"If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all." - John Cage



12.03.2011

Purposeless Play

So... I have a blog. The reasons for which are varied and likely uninteresting. Forewarning: the focus will be running centric with the odd whodunit and what-if. Sometimes I get to run cool places and might want to share a few pictures and words.

Others have discussed the inherently selfish nature of running vis a vis the time subtracted from other pressing matters (family, work etc.). Admittedly a good lump of my time spent running could be filed as such.

Sometimes when out on the trails, one enjoys sights and sounds that are blatantly invigorating with little need for an explanation of the time spent seeking them. At other times, this prolonged and repetitive activity can appear tedious. Early morning rises to pursue a dark, rainy and cold embrace. And for what. And to the detriment of what?

I am hardly a John Cage expert. I only learned his name from a reference in a song by The Tragically Hip. Wikipedia reveals a few things, including that he was the guy who famously composed a piece of music with no content. The Hip song is referring to an insightful passage in a Cage book. Although he is discussing the merits of artistic endeavors, I cannot help but draw a comparison with running.

“What is the purpose of writing music? One is, of course, not dealing with purposes but dealing with sounds. Or the answer must take the form of a paradox: a purposeful purposeless or a purposeless play. This play, however, is an affirmation of life--not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we’re living, which is so excellent once one gets one’s mind and one’s desires out of its way and lets it act of its own accord.” ― John Cage, Silence: Lectures and Writings

I have sometimes romanticized (and exponentially less frequently experienced) the idea of running as a meditation. It offers a range of experiences from illumination to tedium, the  most fulfilling manifesting as a result of mere persistence and humility. Sure the scenic mountain summits are rewarding, but even more so can be the fruits of doing simple work.

Googling John Cage some more, I came across this quote:

“If something is boring after two minutes, try it for four. If still boring, then eight. Then sixteen. Then thirty-two. Eventually one discovers that it is not boring at all.” ― John Cage

Ha! I think what he is getting at here, is that enlightenment, illumination, whatever you choose to call it, exists in the every day humdrum. It is "nothing special". His quote for me evokes the purpose of meditation. Eventually, if you can simply be in the moment, regardless of how uninspired and boring it may seem, you may be able to see things as they are.

To quote Shunryu Suzuki (on the practice of zazen, or meditation):

"As long as we are alive, we are always doing something. But as long as you think 'I am doing this,' or 'I have to do this,' or 'I must attain something special,' you are actually not doing anything. When you give up, when you no longer want something, or when you do not try to do anything special, then you do something. In zazen what you are doing is not for the sake of anything. You may feel as if you are doing something special, but actually it is only the expression of your true nature; it is the activity which appeases your most inmost desire. But as long as you think you are practicing zazen for the sake of something, that is not true practice." ― Shunryu Suzuki, Zen Mind, Beginners Mind


There are many reasons I enjoy running. It is an activity that is fundamentally purposeless, and yet at the same time can be immensely fulfilling, for reasons both obvious and still hidden.

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