When you like a book by a certain author, you also look for his other books. I had enjoyed reading Murakami’s ‘Men Without Women’ so I almost impulsively bought ‘What I Talk About When I Talk About Running’ at the airport book shop.
The urge to flip through the book at the bookstore is unstoppable; my attention was caught by Somerset Maugham’s quote in the Foreword: ‘In each shave lies a philosophy’. It was explained further ‘No matter how mundane some action might appear, keep at it long enough and it becomes contemplative, even meditative acts.’ That tells us what to expect – Murakami asserts that it is not philosophy per se, but the book contains what may be dubbed life’s lessons.
That repetitive mundane acts become contemplative and meditative is seen in the way literature gets created. Bahinabai, the illiterate lady who became a famous Marathi poet posthumously, composed songs while working in the fields and on the grinding stone. Her poetry is popular for the simplicity with which it conveys life’s philosophy. Many singers and dancers have narrated stories of how their performances were meditative.
Murakami started running when he was thirty-three. At this age an athlete usually retires. A loner, he finds that he is competing with himself in long distance running; there is no other person to beat. All performers reach a stage when they find ‘something obstructs them, like a door that was usually open suddenly slammed in their face.’ Cricketers call this lack of form, writers and poets to experience ‘block’.
Murakami ran an ultramarathon of 62 miles. It had an effect of transforming him. He says, “…. it was as if by completing the over-sixty-mile race I’d stepped into a different place. After my fatigue disappeared somewhere after the forty-seventh mile, my mind went into a blank state you might even call philosophical or religious. Something urged me to become more introspective, and this newfound introspection transformed my attitude toward the act of running. Maybe I no longer have the simple, positive stance I used to have, of wanting to run no matter what.”
It is a classic case of mind over matter. Physical or psychological limitations prevent us from reaching our full potential. But when the mind conquers the limitations, it has the same effect which an overstretched rubber has – it loses its shape. Something inside changes.
We are reminded of Viktor Frankl’s account of his extreme survival experience in Auschwitz (he describes it in his book ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’) which made him introspective. He culled out lessons from that experience. Murakami handles it subtly; he only describes his experience. Yet he provides us tremendous inspiration for our self-discovery.
Murakami discusses his ‘wins’ as well as his failures. He mentions his worry about dwindling performance, a concern of any performer. The book provides excellent reflection on an aspect of life well lived and examined. It also underscores the importance of consistency and perseverance, the importance of reaching the goal; it is much needed in the era when talent is so overemphasised.
A small book of 180 pages, and a must for anybody who wish to understand how the engine of life runs on the twin rails of mind and body.
Vivek S Patwardhan
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”