Friday, July 31, 2009

Unseen Offerings

Sliding the tea bowl
Through the smell of tatami
She offers me this

No, no,.... that's not it.... what i meant was,....

After the tea's gone
The smell of new tatami
Fills the cup with this

Sigh.... not that either..... maybe....

Slowly sip the tea
Sitting on new tatami
This is what's offered

Ahhhh, got it..... :-)

Tea and tatami
Being dissolved into this
Sipping what's offered

Thursday, July 30, 2009

80's Flashbacks

The first dozen plus years of my Buddhist life were purely intellectual. I would read whatever i could get my hands on and then re-read it and re-read it and think about it until i could find another book to read — which wasn't as often as you might imagine.

Back in the '70s, there weren't entire sections in bookstores devoted to Buddhism, and i can remember wandering through every bookstore i ran across every time i ran across them, looking for that one lucky discovery; another one has been published! I had a little more luck in the libraries at the universities i attended, but still, books on Zen weren't falling off the shelves.

Zen first lost it's intellectual smell when i was living in Japan for a few years in the '80s. While there, i learned two lessons that at the time didn't seem all that extraordinary. In hindsight, though, i am so glad i learned them when i did.

The first was in answer to the typical question asked of someone who is supposed to know: "What is Zen?" The response made perfect sense to me then and has defined how i look at it even to this day. In response, i was told that Zen was making sure that when i took my slippers off at the edge of the tatami, they weren't just thrown willy-nilly, but were lined up side-by-side, with the heels towards the tatami and the toes pointing away.

The point was, you pay attention to everything you do no matter how insignificant it might seem at the moment. Paying attention to what you do, what you say, what you think, how you look at things, how you live, how you live, how you live. You do not live your life as if there is anything that doesn't matter.

The second lesson i was forced to teach myself. Being a complete temple addict, i have visited so many temples around the world that i don't think i can count them. When living in Japan i would take weekend trips and ride trains and buses for a full day to get somewhere and then another full day to get back in time for work, just to visit a new temple on the other side of the island for 3-4 hours. I just cannot explain to anyone who reads this the feeling of contentment and ease i get sitting on the tatami in front of a Buddha statue at a temple.

(It sure did force me to learn Japanese, though, since i always traveled alone. :-))

However, since i am addicted to traveling and to wandering the streets wherever i live, i always refused to make time to stay at home and establish a formal zazen practice. Usually, if i was awake, i was out walking around. Then, one day (why, i'll never know) it dawned on me that instead of reading on the hour commute into Tōkyō each morning and the hour back home each night, i could meditate right there on the train.

Since i was never a member of a temple, there was no one to tell me i was stupid and that it couldn't be done, or that it was a completely ass-backwards way to approach practice. So, i just did it. Every day, while standing and leaning against the doors of the train and staring blankly out the window, or while hanging from the hand strap dangling from the ceiling and flopping this way and that, i learned to count my breaths. An hour into the city and an hour going home.

At first i had to be careful not to miss my station, but after a while, as any commuter can tell you, your body just seems to know when you are approaching your stop. Back then there were no mp3 players but i'm sure i looked just as spaced out to the other passengers as someone listening to music does now. But, i was hooked.

Since then, sitting on my zafu at home has never been my favorite place to meditate. For me, watching my breath during red lights, while waiting in the line at the grocery store, sitting in the waiting room at the dentist, .... all seem much more natural.

While i do love my zafu, i have to admit (maybe a little sheepishly) that it seems just a tad bit too formal. And besides, that's not what Zen is about. Not at all.

Do you know where your shoes are right now?

Friday, July 17, 2009

Live Strong But Dump Lance

Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, Lance, .......

Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, Blah, ......

Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, Yada, ......

Give me a break!

My vote to the better rider and (it seems) person, Alberto Contador.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Road Kill 4

An old bag of rice
Out of sight and in the dark
Of what use is it


Pot-holed road heads west
Life drifts slowly in exile
Only dreams of dreams

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Conspiracy Theories & Women's (Men's?) Lingerie

On the one hand, it seems that Korean men like to beat their women.

On the other hand, it seems that Japanese men like to dress like their women. A company called Wishroom is now offering bras and panties for those Japanese men of "discerning" tastes, and at least the bras are selling very, very well.

Is this a conspiracy to drive me into the arms of the Chinese??????

(Although, this does help me understand how, in a land with some of the world's most beautiful women, the birthrate is incredibly low, and dropping.)

What man in his right mind wears a bra and panties??? I always used to laugh at older people who would moan, about my generation, "what's this world coming to" as i was growing up. Apparently since i have now added my voice to that lament, this cements it — i am officially an old man.


Saturday, July 11, 2009

Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind

Shunryu Suzuki began his classic book Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind with

"People say that practicing Zen is difficult, but there is a misunderstanding as to why."

He then took what was obviously the next sentence and moved it all the way to the end of the book:

"In Japan in the spring we eat cucumbers."

I wonder why he added all that other stuff in between those two sentences. I wonder if, when he submitted the book with just those two sentences, and told the editor that it said all that was needed, they got mad and refused to publish it without adding enough fluff to justify a higher cost?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

------> LOCATE

It might seem strange
to suggest
you don't appreciate
the fact
that you are
when you woke
this morning
to find yourself
still breathing
did you say
or do
to show
you noticed

The two newest songs (both Japanese) added to the mp3 player i use to run: Soba Ni Iru Ne and Naketekuru

Most people never take the time to think of their local Highway Department, and those that do probably think it does nothing for runners, bicyclists, or other outdoor enthusiasts. Here in Lockport, though, these wonderful people offer hidden gifts, if you take the time to look for them.

Just after the Col de I355 and the 3.5 mi. mark on my normal run every morning, the Highway Dept. has taken the trouble to paint, in rather large letters, a message to us right on the shoulder of the road. In big, white lettering, "-----> LOCATE" is written so that we can't miss it; in fact, you are forced to run right across the words.

It is here each morning that i thank those wonderful people and take the time to do just what they are telling me to do — locate myself. It is so incredibly easy to get lost when out on the road; lost in the ongoing movie clips of my life that run around my head all day, lost in the constant chatter, bickering, and other nonsense that won't go away, lost in the dreams and reminiscences, lost in fantasies.

But each time i run across those words, i am reminded that i can put a stop to all that and take stock of myself. And, since the Highway Dept. took the time to leave the message, i do just that.

First i go through the physical checklist:

- Feet landing mid-foot instead of on the heel?
- Pushing off with the toes?
- Stride feel right? Loose?
- Calf muscles relaxed?
- Knees flowing smoothly?
- Hamstrings and Quads relaxed?
- Hips loose and swinging freely?
- Butt not tight? Let it hang loose.
- Deep breaths from the belly. No chest breathing.
- Forearms parallel to the ground and swinging lightly fore & aft?
- Hands relaxed? Let them hang completely limp for a second then bring back up.
- Fingers separated and very, very loose?
- Thumb and forefinger very lightly touching?
- Shoulders relaxed and hanging loosely? Swinging freely?
- Neck muscles relaxed?
- Mouth and chin relaxed?
- Cheek muscles relaxed?
- Eyes and forehead relaxed? No squinting?
- Scalp relaxed?

Then the overall physical checklist:

- Is the pace OK? Too fast? Too slow?
- Is the ground loose or solid?
- Should you move up to the asphalt or down to the gravel?
- Do i need a drink? Something to eat? A piece of gum?
- How do you feel?

Then inside:

- Have the movies been turned off?
- Are you talking to yourself?
- Are you here on the road or elsewhere?
- Are you running Now or sometime in the past or future?
- Are you experiencing this run?
- Have you noticed your surroundings? The traffic, the birds, the dogs, the people, the golfers, how high the sun is, the clouds, how tall the corn is today, the woman mowing her lawn, etc.
- Can you feel your heart beating?
- Can you feel your muscles expanding & contracting?
- Are you aware?
- Are you present?

Then the harder questions:

- Who are you? If you turn off everything and just become moving feet, what is running?
- Am i more than this graying old man who happens to live in Lockport and likes to run?
- Or am i less?
- How can i be the same person now at 55 that i was when i was 55 seconds old?
- What has changed?
- What hasn't changed?
- When i just am, whether on my zafu or in my running shoes, what am i?
- What do i have to give up to just be?
- Once it is surrendered, why do i always want it back again later?

Then time to focus:

- Just feel the feet running. Stride. Stride. Stride......
- Left arm swinging. Right. Left. Right.......
- One breath. Another. Another. Another. Another......
- No thoughts. Just watch the breath come in, go out, come in, .......
- No mind. No runner. Just moving feet.
- Thought comes. Concentrate on the breathing. Thought goes.
- No mind. No runner. Just moving feet.
- No mind.

By the time i get through all of this, i'm well on my way back home to a snack and a delicious cup of green tea, which is drank and appreciated, usually, by i don't know who.

Thank you Highway Department.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Racing The Pros & Superstitions

Because i'm a lazy bum, i got out on my run late this morning. I was watching the Tour De France online, but after a while, realized that i was working myself into a tight corner — i had to leave soon if i wanted to be back in time to watch the sprint to the finish line, or i had to wait and run after the stage was complete. But, that spelled trouble because i could see the red of my thermometer climbing with each minute.

Figuring that the stage would end at about 11:15, and working backward, i changed clothes and headed out, knowing that i was going to have to have a very good run in order to be back in time. And i did.

I only had to run 8 miles, and even though i run an out-and-back, up-and-down, hilly course from start to finish, the only real hard part is the Col de I355 (the overpass they built over our new local interstate highway), which, for some reason, they built tall enough to leave room for double height trucks to drive under. It is so tall that you can see it from a mile away, once you clear the last other hills on the approach. It's a monster.

Because i'm playing cat and mouse games with a sore right groin muscle, the 4 miles out had to be pretty slow while i warmed up, even though the gap between me and the peleton was growing with each stride away from home. Once i turned around, though, i knew it was time to drop the hammer in order to get back in time.

The Col de I355 is at about mile 3.5, so once i turned around that was the first thing i had to deal with. Going out i took it slowly; going home, i pounded up and over at a fairly good clip — i was chasing the peleton to the finish, and i had no time to lose. Once past that hurdle, while it would be hilly all the way home, it is a net drop in altitude, with the final half-block a downhill sprint to the finish.

Even though i am absolutely against performance drugs, i admit that i wanted to get home in time badly enough that i broke into my performance enhancing stash. I keep 5 pretty hard (for me, anyhow) rock songs on my mp3 player for just such emergencies as this. I almost never listen to these 5 songs, but they are loud enough that they can drown out all but the worst complaints my body can raise as i run when i'm in a hurry. With these now blasting in my ears, i powered home.

To make a long story short, i ended up with a very acceptable 9:33 pace for the run, and a very good morning run, but still walked in the door 1 minute after Cavendish had crossed the finish line. The race finished 10 minutes before they were supposed to. Sigghhhhh...... I guess these guys are faster than i thought. Maybe that's why they are pros? But, i blame this all on Hincapie for pushing the breakaway that put Columbia-HTC up front.

I'm not a superstitious person. Never have been. Can't think of one superstition i believe in. But......

A month ago, in order to get rid of the white, untanned, band around my left wrist that i get from always wearing my watch on that arm, i decided to wear my watch on my right arm half the time. It's incredibly uncomfortable, but you do what you have to do when you train for a marathon.

Shortly after starting this practice, my right groin muscle really, really started to bother me. It springs up each year to varying degrees, but always at the end of the training season. This year it is early.

Now, the only thing i am doing differently compared to previous years is this thing with the watch. Superstition would tell you not to play with a routine that is already proven to work, but since i'm not superstitious, and refuse to believe that this simple change in my training routine could cause the groin problem, i analyzed what is going on.

What i figured out is that by moving my watch to the right wrist 50% of the time, the extra weight on the right side of the body is causing me to tilt ever so slightly in that direction. To compensate for that, my hip and core muscles need to tighten up in order to pull my body back to the vertical. In particular, it is the right hip/groin that is doing most of the work, and this is causing the pulled muscle.

When i leave my watch on the left wrist, like i did today, all seems to be well. I still need to be careful as it heals and returns completely to normal, but it is definitely getting better.

So, while no one may believe the physiological explanation, and i don't believe the superstitious explanation, the watch is staying on the left wrist where it belongs.

Don't play with proven strategies.

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Johan Bruyneel Is A Loser!

To get ready for this year's Tour De France, which started today, i just finished reading Johan Bruyneel's book We Might As Well Win. It is a great read and explains a lot about his strategy and how he thought as he led Lance to 7 first place finishes, Alberto Contador to the 2007 victory, and how he will probably think as he leads either Lance or Alberto to this year's win.

But, buried amongst all of the strategy is a message that struck home. Everyone knows that both Johan and Lance value winning more than all else. I always thought that was the only option. But late in the book, Johan admits that there is another acceptable option — losing. The only option not acceptable is sitting comfortably in the middle, accepting the glory of a lower step on the winner's podium, accepting the glory of just being in the race, but not gambling everything to try and win; gambling your team, your status, your health, ... everything.

After losing the 16th stage to Rasmussen in 2007, and what seemed the last chance to grab the yellow jersey for the final time, he held a meeting with the team to commiserate. They had, they knew, gambled everything in this stage; in fact, on the last climb of the stage. The gamble hadn't paid off. Yet at that meeting he comes to realize, "I was still willing to risk losing to win. Something inside me would never settle for being in the middle."

Settling for the comfortable middle, simply showing up each day, keeping your head down, doing what it takes to keep up with the peloton, never attempting to be the best, or worse, trying once, and then giving up when it doesn't work out as planned, or simply basking in the glory of the other team member's status, and on, and on..... what a sad and despicable way to live a life.

And the last paragraph of the book is stellar:

"You never know which moment of success will be the one that ends up changing your life, so they're all worth fighting for. From the smallest victory at home to the most public triumph, every win of your life might be the one that really ends up meaning something, that transforms you from simply the winner of the moment into the rarest thing of all: a true winner."

That's the goal in life — finding a way to be a true winner. And you don't get that by settling for the middle. It's better to lose, walk away with your head held high, and try again later.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Road Kill 3

Foolish people dream.
Like long dicks, brains, and fast runs.
Just accept your life.

Another KPop 8 miles, but great weather.