The Middle Way

Zen Spot #245 - Mindfulness, meditation, rhetoric, hyperbole and the dog with the human head January 13, 2020 00:00

The ninth mile

On Flat Road, in Malvern Pennsylvania, at the far end of a half-mile long cornfield, nestled between the last ear and the local granite quarry, is the Union Hall graveyard. Surrounded by a four-foot stone wall, with one three-foot wide entryway, this small cemetery is the final resting place of several congregants of the first Amish meetinghouse settled in the United States, some of whom may have been laid to rest before the colonies declared their independence. With the exception of the wall that runs along Flat Road, the cemetery is immediately engulfed by thick northeastern underbrush and briars. At night, especially in the dead of winter, it’s a creepy place.

Legend holds that a creature patrols the graveyard. It is a bastard, described best as a dog with a human head. Imagine the body of a rust colored pit-bull, proudly carrying eight pounds of rugby ball-shaped evil on its shoulders, with one pound of face having been beaten into the head with a flail and mace. Those who witness the beast are known to die in the following 24 hours.

I’ve never see the monster but I’d be lying if I said I don’t get a little nervous every time I drive by. I was introduced to the legend during the ninth mile of a ten mile run, as a high school freshman, as I ran by the cemetery for the first time. It was September 1976 and my shaman was the senior captain of the cross country team.

I was thirteen. Rhetoric and hyperbole hadn’t been born yet.

Old School, New School

Our cross-country coach was old school. He trained kamikazes; placing such a ruthless priority on mental toughness, self reliance and a commitment to the team that, if you were afraid to walk onto the school’s football field and punch an offensive lineman square in the face, you didn’t deserve a place on his team. The disparity between a 5' 10" distance runner and 6' 3" football player was a pock-marked wall for the weak to hide behind.

Rhetoric and hyperbole hadn’t been born yet.

Seasons bleed, cultures scream

Cross country season bleeds almost seamlessly into winter track. Distance runners bleed less seamlessly — transitioning from the bucolic to the deafening and claustrophobic.

In the 1970s, in southeastern Pennsylvania, high school indoor track meets were held on Saturdays, in regional college field houses. Thirty tribes, each with forty athletes, jam their culture, pride, fear, talent and volume into a shoe box.

Hollinger Field House

West Chester University owns a particularly weird field house. Like most college field houses, it is designed to serve many masters — basketball, tennis, track & field. The architecture is odd. It is almost an aircraft hangar. The confines are extremely tight with the building’s outside walls towering within eighteen inches of the outside lane of the three lane track. The edge of a basketball court, which is the building’s centerpeice, is inches inside the track’s first lane. The track, itself, is unusual — 146 yards, 12 laps to the mile. From the center of the court to the apex of the roof, it is probably sixty feet — an open mouth waiting for a jet engine.

That jet engine is a high school winter track meet.

Getting jumped in

My shaman prepared me for another legend — a twelve-feet high, fifteen-feet wide and 40 yards long Thunderdome.

Every runner gets jumped in like a Crip — beaten and eaten whole and fighting for survival in the belly of a beast. Punches are thrown, elbows fly, teeth get knocked out. If I owned a pair of brass knuckles, the shaman recommended that I bring them. A switchblade would be good, a two foot length of chain would be better. A flail and mace best.

I was terrified. The fate of those swallowed by the beast was left to my imagination.

The Beast

The most curious aspect of the Hollinger Field House track is a tunnel that consumes an entire turn of the track — approximately 40 yards. The tunnel runs underneath the grandstand. The sixty-foot ceiling drops down to fifteen. With, the exception of the fifty meter dash, every track race enters the tunnel at least once. During your race, when you enter the tunnel, the jet engine convulses into silence. When you leave the tunnel, the engine sucks you back into its fan blades.

As a miler, I was scheduled to run through the tunnel twelve times. And, while I had plenty of opportunity to stand in discreet alcoves inside the tunnel during other races, and watch other runner’s get jumped in, the choice never entered my mind. I waited.

Within thirty seconds of reacting to the starter’s gun, after being chewed up and spit out, I found out that my shaman was an asshole.

Rhetoric and hyperbole had been born.

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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 Michael has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

 What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?

 

 


Zen Spot #119 -- Mindfulness, meditation and loving the buffalo February 15, 2018 00:05

Like buffalo

You can hear the gun go off from half a mile away. Fifteen seconds later, a phalanx of 500 latter-day Scots, led by a high school harrier, like William Wallace, break the horizon and charge across fifteen acres of bliss and pain, toward a cornfield funnel that will only fit ten across. Not to mix metaphors, but the funnel leads, like a tunnel, through two separate cornfields that split, like the Red Sea for Moses.

Tunnel. Funnel. Moses. William Wallace.

Heaven, too, for those who love the sport of cross country.

I love the buffalo

There is no reason for me to visit these races anymore. My children are grown. There is, however, a love for this event that never grows old.

The buffalo.

Invisible four feet away

The tunnel is nearly150 meters long. The buffalo are civil, for the most part. They jostle and elbow and yelp and spit when confined, cramming together at the mouth of the funnel, moving into the future. Spit will invade the forcefield at the edges of the cornfield, but little else.

Standing behind one row of stalks, facing the funnel stampede, the buffalo passed within arm’s reach, but couldn’t see me. Too much speed. Too much focus. Too much to follow. The corn is almost sacred.

From green to brown

The herd having passed, I stepped into the funnel, spun 180 degrees to look into the dark oblivion of stalks where everything on the other side of the field is blocked by the vegetation. No hard edge exists, the stalks just swallow each other into oblivion. No single stalk impedes one’s vision; they work together, without working at all. 

The stalks, too, are buffalo. Standing still. Dying. Chlorophyl draining slowly. Once thriving leaves turning into a kind of tobacco. Soon, these buffalo will pass, their remains will be cleared, the horizon will be obvious and the tunnel will be gone.

Were I too stand in the same spot in six weeks, I could be seen from a mile away. The oblivion and its edges will have found oblivion.

The cornfield at night

At night, whether at the height of summer, when the stalks are twelve feet tall or, in winter, when the stalks are gone, I'd be standing in oblivion. 

I once was a buffalo.

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Invented by DharmaMechanic
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Zen Spot #168— Mindfulness, meditation, two people, the same time and a different existence. February 2, 2015 00:30

A couple of month's ago, I visited an athletic coach from my freshman year of high school - 1976. He has had a profound influence on my life. So much so, that I often still rely on the lessons I learned from him. Among the most important are mental toughness, grit and belief in the ability to overcome adversity through hard work. For the first several months of my tutelage, I possessed none of these qualities...and I knew it. There was shame associated with this understanding.

One day, I got tired of the feeling and decided...actively decided...to change my life and attitude. My life transformed that day. He demanded and I complied. The next four years were an incredible experience built on hard work, fraternity and achievement. That said, I was not blessed with the gift of athleticism and, as such, was not a dream to coach. Not a dream - for a coach who wanted to dream. I was just a guy who loved his sport. The experience set a standard for the rest of my life.

During the visit, I made very clear how much his coaching had affected me and I thanked him for his contributions. We talked about the people and events from those days. In particular, we discussed the most gifted of his athletes; those who a coach dreams about. For him, those athletes held the fondest memories. I was a nice addendum. My experience was profound, his was nice. We occupied much of the same space, at the same time, for long periods.

Two people. Same time. Different existence.

Several weeks ago, I ran into a colleague from fifteen years ago. My counterpart explained that my influence on his life had been profound. He intimated that the lessons learned during our discussions extended beyond the discussions themselves. Our discussions were never pedestrian...or nice...but I had no understanding that they could affect another human being as positively as my colleague explained.

Concurrently, my oldest son has described, in one way or another, that my parenting had a similarly positive effect. Given the fact that my younger children still believe I am quite obtuse, my son's perspective is welcomed...and important...because my children are the people I want to teach.

Another paradox that becomes less a paradox as life goes on. Perhaps one day I'll understand.



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About DharmaMechanic

An artist, entrepreneur and writer walking the Buddhist path, his art focuses on the Dharma Wheel. The four wheels shown above are among over 600 DharmaMechanic has created over the course of his career. Each has a unique story. If you’d like to read the story of these wheels or purchase a framed 20" x 20" ready-to-hang print, visit SilkDharma.com.

What are The Four Noble Truths?

  1. The truth of suffering
  2. The truth of the origin of suffering
  3. The truth of the cessation of suffering
  4. The truth of the path to the cessation of suffering

What is The Noble Eightfold Path?

  1. Right view
  2. Right intention
  3. Right action
  4. Right speech
  5. Right livelihood
  6. Right effort
  7. Right mindfulness
  8. Right concentration

What is a Dharma Wheel?