I know what happens to me when I stop running. I know all too well. Depression. I don’t feel like doing anything. The thought of doing anything even slightly causes anxiety. But when I’m running, the threatening harsh world is smoothed over and doesn’t seem so scary anymore. It becomes inviting. I feel up to life’s challenges. Exhilarated even.
But what happens when running becomes an obstacle? Just a fix, a state of being I become addicted to. Abused.
I’m making myself a cup of coffee made from yesterday’s steeped grounds. It doesn’t have that same aromatic full-body kick to it, but it’ll do. I just ate a bowlful of millet I spiced up with a left over pack of pepper flakes from Dominos, and fry up my last egg. It fills me up, but I know I’ll be hungry again within the hour. The sun is heating up the day, but I can see a weather front moving in. It’ll be nice to get some rain.
Gusts of wind are blowing erratically. The tarp of my outdoor kitchen is dancing wildly with each blow . Tiny droplets appear on the screen of my computer then disappear as the wind returns the moisture to the air. It’s a beautiful day. Moody. Nice smooth, filtered light making all the green colors pop out vibrantly.
I’m tired. My legs feel heavy from the past two weeks of running. My arms and sides and butt are sore and stiff from paddling and biking. I’ve been going hard with my body, trying to stay fit and in shape for the marathon. It’s under two weeks away. Finally time to taper and recover the muscles. I can’t rest too much, it wouldn’t be good, but I can sense my body desiring to crumple up and take a break from it all. I’ve been going hard on all levels. Not just with my training either.
I’m staying positive. I’m staying focused. I’m building confidence and averaging a job interview a week. My Hilo Ohana has been so supportive. “You can do this!” they say. “You’d be perfect at that job” they remark. Just yesterday I got called in for an interview after only applying the day before. Encouraging. My phone rang while I was walking up to my tent. I almost didn’t answer, too tired to want to talk. But I knew I couldn’t afford not to. 1 hour later I was sitting at the cafe 5 miles away rattling out answers about my personality and skill traits like I had become oh-so used to doing the past 6 months.
6 months. In a few days The summer team for Kure Atoll conservancy will be embarking on their 6 month journey to the atoll, the very same journey I embarked on a year ago, that I returned from 6 months ago. It’s been 6 months. 182 days. Still no job. In some ways I’m actually impressed with myself. I’ve been able to get away with living without a paying wage. That takes finesse I tell yeah, if you don’t have much money to begin with. But it also depresses me. I’m someone who needs to be doing something. I need production in my life. I need to be acheiving. And when I turn around and see that since I’ve returned from the far reaches of the Northwest Hawaiian islands, I see a young man who has not been motivated to work. But I’m too tired for the emotional baggage that comes along with that. Depression is a real downer. A real addiction I tell ya.
So instead I choose to rest my weary bones on this Wednesday, and sink into a reflection I’ve been meaning to return to:
I was sitting with my roommate Taapai. It was dark and chilly out. We just finished our shared meal of Poi and and sautéed greens in coconut milk. As we often do, we were sharing the same physical space but very much involved in our own thoughts; each in our own meditative worlds. Sometimes a bridge is formed between our meditations when one of us feels inspired to share. I spoke up.
“I’ve been feeling depressed.”
“Yea. It’s weird though, it feels like I’m coming out of it, like a spell was broken.”
“what broke the spell?”
“I don’t know, it’s hard to say really. Maybe I got fed up feeling that way… I started writing again. And that felt good. I think it was because I was creating something. It felt good to be creating… the depression, I wasn’t doing anything, and I didn’t want to do anything.”
“Depression. It’s an addiction.”
His statement caught me off guard. I had to pause and process it, but I couldn’t grasp the concept behind it. “How do you mean?” I asked.
“Look at it this way,” He leans in. He’s got my attention, “emotions are different states of being. When you are feeling an emotion, your body or psyche is desiring a certain state of being. Otherwise, that emotion wouldn’t exist, right? At first glance, you would think that being sad is not something anyone wants to be. But then why does that emotion exist?”
“Oh I see. you’re saying that all the emotional states exist for a reason: to fulfill a certain state of being. Being sad is as necessary of a state of being as being happy. Our psyche desires certain emotions to fulfill a state of being that is necessary in that place and time in our lives.” I’m a quick conceptual learner.
“Yes. you got it. But what happens when we feel an emotion that won’t go away? Like depression. It’s chronic. You feel depressed. You go to bed feeling depressed, you wake up and you’re still depressed. This is when your psyche becomes addicted to that emotion. It’s craving something, trying to fulfill something. It’s stuck in a self-fulfilling pattern.”
“hmm I don’t quite understand what you mean.”
“I mean when you say you were depressed, you’re psyche was addicted to being sad. It was keeping you in that same state, with no end in sight.”
“But it did end.”
“Yeah eventually. But why did it end?”
“I got tired of feeling that way.”
“okay you got tired of feeling that way, but did feeling sick and tired of being depressed make it go away on it’s own?”
“no.. I had to do something.”
“Exactly. You only became aware that you were depressed. That awareness alone did not change your state of emotional desire. You had to force yourself to break out of it, right?”
“Yeah I guess so, in a way. In the only way I felt I could, and that was to write about the depression.”
“Right. So somehow while your psyche was still in that state of depression, addicted to it like someone is addicted alcohol, you saw yourself in a different light, and you wanted to get there, but you had to somehow break this immediate feeling you were stuck in… and you did this by – what did you say – writing about it?”
“Yeah I got out my computer and started typing away about how pathetic my situation was, and when I was creating those words I was then immersed in the activity of creating a story, and I looked back on my words and saw how that actually sounded good, and next thing I knew I was in this state of being satisfied by what I had just created. It was like I had dislodged the depressive emotion and replaced it with something else. All of a sudden I was no longer desiring to be sad and depressed, I was desiring to feel good from creating something of quality.”
“Yup. you got it. You see, our emotions are as much of a desire as the substance in our lives we consume to feel a certain way. You can become addicted to feeling bad just as much as you can become addicted to feeling good. You can become addicted to being alone or become addicted to being among people. Neither is right or wrong. It’s just a state of being in which you are desiring.
“In this world, this life, our entire existence is made up of desires. And society judges which desires are deemed good and which ones evil. Religion loves to decide this for us. But in truth, it is the very act of desiring that causes all conflicts. People desire control, people desire clean air, people desire happiness, people desire sex, people desire war, people desire peace, people desire to love, people desire solitude and on and on… we come together and we share our desires with each other, we find those that share the same interests with us, but those interests are just desires. We relate with our desires and if there is enough of us who relate, those desires become a collective desire,a social movement in which all who participate in that movement are fulfilled by its cause. But one desire always conflicts with another, by definition. If we desire to be happy, than we cannot be sad. But sad exists for a time and a place in our lives.”
“yeah I suppose you’re right… I don’t really want to believe that though. I want to believe that there is always some unifying truth, like on a spiritual level, that drives our motives transcendent of desire. Desire just seems so primal to me.”
“Well there is a unifying truth of course, but it exists outside the plane of our physical reality. That’s what spirituality is… it’s that very unifying force that directs us as physical beings towards righteousness. But we often confuse the morals and ethics taught to us from an external source with the divinity that speaks through us; the internal source.”
“So what are you saying, that a heroin addict’s desire for a dangerous drug should keep on desiring heroin? That they are actually going through with a spiritual fulfillment?”
“No you misunderstand what I’m trying to say. But I can see how you came to that conclusion. What I am saying is that all desires – whether it is that person’s addiction to heroin, or whether it is that other person’s addiction to feeling sad – all those desires are dictated by the very root source of our physical existence: emotions. That in fact, our whole physical selves is directed by our emotions; what we feel in turn motivates how we act, or do not act. This is the very essence of being alive in our plane of reality. Acting bodies of life influencing one another. Every thing else is secondary to those emotions. But emotions are secondary to the collective spirit we all share, what people might call God. It is when we align our emotional state with that of God then we are not acting out of our personal selfish desires, but out of a deeper soulful place. You may still feel sorrow or overwhelming joy either way but those emotional states are no longer full-filling themselves, they are full-filling something else. something greater than yourself.”
“Ok wait, your saying that if I go out and call people to encourage them to vote for say – Bernie Sanders, I’m really just doing that for my own selfish needs?”
“Yes, in a way.”
“But I don’t agree with that. I believe it would be selfish if I just worried about my own vote, or didn’t vote at all.”
“Well yes those would be selfish too.”
“But by trying to get more people involved and voting for Bernie Sanders, and sacrificing my own personal agenda because I believe in this movement in our country, isn’t that a noble cause? Isn’t that fulfilling something greater than my own emotional needs or desires?”
“It is a noble cause because you and the people you surround yourself with believe that. It only seems like a selfless act because you are participating in a collective movement. But like I said before, if enough of the same personal desires come together in mass, then it becomes a collective desire: the desire for a political revolution, the desire for free education, for universal health care, for tax revenue to be distributed equally among the american people through social services; whatever it may be that all of you stand in solidarity for.”
“But how can that be an addiction? I believe in these things because I see a lot of people suffering unnecessarily, and their suffering because of other peoples desire for power and money and control. This whole political movement if anything is a movement away from desires.”
“So is it a spiritual revolution then?”
“I don’t know. maybe. I don’t think people see it that way. Most people think spirituality should be separate from politics or government.”
“Then what’s guiding the politics of a people?”
“Well the people are! Moral principles, economic policies, cultural expectations.”
“Let me ask you something. Where did you get your morals? How do you decide between right and wrong?”
Like many of the stimulating conversations between me in Taapai, this one was evolving fast, like a young tree flowering for the first time in its life. I wasn’t expecting such a philosophical discussion, but I was so very intrigued by all of this, more infatuated with the engagement our conversation was creating than actually taking a stand point on any single argument. We were arguing in a sense, but we weren’t arguing to prove a point, or maybe we were, but we were doing so more to arrive at some point that lay ahead of us. The conversation had a life of its own, and we were the breath, the air or substance giving it life.
I thought about his abrupt question – about where do my morals come from- and was beginning to understand what he was saying this whole time. I thought about my last blog post about being raised atheist but still indoctrinated with christian values; how we are all just raised to think and act in a way that is best suited for our environment – whether those years of development were influenced by our parents, or someone else, or some events. Don’t leave your hand over the fire, it will burn you. I learned that. But I also learned not to fear fire because of it. I learned to admire it, worship, see it as symbolic as a giver and taker of life. A source of warmth and safety and protection. A source of danger and death. A symbol of origin. A symbol of creation. Like our Sun. The giver of life. Were these lessons in life shaping my morals? I somehow sensed through these lessons that I was a single being participating in a greater act of life on this planet in this universe, and I was learning this as I exposed myself more and more to Nature and it’s complex diversity of organized and cooperating life.
But what of my moral compass? How do I distinguish between good and evil? How do I as a conscious self-acting agent make decisions for myself to better my life? And is that any different than how we do that as a Society? I meditated on the question in silence after Taapai asked it. It was the first gap in our conversation since it started. A welcomed one. I needed time to reflect on all that was said.
to be continued…. Wednesday’s Training PT II: Always Have a Plan B