^zhurnaly 0.9912

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Howdy, pilgrim! No ads — you're in volume 0.9912 of the ^zhurnal (that's Russian for "journal") — see ZhurnalyWiki for a Wiki edition of individual items; see Zhurnal and Zhurnaly for quick clues as to what this is all about; see Random for a random page. Briefly, this is the diary of ^z = Mark Zimmermann ... previous volume = 0.9911 ... complete list at bottom of page ... send comments & suggestions to "z (at) his (dot) com" ... click on a title link to go to that item in the ZhurnalyWiki where you can edit or comment on it ... RSS


"01" suggested a pair of perhaps-useful mathematical mnemonic-mantras to aid in maintaining moment-by-moment mindfulness:

That wee yin-yang of a one-bit language seems solid. But something is missing:

Yes, and the continuous transcendental infinity of "-" perfectly connects the discrete binary of 0 and 1 ...

(And then? Is there a place for "i" = √-1? And then? ...)

(cf. Core Buddhism (2011-10-17), O (2012-10-24), 01 (2013-11-05 ...)

- Friday, August 29, 2014 at 05:21:17 (EDT)

2014-08-10 - RCT with the Usual Suspects

10~ miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Statue_selfie.jpg"You hold the camera for the selfie," I tell the quiet woman in white at the National Park Seminary. "I'm sweaty, and I hate to see my arm sticking up into the foreground!" She silently agrees, and does a good job taking the mile 9+ photo of us.

Sunday morning is humid; the shirt is soon soggy. In spite of deliberate exploratory meanders en route to the Candy Cane City 0730 rendezvous I'm early. So circle the ballfields, loop back to the stables, and greet flocks of training-group runners trotting down Rock Creek Trail. When the last of the Usual Suspects arrives (~12 min late, which makes for a slow Mile 4 split) head upstream.

One climb of the Mormon Temple hill is enough. Barry and I lag behind Ken and Rebecca as we tour Kensington, revisiting streets where DD practiced driving yesterday. The ancient iPhone 4 is still acting erratically, perhaps a consequence of yesterday's sweat-soaking? The on/off switch on the wrist Garmin GPS is likewise becoming iffy.

Two rabbit sightings today, one on a lawn at the corner of Hale & Birch, the other crossing Kensington Parkway. Runkeeper and Garmin capture data.

- Thursday, August 28, 2014 at 04:05:53 (EDT)

Efficient Frontier

Simple, powerful, obvious-in-retrospect concepts: in finance (and elsewhere) they're key to success. The fantasy of beating the stock market, in any meaningful way, is still fantasy. Sensible: diversifying so that, over the time horizon for an investment, return is maximized and risk minimized. "Modern Portfolio Theory" does that, with a bit of relatively straightforward mathematical modeling. Yes, models can be wrong — but they're explicit, they're testable, and in fact they're pretty good most of the time, especially over the decades. Handwavy "I'm smart (and rich, and handsome) arguments" aren't. (see Black Swan Swindle)

And the "Efficient Frontier"? That's the edge of a region on a graph, derived from Modern Portfolio Theory, where the blend of different investments cancel out as much short-term fluctuation in value as possible at a given level of long-term expected profit. Head for the Efficient Frontier; put more money into volatile high-return assets (e.g., stocks) when young, and shift toward less-volatile low-return choices (e.g., short-term bonds) as you age.

(cf. MoneyWisdom (2001-05-20), ... )

- Wednesday, August 27, 2014 at 04:16:22 (EDT)

2014-08-09 - CCT and RCT Plus

~25.5 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

"Back by 11!" is the good-bye kiss promise to DW at dawn. Cut it close: at 10:58am, cross the crack at the end of the front steps and stop the GPS. Luckily a freight train at the grade crossing down the street is short and doesn't make me miss the deadline.

This morning, trot briskly from home to arrive ten minutes early in downtown Bethesda for a 7am meet-up with the Usual Suspects, greeting packs of XMP training program runners heading east on the gravel path. Do an exploratory loop around the 'hood to kill time. Barry, Emaad, Ken, and Rebecca materialize — one of them ten minutes late and dropping lightly-euphemized F-bombs about drivers who cause delay. We trot together down the Capital Crescent Trail. Everybody but me plans to do the Marine Corps Marathon again this year.

Original thought: go ~15 miles. But the weather is so nice that, at Fletchers Boathouse where others turn back, the old feet say "Excelsior!" and insist on continuing downriver. Then Marty Kiebert introduces himself, and we jog for a mile together. He's a year older than me, birthday in a few days. We've seen each other at local races for the past decade but have never properly chatted. Marty suffers from a torn quad and has slowed down a wee bit. He's doing an out-and-back to the Arlington Cemetery, building toward the Portland Marathon in a few months. We agree on the wisdom of not comparing oneself to others, or to one's past self either. Now is what counts!

At the Georgetown waterfront a friendly amateur photographer snaps a shot of me with his SLR as I pass by a high-arcing decorative water fountain. I pause and he shows it on the display. "Want me to go back and do it again?" I offer. "Sure!" he says, so I reenact the scene.

Garden hose water tastes a bit rubbery at the Thompson Boat Center but fills the empty bottle. Walk breaks increase in frequency and duration as I meander upstream along Rock Creek. At the National Zoo, take the longer path rather than lose GPS lock in the parkway tunnel. Bicycles zip past runners along the pavement. Continue along the trail for the final miles, to make the map prettier and avoid retracing the same route home. Garmin on the wrist reads ~1% less than iPhone distance estimate.

Fuel for today's trek: a cup of coffee and two chocolate chip cookies before starting, and en route two little bags of salty "Sports Beans" and a mini Heath Bar. Take several "Succeed!" electrolyte capsules to replace sweat losses of Na and K. Runkeeper and Garmin record route.

- Tuesday, August 26, 2014 at 04:19:23 (EDT)

Not to My Taste

A dear friend's young child came home from Montessori preschool some years ago with an artistic, polite, and rather nonjudgmental way to turn down an offer:

"That is not to my taste!"

So whatever it may be — food, drink, entertainment, a political philosophy — it's not necessarily "bad". I just don't care for it right now!

- Monday, August 25, 2014 at 04:21:45 (EDT)

2014-08-08 - Pimmit Hills

~5 miles @ ~10.9 min/mi

One stone garden rabbit, one swift sidewalk chipmunk, one bush full of small reddish-tinged birds (juvenile cardinals?) in the mini-park, and one 1972 Philadelphia mint nickel picked up from the parking lot as we extend the usual Pimmit Hills loop westward along Magarity all the way to Leesburg Pike. Drs Kerry and Kristin trek along the Route 7 frontage road, rather hilly, as we pass a county library, a strip-mall Trader Joe's, a Korean church, and other attractions half-remembered from years ago. Kerry's mention of tequila brings to mind the photo taken a couple evenings ago of stalactite glasses hanging from the ceiling above a TexMex bar. Kristin's shin still hurts, especially during hill climbs, but she sprints to finish strong, then leads scary-low "Snake Creeps Down" hip flexor/adductor stretches. Her tangerine top is a near-match to the international orange of construction signs along the highway. Runkeeper and Garmin record route and pace.

- Sunday, August 24, 2014 at 05:35:40 (EDT)

Vaster Sense of Being

From Being Zen by Ezra Bayda, Chapter 7 ("The Substitute Life"):

... The practice life is about seeing through our boundaries, our artificial separations of mind, our self-images, our "someone special to be." To think that practice is about achieving some permanently enlightened state of mind—stillness or silence or whatever we want to call it—is really just a fantasy about practice. Practice has to include looking at our stuff. Living in this moment means that we're willing to be with whatever this moment holds, including all the ways we are holding ourselves back due to decisions we made in the past.

However, unlike a psychological approach, which might be directed primarily toward changing or adjusting ourselves, practice is about experiencing. It's about seeing the truth about the "self" who has constructed this substitute life. As we work in this way, we slowly dismantle this notion of a "self." In fact, the most fundamental core belief of all is "I am a me," with all of the consequent core pain of feeling separate. The more we are able to reside in this quiver of separation, the closer we come to seeing through its insubstantiality. This is the process whereby we open experientially into a vaster sense of Being. ...

- Saturday, August 23, 2014 at 11:19:57 (EDT)

2014-08-06 - McLean Lanes

~5 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Big red rubber ball Sun rises in front of Amber, Kerry, Kristin, and me as we trot down Chain Bridge Rd into McLean, with a high contrail pointing the way. Turn left at Starbucks, then on a side street pause to wet head with Kristin in a lawn sprinkler's spray. Reminisce about 1950's & '60's science fiction novels read in ill-spent youth, reminded of Eric Frank Russell's Wasp as we follow Wasp St to cross via another park to Davis St and return. Kerry's son Fletcher is 17 today (Happy Birthday!); she tells of a high school book club novel involving questions of "What is a person?", which leads to discussion of mind, robotics, animal consciousness, Hans Moravec, Daniel Dennett, etc. Add an extra loop around the office campus to get GPS readings past 5.00 miles as we return to the loading dock start-finish line. Join Kristin in dangerous-to-old-tendon cool down stretches. Runkeeper and Garmin data concur.

- Friday, August 22, 2014 at 04:18:22 (EDT)

Organizational Evolution by Natural Selection

The famous essay title "Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution" (1973, Theodosius Dobzhansky) perhaps should say "Nothing Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution". In human bureaucracies, for instance, countless structures and processes that seem inexplicable turn out, upon a bit of reflection, to be quite appropriate survival-responses based on historical events. Checks and balances, redundant paperwork, baroque feedback loops and inefficiencies, etc., often were put into place after disasters happened decades or even centuries ago. Fascinating, from operational and historical and systems-engineering viewpoints. The same applies to gnarly traffic routes, kitchen recipes, computer user interfaces, popular music, ...

- Wednesday, August 20, 2014 at 04:44:01 (EDT)

2014-08-03 - Riley's Rumble MCRRC Half Marathon Race

~13.1 miles @ ~8.8 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Riley_Rumble_2014_reichmann_z_0.jpgThe hills giveth (outbound) and the hills taketh away (on the home stretch). Goldfinches flit across the road as we set out on Riley's Rumble, a summer half-marathon. Today is thankfully cool and cloudy. Pace is too fast for the first few miles, and the result is a few minutes slower than last year's PB but still happily under 2 hours. I try to "Soften into Experience" and "Notice the Music", current mantras that seem to help. The Aloe Blacc song "Wake Me Up When It's All Over" is on heavy mental rotation. At mile ~11 a young guy passes me and comments on the hills ahead. "Don't say the H-Word!", I admonish him.

Based on course markings painted on the road, splits are: 8.1 + 7.9 + 8.3 + 9.1 + 8.0 + 9.1 + 8.4 + 9.5 + 9.4 + 8.7 + 8.4 + 9.7 + 8.7 and a final ~0.1 mile fraction in 0.8 min. I finish behind 23 women and 93 men. Alice Franks, age 66, chats with me in the initial miles, then blasts ahead to finish 1:49:30. We start perhaps ~10 seconds behind the line.

Runkeeper and Garmin GPS record the route.

(photos by Dan Reichmann)


For comparison:

- Tuesday, August 19, 2014 at 04:20:28 (EDT)

Charlotte Joko Beck

Perhaps an exception to test the Flawed Gurus rule: Charlotte Joko Beck (1917-2011). Modest, non-mystical, she left behind students rather than an empire. From three obituary essays "Charlotte Joko Beck dies at 94; American Zen pioneer":

Born on March 27, 1917 in New Jersey, Beck studied at Oberlin Conservatory of Music and taught piano for a time. She married and raised four children before separating from her husband and working as a teacher, secretary and assistant in a university department. She came to Zen practice in her forties and studied with the late Hakuyu Taizan Maezumi roshi. For many years she commuted between San Diego and Los Angeles to practice with the roshi. Of her experiences, Beck said in an interview with Shambhala SunSpace, "I meet all sorts of people who've had all sorts of experiences and they're still confused and not doing very well in their life. Experiences are not enough. My students learn that if they have so-called experiences, I really don't care much about hearing about them. I just tell them, 'Yeah, that's O.K. Don't hold onto it. And how are you getting along with your mother?' Otherwise, they get stuck there. It's not the important thing in practice." Asked what is the important thing in practice, she replied, "Learning how to deal with one's personal, egotistic self. That's the work. Very, very difficult."

and, by Barry Magid:

It is not too much to say that Joko Beck transformed the nature of Zen in America. At a time when a focus on kensho experiences and becoming enlightened after the manner in which we imagined our Japanese masters led to a dismissive attitude to problems that were "merely" psychological, Joko restored a sense of emotional reality to a scene increasingly plagued by scandal and misconduct by our allegedly enlightened role models. She had the courage to say that her own teacher's training had done little to curb his own alcoholism or deal with his character problems. Furthermore, his wasn't merely an unfortunate exception but that it pointed to a deeply ingrained tendency to enshrine emotional bypassing into the very heart of traditional Zen training. She put dealing with anger, anxiety, pride and the self centered sexual exploitation of students into the center of what we must deal with in practice.

and, by Gerry Shishin Wick:

I first met Charlotte Joko Beck in 1972. In April the ice plant bloom along the highways in San Diego. I passed many fields of vibrant purple and violet blossoms on my way to the small sitting group in the home of Ray Jordan, where I came face-to-face with another vibrant flower. Joko's page boy haircut, her dark cat's eye glasses and her rather large breasts would be enough to make her stand out. There was also the fact that she was the only middle aged woman in the sitting group. We became fast friends.

Selected quotes and comments from Beck's books Everyday Zen and Nothing Special to follow ...

- Monday, August 18, 2014 at 04:05:57 (EDT)

2014-07-31 - Pimmit Hills Loops

~5.7 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Four rabbits (others spy five) observe us on Hunting Av during the last mile. Amber and I warm up by attempting to spell "MIT" on the parking lot Etch-A-Sketch style; we run out of space and time before finishing "MITRE". Kerry and David lead us on neighborhood streets toward the south. In tiny Pimmit View Park Kerry takes a big spider web in the face for the group. Inspired, I demonstrate the hand-held-up salute used in the old silent movie Phantom of the Opera to keep an assassin's garrote, "The Punjab Lasso", from closing around one's neck, and explain how a similar pose can be used to intercept and deflect cobwebs. At 0630 we meet Ed and go another ~3 miles. I pause the GPS and divert briefly to open up the office for colleagues. Runkeeper and Garmin capture pace and map the meanders.

- Sunday, August 17, 2014 at 11:18:01 (EDT)

2014-07-29 - Pimmit Hills Loop

~4.9 miles @ ~10.6 min/mi

Kerry spots several deer grazing in Pimmit Run Stream Valley Park as we trot down Great Falls Rd to Idylwood. A flattened snake lies by the pathway under the Toll Rd connector. Amber and Kerry set a brisk pace; Kristin (injured) and I hang back. David plans to do an Olympic triathlon on Sunday. Runkeeper and Garmin map the route.

- Sunday, August 17, 2014 at 11:10:53 (EDT)

Naive Next

"They didn't teach that in my high school German class!" I say to A.S. when she explains to me the distinction between schwül (humid) and schwul (gay). "But since I didn't grow up on a farm, I was totally naïve about a lot of things then."

"Imagine what you'll be naïve about tomorrow!" she replies.

(cf. What We Know (2006-08-15, ...)

- Friday, August 15, 2014 at 20:29:31 (EDT)

2014-07-27 - Catoctin 50k Trail Race

~32 miles @ ~17 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Cat50k_2014_Machinehead_z_photo_by_Mike_OGrady.jpg"NO! This is WRONG! We have to turn back RIGHT NOW! We must find the BLUE Trail!" I shout at the three runners following me as we approach a chain across the gravel path, when suddenly I realize we're a quarter mile off course. Such language is extremely uncharacteristic of me. Ordinarily I'm Mr. Nuance and Sir Diffident, always trying to be non-judgmental. But at mile 30, with what I estimate is only a 10 minute margin of safety to make the final Catoctin 50k cutoff, it's time for decisive action. Commander Mark makes a brief appearance.

Backtrack, running hard. Find the corner where we mistakenly branched onto the Yellow-blazed Trail, and turn onto Blue. Power-walk up the hills. Dance across rocks and risk a game-ending fall. Pause briefly to check and offer aid when a follower pukes. As soon as he says he's ok, race ahead. Shout back, "Push hard! We've only got a few minutes to spare now!"

It's a day of chasing cutoffs, perhaps the roughest Catoctin 50k I've experienced. 2014 breaks the even-numbered-year jinx of DNFs (I failed to finish in 2008 and 2010, and skipped 2012), but falls short of a 2009 PR (7:53, on a shorter and slightly easier course), a 2011 hot and humid result (9:04), and a 2013 feel-good trek that included pauses to take photos and hang out (8:35). Official result this year: 141st place of 144, time 9:10:25.

A mountain bike gear found on the trail at mile ~20 fits with the post-grunge song "Machinehead" that's stuck in my brain much of the day — esp. the lyrics:
     Breathe in breathe out
     Breathe in breathe out
     Breathe in, breathe in, breathe in ...

(photo by Mike O'Grady)

After Taiji before the start, the first dozen+ miles today are full of scary stumbles and negative thinking. I ponder dropping mid-course. I squeak under the first two time limits by only a few minutes. At mile ~10 there's almost a bad fall, but luckily I grab a sapling with my left hand and swing 180 degrees around it to make a miraculous save, suffering only minor scrapes to arms and legs. Then it's miles of go-slow on rocky slopes, as a deathly fear of falling grows. I compute that I'm likely to be too late at mile 16 to be allowed to continue.

But just a few miles later, for reasons unknown, the old brain perks up and start to feel better. The ~1,000 foot descent to the Manor House aid station is a jolly trot. Maybe it's today's mantras: "Notice the Music" (esp. the sound of toes stubbing rocks and roots) and "Soften into Experience" (as I envision not-falling). Maybe it's the encouraging runners I meet, far ahead of me on their return trips, shouting "Looking good!" and "Keep going!", plus the ultra-helpful aid station crews. Maybe it's thinking of my friends working the finish line, whom I would be embarrassed to call and beg a ride back from. Maybe it's the fuel and electrolytes finally kicking in. Today's dietary staples: Pringles, Oreos, and Watermelon. Their initials = "POW!"

So at Little Hunting Creek I wade briskly across ankle-deep water, greet race officials cheerfully, and ask permission to go on. By my watch I'm a few minutes past the 12:15 cutoff, but they are merciful (or sadistic?) and just say, "Hurry up!" So I grab three grapes and head out. The sweeper sits by the brook putting on her backpack. I tell her, "If you see me ahead of you, please just scream at me!"

Then the ancient legs start to feel good. I catch up with and pass fellow sufferers as we climb back up the 1,000 foot hill to the ridge line. A few slower folk are still making the descent, victims of falls, bad cramping, blisters, or other woes. I offer sympathies.

(photo by Michael Hart)

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Cat50k_2014_z_cat_card.jpgThe return trip is actually rather fun. I hang for a while with Paul Sherlock, another Cat veteran with 10 finishes who has fallen and is taking every further step today as a pure gift. Bib #1 bearer, 70-year-old legend Gary Knipling, then catches up with us. Somehow in his 16th Catoctin race he went off course and lost half an hour. We tease that he must have been following some young ladies. He pleads innocent, then runs on ahead. I text-message friends, "5 miles to go!"

Jon Busey, a young German-linguist-computer-scientist, introduces himself. We talk about Hadoop and modern parallel processing. The initials of his four kids' names spell out L.O.V.E. He guesses which of my children's names belongs to the girl on the second try. I send him ahead on rocky slopes, where he skips along like a mountain goat, but catch up and pass him on the ascents. He comes in with nanoseconds to spare before the air horn goes off.

At the finish line I get a cold wet washcloth on the head and a victory hug from dear friend Stephanie Fonda, who is a volunteer chef with daughter Haven and ultrarunner comrade Marshall Porterfield. Haven gets the prize of the day: the One Ring, which I discover on the trail at mile 25. It doesn't make me invisible, but perhaps it will work for her? Or maybe it's a dime-store plastic replica. No matter!

Team MITRE triumphs: office buddy Michael Hart and I come in within minutes of one another. Wendy Neupauer of Minnesota, whom I run with for a few miles, crosses the line ahead of us and adds another state to her ultra-log. Far in front is Sonya Bingham, whom I met here last year. She gets her revenge for that DNF. We fist-bump in celebration.

I bring home my fourth Cat Card, the only award for finishers. If I get one more I'll earn a free entry. Is that a masochist's dream or what?!

Runkeeper and Garmin record the data.

(photo by Stephanie Fonda)

- Wednesday, August 13, 2014 at 04:33:11 (EDT)

Flawed Gurus

Recently, and as usual quite belatedly, a tiny thought has emerged: that maybe Zen masters and Buddhist (and other religious) leaders/teachers are probably also human beings, flawed and finite like the rest of us. Some evidence for that hypothesis: the scandals — especially serial sexual predation against female students — described in Shoes Outside the Door (a history of the San Francisco Zen Center, reviewed here a few years ago), the alcoholisms and seductions revealed in obituaries of various roshis, and last week a fascinating (2010) interview-discussion with Stuart Lachs [1], sociologist-analyst of religion and institutions.

In brief, there seems to be:

Not to deny that there may be much good in these twisted people and groups ... but there may be more good in those who are less-visible. More on that in the person of Charlotte Joko Beck, perhaps some day soon ...

- Monday, August 11, 2014 at 18:53:10 (EDT)

2014-07-23 - Pimmit Run Trail

~4.8 miles @ ~11.7 min/mi

3 McLean bunnies seen on a warm and humid trek with Kerry, Kristin, and David. Into the rising sun, we follow the natural-surface Pimmit Run Trail downstream to reach Westmoreland Av. Kerry leads at a brisk pace, taking spider webs to the face for the group. At McLean HS we search in vain for a water fountain near the track. Kristin does an extra half-mile and then leads me in <<ouch!>> stretches afterwards. Runkeeper and Garmin trackfiles capture data.

- Sunday, August 10, 2014 at 06:01:51 (EDT)

Johnstone on Employee Engagement

Keith Johnstone, author of Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre and other works on creativity, also teaches workshops. Here are some excerpts from class notes (posted in 2009) by business consultant David Zinger titled "9 Improvisation Lessons: Employee Engagement Keys from Keith Johnstone":

(cf. Yes, and... (2012-11-14), Positive and Obvious (2012-12-12), Improv Story Rules (2013-01-20), Keith Johnstone Improv Quotes (2013-12-26), ...)

- Saturday, August 09, 2014 at 05:27:23 (EDT)

2014-07-22 - Austin Texas Walnut Creek Trail Segment

~7 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

Bright star Aldebaran twinkles close by an old crescent moon, low in the east at 0515. It's the last day of my visit to Texas. Thanks to Pam LeBlanc, "Austin American-Statesman" newspaper fitness columnist, I've got a mission. LeBlanc's essay yesterday was about the Southern Walnut Creek Trail, a bikepath that goes within a few miles of my Mom's home. Unaware, I ran past it on Saturday. Now's a chance to explore a segment.

First, though, jog to LBJ High School track for a brisk lap (1:50) to enhance the trackfile, swinging wide around puddles in Lane 1 and backtracking when done to wet the sweaty head with spray from infield water sprinklers. A cigarette lighter flickers a block away as the only other pedestrian in the neighborhood lights up. At the Loyola Ln onramp, join the trail.

The bikeway is a pale ribbon lit by skyglow, meandering parallel to the stream, dashed line barely visible down the center. Brushy weeds encroach from the sides. Occasional spiderwebs span the path and prove that I'm the first to pass through this morning. A gravel lane to one side leads to a sign. Read it by cellphone screen gleam: "Welcome to Burr Field". Big locked gates seem rather unwelcoming. After a golf course take the bridge over Walnut Creek and then turn onto a proper side trail to US-183 at a big YMCA near 51st Street.

Across the highway the real adventure begins: follow a dirt-and-gravel rutted track through Little Walnut Creek Park. Shoes gain a couple of pounds of mud in a boggy valley. Eventually the truck road climbs up to a water treatment facility, where fortunately a chain holding the barbed-wire-topped gate is loose enough to let a skinny person squeeze past. Final miles are fast, though soggy-shirt friction makes for blood on the chest and a wince in the shower afterwards. Route information is recorded by Runkeeper and Garmin.

- Friday, August 08, 2014 at 04:48:46 (EDT)

Juggling Enlightenment

A beautiful and perhaps-apt metaphor, from a 2013 discussion thread on a Buddhist bulletin board titled "Joko Beck's Six Stages of (Zen) Practice", by someone identified only as "Sawfoot":

One way to think about enlightenment is that it is a skill that you learn. Like juggling 3 balls. There is a point where you can't juggle, and then, you get it, and you can "juggle". You can still get better at 3, and you still can drop balls. And then you can progress to 4 balls. And living an awakened life is like juggling all the time, except, sometimes you can still drop a ball or stop juggling altogether.

- Thursday, August 07, 2014 at 06:16:43 (EDT)

2014-07-20 - Austin Texas University Hills Loop

~10 miles @ ~11.6 min/mi

Pause before dawn to photograph the iconic Austin water tower; see 2013-08-25 - Austin Morning Neighborhood Loop for a sunlit image. Refill bottle in Bartholomew Park, then stick head into the kiddie-play-fountain as shadowy homeless people go through nearby trash bins in search of aluminum cans to sell for cash.

Trek alongside Interstate-35, US-290, and US-183, where sidewalks vanish but curb-ramps remain at corner crosswalks. Meander through local streets at the end of the loop to put both GPS units into double digits, add a little hillwork, and push average pace down below 11.5 min/mi. Do T'ai Chi barefoot in Mom's driveway to cool down, being careful not to tread on pillbugs and leaving sweaty footprints

Runkeeper and Garmin capture route and pace.


- Wednesday, August 06, 2014 at 04:40:34 (EDT)

Off-key Singing School

Robert Pinsky's little 1998 text The Sounds of Poetry whistled its way into my hands from a public library bookshelf when it was new (cf. RulesVersusPrinciples (1999-06-23)). More than a decade later, a used-book-sale copy chirped and came home to stay. It offers thoughtful commentary, well-selected examples, and a professional's perspective on well-chosen words and their artful arrangement.

Last year's Singing School — though twice as thick and larger-format — feels much thinner. There's minimal analysis and a helter-skelter set of mostly out-of-copyright verse, some so lengthy that they feel like padding. A rhetorical question at the end of Pinsky's introduction to Part II ("Listening") unfortunately asks of the interpretations, "Does this analysis make things up, or spin imaginary patterns that don't really exist?" The answer, alas, is "Yes." Many of the hypotheses that Pinsky puts forth seem arbitrary. It's as though he's his own victim of the "Dramatic Fallacy", wherein vivid detail by a good storyteller leads a reader into accepting coincidental or post hoc patterns as real, like the constellations made by random stars. And it's hard to ask, and answer, "Could it have been better otherwise?" about a poem, or anything else for that matter. The mental effort is much easier when examples are visible (cf. Availability heuristic in Wikipedia).

Not to say that Singing School is entirely out of tune. In concluding advice on "Form" (Section III), for instance, Pinsky counsels:

Putting aside the idea of models or formulas, what's the best process, in the pursuit of form? The answer will be different for different writers at different moments. But one suggestion might be to say or at least mutter some words—words you think, or have read, or have heard spoken—and keep listening, patiently and calmly, for something that feels right in their arrangement.

Good idea!

(cf. Pinsky's remarks during a Washington Post online chat in SyntacticSugar (2006-05-02), ...)

- Tuesday, August 05, 2014 at 04:36:03 (EDT)

2014-07-19 - Austin Texas Walter E Long Lake Trek

~18 miles @ ~11.5 min/mi

http://zhurnaly.com/images/running/Austin_school_zone_speed_limit_50.jpgInsomniac roosters crow in Mom's neighborhood. At the corner of Hog Eye and Blue Bluff it's light enough to read street signs. On Bloor Rd a singlet-clad lady with Texas-sized hair, bound up high with a pair of sweat bands, walks along the side of the asphalt. Her nose is buried inside a paperback mystery novel, The Cold Dish by Craig Johnson. "Need anything?" I ask, and offer to share water or sports beans.

"No thanks, I'm fine," she replies. "My truck's just up ahead." Must be some pinko-intellectual. Evidence, besides taking exercise and obvious literacy: she has an Obama sticker on her vehicle and the gun rack is missing.

Soon thereafter a big jackrabbit pauses to watch me pass. The liter of lime-flavored seltzer water that I carry is running out at mile ~10 when I spy a cyclist's squeeze bottle lying in the grass by the shoulder of the road. The water in it is a bit moldy, but in my dehydrated state tastes great.

On Desau Rd the School Zone speed limit is a brisk 50 mi/hr. I pause to photograph it, risking a $200 fine for using my cellphone there. One more photo op comes at mile ~16, plastic flowers on a memorial cross. It's in Davis White Northeast District Park, near Loyola Lane. Based on the word "EFREN" on the cross it's likely in honor of Efren Gonzalez-Rojas Jr, who died near here in a 2012 car accident when he was run off the road (see [1]).

Pace overall is steady, thanks to cool-for-summer weather and morning clouds. The route includes a circumnavigation of Lake Walter E Long. It was called Decker Lake 50 years ago, when my first and last attempt to learn to water ski took place there. When I get home, Mom is taking a nap, so I do some Taiji in the driveway for 20 minutes to cool down. A passing cyclist says, "He's doing T'ai Chi!" to his buddy. I wave at them.

Runkeeper and Garmin tally the time and route.

- Sunday, August 03, 2014 at 12:30:01 (EDT)

I Swim in Your Ocean

I swim in your ocean
     You soar in my sky
We finish each other
     One breath, one sigh

(composed at 6am on the DC subway platform at Metro Center, 1 Aug 2014)

- Saturday, August 02, 2014 at 12:28:23 (EDT)

2014-07-17 - More McLean Loops

~5.6 miles @ ~10.5 min/mi

Three bunnies greet us this morning: first a pair spotted by Kristin and Amber at mile 1.5, then a scrawny singleton that Ed glimpses at mile 4. Lovely cool weather makes for a happy trek around Pimmit Hills ("David's loop reversed") for David, Kerry, Amber, Kristin, and me starting at 0600. At 6:30am Ed takes over for Kerry & David. I pause the GPS when inside a building mid-run. Runkeeper and Garmin gather data.

- Friday, August 01, 2014 at 04:37:42 (EDT)

2014-07-16 - McLean HS Mile Track Tests

~5 miles @ ~11 min/mi

Three rabbits appear, at miles 1, 3, and 5. I'm the rabbit for Kristin and Amber, as they do a self-calibration speed test on the McLean HS track, swinging wide to dodge walkers. I trot at ~2 min/lap, encouraging A & K to push. Amber kicks hard on the bell lap and finishes in 7:54. Kristin later confesses to keeping something in reserve, in anticipation of the next 3 miles of the morning, but still hits 8:25 for what may be a lifetime mile PB. Yay! Runkeeper and Garmin tell the tale.

- Friday, August 01, 2014 at 04:35:55 (EDT)

2014-07-15 - McLean Loops

~5 miles @ ~11.3 min/mi

Two bunny sightings: one at the corner of Sportsman & Storm, the other a few blocks later. Ed confirms them. He and I are trailing behind Kristin and David, who take a more direct route back and finish some minutes before us. Earlier, starting at 0600, Dr K and I loop around the neighborhood with this morning's new acquaintance, Doug, a computer guy who says he usually sticks to the treadmill and doesn't know the local routes. I pause in the middle to unlock the office for colleagues. Conversation includes last weekend's runs and various family disasters. Runkeeper and Garmin capture the course.

- Friday, August 01, 2014 at 04:33:17 (EDT)

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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