Tuesday, September 20, 2005

A little mystery

The body is a more often than not a mystery. It might be more accurate to say the body which is myself is frequently difficult for me to understand. Neither statement profound except that it's kind of a miracle that we can seem to observe ourselves from a vantage outside ourselves.
That's a long introduction to a prosaic topic. Sports coaches and my own dad used to say "you've got to put your heart into it." For the coaches, "it" was football most frequently and sometimes basketball. I never heard it from my track coaches. For my dad, "it" was household chores, particularly cleaning up after dinner and most specifically the job of sweeping the 18 square feet of linoleum flooring in our tiny kitchen.

Neither coaches nor dad made much impact on my attitude at the time. I see things differently now. An epiphany when I was struggling to succeed as a head log bucker one summer in a northern California saw mill: I didn't see how I could do the job well. The mill wright who was also foreman told me yes I could. I changed my attitude and did the job well.

When I learned to practice Zen, I also learned that everything in life is work. I spent time at the Green Gulch farm of San Francisco Zen Center and for me this talk on Zen work, given at the farm, rings true.

The speaker says work is our life and our joy: "Every task requires a different kind of effort and we need to discover the kind of effort that is appropriate. And we need always to reflect on our attitude and to see how we are doing. Complaining a lot or feeling like we're working too hard or joylessly are signs that we're forgetting to own our work." It still sounds like my father telling me to put my heart into the after-dinner cleanup routine, but that doesn't make it wrong. As the speaker also says, work is form of meditation and it can produce a wider awareness and sense of release.

I once had this sense of awareness and release on a hill I've climbed a thousand times and more. I thought I was taking it as fast as I could. Another biker demonstrated that it could be taken much faster (breezing by me). I sped up and, yes, I could indeed open my heart and do it much faster.

I went through this process a couple of weeks ago. For many days, pretty much constantly since returning from summer vacation, I was feeling old and decrepit on bike. Weak and achy. Slow. Then there came a time when, unaccountably, my spirits rose and I rushed home just about as fast as I ever have. There's always some luck involved in doing a fast commute. Traffic was light, the weather was warm and not humid, the west breeze was gentle. Traffic lights were green. But there was also this little mystery: My muscles had rebuilt but I was still thinking of myself as old and decrepit. Something (what?) turned my attitude; cleared the way so I could put my heart into the work of riding.

1 comment:

GobberGo said...

What a happy ending! I don't think you're old and decrepit, no matter what you might think; and don't listen to Julia. You may not be able to take hills the way you used to, but I'll bet money you can take those hills faster than anyone I know. :)