I'm reading Dean Karnazes' new book, Run!. My feelings about Dean are well-documented on this blog, so I'll avoid going there for now. Soon I'll be posting a full review of Run!, but for now I want to share a reflection on a theme throughout his new book--a theme that Dean, who very much has his finger to wind, clearly wants to get across to the reader.
Like Christopher McDougall, Dean has hit on something that many people are feeling these days--the need to transcend self, explore, discover true fulfillment amid so much material anxiety, find an escape and ultimately become one with nature. "One with nature" has become a trite expression, but in truth just about any trail runner who's been out there for several hours--and, in my case, a few days--in the woods or on a mountain will tell you that you eventually begin to feel a wonderful connection with your natural surroundings. It is at this point that you realize that throughout life we put up so many barriers and live in such isolation. We are meant to be outdoors, and yet we've been conditioned to "need" that which really doesn't matter at all.
These are very difficult times in which we live, and there's a reason Dean and Christopher's books--and soon Marshall Ulrich with his new book, Running on Empty, will join the fray--have sold like hotcakes. The reason is that people right now are longing to get out of and step away from what they no longer find fulfilling. The 90s were a decade of fulfillment found in big houses, gas-guzzling SUVs, over-programming our kids to the point that family dinner hour was gone, eating out every night because we could, vacationing to Disney World, fat 401Ks, bonuses, double lattes at Starbucks and many other material pleasures...that don't amount to jack as far as fulfillment (well, maybe Disney and Starbucks do....). These material "things," or items, symbolized success and delivered fulfillment and pleasure not unlike a shot of heroin.
No more. After 9/11 and especially the summer of 2008 when the market crashed, everything changed. People are struggling to pay their mortgage or rent. They are having trouble paying for gas. They can't afford a trip to Disney World and so instead they opt for a camping trip (I'd rather camp than go to Disney, though Disney's nice...). The 401K is half what it was. Forget about a bonus; just be happy to have a job! You get my point. Amid much lesser prosperity for many, the desire to transcend self, to find fulfillment through adventure and step far away from the man-made, material world and into a world of trails, woods, mountains, singing birds, family camping trips, and wildlife has taken hold. People who don't spend much time in nature don't understand that nature SPEAKS to you and connects with your soul. Being in nature is an active experience and entirely a spiritual experience.
And so it's no surprise trail running and ultra running have taken off in recent years. Dean sees this change in how people view the world, and expresses it well in his book. He's not just talking to the believers; he is trying to connect with people who feel despair, are searching for that missing "something," and don't know where to find it. He's trying to show the way--it's to the trails.
Still, I can't help but wonder: When prosperity returns, will we also return to the material world? Or have we truly learned what really matters and have reached a point of no return--a point of awakening, new wisdom and true reflection?