Sports people and meditators often use similar language to describe their experiences of practice: In his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, Haruki Murakami talks about how running for him creates a void in which he can observe the cloud-like nature of his thoughts. In this excerpt from the book, he expands on his own introspection while running and how he uses his insights to become more accepting of his aging self.
I’m often asked what I think about as I run. Usually the people who ask this have never run long distances themselves. I always ponder the question. What exactly do I think about when I’m running? I don’t have a clue.
On cold days I guess I think a little about how cold it is. And about the heat on hot days. When I’m sad I think a little about sadness. When I’m happy I think a little about happiness. As I mentioned before, random memories come to me too. And occasionally, hardly ever, really, I get an idea to use in a novel. But really as I run, I don’t think much of anything worth mentioning.
I just run. I run in a void. Or maybe I should put it the other way: I run in order to acquire a void. But as you might expect, an occasional thought will slip into this void. People ’s minds can’t be a complete blank. Human beings’ emotions are not strong or consistent enough to sustain a vacuum. What I mean is, the kinds of thoughts and ideas that invade my emotions as I run remain subordinate to that void. Lacking content, they are just random thoughts that gather around that central void.
The thoughts that occur to me while I’m running are like clouds in the sky. Clouds of all different sizes. They come and they go, while the sky remains the same sky as always. The clouds are mere guests in the sky that pass away and vanish, leaving behind the sky. The sky both exists and doesn’t exist. It has substance and at the same time doesn’t. And we merely accept that vast expanse and drink it in.
I’m in my late fifties now. When I was young, I never imagined the twenty-first century would actually come and that, all joking aside, I’d turn fifty. In theory, of course, it was self-evident that someday, if nothing else happened, the twenty-first century would roll around and I’d turn fifty. When I was young, being asked to imagine myself at fifty was as difficult as being asked to imagine, concretely, the world after death. Mick Jagger once boasted that “I’d rather be dead than still singing ‘Satisfaction’ when I’m forty-five.” But now he’s over sixty and still singing ‘Satisfaction.’ Some people might find this funny, but not me. When he was young, Mick Jagger couldn’t imagine himself at forty-five. When I was young, I was the same. Can I laugh at Mick Jagger? No way. I just happen not to be a young rock singer. Nobody remembers what stupid things I might have said back then, so they’re not about to quote them back at me. That’s the only difference.
And now here I am living in this unimaginable world. It feels really strange, and I can’t tell if I’m fortunate or not. Maybe it doesn’t matter. For me—and for everybody else, probably—this is my first experience growing old, and the emotions I’m having, too, are all first-time feelings. If it were something I’d experienced before, then I’d be able to understand it more clearly, but this is the first time, so I can’t. For now all I can do is put off making any detailed judgments and accept things as they are. Just like I accept the sky, the clouds, and the river. And there’s also something kind of comical about it all, something you don’t want to discard completely.