I happened to listen to a very interesting podcast bearing the caption “Runner’s High”. Aired as part of the very popular “Stuff You Should Know Podcast”, series on the 2nd of June 2021, the short episode (all of 13 minutes) had hosts Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant explore the phenomenon of “Runner’s High”. Every avid runner’s delight and dream, “Runner’s High” is a situation where a runner supposedly experiences a whole range of overwhelming positive emotions. Feeling light as a feather that is floating on thin air, pacing a run to perfection, and even bursting into a spontaneous bout of ecstatic crying are some of the tell tale signs of a spurt of “Runner’s High”. For a person who is of the firm conviction that circle is also a shape, this fascinating insight got me thinking. While admitting the fact that this particular marvel will always continue to elude me, I tried to think back and see if I had experienced any other kind of similar, if not identical high in my life. This is not counting the most pleasing high that faithfully accompanies an imbibing of luxurious and high quality Scotch.
There are three mellow, prosaic and seemingly staid activities that induce an equivalent of a “Runner’s High” in me: reading, writing about what I read, and listening to music – although not necessarily and strictly in that sequence. In his landmark bestseller – based on a seminal work in psychology – “Flow”, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, a Hungarian-American psychologist introduced to the world, the concept of flow, a highly focused mental state. In an interview with Wired magazine, Csikszentmihalyi described flow as “being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you’re using your skills to the utmost.”
Reading a book, or writing or listening to music triggers in me a state of complete involvement. A humbling sensation envelopes my whole being as I remain immersed within the confines of an absorbing book. Time stands still and no distraction remains such. Immune to every medley of cacophony, there is an intrinsic calmness that is overpowering and overwhelming. I may not feel that I am floating on thin air like a gentle feather, but I am invariably transported into a world that is uniquely personal to me. My mental faculties are at their sharpest and all my senses are exacerbated in terms of perception. I am at once aware and yet oblivious, strong yet helpless and a seeker as well as the realised. Until the covers come down upon the book, my individual persona undergoes a paradigm alteration and I am an epitome of equipoise. The moment I am done with the reading however, I am back to my usual irritable, quirky, and mortal self. It is as though I am many degrees removed from the man who just a few minutes ago was serenely leafing through many a page.
Similar is the experience while I am putting pen to paper. It is as though a gigantic jigsaw puzzle automatically and dutifully falls into place. Words hidden in nooks, crannies and crevices are prised open to obey a pattern that feels preordained. A sense of contentment and a degree of fulfilment permeates the entire duration of the writing process. Once the entire exercise comes to an end there is a feeling of absolute impatience to begin with the next piece of writing. It is this absence of satiety and an unquenchable thirst that embellishes the “flow state”. It has become a veritable business to peddle books and sell talks that profess to impart the secrets of staying “immersed” in the art of writing to budding writers. Ranging from the inane to the idiosyncratic these “hacks” are more gimmicks than gifts. “Maintain favourite playlists in advance and begin playing them once you sit down to write”, and “draw inspiration on the mood of your writing from TV shows” are some of the most ridiculous sounding “immersion” techniques prescribed by self-proclaimed purveyors of the writing craft. Utter nonsense! “It matters not how strait the gate, How charged with punishments the scroll, I am the master of my fate, I am the captain of my soul”. These goosebumps inducing lines with which William Ernest Henley ends his immortal poem “Invictus” should lay the marker for every aspiring reader and writer. The best technique is one that works for you and is the one devised by you. Period.
Listening to music also bestows the same amount of psycho-spiritual bliss. Scientific and medical Research suggests that at least 55% of people experience pleasurable chills while listening to music they enjoy the most. Hence, Led Zeppelin and Yesudas on loop represents a parallel universe untouched by grief, unpolluted by selfishness and unadulterated in purity.
In conclusion, I can fondly relate to Josh Clark and Chuck Bryant holding forth in a lucid and enthusiastic manner on “Runner’s High” even though I have not experienced a single spurt of lung bursting run, expect on that one solitary occasion when that cunning and sadistic street dog chased me from Block D to Block B, a distance spanning a humongous 25 metres!