Friday, February 18, 2011

Simple Steps

Our life is frittered away by detail. Simplify, simplify, simplify.

Say this Sunday afternoon you're going for a run. You don't need a machine - no gears, blades, sails, or poles. No pucks, caddies, reels, or rules. You don't require instructions. You don't need a ride to a designated place - wherever you are is the place. If you live near grass you can do it without shoes; if your neighbors are tolerant and the bugs aren't bad, you can do it without clothes.

Being good products of a consumer society, we've complicated matters. I remember standing at the Start of the 2009 Chicago Marathon - the inescapable sound of thousands of beeping watches. You can run against an invisible buddy who lives inside your watch; even coordinate heart rate with the tunes playing on your iPod. I, myself, am guilty of wearing a Garmin 405 on ALL of my runs, and recently trying out some new apps for my phone as well. You can download every stitch of information about your run the second it's done, to make sure it lives on forever in the memory of your computer.

The trick is to make it live in your own memory; that's better done by just heading out. By pretending to be the thing you really are - an animal. That means leaving behind the GPS, and the assumptions that complicate your run. The idea, for instance, that you're doing it to get stronger or faster, as opposed to just doing it.It's not a duty, it's a blessing - the chance not to count your heartbeats, but just to feel the blood surge up in you veins.

And it's worth adding that simpler is better in other ways as well. Less stuff means less impact on the environment. It means less time stuck in your car and more time with your family. It means spending less on gear, which means less time spent earning it in the first place. A friend of Thoreau's told him he should earn money so he could take the train somewhere and see something new. Thoreau explained that in the time his friend spent earning train fare, he could walk the 30 miles from here to there.

Of course, if you need some paraphernalia to get you out the door, go for it. Einstein, who was nearly as smart as Thoreau, once remarked, " Everything should be made as simple as possible, but not simpler." The most important thing to leave behind is the noise in your head, the endless CNN forever broadcasting your desires, your hopes, your plans. See if you can make it go away for a while - and really step outside.

This thing we do is one of the great and primal joys. If you don't wear your ear buds in church, consider leaving them off when you head out the door today.