Group Gravity

It is good to spend time with friends and loved ones outside, in the woods, on the trails, on foot, on bikes, however you can. Shared discovery is powerful, and time together free of digital distraction is magical.

But if you want to do big things or fast things or hard things, the fewer people you have along, the easier it’s going to be.

Groups have gravity. I mean, literally bodies of greater mass have greater gravity, and while a group of people isn’t technically a single body, the effect is the same. In any moment of potential movement through space, each of the people in the group has something going on. They need to eat, rest, pee, check a map, secure whatever they’re carrying, etc. And for every stop, for every even momentary pause, the group slows. It takes a special kind of communication, a collective will, to overcome this gravity.

Or acceptance.

This is what I was talking about last week, but maybe also what I was talking about when I said that my running partner and I were more than the sum of our parts. Group gravity works both ways.

If you’re the weakest link, group gravity can pull you along. I would likely not have found the bottom of my personal well without the simultaneously cruel and kind gravity of the group. If you’ve ever had someone carry you (not literally, but maybe literally) through a long, hard run, or tow you to the finish of a grueling ride, then group gravity has helped you do something you might not have done on your own.

Another aspect of this is what I call ‘saying yes to the dress,’ by which I mean saying yes to whatever stupid invitation you get to do whatever stupid thing one or more of your stupid friends has dreamed up. On your own, you have limited imagination, but the group is restless. It wants to explore some really bad ideas. And if you let it, it will take you on adventures beyond your own will, for better and also for worse.

Group gravity has its downsides too. If you’re the strongest, the group can turn your trail run into a tramble. Trambles can be very fun. Sometimes a tramble is all you have in your sad body anyway. But on the days when you have ambitions, the group can snuff them like a candle in a downpour. Then you have a choice to make. Do you abandon the group, or abandon your ambitions? Both come with deleterious consequences. All the energy of your ambition has to go somewhere.

I am of the mind that group gravity is more helpful than hurtful. If I can carve out enough time for solo pursuits, days when I can take myself and fuck myself up in that spiritually cathartic way, then spending time with other people is always a good choice, even with its compromises and frustrations. To be fair, there as many complications and frustrations when I’m alone as there are when I’m with friends.