Thursday, 20 November 2014

Running With The Pack by Mark Rowlands

I said I'd be away for a couple of months.  That was 20th September.  Two months to the day later, 20th November, I'm back, but not in the usual way. In the intervening period I've read a brilliant book. I've read several brilliant books actually, but only one that would mean anything to people who do athletic endurance-type stuff (the author is a runner but it would equally apply to cyclists, walkers, climbers I suspect) in particular; the one in the title of this post.

I'm not going to justify or explain why I think it's brilliant. Instead, I'm just going to quote one passage, one of many in the book, that resonated with me. Read it as an endurance athlete and you'll get a feeling of recognition (I hope). Read it an a non-endurance athlete, and you'll get an insight as to why we do it (I hope). Here goes.

"I can say, with confidence, that the run of 26.2 miles I have just completed had nothing to do with pleasure. In fact, I can safely say that it was deeply unpleasant, especially during the second 13.1. Nor was there afterwards any compensating warm glow of satisfaction that accompanies a job well done, something that would wash away the unpleasantness.  I do remember a vague, difficult-to-pin-down, post-race sense of perplexity - a kind of 'Well, what now?' sensation - but from an experiential standpoint that was about it. Nevertheless, I would not be similarly confident in the claim that, both when running and after the race was over, I was not happy. On the contrary, I suspect I was deeply, inordinately, even disgustingly, happy. If this is correct, then it seems I am forced to conclude that not all happiness is pleasure. Sometimes happiness does not even involve pleasure.

When someone talks of 'enjoying' something, they often mean nothing more than they find it pleasurable - 'fun'. This is an age of feelings. It has to be so - feelings are distractions from a life dominated by work. And so, we have come to think, what can joy be other than an especially heightened feeling of pleasure - pleasure deepened and intensified? But what I have called joy went hand-in-hand with a rather brutal form of experiential unpleasantness. So in what sense, and with what justification, can I call this experience 'joy'?

Joy is the the other form of happiness - the variety of happiness that cannot be understood as pleasure. As pleasure, happiness is defined by the way it feels. But this is not true of happiness as joy.....Joy is the experience - the recognition - of intrinsic value in life. Joy is the recognition of the things in life that are valuable for their own sake: the things in life that are worthy of love. Pleasure distracts us from does not have intrinsic value. Joy is the recognition of what does. Pleasure is a way of feeling. But joy is a way of seeing. Joy is something that pleasure is not and can never be. It is the recognition of the places in life where all the points and purposes stop."
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