Tricks are for kids

27 02 2010

It’s the start of my 2010 training, although I’m not entirely certain of my race schedule yet.  The great early 13th-century Chinese Zen Master Hengchuan (quoted in this richly fascinating and inspiring book)  said of personal meetings with his teacher, “When Tianmu was alive, when I was face to face with him, all tricks were useless.”  I feel the same way when I go for dokusan with my Zen teacher, or when I’m running a race.   When you’re in dokusan and one of  your teachers asks a question, there’s no way to cheat or trick them with clever words — if he or she is a teacher worth their salt.  You can’t fake or act your way through dokusan.   You must sit with your koan, live your life through your koan, become your koan.  And you can’t fake your way through training for a race and toe the starting line thinking that the ol’ race day magic will somehow carry you through.  A race and a good Zen teacher will reflect the depth of your honesty and your work.   There you are, sitting on your cushion in front of your teacher.  There you are, thumb hovering over the start button on your watch as the race director raises his megaphone.   Races and teachers, waiting patiently for your answer.  How will you respond?

Shoes for the homeless

22 02 2010

Some of you may know I try to be an advocate for our homeless neighbors.  For those in the Dallas/Ft. Worth area, here’s a link to an organization who takes your old running shoes and provides them for homeless people to wear — those shoes may not be good for running any more, but they’re still usually good for walking.  Obviously you need to clean ‘em up a bit before giving them away, and the website tells you what needs to be done — not much at all, really.

If you don’t live in the DFW area, I encourage you to check out similar programs where you live and run.

Training break #168

19 02 2010

Several of my critics have said, “Bowerman just tacks up a piece of paper in the locker room and turns his runners loose.”  They’re partially right. I do give the athletes a relatively free rein, and for good reason.  One of my principles is: don’t overcoach. 

— Bill Bowerman

Sitting, with thoughts of running

13 02 2010

Sitting in the den this morning, our cat Linus snoozing on the blanket next to me, the world outside  covered in snow that absorbed sound like a sponge — still and quiet.  The smell of the coffee.  Somewhere, a bird made a brief fuss, then silence again.

Even while gazing at the white stuff on the ground outside, I can sense the sputtering end of the cold season.  Already the eaves are dripping, and the snow will gradually disappear.  It’s been a restful winter, running-wise, a time to press reset and enjoy shorter runs with no real purpose, other than to run.

But the sheet of paper I hold in my hand is reminding me of a new season, soon to come.  If I’m serious about getting back into racing, I’m about to find out how serious I am.  The more leisurely runs will turn into something more purposeful beginning in March.  “A little structure, for a little longer,” my training notes for March begin. Time to see if I’m ready to thaw out with the rest of this part of the world.

Sitting this morning was very peaceful, just an occasional drip from the eaves outside or the distant cawing of a jay.  But increasingly, the thoughts that float through my head are turning to the spring, and to longer runs with more purpose.  Thoughts of running are once again creeping into my zazen.  Spring must be close by.

Training break #167

5 02 2010

You have to water the seeds of joy in your practice by engaging in the activities that completely absorb you, that develop the same things mindfulness does:  concentration, focus, finding the extraordinary in the ordinary.

— Cheri Maples, quoted in “She’s Got The Beat”, Tricycle Winter 2009 issue

A passion for the practice

1 02 2010

For the first time in quite awhile I didn’t run at all over the weekend – I was participating in a weekend sesshin at our zendo that started Friday night and lasted until noon on Sunday. Every sesshin has its own subtle energies, its own memorable moments and flashes of insight that emerge from the silence and stillness. I had never previously sat at our zendo for an extended period of time during a hard cold spell, and the cold was a good teacher. It wasn’t until around 4 o’clock on Saturday when my body and mind came to the collective realization that some part of me was always going to be less than warm no matter how much I fought against it, and perhaps the best thing to do was simply be cold. I immediately felt my body relax, and my breathing and mind felt less rigid. The rest of my sesshin proceeded with considerably less tension. When even something as ordinary as a change in temperature can be a teacher, it’s no wonder we are exhorted to never let a moment pass by unaware.

As we were slowly pacing in kinhin after a sit during Saturday night, I was startled to pass by the totally prone figure of one of the participants – eyes closed and still lying on his back on the same bed of cushions he had been lying on during the rest period earlier. Were we not going to wake him up from his nap? I wondered, and then, startled, looked at his hands: he was holding them in the meditative mudra position.  After we broke our silence at the end of the sesshin on Sunday, I found out what had happened: he had a recurring back problem that flared up and he had considered going home, then decided to stay and participate any way he was able. It was his first sesshin, and I found it both moving and inspiring to see him lying prone on the floor, hands in the mudra. It was a powerful image of perseverance and a true passion for the practice. It is, fortunately, an image I will probably never be able to forget.


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