“I prepare all of my lectures and talks in my head while running,” said my friend, as he watched me put headphones in my ears, prepare my music playlist, and get ready for our run together.
Yet, one Friday morning, I decided to give his words a chance while running alone on the beach. I felt free and was enjoying a moment of solitude. As I ran, a few questions surfaced in my mind: “How free are we really are? And free from what? What things in life are we attached to?”
Running alone, with no music playing, on an empty beach positively reflected a sense of freedom. If someone was standing on the hill and watching me run, it might remind them of a horse running along the shore, which is usually described as “free” and “wild.” But are we humans really free like those horses?
Horses have foals, and mares worry about providing food and safety for them. But do mares and stallions worry about their foals when they are grown up? Do they think about their foals when they’re running in the wild? Do they worry about their children while they’re at work? Do they think about what their boss says as they’re running? Do they have a boss or an assistant?
Of course, we can’t know the answers to these questions. But we do know that us humans, even if we are running naked in the desert, will think about many things that keep us agitated or entertained. Even if you try to clear your mind of thoughts, you’ll be thinking about the act of clearing your mind. It may only be a temporary clearance until you finish your run, a thought forgotten forever, or one soon replaced by other thoughts.
Our mind is a vacuum that always needs to be filled
While running one day, I noticed how I am anchored to many things surrounding me. Even when I try clear my head from work, I think about life, my family, or the books I want to write. I may enjoy the surrounding trees or clear desert—or watch out for reckless drivers while putting a thought to rest forever. Sometimes, I retrieve a memory of my home country Egypt and linger on it for a mile or two. Basically, there are three main processes going on in our brains: grasping new data, retrieving old data, and deleting old data.
Now, what makes certain data more important than other data? In other words, why is some data retained and other data deleted and forgotten? Why do I retrieve parts of these data sets while running? For example, thinking about my wife and kids, but not remembering other relationships with the same warmth and love? Why do I think about writing a book in the future? Why did I provide an example of a horse running and not a dog? And why do I think about Egypt, not New Zealand?
What I know is that I love my wife, my kids, my family, and my country. I am devoted to my work and my patients. I belong to my past, with all its memories, good and bad, and I aspire to be a better doctor and a writer. My thoughts and beliefs determine my decisions. But how can I describe all these relationships? Where do I stand in all of this? In an increasingly stressful world, the need to understand where we stand and where are we going is fundamental. Is there a map I can draw to know exactly where I stand? Is there a word, a formula, that can help me describe my position on the map and how to move forward?
Suddenly, as I was running and musing on this, the word “anchored” lit up in my head. Yes, I am anchored to all the things that surround me. My thoughts, memories, beloved ones, and work are all my anchors. I am the boat, life is the sea, and the seabed is what the anchor holds on to. Wow, I thought, this is a fresh idea I never thought I would have while running. I guess my friend was right—run and listen to your mind.