Being ‘Present’ (My Theory of Human Evolution)
In a search to be more in the “present” I’ve been experimenting with my running schedule. Yesterday, I ran through the length of skid row with an iPod as part of my run. I felt aware and constantly on guard. Unconsciously I increased my pace multiple times. When I finished, I was physically and mentally more tired than I am on runs of comparable distance. I was sweatier too.
There are two transhumanist architects who believed that people die of old age because they become too comfortable. In response, they built confusing, complicated houses that kept people active, confused and constantly disoriented. They had almost no places to sit down and the floor was made up of rocky, uneven material that looked like a children’s playground. The couple believed that you could permanently postpone death by living in one of these houses. Now that sounds like bullshit shit to me, however, I have noticed then when I go on unfamiliar runs, I am more “present” and alert. I feel better and more invigorated after I finish.
In human evolution, there would have been two types of running. The first would be for travel. The Greeks had messengers who would quickly run long distances to deliver a message. The other would been survival-mode – short sprints to avoid a fight or predator or a fire. I feel like most exercise we do is in the style of the first kind, for instance, on a treadmill. It’s not nearly as stimulative as the second kind, which requires critical decision making and alertness. Also, there is a greater incentive to be good at the latter because it is a life or death issue.
I would guess that exercise in unfamiliar or confusing terrain is better for you than running at the gym or on a regular, nightly course. I wonder if adding a sense of urgency, like someone chasing you or a dangerous neighborhood, is better mentally as well as physically because you don’t ever get in ‘the zone’. If you’re practicing being in the present, the transhumanist logic may have some merit.
(Seth Robert’s “My Theory of Human Evolution” always make me think)
That reminds me of an interview in which Robert Greene spoke about the childhood game “Gestapo” he used to play. One kid was the Jew and everyone had to chase him.
“I would guess that exercise in unfamiliar or confusing terrain is better for you than running at the gym or on a regular, nightly course.”
A few weeks ago I began dribbling a tennis ball on my runs. Though in its infantile stage, it seems superior to much of the training I have ever done, because of its functional application. It forces you to learn how to use your body more efficiently, e.g., dropping your hips, never crossing your feet, nuetral spine (balance). These principles carry to every sport: boxing, basketball, soccer. To be able to use your body well, you have to understand how it works.
“Yesterday, I ran through the length of skid row with an iPod as part of my run.”
You know how you had that post “what do I need to know?” This should be a “what do I need to have done.”
Experiences like that, ones that “force” presence, also tend to impart a sense of perspective of your place in the world. I wish more 20-something “kids” in LA would do that. I still find the scope of the ignorance and sense of entitlement behind their judgemental attitudes hard to grasp.
When you’re exercising somewhere unfamiliar (or in the case of skid row, dangerous), you’re probably going to get scared (either consciously or subconsciously) and your fight or flight response is going to give you a shot of adrenaline to overcome the situation, which is probably what makes you more alert and ‘in the moment’.
While this is super useful for being able to outrun a tiger if one happens to show up, it puts an enormous amount of stress on the body. Constantly stressing your body like this almost definitely isn’t healthy, given what we know about the damaging long term effects of stress on everything from the heart to the brain.
If your goal is living in the present, this probably isn’t a good long term solution.
When I started running, I took tips from my CC friends — one of which was to run and my mind “go blank.” I tried their method for a while, but my mind never went blank. It was always going crazy.
I got bored of the runs they told me I should be doing and started doing what I wanted. Turns out that every day I run a different course, sometimes getting lost around the city, making decisions of where to go next on a whim. It’s exciting and fun. Reading your post makes it funny now because I thought I was just being weird.
I’m going to echo the fight-or-flight thing. Constant adrenaline is terrible for you.
Re: being in the present-
From a psychological perspective, people have varying attitudinal responses to the uncertain/unknown/unfamiliar, which are related very closely to attitudes toward perceived threat. These attitudes are intimately connected to personality factors like cognitive rigidity.
The idea of getting “too comfortable” is interesting. I think people mix up their lives (in small or big ways) when they feel too comfortable. Some people need change more often than others. Some don’t need it at all. Many, like myself, need and want change, but struggle to embrace it when it appears simply because what’s new is scary on some fundamental level.
I tend to accept change more readily when I have some time to process it before it occurs. For example, if a friend walks up to me after a late class and asks me to go out for a drink, I’ll say no almost every time, simply because I wasn’t mentally prepared. If the same friend asks me an hour before the decision has to be made, perhaps at the beginning of class, I’m more likely to say yes.
Even if I have no control in the matter, like having to stay late at work, I notice a lighter cognitive load if I know about it in advance.
Sorry for the tangent. I saw a connection to stuff I’m reading about personality preferences.
And what’s so great about the present, anyway? I happily live in the abstract future.
Great point you brought up.
I always try to run through rough neighboorhoods (unless I am on the beach).
It is important to “feel” the street.
As a big researcher of weight loss and looking at methods of working out, I agree with your conclusion.
The best workouts for losing weight, becoming agile, and more sharp, are not the long term low intensity work outs. Jogging for an hour is good, sure, but it doesnt push your body. Instead, sprint at 90% for 20 secounds, jog for 30 seconds, and walk for 10 seconds, and repeat the cycle for as long as you can. Most people cant last 10 minutes on this workout, because they never push their bodies this hard. I have found that the body and mind grow when they are at their limits. Also, we constantly change up the workout routine. It keeps the mind and body engaged, as you never really get a chance to get used to the workout. Its the same reason people can not do a mundane activity over a long period of time, and if they can, the quality of work decreases. Keeping it fresh keeps you engaged.
I agree with the “variations on a theme” idea for exercise. However, a little common sense might be added for safety. Drawing this out to an extreme, you could run through the tiger pit at the zoo for a real rush. But I wouldn’t do it.
I don’t particularly see what this has to do with human evolution. Any animal with emotions, or at minimum any primate, is likely to experience the same feelings you are when comparing the known territory with unknown territory.