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Witness Space

"Experiencing and the Witness", Chapter 4 of Being Zen by Ezra Bayda, describes a meditation exercise that Bayda calls "the Three-by-Three":

... In this practice you bring three different aspects of sensory input into awareness simultaneously and hold them for three complete breaths. For example, you could first bring awareness to the sensations of the breath and then, while staying with that, begin to include the sense of touch in your hands as they rest in your lap. And then, while staying with awareness of breath and touch, expand your awareness to include the perception of sound, and then hold all three together for three complete breaths.

To get a taste of the Three-by-Three, try this: first bring awareness to the sensations of the breath. Be sure you are feeling the physical quality of the breath, not just the thought of the breath. Now add to awareness the feeling of the air on your skin. Feel the temperature and the texture of the air. Now, while maintaining awareness of the breath and the air, expand your awareness to include the feeling of presence in your posture. Hold these three components—the breath, the air, and the posture—in awareness for three full breaths. ...

The point, according to Bayda, is to widen "the container of awareness". As he describes it, in "witness space" the identification with the self — "me" — goes away, and there is no longer an observer. There is experiencing without thinking, pure present-moment awareness.

Delusion, or insight? Hard to tell. Bayda recounts a time when he felt discouraged about his meditative practice. His teacher, Charlotte Joko Beck, suggested that he label his thoughts and "reside in the physical experience of [his] emotional state." As Bayda describes it, he kept saying to himself things like: "Having a believed thought: nothing matters," "Having a believed thought: I'll never be good at this," "Having a believed thought: what's the use?"

Eventually the emotions faded. "Even though there was still a residue of sensations, it was no longer what I would normally identify as 'discouragement' or 'anxiety.'" He describes the result with a beautiful metaphor:

... through the practice of experiencing, we could still feel some anxiety but not be anxious. We identify not so much with "me" or "my anxiety" but with the wider container of awareness that we are calling the witness. From this increased spaciousness, there is a stillness within which we can experience what's going on. Our awareness is like the sky, and all the contents of awareness—thoughts, emotions, states of mind—are passing clouds. As we experience our emotions, we come to understand that they are not as dense and substantial as they appear. This thing we call an emotion is just a complex of thoughts and sensations, and like a cloud, it has no substantial reality. But the only way to make this understanding real is through the practice of experiencing itself, whereby we bring awareness to the physical reality of the moment. ...

Again, is this loss-of-me-ness a mere trick of mental confusion, or some deep understanding? What does it mean to "... stop identifying with this narrow sense of 'self' and start identifying with the wider and more spacious context of awareness itself."

And what's the point of persevering in "... the soft effort of cultivating the willingness to just be in the experience of our life as it is"? Could this be the bridge between "0" (non-attachment) and "1" (total unification)? Hmmmm ...

(cf. 01 (2013-11-05), Bursting the Bubble of Fear (2014-03-26), Swiss Cheese (2014-07-04), ...)

- Thursday, July 31, 2014 at 04:33:53 (EDT)

2014-07-13 - Meet Theresa

~12.5 miles @ ~12 min/mi

One block into today's run Dr Theresa Allio, NIH toxicologist, passes by. Introductions ensue, and the next 8 miles goes faster than planned, chatting and exchanging stories of begging water from strangers during long hot treks, places we've run, schools we've attended, etc. I give history lectures on the National Park Seminary and the Georgetown Branch railroad, as we follow Rock Creek and then meander via the Capital Crescent Trail over the high trestle and across the old one-lane wooden bridge. Eventually we get to Sligo Creek Trail, where Theresa humors me by detouring to do a lap around the track at the Silver Spring International Middle School, "... so the GPS trackfile will look better!" I explain.

After gentle interrogation Theresa admits to a marathon PB of 3:43 ("I hate you!" is my faux-envious response) at the Cape Cod Marathon, thus qualifying for Boston in 2002. She did a walking tour of Ireland not long ago, and is considering the Baltimore Marathon later this year. I recommend the MCRRC Seneca Creek and Stone Mill ultras, the DCRRC Washington's Birthday Marathon, and the VHTRC Bull Run Run 50 miler. We part ways at Adventist Hospital, Theresa to go home and mow the lawn, me to crawl back to my place with lots of walk breaks, but pushing on the last mile to keep an average overall pace below 12 min/mi. (Our first few miles together were a too-fast ~10.5 pace, but we slowed to ~11.5 after that.)

Massive dehydration: the digital scale says 139.8, down 4+ lbs. from the start; likely I should have eaten something and taken electrolytes along the way. A cold shower helps with recovery. Runkeeper and Garmin record the data.

- Wednesday, July 30, 2014 at 04:07:23 (EDT)

Intentional Attention

From Part One ("The Danger and the Promise"), Chapter "What Is Mindful Parenting?" of Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, the meaning of "mindfulness" summarized:

To bring mindfulness into our parenting, it is helpful to know something about what mindfulness is. Mindfulness means moment-to-moment, non-judgmental awareness. It is cultivated by refining our capacity to pay attention, intentionally, in the present moment, and then sustaining that attention over time as best we can. In the process, we become more in touch with our life as it is unfolding.

Ordinarily, we live much of the time in an automatic pilot mode, paying attention only selectively and haphazardly, taking many important things completely for granted or not noticing them at all, and judging everything we do experience by forming rapid and often unexamined opinions based on what we like or dislike, what we want or don't want. Mindfulness bring to parenting a powerful method and framework for paying attention to whatever we are doing in each moment, and seeing past the veil of our automatic thoughts and feelings to a deeper actuality.

Mindfulness lies at the heart of Buddhist meditation, which itself is all about cultivating attention. The practice of mindfulness has been kept alive and developed within various meditative traditions across Asia for over twenty-five hundred years. Now it is making its way into the mainstream of Western society in many different contexts, including medicine, health care, education, and social programs.

Mindfulness is a meditative discipline. There are many different meditative disciplines. We might think of them all as various doors into the same room. Each doorway gives a unique and different view into the room; once inside, however, it is the same room, whichever door we come through. Meditation, whatever the method or tradition, is the tapping into the order and stillness embedded in and behind all activity, however chaotic it may appear, using our faculty of attention. It is not, as is so commonly thought, an inward manipulation—like throwing a switch or merely relaxing—into some "special state" in which everything feels different or better, or in which your mind goes "blank," or your suppress your thoughts. It is a systematic and sustained observing of the whole field of our experience, or of some specific element of it.

While it received its most elaborate articulation in the Buddhist tradition, mindfulness is an important part of all cultures and is truly universal, since it is simply about cultivating the capacity we all have as human beings for awareness, clarity, and compassion. There are many different ways to do this work of cultivation. There is no one right way, just as there is no one right way to parent.

Mindful parenting involves keeping in mind what is truly important as we go about the activities of daily living with our children. Much of the time, we may find we need to remind ourselves of what that is, or even admit that we may have no idea at the moment, for the thread of meaning and direction in our lives is easily lost. But even in our most trying, sometimes horrible moments as parents, we can deliberately step back and begin afresh, asking ourselves as if for the first time, and with fresh eyes, "What is truly important here?"

In fact, mindful parenting means seeing if we can remember to bring this kind of attention and openness and wisdom to all our moments with our children. It is a true practice, its own inner discipline, its own form of meditation. And it carries with it profound benefits for both children and parents, to be discovered in the practice itself.

- Tuesday, July 29, 2014 at 04:58:02 (EDT)

2014-07-12 - Rock Creek with Gayatri

~13 miles @ ~12.9 min/mi

Two rabbits flee as I head toward an 0630 rendezvous with Gayatri Datta at Candy Cane City. At mile ~0.7, after a pause to take a selfie, weird glowing kidney-shaped ocular migraine "blind spots" appear and begin to spread mirror-symmetrically in both visual fields. They merge and then fade ~5 minutes later. As we trek down Rock Creek into DC on a hyper-humid morning, Gayatri spies a great blue heron. A bunny munches contentedly on the grass at the corner of Leland and Glendale in Chevy Chase, not far from where a chipmunk scampers across a driveway. We walk the hills as Gayatri tells me about her recent experiences at work. We discuss kids, training, retirement, etc. Runkeeper and Garmin record our path and pace.

- Monday, July 28, 2014 at 04:05:18 (EDT)

Buddha's Brain

Frustratingly bogus, full of suspiciously selected citations and sloppy illogic, with an appendix by the author's wife on "Nutritional Neurochemistry". Everybody involved has an insecurity-syndrome string of letters after their surname ("Ph.D", "M.D.", "L.Ac." — that last is "Licensed Acupuncturist", if you don't already know). The "References" section runs 17 pages and lists over 200 publications. Paragraphs of prose are interrupted by brain-structure acronyms, text boxes of neurochemicals, cartoon cerebellums, and callouts to studies most of which are doubtless statistically insignificant. If ever there were a poster child for John Ioannidis's thesis — that most published research is wrong — this would be it. It's cargo-cult neuroscience, like the bogus tomes that point to quantum-mechanics and proclaim it an answer to the Mysteries of the Mind. And there's no index in the back.

And yet...

Although Buddha's Brain by Rick Hanson & Co. is a book one wants to instantly dismiss, it also has an astounding amount of good in it — setting aside the unneeded veneer of pop-science. In that way it's much like Susan Smalley and Diana Winston's Fully Present, another cognitive-neuro-meditation forced marriage. Or maybe it resembles The Bodhisattva's Brain, Owen Flanagan's philosophy book (cf. Buddhism Naturalized). There's much good here, amidst the fluff. For starters, in Chapter 1 the discussion "Virtue, Mindfulness, and Wisdom" attempts a mapping between the evolution of life, doctrines of Buddhist practice, and fundamental brain activities:

Paths Evolutionary Strategies Pillars of Practice Brain Functions
Virtueseparation, creating a boundary between "self" and world
(e.g., the cell wall, the skin)
"Cool the fires of greed and hatred to live with integrity"regulation
(excitatory and inhibitory activity)
Mindfulnessstabilization of internal systems against change
(homeostasis, negative-feedback loops)
"Steady and concentrate the mind to see through its confusions"learning
(forming new circuits, tuning existing connections)
Wisdomclinging to pleasures and fleeing pains "Develop liberating insight"selection
(choosing among alternatives)

At best, loosely analogical concepts, no?

And yet ...

Hmmm! Much to ponder there. Perhaps 01 needs to have a third principle added?

Also in Chapter 1 of Buddha's Brain, not closely linked to the science, a lovely mantra worth remembering:

Be on Your Own Side

That is, offer loving-kindness (metta) to oneself, just as one tries to bring it to others. Hanson suggests envisioning yourself as a young child, worthy of happiness, love and wisdom. He also notes that nurturing your own development isn't (wholly) selfish, since the ultimate result will likely help other people too. (cf. his comments in Strong and Lasting)

More thoughts and quotes from Buddha's Brain to follow. Meanwhile, see Hanson's Just One Thing and excerpts therefrom for other insights on awareness; see 01 for in-a-nutshell notions re non-clinging and non-separation ...

- Sunday, July 27, 2014 at 18:56:38 (EDT)

2014-07-11 - MCRRC Midsummer Night's Mile Race

1 mile @ 6:35 min/mi

MCRRC Midsummer Night's Mile finish by Mark Zimmermann6:35 (!) for the MCRRC "Midsummer Night's Mile"— alas, the PB is ~6:32 from a few years ago, though age-adjusted 2014 might be a hair better. Official results put it 4th of 7 in the 60-64 male age/sex group, at 6:34.9, in 88th place of 196 overall. Arch-rival and 8-year-old nemesis Jason Parks is 20 seconds ahead.

Miss a split during the run, but roughly the first lap is 1:34, the middle half mile goes in 3:22, and the last lap takes 1:38. GPS records in Runkeeper and Garmin are relatively useless.

(photo by Dan Reichmann; click for higher-resolution version)

- Saturday, July 26, 2014 at 04:31:40 (EDT)

Pause and Breathe

In Chapter 6 ("Positive Insecurity") of Pema Chödrön's little book Practicing Peace in Times of War is wise advice that all boils down to a memorable manta:

Pause and Breathe

And in more detail:

You can think of insecurity as a moment in time that we experience over and over in our lives. When you feel insecurity, whether you're feeling it in the middle of the night out of nowhere or whether it's constant, there is a groundless and unformed quality to it. As I've already suggested, the Buddhist teachings suggest that this kind of insecurity can serve as a direct path to freedom—if you can stop yourself from setting off the chain reaction of aggression and misery.

You can think of the groundlessness and openness of insecurity as a chance that we're given over and over to choose a fresh alternative. Things happen to us all the time that open up the space. This spaciousness, this wide-open, unbiased, unprejudiced space is inexpressible and fundamentally good and sound. It's like the sky. Whenever you're in a hot spot or feeling uncomfortable, whenever you're caught up and don't know what to do, you can find someplace where you can go and look at the sky and experience some freshness, free of hope and fear, free of bias and prejudice, just completely open. And this is accessible to us all the time. Space permeates everything, every moment of our lives.

... whenever there's a sudden shock ... Before the chain reaction starts, before the aggression or the habitual pattern clicks in, there's a shock and open space ... the ground has just fallen out from under your feet. Before trying to get back on solid ground by following the habitual chain reaction, you can pause and breathe deeply in and breathe deeply out. Never underestimate the power of this simple pause.

... Whenever there's that sting of pain, I practice pausing, because I know that that moment is precious. ... If we pause and breathe in and out, then we can have the experience of timeless presence, of the inexpressible wisdom and goodness of our own minds. We can look out at the world with fresh eyes and hear things with fresh ears. In that pause—which is free of bias, free of thinking, just given to us on a silver platter ...—we can relax and open. The sting of that ordinary shock can lead us to a new way of living.

... When our lives become uncomfortable, rather than automatically watering these seeds of aggression, we can burn them up. ...

Someone once asked me, "What would it feel like to have burned up all those seeds, to be a person who no longer has any aggression?" ... I imagine that such a person would be great company. If you dissolved your aggression, it would mean that other people wouldn't have to walk on eggshells around you, worried that something they might say would offend you. You'd be an accessible, genuine person. The awakened people that I've known are all very playful, curious, and unthreatened by things. They go into situations with their eyes and their hearts wide open. They have a real appetite for life instead of an appetite for aggression. They are, it seems, not afraid to be insecure.

In order to change our habits and burn up the seeds of aggression, we have to develop an appetite for what I like to call positive groundlessness, or positive insecurity. ... we need to get curious about it and be willing to pause and hang out for a while in that space of insecurity.

One of the methods I've touched on for doing this is when you notice that you're hooked, don't act out, don't repress, but let the experience pierce you to the heart. Another suggestion I've made is that when you notice that you're hooked, just pause and breathe deeply in and out, knowing that this is a moment in time that's impermanent, shifting, and changing. This insecurity that you're feeling is nothing monolithic. It's nothing solid. It's not graspable. It's passing. And you can breathe with it and relax with it, and let it pass through you.

Shades of Andrew Weiss's mantra in Beginning Mindfulness: "Go slowly, breathe, and smile!"

- Friday, July 25, 2014 at 04:11:54 (EDT)

2014-07-10 - Pimmit Hills

~5.5 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

Today's trek reveals 1 rabbit, at mile ~5, pointed out by Ed in an effort to distract me from quizzing him on the fundamental constants of Nature. He remembers Avogadro's Number and the wavelength of light but fails on the Gravitational Constant and Planck's Constant. Starting at 6am comrades Kristin, Kerry, Amber, and I meander through Pimmit Hills, trying to find our way to Pimmit View Park by a new route. At 0630 we pause for a drink and pick up Ed and David but drop Kerry, who has to prepare for a day of briefing bigwigs. The temperature is only ~70°F but humidity is high. Continuing the coney count theme, Amber spies a cartoon rabbit on the back of my orange "Marathon in the Parks" running shirt and suggests we use it if no others are available. Runkeeper and Garmin capture route etc.

- Thursday, July 24, 2014 at 05:20:01 (EDT)

Control Theory of Taiji

In Chapter 19 of There Are No Secrets author Wolfe Lowenthal comments that T'ai Chi "... is the subduing of the will to achieve understanding of softness, so that a slight, 75-year-old man, completely relaxed, can with a touch send a 250-lb. Judo champion flying." How in the world could such a thing happen, within the laws of physics?

An idea to pursue: model a person as a system, with sensors and actuators and time-delays. The sensors are the nerves and the brain; the actuators are the muscles; the time-delays are set by reflex and reaction lags. What is the simplest "interesting" such model? In "Artificial Wrestling: A Dynamical Formulation of Autonomous Agents Fighting in a Coupled Inverted Pendula Framework" Yoshida, Matsumoto, and Matsue propose what seems to be a far-too-complex system with multiple springs, controllers, actuators, sensors, and time delays.

Perhaps greater insight could come from something more primitive? Consider, for example, a single inverted solid-bar pendulum. A person is rather like a stick standing upright, kept from falling by small muscle movements that are controlled with a short time-delay based on inner-ear and other sensory inputs. If somebody could perturb that simple feedback-loop, maybe by applying a small force but on timescales shorter than the reaction time, could the system be driven into instability so the stick-person would fall down?

If so, what are the order-of-magnitude scales of the perturbing force and time, and how are they related? If, for instance, you react 50% faster than your opponent, do you only need 10% as much force to win a fight? What if you're ten times faster? What if you can only exert 1% of the other person's pressure? And what are the limitations of this approach? Surely a gnat can't derail a locomotive. But on the other hand, if all of the opposition's punches miss you, and you add an appropriate nudge a when a violent swing has just missed ... hmmmmm?!

(cf. The Complex Mathematics of Robot Wrestling" in MIT Technology Review June 2014)

- Wednesday, July 23, 2014 at 04:51:12 (EDT)

2014-07-08 - McLean Loops

~6 miles @ ~11.2 min/mi

Zero McLean rabbits greet us, but Ed spots a flat tire on a shiny black Mustang at mile ~5 and we settle for that as something-to-count on a pleasant (for July) morning trek. Dr Amber and Dr Kristin do a 3 mile out-and- back with me at 6am, dodging cars at a major intersection. We then meet up with Dr David and Dr Ed at the loading dock for a sweaty local loop. I barely resist the urge to add a parking lot meander at the end to make the Runkeeper iPhone GPS roll over past 6.00; the Garmin already has.

- Tuesday, July 22, 2014 at 05:34:52 (EDT)

Associative Mindfulness and High Performance

To run (or do anything stressful?) significantly better, perhaps paying attention is the best strategy — immersing oneself in the sensations of the moment, rather than attempting to ignore them. Terry Laughlin, elite swimming coach, writes in "Zone In, not Out, to Overcome Your Limits":

... But a key difference between average and elite marathon runners is that whereas average runners describe zoning out to make it through the last few miles of the race, the elite runner zones in more keenly.

This habit of better runners will be familiar to anyone who has practiced the "purposeful mindfulness" Total Immersion advocates for stroke improvement. While dissociation is intended to take an athlete's mind off the distance to be covered, or the effort required while running or cycling near one's limits, a contrasting mental technique—let's call it association—is far more interesting and functional ... .

Dissociation techniques are actually rather widespread and not limited to those who race. The TV-watchers and magazine-readers on the treadmills at the gym appear to find exercise so boring they do anything to take their mind off it. ...

... Rather than taking your mind away from what you're doing, the goal is to be completely present with it, and to use that mindfulness to make your awareness deeper and more subtle. ...

Laughlin alludes to a 1977 study by Morgan & Pollock ("Psychologic characterization of the elite distance runner") that, though based on a ridiculously small sample, found that the best marathoners "... paid very close attention to bodily input such as feelings and sensations ... [and] constantly reminded or told themselves to 'relax', 'stay loose', and so forth." Shades of "Softening into Experience"?!

(cf. Swimming Fine (2008-04-24), Mind Over Exercise (2008-10-22), Total Immersion Philosophy (2011-09-24), ...)

- Monday, July 21, 2014 at 21:29:51 (EDT)

2014-07-06 - Kensington Meandering with Amy

~11.9 miles @ ~12.2 min/mi

"Say something if a train is coming behind me," I ask Amy Couch as we pause on the tracks at the railroad station in Kensington for photos. "Uh, there's a train coming behind you!" she notes a few moments later. It's a cool Sunday morning trek around the neighborhood, 10+ miles with Amy, who just got back from a 3,000 mile drive to Oregon with her friend in a tiny Fiat and needs to stretch her legs. First stop is the ancient stone picnic hut near Ireland Dr. Then we follow Rock Creek to Stoneybrook St and launch an attack on the Mormon Temple Hill. She has never done it before. "It gets easier; the first time you run up is the toughest," I warn Amy on her initial ascent. We close the loop via (hilly) Plyers Mill Rd and Georgia Av, adding some endgame meandering to get Amy into double digits. Rabbit count: ~1 per mile, including a mostly-white one in a front yard on Old Spring Rd. Runkeeper on the iPhone and Garmin GPS tally the miles.

- Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 05:35:25 (EDT)

2014-07-05 - Leland Rabbits and Ireland Stone Hut

~15 miles @ ~11.8 min/mi

15 Leland St front yard rabbits, plus a big red fox and a tiny chipmunk, greet Gayatri Datta and me at sunrise on the most pleasant-cool Saturday summer morning imaginable. A bonus bunny on Warren St encourages the speedy solo first 3 miles (10:10-8:11-8:17 by the Garmin GPS). After our Chevy Chase trek, Gayatri and I join Barry Smith and Rebecca Rosenberg at 0730 for a Mormon Temple hill loop that adds one Kensington coney to the day's tally. The gang takes a detour on the way home to visit an ancient stone picnic hut near the Walter Reed Annex security fence. Barry recommends "The History of the Carriage Trail (Ireland Drive) From 1774 to Today" as background reading. Runkeeper and Garmin trackfiles show route and pace.

- Sunday, July 20, 2014 at 05:31:30 (EDT)

Extended Retreat

From Part One ("The Danger and the Promise") of the chapter "What Is Mindful Parenting?" in Everyday Blessings by Myla and Jon Kabat-Zinn, thoughts that resonate with Ezra Bayda (cf. Being Zen) on how problems can become opportunities:

... from the perspective of mindfulness, parenting can be viewed as a kind of extended and, at times, arduous meditation retreat spanning a large part of our lives. And our children, from infancy to adulthood and beyond, can be seen as perpetually challenging live-in teachers, who provide us with ceaseless opportunities to do the inner work of understanding who we are and who they are, so that we can best stay in touch with what is truly important and give them what they most need in order to grow and flourish. In the process, we may find that this ongoing moment-to-moment awareness can liberate us from some of our most confining habits of perception and relating, the straitjackets and prisons of the mind that have been passed down to us or that we have somehow constructed for ourselves. Through their very being, often without any words or discussion, our children can inspire us to do this inner work. The more we are able to keep in mind the intrinsic wholeness and beauty of our children, especially when it is difficult for us to see, the more our ability to be mindful deepens. In seeing more clearly, we can respond to them more effectively and with greater generosity of heart, and parent with greater wisdom.

As we devote ourselves to nourishing them, and understanding who they are, these live-in teachers, especially in the first ten or twenty years of our "training," will provide endless moments of wonder and bliss, and opportunities for the deepest feelings of connectedness and love. They will also, in all likelihood, push all our buttons, evoke all our insecurities, test all our limits and boundaries, and touch all the places in us where we fear to tread and feel inadequate or worse. In the process, if we are willing to attend carefully to the full spectrum of what we are experiencing, they will remind us over and over again of what is most important in life, including its mystery, as we share in their lives, shelter and nourish and love them, and give them what guidance we can.

- Saturday, July 19, 2014 at 19:29:21 (EDT)

2014-07-04 - Holiday Hills and DC Boundary Stone

~9 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Happy Independence Day! Barry, tapering for the Missoula Marathon next weekend, trots with me down Rock Creek. For hillwork we branch west on Bingham Dr and then north parallel to Oregon Av with a pause at the DC-Maryland line to take photos at a Boundary Stone placed in 1792. I dress (display) patriotic red (face) white (beard) and blue (eyes) for the holiday.

Then it's more hillwork along Leland St to help me get ready for the Catoctin 50k at the end of the month. A cool front moves in and the humidity falls as we finish.

Fuel: yesterday's General Tso's veggie pseudo-chicken + hot-and-sour soup, this morning's coffee + chocolate candy egg, and during the run a Honey Stinger chewie that Barry drops on the road and I rescue.

During the run I sin and say "Hi!" to a runner wearing a Yankees baseball cap — but as Barry can testify, she tells me that her daughter is a Sox fan, so it's ok. Runkeeper and Garmin GPS record details of route and pace.


- Friday, July 18, 2014 at 18:42:55 (EDT)

AC Fix

A tiny triumph yesterday evening, recorded just because it had a happy ending as well as taught a wee lesson in systematic thinking. Situation: water on the basement floor at the house where my sons live. Even though it occurs during torrential rain outside, one DS soon identifies the air conditioner as the likely culprit. Apparently the part where humidity condenses and drips down has overflowed. The whole system suddenly stops. But why?

I show up late the next day, with no tools except a curious attitude and a mental model of how A/C's sometimes work, or fail. All circuit breakers look normal. A test of an outlet on the side of the unit, where a small pump is plugged in to take water away, shows power.

Is there a safety cut-off somewhere that has triggered? Yep — or at least, there on the front of the unit is a mysterious device with a button sticking up and a U-shaped tube with a funny long-handled brush clipped to it. Hmmmm! Loosen the brush and push it through the U-shaped tube: a bunch of gunk comes loose, the button goes down, and soon the air conditioner decides to start running again. Look a little farther, and see a sticker nearby with instructions on how the unit should be cleaned every few months, "especially in the summer". Problem apparently solved, without the need to call a repairman — yay!

- Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 04:52:38 (EDT)

Bodhichitta, Maitri, Shunyata

Chapter 4 of Practicing Peace in Times of War by Pema Chödrön offers insightful comments on two words, maitri and shunyata. She describes them as aspects of bodhichitta, which means "awakened heart":

Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche translated maitri as "unconditional friendliness with oneself." This unconditional friendliness means having an unbiased relationship with all the parts of your being. So, in the context of working with pain, this means making an intimate, compassionate, heart-relationship with all those part of ourselves we generally don't want to touch ... kindness toward all qualities of our being. The qualities that are the toughest to be kind to are the painful parts, where we feel ashamed, as if we don't belong, as if we've just blown it, when things are falling apart for us. Maitri means sticking with ourselves when we don't have anything, when we feel like a loser. And it becomes the basis for extending the same unconditional friendliness to others.

... One of the meanings of compassion is "suffering with," being willing to suffer with other people. This means that to the degree you can work with the wholeness of your being—your prejudices, your feelings of failure, your self-pity, your depression, your rage, your addictions—the more you will connect with other people out of that wholeness.And it will be a relationship between equals. You'll be able to feel the pain of other people as your own pain. And you'll be able to feel your own pain and know that it's shared by millions.

... Absolute bodhichitta, also known as shunyata, is the open dimension of our being, the completely wide-open heart and mind. Without labels of "you" and "me," "enemy" and "friend," absolute bodhichitta is always here. Cultivating absolute bodhichitta means having a relationship with the world that is nonconceptual, that is unprejudiced, having a direct unedited relationship with reality. ...

Hmmmm ... sounds as though maitri is a bit like "0" (nonattachment), and shunyata is "1" (oneness) — but perhaps in the sense of not being attached to separation?

(cf. 01 (2013-11-05), ...)

- Wednesday, July 16, 2014 at 04:47:00 (EDT)

2014-07-03 - McLean Loops

~5 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Kristin spies one little rabbit and I see another in our 2 mile 6am warm-up loop (see first Runkeeper iPhone GPS file; I hit the "Stop" button by mistake) before meeting Ed at the loading dock to trot with him on a sweat-soaked 3-mile loop around the office neighborhood (start tracking late on second Runkeeper log; Garmin GPS has the whole 5.0+ as one). Conversation covers family (recent birthdays of various children), training, and Independence Day holiday weekend plans, in between observations of how warm and humid it is this morning.

- Tuesday, July 15, 2014 at 04:46:59 (EDT)

Five Swords, Knife Hands

A cute-surprising T'ai Chi term, from "The 5th Tai Chi principle: The beautiful lady's hand", an essay by Andrew Mertens. "Beautiful lady's hand" usually just means a straight, relaxed wrist — but Mertens uses a much sharper metaphor: "We sometimes call it knife hands or five swords ...".

Now that's an image!

- Monday, July 14, 2014 at 04:12:26 (EDT)

2014-07-01 - Pimmit Hills Smoke

~6 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Only 1 rabbit this morning, a scrawny little guy at mile ~3. Kerry & David & Amber & I begin with a downhill blitz and then regret it during the climb back up. Ed replaces David at 0630 for the second half of the trek; I pick up an unsmoked Marlboro cigarette from the street but nobody has a match. Runkeeper and Garmin have splits and path data.

- Sunday, July 13, 2014 at 07:51:41 (EDT)

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