My sister generally introduces me to good things in life and recently she gifted a dozen books to remind me that I shall be getting older by a year soon. Incidentally I picked up Haruki Murakami’s ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’ from the lot she had sent and after a long time I finished a book with only one break. In my view it was a fascinating memoir and I have pasted below some snippets from the book. My recommendation is to go ahead and grab a copy for yourself.
He introduces his memoir in this way
“Somerset Maugham Once wrote that in each shave lies a philosophy. I couldn’t agree more. No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes a contemplative, even meditative act. As a writer, then, and as a runner, I don’t find that writing and publishing a book of my own personal thoughts about running makes me stray too far off my usual path. Perhaps, I am just too painstaking a type of person, but I can’t grasp much of anything without putting down my thoughts in writing, so I had to actually get my hands working and write these words. Otherwise, I’d never know what running means to me.”
He offers the power of choice everyone has in this one line and this line is going to stay with me for ever.
“Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.”
In the following paragraph he creates a link between running a marathon and writing a novel
“Most ordinary runners are motivated by an individual goal, more than anything : namely a time they want to beat. As long as he can beat that time, a runner will feel he’s accomplished what he set out to do and if he can’t then he will feel he hasn’t. Even if he doesn’t break the time he has hoped for, as long as he has the sense of satisfaction at having done his very best – and possibly, having made some significant discovery about himself in the process – then that in itself is an accomplishment, a positive feeling he can vary over to the next race.
The same can be said about my profession. In the novelist’s profession, as far as I’m concerned, there’s no such thing as winning or losing. Maybe numbers of copies sold, awards won and critics’ praise serve as outward standards for accomplishment in literature, but none of them really matter. What’s crucial is whether your writing attains the standards you’ve set for yourself. Failure to reach that bar is not something you can easily explain away. When it comes to other people, you can always come up with a reasonable, explanation, but you can’ fool yourself. In this sense, writing novels and running full marathons are very much alike. Basically a writer has a, quiet, inner motivation, and doesn’t seek validation in the outwardly visible.”
In the following paragraph I can possibly draw some kind of parallel with R.W. Emerson’s thinking on self-reliance
“I’m stuck by how, except when you’re young, you really need to prioritize in life, figuring out in what order you should divide up your time and energy. If you don’ t get that sort of system set by a certain age, you’ll lack focus and your life will be out of balance. I placed the highest priority on the sort of life that lets me focus on writing, not associating with all the people around me. I felt that the indispensable relationship I should build in my life was not with a specific person, but with an unspecified number of readers. As long as I got my day-to-day life set so that each work was an improvement over the last, then many of the readers would welcome whatever I life I chose for myself. Shouldn’t this be my duty as a novelist and my top priority? My opinion hasn’t changed over the years. I can’t see my readers ‘ faces, so in a sense it’s a conceptual type of human relationship, but I’ve consistently considered this invisible conceptual relationship to be the most important thing in my life.
In other words you can’t please everybody.”
Some interesting notes around being optimistic and on the need to find something that we love
“Let’s face it. Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to see out a band of fairness. Of course that might take time and effort. And may be it won’t seem to be worth all that. It’s up-to each individual to decide whether or not it is.
Human beings naturally continue doing things they like and they don’t continue what they don’t like. Admittedly, something close to will does play a small part in that. But no matter what how strong a will a person has , no matter how much he may hate to lose, if it’s an activity that he doesn’t really care for , he won’t keep it up for long. Even if he did, it wouldn’t be good for him”
On deliberate practice during a marathon
“The body is an extremely practical system. You have to let it experience intermittent pain over time and then the body will get the point. As a result it will willingly accept (or maybe not) the increased amount of exercise it’s made to do. After this you very gradually increase the amount of exercise you do. Doing it gradually is important so you don’t burn out.
On the highway of life you can’t always be on the fast lane. Still I don’t want to keep making the same mistakes over and over. Best to learn from my mistakes and put that lesson into practice the next time around. While I still have the ability to do that.
Muscles are like work animals that are quick on the uptake. If you carefully increase the load, step by step, they learn to take it. As long as you explain your expectations to them by actually showing them examples of the amount of work they have to endure, your muscles will comply and gradually get stronger. It doesn’t happen overnight, of course. But as long as you take your time and do it in stages, they won’t complain – aside from the occasional long face- and they’ll very patiently and obediently grow stronger. Through repetition you input into your muscles the message that this is how much work they have to perform. Our muscles are very conscientious. As long as we observe the correct procedure, they won’t complain.
If, however the load halts for few days, the muscles automatically assume they don’t have to work that hard anymore, and they lower their limits. Muscles really are like animals and they want to take it as easy as possible. If pressure isn’t applied to them, they relax and cancel out the memory of all that work. Input this cancelled memory once again and you have to repeat the whole journey from the very beginning. Naturally it’s important to take a break sometimes, but in a critical time like this, when I’m training for a race, I have to show my muscles who’s boss. I have to make it clear to them what’s expected. I have to maintain a certain tension by being unsparing, but not to the point where I burn out. These are tactics that all experienced runners learn over time.”
Three things that he says are essential to be successful
“Talent, focus and endurance are required for success.”
Towards the end of the memoir he kind of elucidates on what was so aptly said by Miyagi in Karate Kid ‘True strength comes from inside”
“What I mean is , I didn’t start running because some-body asked me to become a runner. Just like I didn’t become a novelist because someone asked me to. One day, out of the blue, I wanted to write a novel. And one day, out of the blue, I started to run- simply because I wanted to. I’ve always done whatever I felt like doing in life. People may try to stop me, and convince me I’m wrong, but I won’t change.
I look up at the sky, wondering if I’ll catch a glimpse of kindness there, but I don’t. All I see are indifferent summer clouds drifting over the pacific, And they have nothing to say to me. Clouds are always taciturn. I probably shouldn’t be looking up at them. What I should be looking at is inside of me. Like staring down into a deep well. Can I see kindness there? No, all I see is my own nature. My own individual, stubborn, uncooperative, often self-centered nature that still doubts itself- that, when troubles occur, tries to find something funny, or something nearly funny, about the situation. I’ve carried this character around like an old suitcase, down a long, dusty path. I’m not carrying it because I like it. The contents are too heavy , and it looks crummy, fraying in spots. I’ve carried it with me because there was nothing else I was supposed to carry. Still, I guess I have grown attached to it. As you might expect.
No matter how long you stand there examining yourself naked before a mirror, you’ll never see reflected what’s inside.”
Stay Tuned and Have fun