I recently read Haruki Murakami’s autobiographical reflection on marathon running: ‘What I talk about when I talk about running’. I did not pick it up for a long time, because even though I run (or try to) I do not particularly enjoy it, nor want to read about people who do enjoy it. But then I learned that Murakami is drawing parallels between his running and his writing. Since I am a fan of his work – I have a particular soft spot for The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles – and not a lot is known about him or how he writes, I eventually started to read it…and was pleasant surprised!
Murakami approaches both running a marathon and writing a novel, not as miraculous achievements, things you accomplish merely by being good at them, perhaps combined with a bit of luck, but rather as things you just need to work really hard for. You have to put the hours in and even when you do not like it, you have to put on your shoes and run or pick up your pen and write. I admire people who approach life in that way and I think I could say that I strive towards pulling of that kind of work ethic as well.
Even on days when he did not feel like running at all and went out anyway, all of Murakami’s misgivings and hesitation just fell away. And I think that is because he was doing something that had an intrinsic value: Murakami is not running because he wants to become an Olympian runner and similarly he is not writing to become the best writer in the world. He is running because he wants to run and he is writing because he wants to write. Autotelic experiences is what these experiences are called: they are pursued for the sake of themselves. Apart from being inspirational, Murakami’s reflections made me think of the autotelic nature of absorption experiences.
Furthermore, his idea that endurance running brings you into an altered state of consciousness, struck a chord in me. Absorbed reading, I think, shows signs of being an altered state of consciousness as well. I am not completely sure, if we are talking about the same thing here. But what I talk about when I talk about absorption, is an altered state in which we are no longer conscious of our own surroundings and to a certain extent even to our own bodily self. And when we are done, we feel happy to have forgotten the world around us for a little while and nothing more. We read because we want to read, because we want to forget, because we want our consciousness altered: we want to become absorbed.