In the gym lifting yesterday, I had an epiphany. An article tweeted by @EastTriFitCrew drew the analogy of your body as a vehicle you train and prep for race day–a vehicle that it is then up to you the driver to drive for the race. I found this analogy striking at the moment, a great distinction between your body, training, and your self who must actually execute on race day, mechanical malfunctions, inadequacies and all. It is similar, but not exactly, like the guy with the $5000 bike, the bike alone won’t make him go fast. (I also appreciate the role of the self as the observer)
However, in the gym yesterday, it occurred that this analogy can be extended further, and more meaningfully to Practice and life in general. We practice for what purpose? It is not an end in itself. Nor is it for the purpose of the real side benefits–reduced heart rate, longevity, improved health, better focus–but to prepare ourselves to navigate this life, many of whom’s ultimate goal is to not rinse-and-repeat next life, but ultimate freedom from Samsara.
Practice that only aims for the side benefits, falls far short. Yoga, zazen, tai chi–whatever your practice, there are many side benefits (so readily marketed to us now), but what is the point if you don’t then use that improved vehicle to navigate this life.
You are the driver. Your body is a shell. You will eventually shed your body, your mind even. Until then, to what use will you put them?
Training is my Practice. It is what actually keeps me functional in this life. For me the vehicle and driver analogy is perfect. My truck with 316,000 miles on it–I do the maintenance so it will remain functional, and continue to help me navigate around town. I don’t do the maintenance just so it will look nice, or people will think it is cool (though some actually do think it’s cool). I practice so my mind and body will remain functional (sometimes even at peak performance), and I can use them to help me navigate this universe.
This week we had a birthday celebration, one day for family, one day for friends, and two days on the road for college visits. The resultant effect: I missed two whole days of training, and had three highly modified days. Missed training days are extremely bothersome to me. I obsess over how to adjust my schedule, and how to make up for the losses. Truthfully, I probably needed an unload week.
All of which underscored the extent of my attachment to training and things training-related (e.g., logs, nutrition protocols, gear improvements, results). If Training is a Practice (as it is for me), then one very insidious, and deceptive attachment is to the Training itself.
Coaches generally advise viewing missed training days as needed recovery. I try to get in every session I can, knowing I will miss some, and then those become recovery days, instead of lost progress. But that is all very intellectual. On a gut level, the missed days still feel like loss.
This feeling of loss gives us an opportunity to deepen our practice by reflecting on the nature of our attachment to training. If Training is a Practice, then it is not the goal. Only the goal is the goal. (Goals and Zen have their own ironic relationship.) Practice is a vehicle we use along the Road. Or as Suzuki mentions in Beginners Mind, it is the boat we use to cross a stream that crosses the Way. In this light Practice is further removed–not even the Road to the Goal.
I have no answer here, nor any real conclusions. Only that it is an interesting phenomenon. An experience I am thankful for, as it helps peel back another layer, another curtain between me and Reality.
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I am struck by the necessity of, and yet, inherent contradiction, between training goals (or any goals, for that matter), and Zen Practice.
Goals are necessary to Practice due to the peculiar wiring of the human mind and physiology. The will needs a target to focus on. As in Kyudo, the archer needs a target to focus his bow and arrow on.
Paradoxically, goals are an attachment, and Practice is about detachment. The Archer aims at the target with his mind, and then releases attachment to striking his aim.
In triathlon, this is particularly tricky, as there are so many goals, targets, variables, and equipment to track and monitor. Additionally, it is a competition, so times and standings are inescapable. The trick is to track these goals, work towards them, but then have no attachment.
This is the trick in life. We need to eat to live. Our bodies and minds will scream for nourishment. How then do we remain detached from food, yet seek nourishment for our bodies? There are many, many more mundane examples.
Warriors in combat have the same quandary. We train. We fight. All with an objective. Yet, to Practice we must also remain detached.
In this way triathlon is good Warrior training because of long and continuous training period, the number of variables, the specificity of success or failure, the concentrated pressure. I find it a great environment to Practice.
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9 Mindfulness Rituals to Make Your Day Better
“Smile, breathe and go slowly.” – Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Buddhist monk
Post written by Leo Babauta.
Are you simply moving through your day, without fully living?
I did this for many years. It was as if life were just passing by, and I was waiting for something to happen. I always felt like I was preparing for something later.
But today isn’t preparation for tomorrow. Today’s the main event.
Fully live today by being mindful. I realize this is easier said than done — mindfulness is a habit that’s not easily picked up. And so I’ve decided to share with you some of my favorite mindfulness rituals to help you appreciate every moment.
You don’t need to do all of these, but give a few of them a try to see if they make your day better.
Ritual isn’t about doing a routine mindlessly. It’s a way of building something good into your life, so that you don’t forget what’s important. Done mindfully, a ritual can remind you to be conscious. Done mindlessly, a ritual is meaningless.
Here are a few of my favorites:
1. Sit in the morning. When you wake up, in the quiet of the morning, perhaps as your coffee is brewing, get a small cushion and sit on the floor. I will often use this opportunity to stretch, as I am very inflexible. I feel every muscle in my body, and it is like I am slowly awakening to the day. I’ll also just sit, and focus on my breathing going in and out. I’m an absolute beginner when it comes to meditation, but this always starts my day right.
2. Brush your teeth. I assume we all brush our teeth, but often we do it while thinking of other things. Try fully concentrating on the action of brushing, on each stroke of each tooth, going from one side of the mouth to the other. You end up doing a better job, and it helps you realize how much we do on autopilot.
3. Eat mindfully. Turn off the TV, put away the computer and mobile devices, even put away the book or newspaper. If you eat with any of these things (most people do), eating without them will seem boring. And yet, unless you do this, you are not truly appreciating your food. I like eating my oats (with nuts and berries — see my diet) mindfully, paying attention to each bite. It makes the food taste better, and I eat slowly and with gratefulness.
4. Wash your bowl. When you’re done eating, wash your dish immediately. Do it while paying full attention to your washing, to the water and suds. Read more.
5. Drink tea. There’s something ancient about the tea ceremony — and when you drink tea as a mindfulness ritual, you’re connecting with millions of others who have done so over the centuries. Make your own tea ceremony — prepare the tea carefully and mindfully, pour it slowly, sip it with thoughtfulness. See if you can set aside one time each day to do this, and it will transform your day.
6. Walk slowly. I like to take breaks from work, and go outside for a little walk. Walk slowly, each step a practice in awareness. Pay attention to your breathing, to everything around you, to the sounds and light and texture of objects.
7. Read in silence. Find a quiet time (mornings or evenings are great for me), and a quiet spot, and read a good novel. Have no television or computers on nearby, and just immerse yourself in the world of the novel. It might seem contradictory to let your mind move from the present into the time of the novel, but it’s a great practice in focus. Also, I love a good novel more than almost anything else.
8. Look at someone gratefully. Each day, find someone you care about. Instead of just seeing what you always see, really look at the person. Try not to do it creepily. See this person for the miracle that she is, and be grateful for her existence. If you’re feeling generous, tell that person how thankful you are for her.
9. Work with focus. Start your workday by choosing one task that will make a big difference in your work, and clearing everything else away. Just do that one task, and don’t switch to other tasks. Single-tasking is a great way to find focus. Increase your Monk Mind.
These rituals aren’t the only time you should be mindful, but they’re great reminders. Today, try a few of them to fully live and fully appreciate this wonderful day.
Mystic, Zen, and Warrior are (IMHO) the most over-used words on the net. These are the words, which if used in a keyword search, will most likely not turn up results related to Mysticism, Zen Buddhism, or any serious warriors.
Don’t believe me? Do a key-word search on Twitter for any of the above, and see what turns up.
Just for kicks, here are the links in real-time–Tell me what percentage you come up with that are actually relevant:
These are just personal pet peeves of mine because they related directly to my primary areas of interest. Are there other words you find used utterly wrong in common parlance.
My favorite book on dealing with negative emotions is a compilation of meditations by Thich Nhat Hanh, Taming the Tiger Within: Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions (2004). He has several themes dealing with negative emotions. He continually recommends honesty and openness with your loved ones about how your feeling. (study indicating that this is a physically healthy practice). He also recommends being gentle with one self. He recommends reminding yourself, and meditating on, the things that make you happy. Much of his recommendations fall under the practice of Stalking. The practice that I touch on below is a first step in the process of Stalking.
“It is very helpful to see yourself in moments when you are angry. It is a bell of mindfulness.” ~ p. 27
“One of the main causes of our suffering is the seed of anger inside of us.” ~ p. 5
Notice that each of the above quotes asks us to step outside of our heads and observe (in this case our anger), our difficult emotions. This stepping outside of our selves is a critical step in the process of Stalking, because in doing so we create some space, however momentary, between our emotion and any subsequent reactions or impulses we display when we feel this anger.
Thich Nhat Hanh doesn’t say that negative emotions are habits, but I contend that if not the emotion, then our subsequent expression and behavior is. Further, I contend that much of our subsequent reactions are inhibitors in our life.
If we hope to restructure our reactions and impulses away from regrettable behaviors, the space Thich Nhat Hanh points to is necessary to be able to later reconstruct events and discover the lynch-pin behaviors.
Remember, typically in a habitual sequence of behaviors, there will typically be a point where we shift from mindful to auto pilot. I discuss this sequence in my earlier post. After an argument, or a rough weekend, or some other set of negative emotions, once the sting has subsided, it is important to retrace events in our mind and find the one behavior or reaction which if we didn’t do, could have turned the tide. Or once we did do, things went down hill.
A couple of weeks ago I had an especially hard day. In looking back I can see that I had several opportunities to meditate and organize my thoughts and game plan, but I always felt rushed and put the planning off. Had I taken five or ten minutes to make a couple of lists, when the crisis of that day peaked, I could have fallen back on those lists. Going forward I have resolved to remind myself to set down and scratch out a couple of lists when the though occurs, and not put it off. Since that weekend, I have had one such opportunity, and I didn’t make great lists, or give myself quite enough time, but I was able to better organize my thoughts, and operate with a better game plan. Things still didn’t work out as well as they would have if I had focused more, but not as bad as they would have had I only the seat of my pants to work with.
Similarly with anger. I have had a couple of chances to practice creating some space, and interrupting my impulse to escalate arguments, even when clearly invited to do so by my fellow antagonist. This issue of escalation is interesting. Often, in an argument, our fellow antagonist is more comfortable with an all out irrational confrontation instead of calmly addressing the points actually on the table. We must be careful of this desire, and resist the temptation to bait people into it, and to take the bait when so deliciously offered. Some space and observation is required to see the bait coming and to resist taking it (or resist throwing it out there).
There are several specific techniques we can use to build more productive habits surrounding negative emotions.
- cognitive restructuring
I will not go into detail here. It is most important to first practice being the observer to our emotional expression and reaction. This simple (not easy) act of creating space and observing will often point the way to what action we can take next.
Your comments are welcome below. . .
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Hard days, are . . . well–Hard. By extension they are generally unpleasant. By extension we generally try to avoid them. The irony is that these are the days we can grow from. That make us better. That make more Hard Days less likely. By extension we should actually seek out more Hard Days.
This is a major principle in training, particularly when it comes to endurance sports. But this is true to all aspects of our lives. Hard Days give plenty of fodder to analyze our stalking (the process where we monitor our own behavior, step by step, from a detached point of view). Stalking is a key activity in growth because it provides the vision to see, in this case, the small things that made the day hard, and which can be changed.
The principle in stalking is to detachedly dissect our internal reactions, and find the key reactions that a particular sequence of behaviors pivoted on. Sometimes, these reactions and choices were several days before the experience of hardship.
Stalking can be applied to Easy Days or Successful Days as well, except we are usually not motivated to dissect and change these outcomes as much.
Hard Days are uncomfortable, unpleasant, painful, agonizing, miserable–take your pick. The trigger our inherited survival avoidance mechanisms. And they need to be absolutely sought out.
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