Training break #195

29 04 2011

How people train for races reveals how they live.

The Possibilian: if I could turn back time

27 04 2011

Time – measuring it and experiencing its passing — is obviously a big part of both running and Zen practice. And If you’re interested in the fascinating relationship between time and the brain, you’ll enjoy the New Yorker article “The Possibilian,” partly an entertaining profile of neuroscientist David Eagleman and partly an overview of recent discoveries into the whole time-brain thing.

One quote from the article really stood out: “Reality is a tape-delayed broadcast, carefully censored before it reaches us.” This reminds me of certain aspects of Buddhist philosophy. We simply can’t fully trust our minds to deliver grade-A, present moment reality. As a matter of fact, according to the article we’re living less in reality as we age. The brain apparently tends to edit out a lot of sensory information it has already processed, which is largely the reason time seems to go so much faster as we get older: in a sense, we’ve been here before.

Perhaps meditation is a way we can control time, slowing it down by becoming more aware of our sensory input as it’s processed. It’s pretty clear to me that when I’m bored by meditation, it’s because I’m skimming the surface, experiencing the same old input over and over in the same cursory way. But when I’m fully engaged in meditation and find that sweet spot of samadhi, each gurgle of my stomach, creak of my ceiling, chirp of a bird outside occurs in a deeper and more resonant space. As one of my Zen teachers once put it, “each moment becomes more concentrated.” As each experience is encountered and explored on its own, it becomes new again. And time slows down.

It’s very liberating to think of time as something we’re not enslaved to , but can actually, in a very practical sense, manipulate and control – simply by paying attention.

A Zen Off-Season?

26 04 2011

The advantages of an off-season for runners brought to mind what, if any, would be the advantages of an off-season for Zen practitioners. After all, if easing back on the gas pedal for an extended period of time can refresh and renew our perspective on running, why couldn’t the same principle apply to our Zen practice?

Perhaps the most important difference is the physical aspect of both practices. The training schedule for a series of, say, 3-4 ultra marathons or more over the course of a year is pretty grueling, and to continue to train at that level for a number of years without a real break would eventually break anyone down. Of course, sitting zazen can also be extremely physically demanding, especially over the course of a week-long (or longer) sesshin. Based on my experience, I’d have to say training for ultras is tougher on the body over the long haul — although I’m not discounting the physical effort required to sit perfectly still, without back support and with good posture, for days on end, and with little sleep.

But it’s the mind aspect of Zen that makes year-round practice necessary. Part of Zen is learning how to sit (and live) with everything: the days you feel really tired or mildly sick, or burned out or bored, or very busy with a dozen other things, or wondering what the point of sitting really is and if it’s worth it. In fact, it’s the same days that often serve as a warning sign of overtraining for many runners that are the most fertile ground for Zen practice to flourish.

For runners, our bodies need a physical break to avoid burnout, excessive fatigue, or injury. For Zen practitioners, our minds need as much training in as many varying conditions as possible. I can’t say I sit every day — there are days that, for one self-imposed reason or another, I miss out. And I can’t deny that often when I miss a day, I return to sitting the next day feeling more thirsty for it, and drink more deeply.

But the longer I practice, the more I realize the value of sitting every day. We’re all works in progress, and the world is the laboratory where we are being tested. To get the best possible results, however each of us defines “best results,” we need to conduct our self experiments regularly, daily, and in all possible test conditions, just like any good scientist would do. Otherwise, our data collection will be forever biased toward our good moods. And our Zen practice devolves into just sitting by ourselves when we feel like it.

Still (trying) to run with Mu

25 04 2011

The final revision of my long-suffering book project didn’t take quite as long as I thought, but most of the outline and raw material were already there. I deeply appreciate the invaluable advice and support I got from one person in particular; they know who they are.

Not sure what, if anything, will happen with it now. I still tend to think I’m too Zen for the running community, and too running for the Zen community. But, as I think I’ve said before when quoting cartoon characters for wisdom, I yam what I yam.

Since my last post, I’ve happily moved into the racing off-season. Although I enjoy training and racing, I tend to deeply enjoy my time away. Aside from other obvious advantages such as rest, recovery, and burnout avoidance, having a regularly designated off season turns rest and renewal into a life ritual, a part of your inner self. Time away from training helps you recapture your “beginner’s mind” and reconnect with the joy of running for running’s sake.

I’m not sure what the racing calendar for next season holds (currently set to restart with more purposeful running in mid-August). I’m trying not to think about it at all, frankly, other than perhaps the broadest possible outlines. It will necessarily entail a minimal amount of travel, which certainly helps focus things a bit. Beyond that, my attitude is to just stay in decent baseline shape and worry about training when training time comes. You need a mental rest from thinking about racing as much as a physical rest.

So, as with other thoughts, when thoughts of racing arise over the next few months, I’m just going to try to acknowledge them and let them go, without chasing after them. I’m a little tired of chasing after things for the time being. This season, letting go has been remarkably easy.


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