“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them. Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” – Albert Einstein

Choose differently.

Having been “at sea” for over a month now, and having been battered against the rocks. My once indefatigable resolve has waivered, and for a moment nearly died. And so like any able seaman, this sailor is in need of a course correction.

The word contrite doesn’t mean to feel or express sincere regret, to remorse about one’s wrongdoing, and view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse. Rather, it mean’s to do something the exact opposite.

If I’ve been a litter bug, and I just sit and feel guilty, sulk, or am a remorseful character, how does that profit anyone? True contrition isn’t abstinence either. If I wallow amongst my heaps of trash and just promise and pinky swear never to do it again, I’ve done nothing. As admirable as it is, undoing one’s own personal wrongs is still not evidence of a contrite heart. If I walk around picking up all the trash that I’ve laid down, I’ve only begun to amend the damage I’ve caused.

The truly contrite of heart work for the opposite gain. To not only pick up the litter that I discarded, but to humbly and with no malice of intent or thought to those who continue to litter around me, I pick up the rubbish of others even perhaps as they throw it in my face.

As I began to prepare for this pilgrimage, some people said I was going through a mid-life crisis. Perhaps I was…perhaps not. It matters not what the impetus to begin was— (has it ever)? It doesn’t matter why anyone of us since time immemorial has chosen to begin a thing; but it is reason they continued and produced the results that preoccupy our history books. What was the reason Gandhi got on the train to South Africa? Why did Rosa Parks get on the bus in the first place? Why did Johnny Appleseed leave the city?

It isn’t how the journey began but how it ended what we remember. It is the very reason for doing a thing that we relate to best. It is our empathetic response to “put ourselves in someone else’s shoes” that allows us to see past ourselves and see how we might respond given the same set of circumstances. I will never know what it is like to live under the English rule of India as an Indian, nor will ever know what it feels like to remain seated on a bus in Alabama as a black American, but it is my ability to project my emotions and imagine what it must have been like; this is what gives me my empathy.

Till now, I’ve lived a purely self-centered lifestyle—I have littered in my own mind. I was careless, cavalier, and foolish with the gifts laid before me. I ate poorly, imbibed poisons, and treated my body as if I cared for it not. I sought out what I was told were the keys to happiness. They aren’t hard to find, watch TV for a day or scan the magazine rack and you’ll see a persistent dogma being presented, happiness is:

1.     Screw as many beautiful people, and be great at it.

2.     Collect trophies.

3.     Amass as much wealth as possible.

4.     Have expensive cars, big houses, expensive watches, jewelry, and clothes.

5.     Take expensive vacations to exotic locales.

6.     Live in the lap of luxury.

7.     Be absolutely beautiful.

8.     Never age.

I tried all of this, and I was pretty good at it too. I bedded a lot of beautiful people, but how many are still my friends? How many could I call up at a moments notice? How many would be happy for our time together? How many did I treat with respect? How many felt loved versus felt used?

I collected trophies, medals, and accolades. I took positions of power away from others just because I wanted the notoriety, not really because I wanted to do anything with the power once I had it. I won a lot; I had all the “marks of distinction” that we are told to get. I was student body president, president of this or that club, leads in plays, Homecoming Scholar, Top Scholar Athlete, graduated with Cum Laude, have master’s degrees, etc. etc. etc. Who cares? Who did I love? Me.

I’ve had many jobs and positions, I’ve been successful, and I’ve seen the world. I’ve had “The Body” and was used in photo shoots, calendars, and magazine covers. I’ve run marathons, ultra marathons, and triathlons. I’ve competed in national, team, and individual competitions. And, I carried myself like a snide prick, gloated, and generally people didn’t want to be around me.

Could there be another way? Instead of self-love…love for others.

Contriteness as I said doesn’t mean to feel or express sincere regret, to remorse about one’s wrongdoing, and view or think of (an action or omission) with deep regret or remorse. Rather, it mean’s to do something the exact opposite.

1.     Rather than screw as many beautiful people, and be great at it, which is purely self-serving and self-gratification, try gratifying others. Serving others. Loving others.

2.     Instead of collecting trophies, secretly give others the chance to have the limelight and the accolades.

3.     Alternatively to amassing as much wealth as possible, give it away to those in need.

4.     Have only what you need to survive and leave all expensive cars, big houses, expensive watches, jewelry, and clothes behind. Better yet, sell that expensive car, and buy a big bus and give free rides to seniors, the handicapped, anyone. Use the money to pay the slave labor that made the clothes a decent wage.

5.     In preference to taking expensive vacations to exotic locales, seek to go where you can be of the greatest service to the most. Go to the slums, the ghettos, and the barrios to serve others.

6.     Rather than live in the lap of luxury, live humbly and live with joy. Instead of a pedicure by the beach, wash and put medicine of the feet of those whose feet have never known shoes.

7.     Instead of seeking to be absolutely beautiful, seek to convince others of their beauty.

8.     Choose instead of aging, use your age and you wisdom to help all those you can in this moment, for it is all you’ll ever have.

After all what else do we have going for us? We are nothing unless we stick together. Of all the primates we humans are the most communal. Why do we develop things like bars, strip clubs, Facebook, and country clubs? We desire intimacy. We are a communal and cooperative species. This is how we out lived the Neanderthals, who were bigger stronger, faster, and smarter.

The great ape males dominate the females, but in our species, men are only 15% bigger than females. Women are capable of performing and out-performing men in many ways. The longer the trial period, the more often, women excel. In endurance running of ultra marathons, 50% of the males drop out of the harder races, where as only 20% of the women.

Since antiquity, our sole defense in a fang and claw filled word has been our ability to stick and work together. We can’t run faster, but we can run longer together. Alone we go hungry, together we stay warm. “Where one can put a thousand to flight, two can put ten thousand. Where one sleeps alone cold, two sleep together warm.” Our very means of survival was and still is integrally linked to working together. This was true in farming or hunting. Running an ibex to exhaustion together as a group was far simpler than alone.

Before the industrial revolution, man lived more at peace and in tune with nature. We did everything together as a family; worked, laughed, mourned, and played. Our extended community was our family. Today we bicker and argue, we assign blame and look for faults. Before we cooperated and shared everything. Look around at the few remaining subsistence living groups in the world and the message is clear; live together or die alone.

We as a people and as a race are built for running. The first Olympic event was a footrace. We are perfect endurance running machines. We ran together as a race. This is how we survived…by running. Running didn’t just make us a People, it made us better people.

“For millions of years, we lived in a world without cops, cabs, or Domino’s Pizza; we relied on our legs for safety, food, and transportation, and it wasn’t as if you could count on one job ending before the next one began.”

It is the pressure of life that keeps us going. When astronauts return to earth they are a wreck. They haven’t had to deal with the challenge of standing upright or gravity. They didn’t sleep well in space, they aged very quickly, and they even had decayed taste buds. This sounds vaguely familiar to a weekend spent on the sofa.

We are going against the grain now in our modern mechanized environments of all that we leaned to deal with in our millions of years of evolution. All other animals breathe as their four legs contract and expand on the earth. As their spines arch in mid run, their diaphragms expand, and their backs bend in their innards slam into their lungs exhaling. Thus they are trapped to a one stride to one breath ratio. How do they adapt to overheating, they pant. We can breath as much as we want, because our spines are vertical, we are breathing machines. Our thousands of sweat glands, and nearly hairless bodies regulate our temp.

“’We live in a culture that sees extreme exercise as crazy.’ …we’ve created our own zero gravity bubble; we’ve taken away the jobs our bodies were meant to do, and we’re paying for it. Nearly every top killer in the Western world—heart disease, stroke, diabetes, depression, hypertension, and a dozen forms of cancer—were unknown to our ancestors.”

It is no coincidence that I started this journey with the intention to run. Leisure, easy, and laziness even crept into the yellow pages add when I was a kid, “Let your fingers do the walking,” no one walks anymore. That ad meant to imply that people formerly walked to find out information. We even dispensed with walking in order to find a pay phone with a yellow book. Forget walking, forget yellow pages, forget pay phones but rather, we just Google it.

The fingers of peace that I wave to everyone as I pass by are perhaps holding the key to our survival still. We survived for millions of years on this earth because we can work together, we can cooperate. Perhaps the key to peace is to invert those fingers, and begin to run again as a people. In a sense, peace is at our fingertips, and it takes the form of running.

It isn’t surprising that the last big running booms all followed major world problems. After the great depression, people started competing in running races, all-day runs, and cross-country runs. After the Vietnam War, the race riots, and the assassinations, the 70’s running boom took off. After 9/11, trail running became the number one growing sport in America. Marathons the world over are the highest participated in group activity. We love to run together in mass. In fact, we even attach charity events to running. We are a running people, no wonder then when the going gets tough, we turn to running. Just as our ancestors fled calamities, perhaps we can turn from our ways of destruction, and find peace through running.

What all the coaches and scientists who have studied our habits, our DNA, and our psyche have all come to realize, are the simple things we have all exhibited our entire lives. The reason we hold contests to run isn’t so that we can beat each other, but rather it is the same reason that we join Facebook, to be with each other. The answer is quite simple; “it’s easy to get outside yourself when you’re thinking about someone else.”

So this is why I have had trouble these last couple of weeks with my legs. Sure the miles were long, and the recovery short. Sure my diet was well…a diet of sorts. (I’ve lost 9 lbs.) But more than that, the cart represented me trying to stay comfortable. In the end, it has kept me from running. I can’t run uphill with it, nor can I run downhill. I trained for over a year for this “run”, just to find myself walking almost all of it. In the last year, I had no real injuries. I had some tendons that were painful as I came out of my hibernation and back to being a humane being, rather than just a human being.

Sunday night I found myself near Florence, Oregon with no desire to go on. No desire to go on the way I had been at least. I was depressed about the pain in my leg, the prospect of stopping yet again, and the prospect of continuing the way that I had begun. I wondered if I would ever start again. I remembered being on the side of the road in Washington, when I almost left it all, and wish I had.

The greatest day I’ve had on this trip was the day that I ran to the Oregon Country Fair. That day I took nothing but a sketchpad and my cell phone. Yesterday, I went and ran barefoot—no pain. Today I went and ran in shoes—no pain. So then what is it that is causing me all this pain? Clinging to my own comfort and the overloaded cart is all I can think of. So, I’m going to do one more scientific experiment, can I go and run with nothing, sleep with nothing, and take nothing but a sketch pad and a phone and finish this run as it was intended? We’ll see.

Love, art, & peace to all.

(Many of the quotes above are found in the absolutely spellbinding, and in my case inspiring book by Christopher McDougall, “Born To Run”)