Musings on Bicycling and Buddhism

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Rocking the Era

These are my first rough reflections upon this, which I imagine will be revised as time and introspection progress... I am also somewhat at odds trying to determine where and how it is appropriate to mention other people in a way that truly shows how wonderful and supportive they are without being presumptuous or telling stories that are not mine to tell, this will unfold with time too...

All I can say is thank you to everyone and yet still knowing that the words themselves are inadequate, hoping that the heart behind them shows through nonetheless...

I leave this weekend profoundly uplifted and profoundly humbled. This is something that I do not know if I will ever be able to properly fathom, it has a scale in my life experience along the lines of something cosmic.

I realized somewhere in the course of all this that my life view, my vision of myself, my self perception, however one should express it, was rooted in the things that I had been through that were negative, loss, death, my own battles with depression and self abuse. My sense of self has been in some ways primarily as a survivor. This month two profoundly positive and creative things happened in my life in close succession, my cousin was married and I participated in this festival. Weddings have been virtually something that I have never directly experienced in the sense of being close with anyone who was going to be married, I've seen them in movies and I've worked them- some of which have moved me but none like this and nothing to ever prepare me for this. Funerals on the other hand, sometimes it feels like I'm an old hand at those, and no one should ever feel like that- well except maybe funeral directors...?

but this festival, the journey of taiko over a year started in 2009 and culminated this weekend with our Dream Big, Change the World in Philadelphia. These 3 days felt like so much more and my world was shifted completely. I learned what true partnership and collaboration feels like- in art, in faith, in dealing with change. So much happened but I never felt alone or forgotten, only supported and cared for, and somewhere deep in my being knowing that somehow I could make a difference.

In the loading dock in practice I learned that I am always holding something back, but for what purpose? I realized that if I held back there, what would be the point, everything else was in preparation for this moment, if I held back I wouldn't be fulfilling the vow I made to finally finish something in a way that I knew I had given my all too, and so somewhere in that hot afternoon, sweating away in that hot loading dock, the concrete cavern filled with 300 taiko players, the attachment to holding back fell away and there was the drum and me and the music and the people playing the music, but they weren't separate in any way, they were all one and I knew that no part of me was wasted, that no effort i exerted would go without purpose, it felt like completion. And I finally understood that when I hold back in my life that, somehow, thinking that I am saving strength for later that I am just trying to protect something that doesn't need protecting, that it is better unleashed, living that way is being true to who I am...and so coming out of that practice with legs and arms shaking, hardly able to control my limbs was one of the most beautiful and joyous moments of my life...

And one of the most inspiring....
One of the taiko members has an allergic condition of tongue swelling which can prevent her from breathing. It seemed each time we began she had a reaction- she went to the ER twice in those first days, but she never gave up. She has had her own experience out of this which is, of course hers to tell, but that she never gave up and tried and was able to perform- that is an inspiration to all of us, and none of us will ever forget it.

At length from the beginning...

Our weekend began with a lot of surprises, out first rehearsal on Saturday morning showed us that unity is hard work. Bob, our fearless leader for 300 drummers, was calling the timing over the PA system of the stadium and we could not find a unified rhythm... it was also during this initial set up that I learned I would be playing odaiko, which was a challenge to my confidence and my strength.

We all seemed to come out of that morning's practice with a heavy weight, a why have I invested to much for this? Discussion over lunch ensued, we could practice until the cows came home but the only way this was going to work was to come back to the prime point, this was a faith activity and that was where it was going to be won. The afternoon came and we were to practice in the loading dock, a large, hot concrete cavern, just large enough to fit the 300. As behind the scenes group began to set up one of our taiko group members began to chant and it spread it a wave amongst the throng waiting to begin practice. The loading dock began to reverberate with the sound of so many voices. When set up was complete I was asked if I was still prepared to lead a warm-up, which had been discussed briefly before. (I have always been outspoken about the importance of warm-ups and returning to the basics. All my training has fostered this strong foundation.) And so with a megaphone and a dollop of courage we began. And for the first time the myriad drums began to speak with one voice.

In the course of the ensuing hours the realization I arrived at, mentioned above, came to pass. But that and the ~100 degree heat weren't it. At the beginning of the afternoon practice we learned that all of the solos, each zone was supposed to have its own mini-section in the larger arrangement, in between a united introduction and finale, were to be cut. The news had come down and we somehow had to inform everyone of this. Our fearless leader was the deliverer of news he had no say in, but his determination never wavered, his very bearing showed that this would be a victory no matter what. So despite this heavy news the afternoon in the loading dock proved to us we could play as one, even when things were not as we had hoped.

The evening's dress rehearsal left us with more uncertainty. We rehearsed with one zone solo left in, the group was not loud enough by some counts. Many others were hurt that it was not their zone's solo that was chosen. But underneath it all, its not about ego, its about uplifting people. So after rehearsal was done for the night and everyone had returned to their dorms for the night the zone leaders sat down and had a dialogue.

In the bottom of Mitten Hall, in the middle of the night we sat and talked about how to create value from all of these perspectives. From those who were hurt to those who were striving for a bigger picture. The message of unity is the most important thing. To encourage and inspire those who had come from so far to see this moment that so many had worked so hard for, that was the point. So we build a new arrangement out of the suggestions and ideas of those present, trying to represent those we had taught and played with for months. Out of this came a new song arrangement, we quickly got the news out to the other players. Each leader speaking with each taiko player to communicate the new vision.

We had no time to rehearse that new arrangement before our performance the next morning.

So we walked onstage and we began.

And we did it.

Many have commented on the unity of our performance, this is something produced through more than rehearsing, it came from the power in our lives to unify through our shared faith.

And so my life, and probably many others (?) were changed again from not being able to rehearse the changes before the performance and so going in to perform in front of 10,000 people an arrangement we had all never played together before...and doing it, and knowing it touched lives.

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 663
Miles left to goal: 1,537
Days left: 58

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 651
Miles left to goal: 1,549
Days left: 63

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Past 600!

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 613
Miles left to goal: 1,587
Days left: 65

You sand wood to ground down the rough edges, to completely manifest the intent of the construction, the sculpting, the building. With the rough edges one can not only get hurt, but the true beauty beneath is still waiting for something. We weed the garden to bring the focus back to the reason we planted in the first place; the vegetables or the flowers, what have you. The process of sanding off the excess; pulling out the weeds; deleting old spam mail; cleaning your room; doing the laundry; and of course the ubiquitous: cleaning out the garage… (Although growing up we never had a garage, just several sheds and a barn which ultimately served the same purpose.)

…something we undertake to get back to the reason we began in the first place, to the prime point, to remove the distractions. To free ourselves to take a new direction, a new perspective, a reawakening. You could call it hosshaku kempon- aka casting off the transient and revealing the true.

In a lot of ways this whole bicycling thing for me has been a step in that direction. I had done some collecting of my own, being stuck in front of a computer all day at work, and after Gus (my old bicycle) went decrepit, often just making excuses for not getting any exercise. And those somehow became excuses for not dealing with a lot of other things. And so the karma built up in the corners, covered with cobwebs but sulking with nightmare intentions.

This bicycle goal isn’t just so much about shedding some unnecessary padding I have acquired but its also about shedding some other things; like mistaken perspectives, old coping mechanisms that do nothing productive, cleaning up that sulking karma so that old things weighing me (or my life?) down can be laid to rest, brought to completion, and generally expiated. Its almost like a kind of purification.

Taking the “yuck” and using it to become more of who we really are. That’s casting off the transient and revealing the true. Shucking the corn to reveal the corn? (Didn't we know it was going to be corn even when we started the shucking, its not much of a surprise...) After spending all this time flailing, (metaphorically and actually, I suppose), grabbing at what we’re supposed to be; what we thought we were going to be; what those we love would like to see us be (which isn’t always the determiner of that “supposed to be”); reaching for when it was good; or getting rose-tinted visions of what looks so good after the fact- well after that there is just that, what is.

All that we ever needed to be, we were born with (the teaching from the Lotus Sutra goes). Each of our lives is perfectly endowed with the most beautiful and profound of treasures, that is the true waiting under the transient. Waiting with complete patience and truth. The four aspects of the Buddha are eternity, purity, true self, and happiness. And no they’re not on sale as a 2 for 1 deal at the nearest chain megastore, they were part of you from the very beginning. All they ever needed to be was revealed.

Once we finish looking for, ignoring, denying, attacking, begrudging this most precious thing of our lives (made profound and inherently complete as they are) outside of us, we can realize its been in there all along. When we can put all that disillusionment and delusion aside we cast off the transient. (Delusion isn’t always so obvious as the mistaking the world for flat or thinking that there is spontaneous generation; although in their time and given the evidence those might have once been convincing arguments; sometimes delusion is thinking that always, always no matter how hard you try you’re never good enough, or that no one will ever love you for who you really are.)

Underneath the transient is the true, who we really are. Sometimes it may seem as though I’m living on the edge of what I can tolerate but I know I’ve been through worse. The hard times teach us what we’re made of, getting pushed into a corner makes us show our true selves. By constantly challenging ourselves in places where this isn’t a necessarily uncomfortable thing to do we prepare ourselves to be able to remain true to ourselves even when the big things in life happen. We get to learn to be larger than our circumstances as it were, so that the world around us doesn’t tell us how its going to be, that’s a decision we make for ourselves.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 589
Miles left to goal: 1,611
Days left: 66

Friday, July 16, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 564
Miles left to goal: 1,636
Days left: 69

looks like August weekends once I get back from camping are going to be including long bike rides:)

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 540
Miles left to goal: 1,660
Days left: 70

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Past 500!

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 515
Miles left to goal: 1,685
Days left: 72

"I'll strive again, with all my youthful passion. As befits a youth who lives in pursuit of an ideal, a youth burning with great joy. High and fierce are the waves of life, the waves of society. Steep are the mountains that rise before us. But one way or another, people advance... I will go on, bravely. I will pioneer the world to come." -Daisaku Ikeda, July 31, 1950

Monday, July 12, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 490
Miles left to goal: 1,710
Days left: 73

Friday, July 9, 2010

Perspective and Perseverance

Some things are a manner of perspective, as in: "Hmm, I ride my bike a lot, I will be needing extra protein in my diet to keep my muscles happy and keep them from disintegrating. I am a vegetarian so this will take some creativity...."
Useful perspective on this: finding foods with more protein.
Useless perspective: "Well, by the time I get home in the evening I am usually draped in dead insects, insects are made of protein, therefore I will be all set, I will absorb the protein from my skin!"
Although I doubt anyone who would think this way, this same sort of ridiculous kind of reasoning seems to follow us into everyday life where we least expect it to be.

It's very easy to go around doubting ourselves. XYZQ hasn't worked out the way we planned, the way we wanted and so that makes me a less capable person. Maybe if I finally get one more advanced degree I will be smart enough. This person, W, so attractive I can never be as beautiful, handsome, smart, capable, desirable, special, this person, and so I am less of a person. My value comes from some arbitrary comparison outside my life and therefore I am less. This is about as correct and useful as expecting to be able to absorb insect protein from your skin (assuming one is a homo sapiens)...

So what do we do about? Where do we get the perspective? I imagine some people are born with it. We find it in many ways and in many forms, for a lot of people it comes from faith. I won't go on about the power that gives at the moment, but perhaps you've found a source of perspective...

Ok now what? What about my protein? How does the perspective empower the perseverance? It's a source, a fuel source, if you will, for making the impossible possible, for making the meek strong, allowing the oppressed to stand up for justice, making you able to call out that bully on the playground...

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 446
Miles left to goal: 1,754
Days left: 76

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Goal: 2,200 miles by 9.24.10
Miles ridden to date: 386
Miles left to goal: 1,814
Days left: 79
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Tour de What You Will by Jessie Calkins is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License