On Automatic Pilot

I just came back from a run in the rain. It has been ages since I last did that (running in the rain,) and back then it was out of necessity and bad planning.

Actually, come to think of it, all the times I ran in the rain were out of necessity and bad planning.

I decided to run in the rain today because my mood was bad, and I needed to do something out of the ordinary — something to break the pattern of thought — and this run was it; and it worked.

While running, I thought of several things. One of the major thoughts that ran through my mind were that of being “on automatic pilot”. How much of life is to be lived automatically, in a semi-conscious state of mind, and how much of it is to be lived with a carpe diem mentality?

I have read a lot of self-help and inspirational literature before. Many of them advocate “living in the moment”, being fully alive. According to them, the world’s too much on automatic pilot. Like automatons, we go around living our lives, but not participating in it. Carpe diem, seize the day they seem to say. Wake up!

But I’m awake. And it’s painful. It’s hurting me and I can’t do anything about it. I’m a sane man in an insane world.

I once read a book about running. Elite runners do not tune out of their run; they do not listen to music or distract themselves by dreamily looking around while they run, fantasizing about the run’s end.

Instead, they’re fully alive to the moment, listening to their body, observing their aches and pains. They need to tune in to their body’s nuances so they know if they should slow down or speed up, to run with a bias to the left or right, to open their stride or close up.

I tried this. In fact, I do this almost all the times I run. But I do not do this throughout my runs. And I believe elite runners don’t do this either. There’s a balance to be sought.

There’s a balance between being fully alive in the moment and being an automaton. You can’t run and think about the run all the time; otherwise, even if the running doesn’t kill you, the thinking would.

To me, when running, I only tune in to my body every once in a while, perhaps every 10 to 15 seconds. In between I allow myself to just run without thinking whatsoever, almost meditative. So it’d be,

“open up, going downhill…”
zone out
“ground flattening out, maintain pace”
zone out
“slight uphill, make steps slightly smaller, start quicker turnover”
zone out
“need more oxygen, slow down pace to two-breaths-in, three-breaths-out”
zone out

and not a constant bombardment of information,

“open up, going downhill. leg hurts. breathing too quickly. ground flattening out. leg hurts. why am I doing this?”

And as you can probably see in my fictional self-talk above, thinking too much will lead to questions of why. And we all know there is no ultimate why.

I’m just saying, we need be on automatic pilot more often than not. It is not that I’m condoning being an automaton, a non-thinking machine. It’s just that carpe diem is complementary and not a substitute for being on automatic pilot.

We can’t think about being alive all the time, it’d hurt too much. Instead, we need to balance our lives with times of spacing out, day dreaming if you will, and times of contemplation and doing things.

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