July 31, 2007


Caption: Hummingbirds drink hard but they can go the distance.

We've all heard the cliche that sports build character, a thesis which is highly questionable in light of some of the doings of athletes. Still, I think there's something to be said for the discipline and hardship that come with training.

Especially endurance events, which seem to me to be a good metaphor for life. Most people need (or should have) some kind of training before they run 15 or more miles or do a long mixed event, especially if they want to avoid injury and finish before everybody goes home.

That generally means an extended period of solitary training, an apprenticeship in pain. I do believe that picking a difficult goal, focusing on it, sticking with it, and putting in the time and effort pays dividends to those who do it.

This is even or especially true if it's something you are not and never will be particularly good at (sorry about the preposition thing).

In the Japanese Zen tradition, the jolt or boost that comes from concentration is called joriki. As Zen master Hakuun Yasutani explained it in the context of meditation practice, joriki is

the power or strength which arises when the mind has been unified and brought to one-pointedness in zazen concentration. This is more than the ability to concentrate in the usual sense of the word. It is a dynamic power which, once, mobilized, enables us even in the most sudden and unexpected situations to act instantly, without pausing to collect our wits, and in a manner wholly appropriate to the circumstances.

In the context of ordinary life, the jolt or joriki that comes from endurance events is the tenacity to keep going even when it's hard and it hurts. As Woody Allen once said, "Eighty percent of success is showing up." Over and over.

Here's the other side of it. I've often known people who said they wanted to accomplish certain things, whether it's something physical or something like learning a language or a new skill, but they never get there. Either they never start or, more often, they don't have the literal or metaphorical stamina to keep at it.

In other words, they've never made a practice of interval training.

The results can be even sadder if life is approached as a sprint and if strenuous effort ends with the passing of youth. Barring the unforeseen, life is a long run, not a 100 yard dash.

WE HAVE A WINNER... One would imagine that the competition for the title of "World's Worst Poet" would be fierce indeed, but we may have a winner. This is from the AP:

The land that gave the world Robert Burns also has the dubious honor of producing the "world's worst poet." Now fans of the hapless William McGonagall are campaigning to put him in the pantheon of Scottish literary greats.

The late 19th century poet's work is so bad he carried an umbrella with him at all times as protection from the barrage of rotten tomatoes he faced wherever he recited.

DARK AS A DUNGEON. Here's the latest on the fight for mine safety at the federal level.

THAT UNDISCOVERED COUNTRY... In case you are running short on speculations about the possiblity of immortality, click here.

WHO'S IN CHARGE, ANYWAY? According to the latest research, it may be the unconscious.



Thinkulous said...

Dood, loved the NY Times article on the unconscious. Hope you don't mind if I refer to it in a post soon.

Maybe you saw some kind of subliminal image that's making you do the Triathlon... A bottle of cyanide, maybe?

Seriously, take care. We look forward to a lot more posts from you.

El Cabrero said...

That was a good one, wasn't it? I think we're on automatic pilot most of the time, which may not be a bad thing.

Subliminal images--gotta be the Freudian/water thing.

Thanks for the good wishes!