Old neighborhoods of the heart

28 06 2010

It was my mother’s birthday this past weekend, so we drove to visit her and enjoyed some first-class German chocolate cake, courtesy of my sister. Early Sunday morning, I ran through my old boyhood haunts and hangouts and was reminded once again of the Heart Sutra, which I’m currently studying more closely. Everything I ran past looked smaller and somewhat run-down, and our former family home had a red tag on the front door that might mean it has been condemned. To see the house you grew up in apparently abandoned and tagged for disposal, especially on a weekend when your mother’s birthday is being celebrated, is a fairly poignant reminder that form is indeed emptiness, and emptiness is form.

The Heart Sutra can seem somewhat cold and clinical, but there are times when chanting its lines feels quite emotional. Sunday morning, running through the streets of my old neighborhood, the emotions that can be reflected in the sutra’s bottomless teaching broke to the surface. It was sad and oddly reassuring at the same time.

Training break #180

25 06 2010

I study Buddhism so that, someday, I won’t have to study it anymore.

— Gary Thorp, “Shelter From The Storm,” Tricycle Summer 2005

Form, emptiness, and a few early miles

23 06 2010

Up at 4:30 a.m. this morning for a 1.5 hour run before heading into work. There is rarely a more spectacular everyday example of the riverlike quality of our existence than to witness the last scattered stars still fading slowly as the eastern horizon begins to glow. As I glanced at the sky today, I was grateful to have been aware of it.

I’ve been reading several commentaries on the Heart Sutra, and seeing the dawn and evening at the same moment is a beautifully simple example of how form is emptiness, and emptiness is form. Without the day, there could be no night. Without night, no day. Without neither, both. So much of Zen often sounds like an amusing paradox, the relentlessly frustrating peeling of an onion with no center, but those paradoxes once again reconciled themselves to me this morning.

What a gift running is!

Getting back on their feet

22 06 2010

Once again this fall and winter, I’ll be racing to help our homeless neighbors by partnering with Back On My Feet, a nonprofit organization promoting the self-sufficiency of homeless populations by engaging them in running as a means to build confidence, strength and self-esteem. BOMF doesn’t provide food or shelter, but instead provide a community that embraces equality, respect, discipline, teamwork and leadership. BOMF members participate in a comprehensive program that offers connections to job training, employment and housing. Those benefits are earned by maintaining 90 percent attendance at the morning runs three days a week in the BOMF six-to-nine month program. And, it’s been a success: the personal stories on the BOMF website are really inspirational.

I’ve co-coordinated a Feed The Homeless initiative in our city for 15 years, and I’m thrilled to find a productive way to meld support for the homeless with my running practice. If you can give, even a little, I (and some of our homeless neighbors) would be very grateful. Thanks!

My personal Back On My Feet donation page

Cicada’s call

21 06 2010

The first 3.5+ hour run of the year was on Saturday, a ripely warm and richly humid affair that soaked me through in the first half hour. Another 2+ hour run on Sunday in the same conditions. Even 5 a.m. is too late now to get up for a long run; I envision many 4 a.m. weekend mornings in the coming weeks.

While it definitely feels like summer, it didn’t sound like summer until, halfway through my sit late Saturday afternoon, I heard a familiar buzzing rattle, like some exotic percussion instrument: the call of a cicada, first one of the season. Soon my sitting and running will be accented with their insistent, hypnotizing drone.

Summer is rapidly flooding the five skandhas, and, like everything else that hits our personal sensory radar, will be gone again in just a few blips. Through the cicada’s doomed calling, I can already hear the approaching end of the season.

Training Break #179

18 06 2010

Expectation is a prison.

— Robert Fripp

Getting to the Heart

17 06 2010

I’m pleased with how training is going so far. It’s still early days, but I’m feeling a level of strength and resolve that I haven’t felt since my first 100-miler last February. I think it essentially took me almost a year to fully recover from my first 100, at least mentally. Fortunately, as some famous runner said (I think it was Frank Shorter, but I’m not sure), it’s usually long enough between our major race efforts that we forget how the last one felt — or otherwise we might not ever climb on the back of that particular bronco again.

As part of my irregular personal reading on the foundational classics of Zen Buddhism, I’m starting to dissect the Heart Sutra, which has been called “Buddhism in a nutshell.” I have three commentaries to work from: a somewhat scholarly but highly readable effort by the estimable Red Pine (Bill Porter), a more general practitioner’s look by Thich Nhat Hanh, and an odd, slim little volume by Mu Soeng that apparently approaches it largely from the viewpoint of modern physics. If I realize any running-related insights as I read, I’ll post them here.

Oh, and if you’re in the Dallas area tonight and jonesing for some zazen, join us at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church at 7:30 Central for an hour and a half of non-thinkingness, as part of our sangha’s Central Dallas outreach. I monitor the sit (meaning I’m the bell ringer/timekeeper, not that I’m taking names of the noisy), and Ruben Habito, our lead teacher, will be offering dokusan for the first time on Thursday nights. Join us if you can!


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