Don’t put anyone outside of your heart

From Tara Brach’s beautiful Secret Beauty Solstice Talk:

This story was told by a Unitarian minister. It happened during a family trip. Her and her husband and two children were traveling on Christmas day.

They stopped at a restaurant that was nearly empty.

Her one-year-old, Eric, was in a high chair and she heard him squeal with glee as he sang, “Hi there! Hi there! Hi there!” — these are two words he thought were one. And his face was alive with excitement.

Then she says, “I saw the source of his merriment and my eyes could not take it in all at once. A tattered rag of a coat, baggy pants, both they and the zipper lay over a spindly body, gums as bare as Eric’s, hair uncombed, unwashed, and his hands were waving in the air, flapping about on loose wrists. ‘Hi there, baby! Hi there, big boy! I see you, buster!’ My husband and I exchanged a look that was a cross between ‘what do we do’ and ‘poor devil.’

“Eric continued to laugh and answer, ‘Hi there! Hi there!’ Every call was echoed. This old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby. I shoved a cracker at Eric and he pulverized it on the tray. I whispered, ‘Why me?’ under my breath.

“Our meal came and the nuisance continued. Now the old bum was shouting from across the room, ‘Do you know patty cake? Attaboy! Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo!’ We ate in silence except Eric, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring applause of a skid row bum.

“Finally we had enough. Dennis went to pay the check and implored me, ‘Get Eric and meet me in the parking lot.’ I trundled Eric out of the high chair and looked towards the exit. The old man sat poised and waiting, his chair directly between me and the door. ‘Lord, just let me get out of here before he speaks to me or Eric.’ I headed towards the door.

“It soon became apparent that both the lord and Eric had other plans. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, walking to sidestep him and any air he might be breathing. As I did so, Eric, all the while his eyes riveted to his best friend, leaned far over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s ‘pick me up’ position.

“In a split second of balancing my baby and turning to counter his weight, I came eye to eye with the old man. Eric was lunging for him, arms wide open. The bum’s eyes both asked and implored, ‘Would you let me hold your baby?’ There was no need for me to answer, since Eric propelled himself from my arms to the man’s.

“Suddenly, a very old man and a young baby were involved in a love relationship. Eric laid his tiny head on the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands, full of grime and pain and hard labor, gently, so gently, cradled my baby’s bottom and stroked his back.

“I stood awestruck. The old man rocked and cradled Eric in his arms for a moment and then his eyes opened and set squarely on mine. He said in a firm, commanding voice, ‘You take care of this baby.’

“Somehow I managed, ‘I will.’ from a throat that contained a stone. He pried Eric from his chest, unwillingly, longingly, as though he were in pain.

“I held my arms open to receive my baby and again the gentleman addressed me, ‘God bless you, ma’am. You’ve given me my Christmas gift.’

“I said nothing more than a muttered, ‘Thanks.’ With Eric back in my arms, I ran for the car.

“Dennis wondered why I was crying and holding Eric so tightly and why I was saying, ‘My God, my God, forgive me.’

Don’t put anyone outside of your heart. Often the story we tell ourselves about someone else is very far from the truth.

How-to Get Started with Mindfulness Meditation

The guide below is meant to be followed casually. Take your time, and let meditation enter your life at whatever pace feels right to you.

1) Do your first guided meditation.

Find a comfortable place to sit, where you won’t be distracted for a few minutes. Silence your phone. Sit comfortably. Then, follow this guided meditation. (Here’s a good text version of the meditation in case you’d rather read it before trying it.)

2) Don’t be hard on yourself when you inevitably get lost in thought or sleepy.

Being lost in thought or sleepy does not mean you’re a bad meditator. The mind does an amazing job of staying busy! And it’s natural to become sleepy when you relax. Be kind to yourself — do not judge yourself. There is no such thing as a bad meditator.

When your mind runs and you eventually notice you’ve been lost in thought, pause for a moment, be aware that you were just thinking, and kindly and gently bring your attention back to your body and breath. You can’t stop the thought or sleepiness, but you can react with kindness and love.

When you notice you’re feeling sleepy, try opening your eyes and resting your gaze on a neutral object, like the floor. If you’re still sleepy, stand up and continuing meditating, either with your eyes open or closed.

3) Try other guided meditations.

There are a wide variety of free, online guided meditations that you should experiment with. Guided meditations can be about awareness, loving kindness (metta), forgiveness, the breath, and many other topics. Experiment and see what you like.

Start with short meditations — 3-10 minutes. As you get more comfortable, experiment with longer meditations — 15, 20, 30, 45 minutes.

Below you will find my favorite guided meditation resources:

4) Experiment with different postures.

Try sitting on a couch or chair. Try sitting on a cushion or bench — your local Sangha (see below) will have these available to try for free. Try standing (this is especially helpful when you’re sleepy). Try walking meditation. And try lying down.

5) Learn the Buddhist principals behind meditation — known as the Dharma.

There are several ways to learn the Dharma. My suggestions are below:

Dharma Talks

These are talks given by Buddhist teachers. My favorites are listed below:

You can find other Dharma talks at Dharma Seed. My favorite teachers are Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and any monastic such as Thanissara and Kittisaro.

Books

My favorite books on this topic are:

6) Experiment with unguided meditations.

Once you’re comfortable with guided meditations, experiment with unguided meditations. Start short — 5 or 10 minutes. Lengthen them as you get more comfortable. Choose whatever type of meditation feels right — open awareness, breath awareness, loving kindness, etc.

Meditation timers are very useful for unguided meditations. This is a great one. You can also use one of the many apps available on the iOS and Android marketplaces. Unfortunately I don’t have a recommendation.

You may also consider getting a singing bell to ring at the end your meditations. I’m not familiar with a good online purchase option. I bought mine at a local Tibetan store.

Also, here’s a great meditation FAQ from Tara Brach.

7) Attend a meditation/Buddhist community evening in your area — known as a Sangha.

Your area likely has at least one Buddhist community, known as a Sangha, that meets once a week in the evening. Usually during these meetings, a teacher will guide you through a 30-45 minute meditation, which is followed by a 45-60 minute Dharma talk.

Experiment with attending a nearby Sangha. Try going two or three times to start. Don’t make a judgment after just one visit — you may get unlucky and attend an off night.

The two San Francisco Sanghas I regularly attend are: San Francisco Insight and Mission Dharma.

8) Go on a multi-day, silent meditation retreat.

Your area likely has a retreat center. Google to see what’s available. Ensure the day-to-day schedule, including food and accommodations, will be comfortable for you.

Footnotes

[1] Jack’s CD collection comes with two CDs, each with three meditations. The three meditations are combined into one long audio track, making it hard to jump around between meditations. To help with this, I’ve copy-pasted the start and end of each meditation below.

Breathing Meditation:
session: 1
start: 5:17
end: 28:15

Loving Kindness (Metta):
session: 1
start: 33:47
end: 55:45

Forgiveness:
session: 1
start: 1:00:37
end: (end of session)

Working with Difficulties:
session: 2
start: 1:19
end: 11:50

Gratitude and Joy:
session: 2
start: 15:00
end: 27:25

Mind like sky
session: 2
start: 29:20
end: (end of session)

 

Two Inspiring Quotes for the Creative

“You have to recognize that every ‘out front’ maneuver you make is going to be lonely, but if you feel entirely comfortable, then you’re not far enough ahead to do any good. That warm sense of everything going well is usually the body temperature at the center of the herd.” — John Masters

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.”

THE MAN IN THE ARENA
– Excerpt from the speech “Citizenship In A Republic”
– delivered at the Sorbonne, in Paris, France on 23 April, 1910
– Theodore Roosevelt

And a bonus third:

“You must not fool yourself, and you are the easiest person to fool.” – Nobel Prize-winning Physicist Richard Feynman

Startup Purgatory

A friend once advised me to be careful of startup purgatory. The story below was my response to him.

Imagine two people setting out to cross a large lake, each in a small rowboat. The first sets out on a clear day with the lake surface as still and flat as a mirror; a gentle breeze and a steady current pushing the boat from behind. Each time the oars are dipped into the water the boat shoots across the lake. Rowing is easy and delightful. Quickly the rower reaches the far side of the lake. She may congratulate herself for being quite skilled.

The second rower heads out across the same lake during a great storm. Powerful winds, currents, and waves move in the direction opposite the boat. With each pull of the oars, the boat barely moves forward, only to lose most of the distance gained when the oars are raised out of the water for the next pull. After much effort she makes it to the far side of the lake. This rower may feel discouraged at her lack of skill.

Probably most people would prefer to be the first rower. However, the second rower is the one who has become stronger from the exertion and is thereby better prepared for future challenges.

From The Issue At Hand by Gil Fronsdale.

“THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”

Last Sunday I raced the Wolfpack Hustle Marathon Crash, a bike race that follows the Los Angeles Marathon course hours before its start. It winds through the famous streets of LA while they’re dark and empty — Sunset Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Wilshire Boulevard, Santa Monica Boulevard, and Hollywood Boulevard. Thousands of cyclists participated in what was an unreal experience and exciting bike race.

The morning started at 2:40am. Ryan and I woke up, put our kits on, applied chamois butter, filled our water bottles, and loaded our bikes in my truck. We were staying at my parents’ house in Palos Verdes, which is roughly an hour drive from the race start in Silverlake. My mom graciously offered to give us a ride, and we departed at 3:00am. We got to the race at 4:00am and were greeted by thousands of cyclists completely congesting Sunset Boulevard.

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The scene was like nothing I’ve seen — blinking lights everywhere, music, and lots and lots of bikes. It felt like Critical Mass, but much, much larger. Like Critical Mass, the crowd was very diverse. People were on fixies, in kits, on time trial bikes, in jeans, on road bikes, in costumes, and sometimes on beach cruisers, too. Although the majority of participants were hipsters on fixies, some without brakes or helmets.

We stumbled through the crowd looking for our friends — Lukas and Brian, and Brian’s two friends Jon and Brett. We found them in time for the 4:30am race start.

“Race” is perhaps a bad description. Of all the cyclists lined up on Sunset Boulevard, the front of the group was composed of people intending to race. However, the back of the group was composed of people joy riding. Our original plan was to joy ride, but about five miles into the ride we started racing. It was too hard not too. We were riding down huge, open, famous streets, completely empty of cars and full of other cyclists we just couldn’t resist contesting.

At first the six of us stayed together, sometimes getting separated slightly by the ebb and flow of the disorganized pack. But at the second climb, about three miles in, Brian and Jon attacked and Ryan, Lukas and I didn’t chase — we weren’t “racing” yet. As Brian and Jon attacked, they passed a guy on a fixed gear walking his bike up the hill. As Brian passed him at 20mph, he turned to him and yelled, “THERE’S NO WALKING IN BICYCLE RACING!”

Each of the first two climbs fragmented the pack — faster riders got ahead of the slower riders. We climbed relatively quickly, so by the time we were over both hills, we were mostly among racers. And whether we knew it or not at the time, we were about to blow them up — cycling speak for go faster than them.

Lukas, Ryan and I got organized and started sharing pulls. For non-cyclists, “sharing pulls” means taking turns riding at the front, which is much more work than riding behind someone else. Before we realized it, we were averaging 24mph and passing everyone.

We got to a descent with a tight right turn at the bottom. As we made the turn, we noticed two riders had been in a crash. Then we noticed one of them was Jon. As we passed we considered stopping, but from the sidewalk I heard Brian yell, “Keep going!” We kept going.

We passed dudes on fixed gears. We passed girls on beach cruisers. We passed other kitted racers on fancy road bikes with big, dished, carbon wheels. I was only concentrating on two things: “BEAST MODE” and “Uhhhh, can I maintain this?” Numerous times, either after a pull or while trying to keep up with Ryan or Lukas, I thought I was at my limit, that I wouldn’t be able to maintain our pace. But we kept pushing each other, and we kept the pace fast. And we kept accelerating.

We were never passed by someone who we didn’t immediately catch up to. For example, one dude on a road bike wearing a high-vis jacket (newb) passed us twice. Each time we caught him moments later, after he hit his limit and couldn’t stay ahead of us. The second time he passed us, I screamed to Lukas, who was at the front, “GET ON THAT WHEEL, LUKAS!” I was pissed the guy had the nerve to try and pass us again!

At one point, eight or ten riders were riding behind Ryan, Lukas, and me. But they weren’t sharing pulls. The three of us were rotating in and out, and the rest of the pack was behind us, holding on for dear life. I considered turning around, staring at them, and yelling, “YOU GUYS EVER GONNA TAKE A PULL?!” But I decided against it — I figured it was better to keep quiet than yell at people. Plus, they’d probably slow us down if they got in the front.

On a flat, smooth road, we passed another peloton of about 15 riders. But we didn’t just pass them. We FLEW by them. I was on the front as we passed them. I had my elbows on my handlebars in a very aero posture, with my head down staring at my handlebars. I didn’t look at them as we blew by. All I thought was, “LATER MOTHA FUCKAS!!!!” We were flying.

With about three miles to go, we turned onto San Vicente Boulevard, a beautifully smooth, wide, dark road. About 20 riders had formed a peloton behind us, and the competition started heating up. Ryan, Lukas and I were still at the front of the peloton, rotating in and out, and speeding up. We were averaging 29mph, our headlights leading a path through the darkness..

When Ryan was in the front, a guy in a kit on a fixed gear passed us and got in front of Ryan. Almost immediately the guy hit a cadence he couldn’t maintain and started slowing down. At which point we were passed by eight or ten guys. UGH. Why did that dude on a fixed gear pass a bunch of geared riders hammering at 29mph?!?!

I knew we were nearing the sprint, so I sprinted up alongside the eight or ten guys who passed us, where I found a gap and entered it. I was the third wheel and in perfect position for the sprint. We turned the final corner onto Ocean Boulevard, and I sprinted up to 37.7mph and won the field sprint for our little group.

At the end of the race, Lukas, Ryan and I regrouped, shared a bunch of high fives and hugs, and reminisced about how EPIC the ride was. We were so stoked! We were never passed by anyone who stayed ahead of us. We did all the passing. We had pushed each other far out of our comfort zone and were stoked at the pace we were able to maintain for the 28 mile race.

Eventually Brian, Jon, and Brett found us. Jon shared his story about his crash. As he descended at 30mph and approached the tight right turn, a guy on a fixed gear with no brakes was trying desperately to slow himself down. He was moving all over the road and hit Jon just as they both entered the turn. Fortunately Jon and his bike only had minor scratches and bruises — he was able to finish the ride.

After sharing more stories, more high fives, and snapping a few photos, we decided we needed coffee and hot chocolate. We looked for a donut shop, couldn’t find one, and ended up at a 24-hour McDonald’s. We told more stories as we ate hash browns and sipped our warm drinks in the dark.

Rather than taking further advantage of my mom’s generosity, Ryan and I decided to ride along the beach from Santa Monica back to Palos Verdes. The 24-mile ride took us an hour and forty-five minutes. I was in survival mode the entire ride, struggling to turn my pedals over and keep up with Ryan.

We made it back to my parent’s house around 8:30am, four hours after the race had started, and nearly six hours after we woke up. We got out of our kits, showered, dressed, and drove to my favorite breakfast burrito spot, Phanny’s. We took the burritos back to my parents house, ate, then lied on the couch for a nap. Two and half hours later I woke up feeling great.

Ryan and I uploaded our rides to Strava and discovered that Lukas, Ryan, and I had the 31st, 32nd, and 33rd fastest times of the whole race. We averaged 22.5mph. We were STOKED. Those results are awesome, especially considering we weren’t racing for the first five miles, and when we were racing, we were only a group of three. Whereas the racers who started at the front probably had a larger group and hence could maintain a faster average mile-per-hour.

All in all, the ride was unbelievably awesome. We had tons of fun riding through the empty, dark streets of LA. But the best part of the ride was the camaraderie — we were pushing each other out of our comfort zones together, and were unbelievably proud to have hammered so hard.

I’m planning to do it again next year. And next time, I’ll start much further towards the front with the other racers. I should have known that I wouldn’t actually joy ride once my adrenaline kicked in :).

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