateful for it. 

look within

Seeing persons and things not as they are, but as I am. 

I never wanted to become this way, insecure and fearful about the prospect of loving. But here today, there is hardly anything that scares me more than truly loving or committing to a person. In the morning, I feel devotionally committed to bringing the best part of myself to every interaction. By the evening, I am questioning if it is even worth the effort.

The truth is, there is a lot of internal work that needs to be done. This is why I opt out to take the sidelines as an observer. Can the work be done as a participant? Perhaps, but how much hurt will result from a rushed process. 

I don’t know where to start with myself. I have cried tears in a hopeless fit to uncover some truth, some response that will lead to more peace and courage and less fear and shame. But there is very little to show for it now. The idea is that I am living in blindness, unable to see things as they are, but only as they appear to me. 

The sun rises, according to where I am, and then it sets. See, that’s blindness, because what happens is that we are orbiting the sun and rotating on an axis every 24 hours or so. Like a big, giant spherical carousel, we spin around to see the sun then hide from it. 

It may be that my ego prefers this blindness. For a blind man, there is comfort in familiar territory, familiar anxiety, familiar pain. But returning to the past to question and potentially alter the future can have fatal consequences. At the very least, there will be unknown consequences. 

Today, he is suffering. He is me. He is sitting in his room, typing in his laptop, getting ready for a phone call with his hooded sweatshirt on and the lights of his room cut off. He is writing, and he is suffering. It hit him like a wave, and he withdrew into himself to find familiar habits. A question, has he not grown up or experienced enough of this to anticipate where he will be in the next couple of minutes? 

I was never very good at chess. Maybe, I digress. I have never had a natural aptitude for chess. I win games, and I can anticipate moves and strategies. But I never picked it up as quickly as others. The obstacle to chess for me lies in going deeper, in relentlessly asking why until I have reached a point of underestanding. I want results, outcomes, trophies before I want internal understanding. That’s why I find it hard to perform in certain arenas. 

True growth is internal. In the very first story of Hurakami’s Men Without Women, I encounter this passage: 

“The proposition that we can look into another person’s heart with perfect clarity strikes me as a fool’s game. I don’t care how well we think we should understand them, or how much we love them. All it can do is cause us pain. Examining your own heart, however, is another matter. I think it’s possible to see what’s in there if you work hard enough at it. So in the end maybe that’s the challenge: to look inside your own heart as perceptively and seriously as you can, and to make peace with what you find there. If we hope to truly see another person, we have to start by looking within ourselves.”

And Kendrick Lamar stated this: 

“Look inside of my soul and you can find gold and maybe get rich,

look inside of your soul and you can find out it never exist.”

The story says, that we need to begin to look inward – but how? How can we when it gets so difficult to find the time? And without a very regimented schedule. Perhaps this week, I can set a schedule to meditate or at least experience the quiet within myself in the last 30-45 minutes before bed. But I am always distracted.

The promise is gold and wealth, but if you look into another person with those intentions you should find that you are an empty soul, seeking greed and personal benefit. It is in times like these, that I sort of understand that one must treat other people’s histories like those in museums. Especially, the free to enter museums like the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. To discover, and understand, that a history should be viewed, maybe studied, experienced, but never owned. Do not touch. Do not lay claim.

Another tragic trope, see with your eyes not with your hands. And why? Because the hands that have not long handled clay will turn to mush the very essence. If you’re not good at something, it will not happen overnight. Give it time, promise to go deeper, and remain patient in your journey. 

Don’t give in to temptation. Ok, that’s enough wisdom for now. Tomorrow will be another day.