Often, I find it impossible to really think during the day at Bowdoin. When I say think, I’m not talking about the kind of focus required to pay attention to a lecture, complete a reading or participate in a discussion. I don’t mean the type of mental flexibility that we use to manage and switch between all of our schedules, responsibilities and people in our lives. This is undoubtedly essential: I can’t imagine getting through a single day without the quick working, high functioning part of my mind that helps keep me on top of everything in my life.
But what I struggle to access during days spent rushing from one thing to another is the part of my brain that moves slowly: the thoughts, emotions and worries too big and tangled to deal with during my brief walks between classes or in the awkward thirty-five minute visits to the library that seem to be over before they begin. To process anything, from working out the ideas for a project or grappling with a larger change in my life, I need uninterrupted time to let my thoughts turn over in my head.
One particularly stressful night earlier this fall, I went for a run. I should’ve been tired; not only was it late, but it had been one of those quintessential Bowdoin days with an unbroken stream of activity from start to finish. But some part of my mind was still restless, wandering and almost unsatisfied. Deciding to indulge this feeling, I changed clothes, put on my sneakers and went out into the night.
After just a few strides, I felt completely transformed. After a day where everything and everyone seemed to be in perpetual motion, the almost crystalline stillness of the world around me was rejuvenating. As I made my way into the middle of campus, I felt the overbearing stress, responsibilities and worries that had been stuck in my head all day slowly fading away into the emptiness of the night.
Aimlessly traversing the very same places that I rushed around hurriedly during the day, I felt like I had escaped from time itself. Exploring campus with no commitments, no deadlines, no friends to go find and no particular direction at all, I was free to run between buildings and down paths seeking nothing but the raw feeling of the nighttime air. As my run went on, I began to lose myself in thought: not the anxious, fleeting thoughts like before, but instead, working myself into new, unexplored corners of my mind. Instead of dancing around a thousand little moments or worries, I felt myself slowly, deliberately addressing the unresolved issues and unfinished ideas of the previous days and weeks.
I have never been able to quite explain why running at night has always felt so deeply important to me. It doesn’t make sense practically, and admittedly is something only some people have the privilege of doing safely and comfortably. But for me, it has become something of a salve. Especially during overwhelming or confusing moments last year, of which there were plenty, running helped me step outside of the unrelenting pace of life and make sense of it all. Being removed from the everyday march of time allows for the muck of emotions, ideas and thoughts to slowly work themselves through my head.
This fall has been especially busy for me. I have had far more commitments than last year, and it has been harder to find as many moments, alone or with others, to slow down and make sense of my life. At various points this semester, I have been profoundly sad, anxious or uneasy with no clear explanation. It has only been through dedicating time (after the fact) to understand these emotions that I have been able to grasp what is happening in my own head. These unresolved issues, these knots buried deep in my mind, will assert themselves violently and unexpectedly if I don’t give them the time they deserve.
This is not a call for everyone to start going on nocturnal explorations, much less to start running alone at night. But it is, in general, an acknowledgment of the importance of finding some way to escape the feeling of constant assault that one’s everyday schedule here can bring. I say this not because I am good at it, but rather the opposite: because I am learning this is something I struggle with. Attempting to maintain control over a rigid sense of time that marches on without concern for our needs is not only maddeningly difficult but also can place you out of touch with yourself. Sometimes the only answer is to find ways, either large or small, to remove yourself from its grasp for a while and figure out what’s going on.