Beyond Room 119

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‘Cause baby, I was born to run

I’m an introvert. That bit of information tends to surprise people who don’t know me very well. While I can be a social butterfly, enjoy a new social setting, and value meaningful conversations and adventures with friends, I recharge my batteries in solitude. When I am intentional about that time to re-energize is when I am my best self around others.

I’ve been a runner for nearly six years now. And it wasn’t until this morning, on my long run through the windy and leaf-covered trails of my favorite state park that I realized all the reasons that I run stem from my personality.

Why do I run? In a nutshell, I run to challenge myself. For understanding. To find solutions. For strength. To push myself towards a better version of who I am. For peace. And so much more.

I am never more true to myself than when I am running. Every thought that comes through my mind is unfiltered. Each step comes from deep within. Every breath is a reminder of the miracle of my very life.

As an introvert, I need time to myself to process, to think, to analyze, to be. And running provides the most perfect forum for that. Society, work, friends, and communities fade away somewhere during that first mile, and all that is left is me. The distracting chatter has vanished, relationships with others are irrelevant at that point, and I’m free. Because of this, I never feel more alive than at the end of a long, difficult run. While my feet may be a wee bit tired, my mind is clear and my soul is energized.

My next race is an eight mile trail run. Last night, one of my roommates asked me how long I was planning to run today. “Nine or ten miles,” was my answer.

She paused and thought for a moment. “Isn’t that longer than your race?” I nodded. “So…,” she continued, “Why would you run that far?”

It’s a legitimate question when looked at through the lens of training. There are different theories about how much one should train, how many miles is too much, when to stop increasing mileage to prevent injuries, and on and on, but it’s safe to say that most training plans for distance races don’t have the runner do a long run that is longer than the race itself.

But when I look at that question through the lens of what running is to me, my response becomes, “Why wouldn’t I run that far?” If this is the time of the week when I have uninterrupted time to think, to stop thinking, to enjoy the beauty of the world around me, to be myself and nothing less, why wouldn’t I run for as long and far as I can?

This isn’t to say that extroverts can’t be runners. But I would venture to guess that their reasons for running often differ from mine. And that only further highlights the wonder of this lifestyle (I use this word intentionally because if you are a true runner, it’s not for the sport and it certainly isn’t for the fitness. It’s an integral part of your life and something that is almost necessary for your existence). There are so many different reasons that we run, and each one is equally as valid and meaningful as the next. I run for peace, you may run for energy, someone else may run for community, and yet another may run as a means to dispel anger. That the same action can cause so many different reactions is incredible.

And all it takes is to put one foot in front of the other. One step at a time. If only life could be that simple…oh wait. After a good run, it is.



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Everybody Talks

Communication is a rapidly dying art form in our world today. I’ve harped often enough on the perils of how texting, social media, and other forms of electronic communication strip us from the present moment without truly connecting us with whoever is attached to the other side of that wavelength, but that isn’t my focus today. No, my frustration right now is on the traditional face-to-face conversations, particularly the ones where one party decides open communication is overrated and avoids it like ebola.

The powers that be say that 80 to 90 percent of communication is nonverbal, and they won’t get any argument from me on that one. There’s a definite skill to using nonverbal cues to enhance the verbal conversation. Say someone recently got engaged. There are two main ways to share this news with a friend. Option A is to tell it straight out – “Shaikim and I are engaged! [insert high-pitched exclamations here]” Option B is to share the news non-verbally; perhaps the woman might play with her hair with the left hand or otherwise move it in some way to attract attention to the newfound bling on the finger, while waiting for the other person to make the connection. I would probably choose the latter – to me, it’s a more fun way to share the exciting news because it engages the other person more (assuming that they actually notice!). But I wouldn’t do that and then pretend that wasn’t what I was doing. When the other person noticed, I’d respond with affirmative news and not, “Oh, did you notice that? That’s not even what I was trying to do! Oops!” Both people know what the newly engaged person is doing and there’s nothing wrong with creating this type of interaction, which means there’s no need to hide it. The nonverbal cues provide a segue to the conversation that will then naturally revolve around (surprise!) the engagement.

Yet I was part of a conversation that very strangely went the route of the feigned ignorance. Never having been engaged, I’m not sure what it’s like to have a ring on a hand that has been otherwise unoccupied. However, I would imagine it’s a very novel feeling, especially for the first few days and not something one forgets about easily. So why was there a full minute protestation that this was an accident and not how the news was meant to be shared? Even if it was, it provides the opening for the conversation. Why not just go with it? Instead, what should have been a joyful announcement became almost shameful, for the other person felt the need to distance herself from the news and draw attention to the denial, rather than the engagement. It introduced a strange sense to the conversation that never fully left.

It stems from communication styles. Those of us who have trouble communicating directly with others tend to go this route that dances around the actual topic of conversation, never touching down on it for more than a moment. This understandably causes only frustration when interacting with someone who wants answers without having to engage in a tango. Does this dance stem from shame? Self-protection? Image preservation? Fear of judgment? For each individual, a different interaction of factors is present, but the result is often the same – this lack of clarity can prevent someone from truly knowing who that individual is because of the fog surrounding every exchange.

Lately, I’ve been wondering if this type of communication style is caused by something else: a failure to know oneself. Just as an essay without a thesis drifts along, carried only by the tide surrounding it, perhaps the issue of not being able to communicate directly stems from not being sure of what we want to communicate. Because of this we speak in circles, creating fog, so as to obscure the lack of purpose. We don’t know who we are, making it difficult to say anything of value, which then yields it impossible for others to know who this disjointed bundle of thoughts truly is.

Directness comes easily for some people, and for them, it’s a gift that must be tempered with wisdom. For those of us who don’t grow up with this quality, we must practice it. It will probably cause conflict, it may possibly uncover underlying issues, and it will certainly be difficult, but in exchange, it creates purpose. Mutual understanding. A strong foundation upon which we can build skyscrapers.

As John Mayer croons, “Say what you need to say.” It’s not an elaborate plan, ripe with complexities. Say what you need to say, what should be said. Everything else will follow.