Learning from W.H. Davies

Two millennia earlier, Aristotle asserted: “This is the main question, with what activity one’s leisure is filled.”

Today, in our culture of productivity-fetishism, we have succumbed to the tyrannical notion of “work/life balance” . It implies allocating half of our waking hours to something we begrudge while anxiously awaiting the other half to arrive so we can live already. What a woefully shortchanging way to exist. Leisure has no significance in today’s lifestyle.  And yet the most significant human achievements between Aristotle’s time and our own — our greatest art, the most enduring ideas of philosophy, the spark for every technological breakthrough — originated in leisure, in moments of unburdened contemplation, be it Galileo inventing modern timekeeping after watching a pendulum swing in a cathedral or Newton sitting upon the concept of Gravity whilst chilling under a tree..

The simple “break” from work — the kind that lasts an hour, or the kind that lasts a week or longer — is part and parcel of daily working life. It is something that has been built into the whole working process, a part of the schedule. The “break” is there for the sake of work. It is supposed to provide “new strength” for “new work,” as the word “refreshment” indicates: one is refreshed for work through being refreshed from work.”Re-creation” is precisely that- time you use to “Create” something, once the mind has been de-cluttered.

Running, I feel, is that empty space for us. That time of Leisure. Unconsciously our legs are moving, we could be with a group but yet with ourselves. Running for me helps to create a productive space for “mind wandering”, where creative thoughts crystallize and ideas incubate. On a long run, mentally I am able to envision whole sentences and paragraphs with a cognitive flexibility that I rarely have when sitting behind a desk.

This happened to me last year, while on a training run for Satara, the entire concept of my book flashed in front me. The chapters, prologue, epilogue ALL. I came home, cancelled everything that I had for the day and worked at a furious pace. I was consumed by an outpouring of free-flowing prose. I was furiously jotting down the words tumbling out of my brain onto the sweat-soaked paper. When creativity flows, it really flows. Just like an invigorating run – the type that de-clutters your head, and causes your mind to wander through new questions and curiosities.

Murakami is one of the most famous writer-runners. American novelist Louisa May Alcott was reportedly a devoted runner. The philosopher Henry David Thoreau wrote “the moment my legs begin to move my thoughts begin to flow”. Others have used running as a metaphor to explore ideas. Maybe it is the similarity between both, running and writing that the mindset of determination and routine has become an important aspect.

What it really is, that it is my time to be alone with my thoughts, without them coming at me through print, or through bombardment of digital media and visual images. Like how this post was conceived last Sunday on my easy 22km run. Two and a half hours of emptiness allowed these thoughts to bounce around in my head.

Anne Dillard has said, “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

“A poor life this if, full of care,We have no time to stand and stare.”

– W.H. Davies

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2 thoughts on “Learning from W.H. Davies

  • Another brilliant piece from a prolific writer who never fails to touch me deeply with her ideas and the words she chooses to express them.
    This blog also resonated with my inner core.
    I think when we sit still at one place, our thoughts run amok in our mind and the ensuing feelings are hostage to the monkey mind.
    And when we start running, our mind becomes still, we are able to watch our thoughts and great clarity is the inevitable outcome. The longer we run , the more still our mind becomes.
    HDT was spot on.
    In one place you set me thinking when you wrote about Archimedes and Gravity . I always thought it was Newton who was chilling in the apple garden and Archimedes was doing even better in his bath tub
    I think I will go for a long run to clear this confusion.
    Meanwhile you keep writing.
    Thanks.

    • Well said Ravi! And I need to proof read better. Thanks. I had 2 examples which then became one wrong example. 🙂 up thrust discovered under a tree and gravity discovered in a bath tub…. Hmmm. How would that happen. 🙂 thanks for your encouraging words as always!

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