Somewhere, in some dank corner of my storehouse of useless knowledge, I recall having heard or read that the word “run” had the most meanings in the English language. Now the folks at “Google” inform me that I was misinformed, and another three-letter word—“set”—outruns run considerably, 464- 396.
It might be a fun diversion to see how many definitions you can come up with on your own for each of these words. You could even playfully combine the words into sentences pertaining to your own area of interest, such as:
During taxi, make sure to set the gauges properly, keep the engine running at the proper rpm, and after performing the engine run-up, set the heading indicator to the runway heading, and then you’re all set to taxi to the—you guessed it, runway.
The three paragraphs above may serve poorly as a setup for discussing a different kind of running, but what the hell, let’s just run with it.
My sister once told me that as long as she knew me I was running. She is older than me, so that means that I have been running all of my life. My response was to ask her if she thought I was running toward something or away from something. She said she didn’t know, but felt more as though I was running away.
Not all sisters get it right, but being a perceptive lassie, mine hit the nail on the head. Clearly, she wasn’t referring to the hyperactive, fidgety kind of running as much as the kind of running that happens when you always manage to find a way out of knowing what’s going in your own head, failing to muster the courage to sit with it long enough to get to know it. That kind of running doesn’t require a lot of movement; sometimes, for me, it even took the form of sitting still at the edge of my bed in a trancelike state not knowing what if anything I was thinking, but somehow feeling transported to nowhere, a destination that I am certain exists because I have spent a lot of time there, although all I can really tell you about it is that it isn’t here.
I have occasionally wondered, superficially no doubt, if my running is an attempt to keep up with my heartbeat. Physicians who place their stethoscopes to my chest (not too many do that anymore) often raise their eyebrows at the hummingbird rapidity of my heartbeat. I read once that each species has an average limit to the number of heartbeats in their lifespan, which has convinced me that I am likely to have spent them already and am truly on borrowed time, or perhaps due for an engine overhaul.
As a kid, I was very active, and loved to ride my bicycle at breakneck speed, play most sports, and dart between places rather than saunter. That all ended with a very nasty bout of mono when I was 14, from which I am convinced I have never fully recovered. I have been sluggish since then, tiring easily. In high school, I quit the tennis team after 2 weeks because I couldn’t run around the track once, let alone the repeated times that others easily seemed to do it. My ANA and other autoimmune markers have remained elevated since then, and I recently have been through a rough and tumble bout with stage 4 cancer, another autoimmune disorder. So whether it was the mono virus or some genetic time bomb that went off, the literal kind of running has been pretty limited since adolescence.
But that wasn’t what my sister was talking about. She was talking about the constant doing and the avoidance of being. Although I didn’t have much physical energy, I managed to busy myself non-stop. Some might call it driven.
Over the years as a psychologist I have worked with a few clients who suffered from what they identified as a lack of drive, or motivation. Some were clinically depressed, which usually was a style of coping and thinking about some event or series of events, but some had no symptoms of depression other than that lack of drive. They just didn’t care much about anything or anyone, and the only reason they came to therapy to begin with was because someone in their life insisted on it, and they were being compliant in spite of not seeing the point to being there.
I always had difficulty understanding those clients, what made them tick and what made them want to continue ticking. Reaching inward to find some way to connect, all I could know was that I had my own panic, probably as a result of my biology and childhood attachments, a sense of deep insecurity and overwhelming but ineffable fear. Sometimes I came to know this in recurrent nightmares of being chased by demons, and I needed to fly away (running alone along the ground wasn’t sufficient) lest they kill me. I woke up nightly in a sweat, checking to make sure I was still alive. Ultimately, in late high school or college, I faced them head on and they disappeared, but I’m sure they continue to exist in some form, responsible no doubt for waking me at 3am and coercing me to write these words.
My clients who didn’t care much about anything reported no such demons. I tried my best to find the agitation in their souls, but couldn’t. I would not say that they seemed serene, but rather unperturbed as if in a mild zombie trance. Undoubtedly my frustration in trying to find their pain was the same frustration that drove others in their lives to send them to see me, but I don’t know that I did those clients any good.
Sometimes I think the antidote to this constant running is to attempt to master idleness. (I am not, however, unaware of the oxymoron. I recall watching a video in which Krishnamurti brilliantly confronts Trungpa Rinpoche by asking, “Isn’t meditation just another thing to do?”) I meditate, although when I have gone on a couple of weekend meditation retreats, I found it similar to Chinese water torture. I spend most of my pent up energy trying not to think so much about getting the hell out of there and exploring the beautiful surroundings, or checking in to a nice hotel, seeing a movie or making one, singing or working or making money or driving—just driving.
Clearly, my sister was right. I have been running all my life—running towards ephemeral goals, jumping over hurdles, ducking under fences. Perhaps there is such a thing as being addicted to moving, and that may be one reason I fly. Or, perhaps, flying is merely a reenactment of airborne running to keep ahead of the demons. It doesn’t matter a whit I suppose whether I am running toward something or away from it; they are the same thing. The demons are always there. I will face them from time to time, and they will go away occasionally, but as long as this hummingbird heart keeps going they will return to poke and prod me on until my set of allocated heartbeats run out.