In this surrender, the runner does not deny his body. He accepts it. He does not subdue it or subjugate it or mortify it. He perfects it, maximizes it, magnifies it. He does not suppress his instincts, he heeds them. And goes beyond this animal in him toward what Ortega called his veracity, his own truth.
The finished product is therefore a lifetime work. This giving up, this letting go, the detachment from attachments is an uneven process. You should give up only what no longer has any attraction to you, or what interferes with something greatly desired. That was Gandhi's rule. He advised people to keep doing whatever gave them inner help and comfort.
I have learned that also. Whatever I give up, whatever innocent indulgences, ordinary pleasures or extraordinary vices, I do so from inner compulsion, not in a mood of self-sacrifice or from a sense of duty. I am simply doing what comes naturally.
For the runner, less is better. The life that is his work of art is understated. His needs and wants are few. He can be captured in a few strokes. One friend, a few clothes, a meal now and then, some change in his pockets; and, for enjoyment, his thoughts and the elements.
And though he's on the run, he's in no hurry. Apparently concerned at times with 10ths of a second, he actually responds to an inner season, moving through cycle and cycle, toward less and less, until body and mind and soul fuse, and all is one.
I see this simplicity as my perfection. In the eyes of observers, however, it appears completely different. My success in removing myself from things and people, from ordinary ambition and desires, is seen as lack of caring, proof of un-involvement, and failure to contribute.
So be it. A larger view of the world might include the possibility that such people are necessary, that the runner who is burning with a tiny flame on some lonely road does somehow contribute. And while a world composed solely of runners would be unworkable, a world without them would be unlivable.
I am now 59 years old, which is an awkward age to define. At 59, I am no longer middle-aged. I have, after all, no 118-year-old elders among my acquaintances. Yet I could hardly be called elderly.
An awkward age, then, to define, but a delightful one to live. I am aging from the neck up—which means I am elderly enough to have attained a look of wisdom. I am middle-aged enough to have a body that allows me to do what I want, and a face that lets me get away with it.
You know that look. The hair is short and graying, the face just skin and bones, the general impression that of an ascetic who began the fight with the Devil in the Garden, decided it wasn't worth it and walked away. In my latest picture, in fact, I look a little like Teilhard de Chardin. The look of a man with ideas so heretical they bothered the Devil even more than they did the Pope. Preaching the perfectability of man might not get you banished from Rome, but it certainly would get you thrown out of Hell. And the look, too, of a man who forgave God, and then his fellowmen, and finally himself, and then was free.