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 250 - Mindfulness, meditation and the paradox of parallel existence January 10, 2020 00:00

Parallel

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 his lessons. Among the most important were 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. 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 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. It was clear they held the fondest memories. I was a nice addendum. We occupied much of the same space, at the same time, for long periods. My experience was profound, his was nice.

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 discourse were never pedestrian--or nice--but I had no understanding that it 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?

 

 


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 corn fields 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, love for this event that is the only child who never grows old.

The buffalo.

Invisible four feet away

The tunnel is about 150 meters long. And, while 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 and moving into the future. Spit, perhaps, will invade the force-field at the edges of the cornfield, but little else.

Standing behind one row of stalks, facing the funnel of stampeding herd, the buffalo passed within arm’s reach, but they 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/tunnel/pathway and spun 180 degrees to look into the dark oblivion of cornfield where, whatever is on the other side of the field, is blocked by all the vegetation. No hard edge exists, the stalks just swallow each other into dark 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 the cornfield as that where the buffalo passed, in six weeks, I could be seen from a mile away. The dark oblivion and its edges will have found dark oblivion.

A 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 could stand in that place and there would be absolutely no difference. 

I once was a buffalo.

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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?

 

 


Zen Spot #117 — Mindfulness, meditation and purity of effort February 3, 2018 00:05

It used to be four minutes

In 1954, on a cinder track in Oxford England, Dr. Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. The feat, while inevitable, like the moon landing, was nonetheless staggering. The question of who would be the first to set foot on the lunar surface, and be remembered forever, was not that different than the question of who would first to set foot across the finish line in 3:59.9 or better.

The difference

Neil Armstrong had thousands of professionals, and tens of millions of dollars, committed to building his legacy . During his pursuit, he was never alone. In particular, as he descended the ladder on the Lunar Module that led him to be the first person to set foot on the moon, Buzz Aldrin was only ten feet away, and could just as easily have been the man after whom schools and highways were regularly named.

Hicham el-Guerroj was both by himself, and with Noah Ngeny, when he set the most recent world record of 3:43.13.

A two ton cast iron bell ringing

There is a purity to four laps around the track, each run in just a little less than 56 seconds that, like jazz, can’t be explained to a someone who doesn’t understand. When a listener can hear the ring of a bell slowly fade over four minutes, the sound disappears quickly if not listening closely.

A sublime.

The machine red lines

World class runners, to some of whom I’ve spoken, describe taking the engine and spirit beyond the red line on the tachometer, knowing that they will continue fearlessly toward the finish line to discover what resources they have left for the final one hundred meters. At that point, they will explode — or not.

Some describe hearing white noise while doing the calculus of navigation and competition, fading in as necessary, otherwise tending the pistons and human juices that could become shrapnel. A yin and yang of violence and peace.

Traveling together

Noah Ngeny pushed Hicham el-Guerroj into history, and also broke the world record that day. His name will never be written in the record books. His not-quite anonymity is sublime. He is neither Bill Buckner nor Mookie Wilson. Neither Buzz Aldrin nor Neil Armstrong. Neither Mary nor Joseph.

Noah's and Hicham's spirits traveled together, though. Close enough, too, that they were of one mind, and two minds, at the same time, crossing together over a threshold impossible for billions.

The teacher is often forgotten, except by the student.

Billions

I’ve written often of the idea of the collective mind coexisting with the individual mind. My belief that we are all one but still alone — all sentient beings, as one sentient being — is contrasted by the ability of one person, in the entirety of human history, to perform an act of the self never performed before, is a paradox with which I am completely comfortable.

In particular, the ability to run one mile faster than any of the billions of human beings who have lived and died since before the dawn of the written word, captures me.

That complete focus

A sustained effort, and a particular kind of concentration, where the mind is focused on only the moment occupied, is a notable gift. To extend the gift over four minutes, then slowly reduce the time, while simultaneously going deeper within, and without, is a sight to behold.

Spend four minutes watching the video. His effortlessness and concentration are breathtaking.

Enlightenment, perhaps?

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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?