Rice porridge this morning with milk and honey, using a recipe from the Three Bowls cookbook I mentioned a few posts ago. In his advice to the Zen cook, or tenzo, Master Dogen says we should prepare the rice today for tomorrow’s gruel. In his journal Soen Roshi, commenting on the preparation of his monastery for winter, says, “Everything that needs to be attended to is done, yet no trace of effort is apparent.” These thoughts express the Zen spirt perfectly. When you do something, burn yourself up so there’s nothing left. After breakfast, I started to cheat a little. I had one cup of coffee because my PG Tips wasn’t cutting it and I was in such a foul mood. I could sense that I was giving off angry vibes. For someone who has caffeine every day, it’s startling to see your true nature without the drug. I swam 30 lengths on my lunch break today. So far, so good. Hoping to resist the temptation to stop after work and buy beer. Am I breaking the Fifth Precept if I have three beers tonight while sitting on the couch watching baseball? Does that count as “misuse of alcohol?” Friday night, Red Sox/Rangers at 7:05 pm: for me this is what Mara, or temptation, looks like.
These are probably just rainy-day thoughts, but what’s a blog for if you can’t open up to all your imaginary friends, right? It’s obvious that as you approach middle age, your metabolism slows down and it gets harder and harder to keep off extra weight. I keep waiting for the body I had as a 20-year-old to show up, and it’s just not happening. (Not that it was that great anyway, but at least I was a size 34, instead of a 38 like I am now.) As a working, married father of two, there are so many demands on my time that unless I give up sleeping, regular daily exercise is almost an impossibility. I do OK for awhile, and then my commitment wavers. I don’t see the immediate results that I used to see, and I get discouraged. I want to do better, but I also don’t want to become some kind of exercise nut at the expense of my family, whom I love more than anything. I once heard Terry Francona, manager of the Red Sox, say, “Some things never change. I woke up this morning and I still had no hair.” Well I wake up every morning and I still see a chubby guy in the mirror, no matter what I do. Women are traditionally supposed to have “body image issues”, but I can tell you from experience that men have them too. I mentioned in an earlier post that sometimes I really feel the dichotomy between the physical person I am and the person I wish I was. I want to have the vital energy that hard core yoga practitioners have. I want to eat only whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, instead of tortilla chips, pizza and beer. I want to be able to wake up at 4 AM to do an hour’s worth of yoga, but my body wants to sleep. In many of the spiritual texts I’ve read, there are strong criticisms of the lazy and indolent. These kinds of people won’t be able to seriously undertake a path of true personal growth. I know I’m supposed to go easy on myself, but at the same time I feel like I go too easy. I keep thinking that maybe when I turn forty this August, I’ll wake up and have an epiphany. I’ll finally find that inner strength, that willpower, to make the healthy changes to my lifestyle that I know I need to make. But I’m also a realist. I know that the only changes that can last are the gradual ones. Maybe by writing all this down, I can make a commitment to all of you that I’m going to try and change my ways. I’m going to try not to be lazy and indolent. I’m going to try and wake up earlier and do yoga, at least a few sun salutations, before going to work. I’m going to give up the beer. I’m going to give up caffeine. I’m going to get more aerobic exercise. I’m going to eat healthier. I’m going to look like the guys in the Kripalu catalog…someday.
Maybe I’m just feeling giddy from the Red Sox’ weekend sweep of the Yankees, so please forgive me if I go “off-topic” for a bit and talk about one of my favorite subjects. Billions of words have been written about the beautiful game of baseball, so I won’t bore you with too many more. But I just want to mention an idea I heard once that besides being a perfectly designed sport, baseball is really just one long, ever-flowing conversation. If you’ve ever played little league, you know about the incessant chatter that happens on the field. I remember especially my coach demanding that we urge on our pitcher by saying “C’mon, (fill in name here)!” over and over, even from the outfield. You could hear the chorus of the players’ voices as you crouched at your position or sat in the bleachers. Even the signs were a language all their own. My wife and I were watching a game this weekend when the third base coach from the Red Sox furiously started touching parts of his body. To an outsider, it must have looked like this man was having some sort of fit. My wife asked what this guy’s problem was. I told her he was putting on the hit-and-run, obviously. I may only be able to speak about this from a male point of view, but I think one of the reasons we love baseball so much is that it lets us take part in a conversation that was started over one hundred years ago, and will continue, a baseball fan hopes, infinitely into the future. You can hear it in the friendly exchanges of opposing players on the base paths, or in the vicious curses when a pitcher gives up a dinger. It is a conversation between coaches and players, players and fans, fathers and sons, even mothers and daughters. I’m sure Ken Burns can speak to this point more eloquently than I can, but baseball really is a national treasure, and is so interwoven into the fabric of our country, that to remove it would be like pulling on a loose string until the sweater it is attached to unravels. When you watch a game, it looks like not much is happening. But below the surface, the talk, talk, talk, (and the thinking, thinking, thinking) is happening all the time. Kind of like our minds. The Buddha taught that all is ceaseless change, that nothing permanent exists. The purpose of our life, then, is learning to accept change as the only immutable universal law. We are always changing, right down to the cellular level, right at this moment. The words spoken on the diamond at Fenway last night are gone into the ether, but the conversation continues. Right now, we are privy to these communications, and we try to cherish them while we can. But even after we are gone, the conversation will go on. Maybe it’s our words that make us immortal.