I am trying to find a way to describe the experience I have when I head out on my run on a late afternoon and enter the woods behind the elementary school near my home. It is difficult to find the words to express what happens to my state of mind at this point. I enter the trail into the woods from relatively open space next to the school and the next thing I know is that I am in a space that leaves me transformed in mind and spirit. All of a sudden I find myself surrounded by the tall trees that form a green canopy; trees that let the sunlight filter in through in random spots to light up random leaves on random trees and plants, and random spots on the forest floor; trees that also provide a deep cooling shade that envelopes you. All of a sudden one feels at peace, and at the same time both relaxed and energized.
Being an engineer by training, my thoughts have been turning analytical at this point in time. A unique aspect of this experience is that my mind is impacted in the same manner regardless of how many times I repeat the routine. Why is this remarkable, you ask? It is notable to me because my general observation is that experiences tend to be more exciting when you go through them for the first time, but if you repeat them often enough, the novelty wears off. Even though you might continue to enjoy the experience, things feel a little bit different from that first time, and some of what you continue to do becomes part of a habit. As a rather extreme example of the sentiment I am trying to express, one could pose the following question. If you saw the Grand Canyon every day, would you feel the same sense of wonder after many years as you did on the first day. Not to say that the sense of awe would go away, but I am sure that some of the emotional impact of the experience would tend to change over time, wouldn’t it.
This particular running experience I am talking about is most certainly not as grand as seeing the Grand Canyon, but it is more about the feeling you get when you are transported instantly into different state of mind every single time, even though you are repeating the routine frequently. When it happens you forget about everything else instantly, and you are struck by a sense of wonder, maybe even ecstasy, that is hard to define. And it is achieved without the benefit of external chemical stimulants.:-) As a runner who explores a lot of spaces and always enjoys doing what I do, I have to say that there is something different going on in the head in this particular instance. Is it the endorphins on steroids, figuratively speaking?
As you can see, I have been pondering how one would characterize this kind of experience for some time. I have also been thinking about the possibility of people having a somewhat similar experience in a different setting. The only thing that came to mind is the state of mind of some people who enter a place of worship. People enter a different place in their minds. Perhaps it is also possible to also get transported to this state of mind if one were to meditate. I looked around on the Internet for the definition of a Holy place. The most relevant description that I came across in this particular context was that a place becomes holy when it is specially linked to God. If one continued along this thread of thought, you could perhaps get caught up in a contemplation of the nature of God, and your conclusion, if you had one, would of course depend on your point of view. But I think that that particular thought process would be beside the point in this particular instance. This is primarily about the state of mind that one tends to experience. Perhaps I am in a Holy place when I run along these trails and have the experience I am describing.
I have a similar experience when running in a different part of the woods further along in this loop that I cover regularly, when the nature of my surroundings changes from that of the trees that are plentiful in this area to a vision of thin and tall evergreens all around me, a scene that is less common in these parts. The mind is indeed transformed by the physical process that leads to the visual change, and perhaps it is that the process that is important to note in this context.
Having thought about this often enough, I decided to do an experiment to find out if it would be possible to capture the feeling that I have so far tried to express in words in pictures. I carried my camera bag during one of my runs and made a game attempt at capturing the story with the camera. Needless to say, pictures do not necessarily tell the tale, just as words themselves do not quite get to the heart of the matter.