Patrick made a good comment about flying and jet lag: "our modern transportation is so outside of what nature ever intended that we basically break our brains when we do it".
So, I broke my brain again.
Flight back from New York to Tokyo left JFK at 5pm on Saturday and landed at HND at 9pm Sunday. 13+ hours in the air.
Now, total FirstWorldProblems I know but I got the upgrade to First Class. Which DOES NOT SUCK. Huge seat / bed, pajamas, epic food and service...and yet I am still in a flying metal tube for more than half a day, flying across the international dateline and feeling generally wrecked.
Did not manage to get much "done" -- watched a weird period Chinese movie and another action-comedy Hong Kong flick, read a bunch of sci-fi on my kindle, ate too much caloric-laden comfort carbs, got a few hours sleep...
Then again it really made me think about what "doing" stuff means. First Class so the wifi is free, but that doesn't make it any slower. I updated a few photos on Instagram and hit the 100mb limit real quick. Then I switched to just checking emails and news via Reddit and Twitter, and again every time there was a photo or video it would slow to a crawl...but I get really into reading my book and reminded myself that my brain is way better at creating images from words than it is from distilling words from images. That is, I am better at (and prefer to) read something and imagine how it is than see something and try to figure out what is going on...
Maybe that is a sign of my age? I would rather READ the news than WATCH the news.
From a zen perspective, there isn't much difference between words and video. One is an attempt at describing something, and the recreation in my head will NEVER match the "actual" event itself. The other is a single perspective view; only seen from a given angle, at a given time, not capturing anything. So no better than words; a video isn't any closer to what "really" happened than a description is.
Then again even when I experience something "live" I am still interpreting it and judging it and classifying / naming it...I did just sit there, not exactly meditating, but totally zoned out, staring at the blank screen and listening to the hum of the airplane, and for a moment I was completely without judgement or anything, I was just THERE...and then the attendant saw me staring into space, unmoving, and immediately offered me a hot towel and some champagne. Back to reality...?
Day...3 (?) in NYC. Lovely flight over. The problem with biz class is it's TOO comfy; instead of taking advantage of the full flap sleeper seat...I read and watched movies and ate yumminess. Given the flight time and time difference, I left at 10am Sunday and landed...at 9am Sunday.
Powered through the day with friends and Classic American Diner Experience for brunch (read: Too Much Damn Good) and then lazed about until I uber'd to the hotel and checked in around 4pm.
Hit the hotel "gym" for a half-ass dumbbell workout, showered...ordered and ate crappy delivery Chinese food whilst watching Holiday Season Bake-Off (?) on Food Channel, and promptly passed out around 8pm.
Yes we see where this is going: woke up at 3am READY TO HIT THE DAY!
Did some messing-about-on-devices and then went to the gym eventually to do another half-ass dumbbell workout, got my sitting done on the hotel floor utilizing the excess of hotel pillows staring out the hotel window into the alley behind the hotel. Pigeons fluttering, HVAC belching steam, street noises, wind-blown stuff and a city waking up. Not distracting at all, actually. Zoned right out and it was over before I knew it.
Did some "work" -- had some meetings, messed up my schedule and missed some meetings, had some more meetings, ate some food (some good, some regrettable)...and am about to welcome Wednesday assuming I can get to sleep tonight at a decent hour.
Things I (re)learned: jet lag SUCKS. When in doubt: sit. Sitting sucks, too. And sitting whilst jet-lag double-sucks (sucks squared?) but it sort of beats lying in a hotel bed staring at a hotel ceiling not being productive.
Like the man says: sitting is DOING something. I am getting my practice done. I am DOING my practice. I am actively SITTING; it is not passive. I am not "being sat" (sitted?)
It is not my body sitting with my mind wandering. It is me. Or I guess we could say there is no "my body" nor "my mind"...nor even "me".
There is this meat-sack composed of recycled universe atoms that fires some synapses in a pattern that is telling those same firing synapses in that meat sack to have a thought "me"...
Bloody damn weird when you think about it...
As is tradition, I hit the local barber for a Full Men's Esthe before flying to NYC tomorrow.
Straight razor shave of everything (EVERYTHING) above the shoulders, infinite hot towels, and a lovely face steam and massage.
Perfect time to get my full body meditation on!
Result: fell asleep. There is such a thing as too comfy!
I'll try again on the plane tomorrow.
Up and down this week as I try to get back into routine and also prepare for another week on the road; NYC next week.
Lost a glove this morning. Stared at the lone survivor; poor guy longing for his life partner.
I just gave him my full attention, held him gently and without judgement. I did not mourn the loss of his pal, nor did I express frustration at the futility of a single glove.
I just stood, in the (cold) moment, just me and my thoughts and my glove...
Soon enough I was snapped back into the "real" and I sighed a subtle "Well....fuckit."
So...maybe the sitting helps? Doesn't change the fact that I need to get a new pair of gloves before I fly out on Sunday...
Finally back in My Regular; up at 0-dark-thirty (aka 5:15am, at which time Fish has already woken, gotten dressed, composed a sonata in iambic pentameter, run to the gym, completed 8 minute abs twice in only 15 minutes, and adopted a panda), try not to step on anyone as I stumble in the dark pulling stuff randomly out of the closet*, dress and pack, take out the appropriate trash (today: plastics), and head to the gym.
Squats and bench and bloody damn heavy weighted chin-ups, then a soothing and much needed stretch before tuning into the repeated chanting of the heart sutra (just cannot get enough) and getting sit on as the soon feebly attempts to break over the drab gray concrete skyline.
It was nice to be back in the routine, and yet I found it "new". And I guess it really IS; I am never doing the SAME thing twice. I can never live the same moment again. Even repeating isn't really; it's more like mimicry or something; a copy but a unique instance in its own right.
So, even the same boring old sitting is always fresh and new exciting! What deeply buried anxiety about a long-forgotten high school crush will spontaneously appear in my frontal lobe to torture me with awkward poetry and badly chosen date spots? What embarrassing missed comeback opportunities will flutter just out of reach, never to be lobbed in ego-crushing humor?
* the key is I have managed to assemble a wardrobe of shirts, suits, and ties that work in literally ANY combination. Also all my socks are the same color and none of my underwear is.
Three day weekend so I headed with my crew down to Himeji and Kobe for a mellow event; Operation Clearfield and Mission Day.
300+ people the first day, dunno how many thousands after. And all the tourists.
Got up EARLY to make my 6:30am flight, then trains, event schedule, dinners out, hotel, onsen, breakfasts, lunches, tourist stuff...
Needless to say it was a hectic weekend and I was on and off.
Got up early and got my sitting done at the hotel one day, took a break in a beautiful garden and parked on a bench facing a wall another. Interesting to hear all the other tourists madly taking photos of the beautiful changing leaves but no one was actually just LOOKING at them. I sat there for a good ten minutes listening to the wind play with the leaves and I zoned out hard into the gap a few times. Was great; sun on my face and wind in my ears.
Also tried sitting on a big rock. Not ideal! Soft cushion please thanks!
Good to be back in Tokyo but damn someone turned on the autumn!
Chilly and dark; dark at 5am when I wake up to head to the gym, dark at 5pm when I look out the office window and shake my head at the hours of work I have left.
However the bright spot every morning is getting my sit on! Back in my favorite spot tucked behind the pillar, facing the window, in the stretch area.
These days the gym isn't so busy at 6am, but when I finally get my sit going, as the sun is peaking up over the concrete and steel skyline and a bit of blue starts poking from between gray clouds, it is pretty darn keen.
I keep forgetting my protein so I am lifting hard but not hitting my reps; just don't have enough muscle. And stuff is getting heavy. I want to keep going hard into year end; I find I really WANT to sit and recover after an especially brutal lifting session of failing heavy. I guess it's a nice balance.
I don't have a favorite koan, but I do often listen to chanting of the heart sutra on repeat when I sit:
My favorite line is:
shiki soku ze ku, ku soku ze shiki
Which is most often translated as "form is emptiness, emptiness is form" and can be shortened to just shiki/ku (form/emptiness)
Anyway I often zone out listening to this for like 20 minutes; reminds me of the temple retreats I have done, sitting with the resident monks doing their morning ritual and we would all chant together.
I have chanted along at funeral ceremonies in Japan, too; depends on the sect/branch but seems like Soto tends to use it quite a bit.
So not really a koan, and in fact super-distractingly easy to not think of anything but just chant along...kind of exactly what we are NOT supposed to be doing!
So last time I was in Hong Kong, it was still British. Yeah, been a while.
Spent a week doing work and other stuff; met up with the local Kenzai posse and did some epic Dragon Boating with Team MILF: https://www.instagram.com/p/BqL_8T6nxkm/
Played with my extended Ingress GORUCK crew for a Stealth and Prime Challenge. Managed to win the 4-person square push-up competition and came in second for the plank competition right after it with a 13 minute plank.
Always fun to hang with my team and we ended up winning the competition and our faction won all of Hong Kong as well! https://www.instagram.com/p/BqR2x72nQ7L/
In between those adventures I checked out our new office in Kowloon, did some laps in the hotel pool, used ALL the weights in the hotel gym for deadlifts, saw some bands play for charity (https://www.instagram.com/p/BqOguZoHLyx/), ate way too many pork buns, and managed to hit my daily meditation except for one day when it didn't happen because HONG KONG IS LIT!
I sat in my hotel room facing the window. I sat on my hotel bed propped up by pillows. I sat in the hotel gym studio on a yoga mat. I WALKED in the hotel gym studio as some spandex warrior repeated hip-hop dance moves with a pole-dancer soundtrack blaring out of her cellphone. I sat on a lounge chair by the roof-deck pool. I sat in the hotel bar overlooking the city. (OK that wasn't exactly meditating, I think we call it "vegging out".)
All in all, I sat, and here is what I figured out (or relearned because maybe I already knew this): the more comfortable and supportive the seating arrangement, the harder it is to focus on JUST SITTING. The comfy bed was the worst; I wasn't getting sleepy, but I was so content and cozy my mind just kept wandering. Sitting on the floor with a couple pillows under my butt, or even better on the yoga mat staring off onto the studio floor, was probably the most meditative. Had to make the appropriate effort just to sit; keep my back straight and my head up and my breathing even.
The other great thing was doing a 13 minute plank -- competition started with almost 100, and after the first couple minutes it was down to 5; 3 on my team 2 over there. After maybe 10 minutes it was just the two of us. I was already tired from the push-up competition, but like the saying goes I just dug deep to find it; pushed my butt up and held my shaking arms as steady as I could. I tried to just breathe in and out as my core was melting and my shoulders burning.
Everyone was cheering for either him or me and I just zoned it all out and tried to think about nothing but holding my body straight. I tried to Not Move, and in trying I tried to not try so hard. I tried to not count breaths, or count anything at all. I tried to enjoy it, embrace it, ignore it. Finally I was just there in utter agony and wanting it to end, and then I didn't want anything at all. And then it happened.
I remember the EXACT moment when I gave up. I was literally telling myself not to do it, but I knew that if my right hand slipped a bit more on the wet grass I wouldn't be able to hold myself up. I cajoled and begged myself to stay for just one more breath; just hold a bit more, he's almost down, you're almost winning, just a bit more!
But I was already done and I knew it, I was just going through the motions in my mind of not admitting I had already lost. And my right fingers wiggled and my palm slipped and then sweet, sweet relief as I lay down panting and sweating.
The crowd erupted as the other guy scored 10 points and I just lay there staring up into the gray sky, surrounded by friends clapping and encouraging my heroic (but ultimately futile) effort.
It was truly a moment! And now but damn my abs are sore...
Aka DOES NOT FOLLOW DIRECTIONS.
You and your silly RULES tellin me how to get my serenity on!
Here's how I do it:
Sit on poolside lounge chair. Don't elevate butt. Back straight? Bro, it's a LOUNGE chair. Stair at the wall to avoid excess visual stimulation? Let's stare at the waving surface of the pool as Buoyant Australian Guy does his morning laps.
Eyes open and relaxed? Let’s go for squinting in the morning haze.
Yup, if zen meditation is a game of FourSquare I got all my tiles lined up DIAGONAL: Pretty. Sneaky. Sis.
Still winning on the breakfast. Other meals...well the Chinese Food is DAMN TASTY.
Also squats on a smith machine suck. SUCK.
Big Kenzai Reunion Dinner tonight so expect silly photos and possibly debauchery.
Hong Kong. Hotel gym. Used ALL the plates on the bar. Staff was like “Can you put the weights down less noisily?” Uh no bruh it’s 125kg deadlift it doesn’t go down quietly...ended up pulling a yoga mat underneath it. Probably reduced noise at least a decibel or two.
Hotel breakfast win: 2 chicken sausage, three over easy eggs, all the veggies, one tiny fried prawn cake.
ANA international lounge, 7:30am, waiting for my flight to Hong Kong.
Great opportunity to people watch.
Now clearly there is some sample bias, but damn the number of people with a beer at 7:30am Sunday morning...?!
The food choices are Airport Lounge: fried fish, rice, noodles...heavy on the carbs and salt. I get it: practical to have sitting on buffet trays staying warm, easy to make in quantity, mass appeal comfort food Salty and Filling.
I mindfully had a couple pieces of fried fish, a small dabble of noodles, a couple of steamed dumplings. And coffee. Two coffees at this point.
And then I sat back to observe and judge, because what is the fun in impartial observation without making up stories about all these crazy people?
The two old ladies knocking back sake like it's the last water on earth and babbling about the merits of various grand children.
Italian lovers on their way home, staring deep into each other's eyes and sighing about the end of their romantic Japan vacation.
Important International Travelling Businesses Guy with laptop open to a packed Outlook schedule and overflowing inbox, phone on Skype chatting with Wife And Kids Who Miss Him...and side texts with Asian girlfriend who can't wait to see him again heart smiley heart smiley...
Gaggle of Japanese salarymen hunched over morning beers and bowls of udon, thrilled to be going to Exotic Asian Land of More Drinking.
Vegan dude struggling with attentive but powerless staff who is endearing to make his lounge experience the best but providing him with vegan options that extend only to: lettuce and sake.
The common theme seems to be: wanting something that maybe isn't there. Like having a desire for things to be different but no actual ability to change anything. That granny is powerless to get her grandson to want to be a doctor, the couple's romantic Asian holiday cannot in fact last forever, salarymen will indeed have to actually work on their trip not just sample local booze and food for five days.
I will try to keep this in mind when I try my sitting on the plane. I'll turn off my headphones and kick off my shows, rest my hands in my lap and just sit for a few minutes, letting whatever happens, happen...Maybe.
More likely: I'll have runaway thoughts about icecream and large clowns and the meetings lined up for this week and dinner with a bunch of Kenzai nutters...
So I have a REALLY nice cushion set at home, placed in the corner of my tatami room; a big round and a wide flat for underneath it.
Never use them. Never.
Fundamentally so unlikely I can ever sit still in my own home without being accosted by one of my four kids or have some pressing father/husband duty, so I don’t bother.
Instead I sit at the gym. Nice little corner of the stretch mats between the pillar and the windows. Basically dead space but enough room to sit. I use an air-filled rubbery thing to sit on, whose actual purpose completely escapes me. I don’t actually lean back on the concrete pillar, but it’s useful to check if I have my back straight or not.
I also sit full lotus because I can and always have. Blessed with decent hip flexibility I guess. Anyway I can go 25 minutes in full lotus before it is so excruciatingly painful that I have to whimper and switch legs. Usually I just have one leg fall asleep. Which is fine until I’m supposed to stand up and do “walking mediation”. But I don’t do that when I’m sitting alone so no problem.
So I got my yearly flu shot yesterday right after lunch.
Nurse was AMAZING; did not hurt one bit. Like seriously; didn't even feel it and then she was putting the band-aid on. Doctor said, like they always do "Don't exercise and take it easy for a day or two."
Yeah, sure. Swimming lesson that evening.
So by 5pm, my tricep is starting to hurt.
By 6pm my arm is SORE, like 100s-of-tricep-dips sore. So I email my swim coach and tell him I am taking it easy.
Instead I head home for a relaxing (NOT) evening meal at home and attempt to bathe the twins. Catch up on some emails, in bed by 10pm.
Up at 5am like always. WOW does my arm hurt. Well time to FORTIFY and get to the gym anyway.
Changed out, headphones in...and yeah this ain't happening. Stayed away from the squat rack and instead did 20 minutes chillaxed jogging on the treadmill and a bunch of deep stretching, then pulled up the cushion for some watch-my-breath zenning out.
Hungry. Stomach rumbling. Head rumbling. Arm hurts.
Hello, arm. Y U so OUCH?!
Breathy - smeathy...bloody arm hurts and sitting on cushion staring out the window at the slowly lightening Tokyo sky wasn't helping much. Well OK it wasn't making it WORSE, that's for sure. So maybe it's not so bad.
Still hungry, though.
So by way of full disclosure: I am a monk.
OK, technically not. I think in English we are called "Lay Monks"?
This is a relatively boring storing involving How I First Met Patrick, so sit back and enjoy:
About a decade ago I went on a 3-day Buddhist Zen retreat in the tea-covered hills outside of Japan.
Patrick was there. He sat peacefully and at ease, a picture of stoic relaxation.
I. Fucking. Hated. It.
Misery. Utter agony. To the Point that Patrick's first words to me were "Are you ok man?"
No, I was not ok. I literally could not sit still for more than five minutes.
The entire weekend was agony.
I came back again the year after. And the year after that.
For several years I had a love/hate relationship with my meditation practice; sometimes sitting daily for weeks on end. And then stopping for weeks or months.
Somewhere in there, about 2008 or so, I took "Jukai"; a traditional ceremony in which I committed to the precepts and noble truths and blah blah blah and got "named" Renkoku Doei.
This is the first step towards Full Transmission, whereby one is deemed worthy of the robes and get "ordained" as a "priest" (something I have not done and will likely never do.)
I have a friend who runs a newly founded monastery in the US midwest, and he issued a challenge at the beginning of the year to sit 20 minutes every day for an entire year: Challenge 365.
I have performed on this challenge anywhere between mediocre and laughable, but here we are in November and I am still nominally making the effort.
So, I am not "new" to meditation, but I still suck hard at it.
Hoping this program can help me get my head around some of this stuff, on a practical level. I mean, it really is JUST sitting. But also, it's not.
And of course, the opportunity to claim I am "on program" whilst actually not banging out jumps or smacking myself with my bands. BRILLIANT.
Is the English name of butakusa, the autumn pollinator that gives me runny nose watery eyes pounding headache joys. Combined with the seasonal dryness and my sore throat turns into a hacking cough. Good times.
My solution? HEAVY CHIN-UPS.