Miss Perception…

…it’s not a beauty queen…

Monday through Friday I ride my bike through 10 miles of mixed Hills every morning just after sunrise.  It’s a full-on sprint. Each outing I ride at roughly 95% of my highest capacity for that course.

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On Sundays though, I ride a flat round-trip of 26 miles from Bonsall to Ocenaside, ending at the water’s edge where I take a moment to honor the sea before I turn back inland. My Sunday ride is not a sprint, just a steady pace in an enjoy the scenery kinda way..

For the 20 months or so since I have been using this protocol, one inconsistency has stood out on my flat, 26-mile Sunday ride, yet I had not figured out the reason for this inconsistency until a few days ago.

Despite that my route to the coats is flat, and that the wind is usually at my back, my return trip from the coast is always, ALWAYS slower than my ride going there.  I average roughly 19MPH headed west, and 17.5MPH on my return.

One might immediately attribute this to tired legs, and that might make some sense.  Also, stopping for a few moments at the halfway point to take in the sight of the ocean does me no favors. And there is the psychology involved with turning back — the dreary trip home mentality.  So, it’s easy to assume that my return trip would be slower and pass it off as the combination of a mental and physical letdown.

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One problem though, I’m an athlete. I train, eat, and prepare like an athlete, especially before my Sunday morning ride.  To my way of thinking, there’s no reason that my 13 miles coming back should be any slower than my 13 miles getting there. In fact, the wind is usually against me headed to the coast, and at my back on my return.  Still, I’m always slower on my coming back.

And equal distance. A flat ride. Proper nutrition prior to riding.  The wind in my favor on the return. So, why am I always slower on the way back…?

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Perception. Or should I say, misperception…?

You see, my flat ride is it really flat. I start at roughly 300 feet above sea level, and I end at sea level. Only now, after 20-months of riding this route, have paid attention to my GPS data.  Now 300-feet of an elevation change over 13 miles is almost invisible. To look at this bike trail at any point along the way, it appears flat.

But it isn’t flat, and 300 feet of climbing, even if it’s over 13 miles, will impact cyclists of any level, and I am only an intermediate cyclist.  This 300-feet climbing costs me about -1.5MPH on my return.

Of course this has nothing to do with cycling, and everything to do with human perception.

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For 20-months I have assumed this ride was flat – – and it is never been flat. And that, THAT makes me wonder what other assumptions I make all day long that are incorrect or that am completely blind to …? Indeed… Jhciacb

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Life, At Face Value..

Lives Which Matter…

Last winter, after a couple of young persons I know of lost their lives, I began an exploration in my head about the value of a life.  Shortly thereafter began the string of musician deaths which will partially define 2016.  This got me thinking even more.  Ultimately the dots connected further and I began to also consider animal lives.  As all of this was playing out in my head, I moved my aging mother in with me.  One more life to consider.

From teenage girls gone too soon, to older people hanging on.  From puppies loved, to Glenn Frey and David Bowie, to the would-be lamb chops on my plate, I cannot help that throughout each of my days, I spend some time contemplating the value of any of these.  Not that I am in pursuit of any hard answers or true knowledge on the value of lives.  I simply want to distinguish better, that blurry line which separates the lives that matter from those that don’t.

Little Balls Of Duality…

An unexpected day off landed me beach side today to take it all in.  On a quilt my mother stitched by hand, I lay staring into the distance, thinking about the past and taking sporadic inventory of the many lives which surrounded me.  Mom lives.  Seagull lives.  Kid lives.  Surfer lives.  Dolphin lives.  Some lives guarded by lifeguards, others only by fate.  I was surrounded by life, yet I could not pick out a single one which I could deem unworthy

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A mother with pale skin and chubby legs stood beneath her wide brimmed hat, slathering sunscreen on her two small boys and then on herself.  Oddly though, she struggled negotiating between the tube of sunscreen in her hands and the cigarette in her mouth.  That’s when I began thinking that, as a species, we’re just little balls of duality when it comes to this lives matter stuff.

A young mother, fending off cancer with one hand, and inviting it with the other.  I hearkened back to a client who was recently grieving the loss of his niece during one of our sessions.  Shortly thereafter he proclaimed that a would-be President Trump would wise carpet bomb the Middle East – Middle Eastern nieces notwithstanding, I guess…

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Little Balls Of Duality…

Staring into the horizon, and with the sun on my back, I continued to ponder.  On one hand, we go to enormous lengths to protect and preserve the lives which matter to us, our own included.  We medicate, radiate, negotiate, and we pray.  We exercise, wear seatbelts, have designated drivers, and enrich our junk food with extra vitamins – just in case.  We bow to caution.  We respect and avoid threatening forces.  We sacrifice, and we will go into insurmountable debt in the name of preserving a life, be it a toddler or a terrier.  The lives we love matter most –most of the time.

On the other hand, we can be careless and casual when it comes to any life with which we are not fully vested, also, our own life included.   We take risks.  We partake in that which we know might be harmful.  We overeat, but when we pass by the man on the corner with the cardboard sign asking for food, we take caution not to make eye contact.  We leave some out in the cold as we sit warm by the fire.  We apply a tangy sauce, add a little sea salt, and take another bite.  We change the channel when we are asked to help starving kids in Africa, or see dogs held in cages.  A truckload of dead Mexicans overheated in the desert while trying to cross over…?  Some call this a tragedy, while others consider it an evolutionary response to population control.

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And Further Complicating Things…

In the social media era, we are bombarded with suggestions that the universe is so large, so magnificent, and so potentially full of life, that we are selfish to give so much credence to our own tiny lives.  Yet, when I think of Clara, or when I see the lost look in my mother’s eyes when she momentarily forgets what she’s doing, I can’t help but believe that each life granted has far greater significance to its constituents than all the potential of all the stars combined.

I’m ashamed to say this, but sometimes my mind swings the other way.  Please forgive me for this next thought…

It’s not a popular question to raise, and I truly don’t mean to offend anyone, but I often wonder if we fulfill our quests to cure cancer, cure heart disease, cure diabetes, stop epidemics before they begin, and in our quest to end all wars, where are we going to house all the survivors, and whose jobs will they take…?  I’m ashamed that I think about this, but, I do think about this.  I dunno…

My own life…?  Well, I’m a little dichotomy too.  I bend, I stretch, I lift, and I step, that I have a better quality of life, and a longer one.  I also do dangerous things like ride my bike without a helmet.  I have taken my liver to the brink and brought it back to health with all the zeal of parent searching for a kidnapped child.  I have taken risks, overindulged, been outright reckless at times.  I can honestly say I have had a half-dozen self-imposed near death experiences.  But do I value my life, I guess…

By the way, this isn’t about Black Lives Matter vs. All Lives Matter.  It’s simply been an exploration in my head about why so many lives matter to most of us, most of the time, but also why so many don’t.  I guess all I really know about the value of a life is that each one has infinite cascading effects on so many others.  That, and when one life goes out, it will rarely be at the right time, and just as rarely for the right reason.  We are little balls of duality, ongoing.  Be well…  rc

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Swimming In Systems…

Girthing Globally…

The so-called obesity epidemic has made headlines once again.  Another study released this week suggests that obesity on a global level is still on the rise.  In the days since this study was published, I have read a half-dozen feature articles and blogs about how we can reverse this generations-old trend.  Yet, for all the intellectual studies, discussion, and attention obesity gets, and despite all the good intentions behind solving the problem, obesity levels worldwide are still increasing.

When it comes to fighting obesity, as with many other consequences of our social and technical advancements, too often our thinking is narrow, poorly aimed, and most often searching for singular fixes in small areas which feel good to pursue, but are often demanding and fruitless.

What is largely ignored in all the conversations about solving obesity, is the entirety of the problem; the constant expansion of the many systems which have led to its existence.  Food systems.  Marketing systems.  Social systems.  Political systems.  Religious systems.  Educational systems.  Pharmaceutical systems.  On and on.

Any one of these systems could alone be considered a monster.  Together, they conspire to be a leviathan.  Like any good leviathan, obesity is going to go where it wants to go, and will only die when it runs out of the fuel on which feeds it.  I am reminded of two fleas attempting to steer the dog they sit upon.

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Complexity begets complexity…

On the surface, solving obesity may seem like it’s all about calories in vs. calories out, changing portion sizes, providing better school lunches, CrossFit, Yoga, using a treadmill, going low-carb, low-fat or paleo, standup desks in the workplace, and even the use of qualified fitness trainers.  These may hold some value for some people at some times, but alone these aren’t going to change a thing.  The fact remains that scientific advancement and social awareness relating to obesity are at all-time highs, and our collective girth is still girthing.

How’s The Water, Boys…?

While in mid-thought this morning, as I was pondering obesity, it finally occurred to me that systems – all systems, whether they apply to the obesity epidemic, politics, consumer culture, or anything else, is the water that David Foster Wallace spoke of during his now famous commencement speech at Kenyon College in 2005.  Whether this was his intention or not, it seems to me that systems, invisible and everywhere, are the water which surrounds us.

If you’re not familiar with the speech above, please bookmark it for when you have time.

 We live within millions of systems.  We navigate and transcend them, never really seeing their entirety, and always under the influence of delusion, believing we possess some level of control.   We live, breathe, act, choose, survive, delight, frown, frolic, and even get fat as a result of our systems.  We select our presidents, career paths, partners, and even our gods as influenced by an invisible ocean, and like the young fish who replies to the older fish, “What the hell is water”, we are oblivious to it as we swim.

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When I think about obesity in this context, or when I think about any disturbing social trend from air pollution, to engineered corn, campaign finance, political partisanship, landfills bursting at the seams, and even when I think about war, I tend to be more gracious these days in my judgement for both the victims as well as the perpetrators.  We are all born under water and begin swimming through our sea of systems immediately, most often with the best of intentions.  All the while though, we never really know we are swimming at all.  So, how’s the water today, Boys…?  Be well.  cc

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Catharsisaurus Rx…

The blender in my head…

I’ve live pretty deep inside my head.  I am continually haunted by the complexities of modern life, and how they may be impacting my reality, assuming there is a reality. That doubt, of my own reality, is the heart of the thing.

On the surface I train clients, check on my mother, text my daughter, and reassure my dog.  Underneath all of this, my mind is bombarded by tiny pellets of doubt, all day long, that are slowly deteriorating the shield which protects my rational side.  Among my greatest fears is that this shield will parish before I do, leaving the chaos in my head to play unbridled havoc with my mind as I age.

My inner Cartesian has come to appreciate those frantic moments in my life, like when my frozen vegetables fly out of the bag and land all over my floor because I pulled them too quickly from my freezer.  That things like this always happen at the worst possible time also serves me well.  Those moments snap me out of my doubt, if only for an instant, and halt the existential banter between all the Roys within.

The life within the life…

I regularly entertain the life within the life.  I imagine waking from a nap on a summer’s day, my right cheek stuck slightly to the warm concrete beside the swimming pool of my youth.  The distant chatter of Marco and Polo awakens me.  I am 12 years old, and the life that I have lived since will have been only a dream.  Reagan never won.  I never married so I never divorced, and the internet was all in my imagination.

Perhaps though, I’ll awaken in an asylum, and not by the pool.  My arms tied behind my back, and with a crayon between my toes I write my suicide note on a foam wall.  This life I write from right now will have been a peaceful dream, and what lay ahead, a nightmare.

And don’t get me started on my lifetime of chronic bad dreams.  Where do I go when I dream…?  Is what I do any less real than what I do when I’m awake…?  In an active mind, I often feel that the only thing separating my memories of life from my bad dreams  are the words memory and dream.

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Kinda hopin’ Really hopin’ I don’t wake up here…

Occasionally I consider that all other people are just extras in an orchestrated game between the gods.  I am at the center of their illustrious amusement – just a silver ball in their game of pantheonic pinball.  At the end of the game, I wonder, will the gods rise in unison and offer me the ultimate thumbs up or thumbs down, based on how well I performed bouncing off the obstacles they set before me.  Ever-present is the feeling I am being watched and judged.

The illusion of conclusion…

Even if I am real, where and how am I real…?  Between parallel universes, infinite universes, or an eternal universe where anything that can happen will happen, I find myself right here, right now, and in this glorious life.  Although in the quantum world, I’m only probably here, and probably now.

Physicist Brian Greene tells me freewill is only an illusion and suggests that mathematics supports this.  The calculations of my future have already been laid out, he says, and that I have no say in my say.  However, I don’t steel tips off tabletops in restaurants when nobody is looking, and I don’t push people down the stairs – even when they deserve it.  Sounds like free will to me.

Some scientists suggest existence as I know it is some kind of holographic image created in an alternate reality, and is smaller than the tip of a pen.  Others say I am slave to the algorithms within a cellular automaton.  Just the thought of that has me pining to be a slave building a pyramid, for at least then I would exist in a simpler state.

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Holographic Youniverse…

The idea that some being in another dimension might be administering my every thought and every motion by way of a joystick bubbles under the surface of my daydreaming as I clean my studio.  On one hand this appeals to me inasmuch as if it is true, then I am exonerated from all indiscretion and responsibility.  However, if I’m not a Sea Monkey in a jar on some extraterrestrial kitchen counter, atonement and responsibility are not only my duty, they are my only hope.

Dog is one of us…

When my eyes lock with my dog I feel love and truth – simultaneously.  That emotion is a daily confirmation that I am real.  When our eyes break though, I can’t help wondering if my dog is actually an angel sending signals back to God, or an observer sending recommendations back to the mother ship.  I wonder the same thing with many of my human contacts too, you who is reading this included.

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“Stroolde calling Orson, come in Orson…”

I flash back to a time in school when I was taunting a special needs kid.  My friend Jeff stopped me and said…

“Roy!  Don’t tease Milton!  What if he’s God and he’s just testing you…?”

Jeff was joking, but I’ve never been able to get that thought out of my head; that anyone else might be God, or a designated representative of the Junta Grande.

The scratch ticket and the interwebs…

I feel guilty for having won the lottery of existence.  All my needs are met – exceedingly.  I’m able to enjoy and appreciate so much.  That I get to make a living doing what I love, and do so in such a beautiful place seems unjust to me, on behalf of those who can’t.  I wonder why I’m not a knobby-knee’d Ethiopian child with fly on one eye suckling his mother’s dry tit.  Yet I seem to be me, and this seems to be my time and my place – probably.

Living in the internet age has only thrown gasoline on the fire of my doubts.  I wonder if this increased connectivity with people and information around the world isn’t just an expanded test by my maker.  It makes no sense that I have instant access to most of the much of the knowledge ever attained and so much information, even if it isn’t always accurate.

Are my social media friends and my analog friends truly connections, or are they an audience watching me and trying to influence the way I bounce off the bumpers in the pinball game of my life…?  They might just be 7-billion lesser gods.

When I look the grocery clerk, the beggar, or the barista in the eyes, I often wonder if they’re thinking,

“He’s on to us…”

That people so seamlessly merge in and out of my digital and analog lives makes me feel increasingly uneasy.

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My maker…?

The known universe is precisely 54 years old…

Let’s assume I am real.  I see memes on social media daily that remind me how small and insignificant I am relative to the immensity of the universe.  This is bad internet juju in my opinion.  I am the only component in the universe that I have absolute dominion over.  If ultimate inter-connectivity is inevitable, then the universe can’t fulfill its own destiny if I fail to fulfill mine.

I was dead for nearly 14-billion years before I was born.  I’ll be dead again in a decade or two more.  I better get this thing right while I’m still here.  It’s all pretty overwhelming at times, this work of performance art which I call my life.

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At the end of the day, I suppose my reality is simply my choice – my decision to carry forward without worrying too much about any of this.  Whether or not I’m a spec in the universe, the center of it, or an organic shuttlecock in game of badminton between gods, so long as standing in nature stirs my heart, and my daughter returns my phone calls, I will choose to act and feel real.  I will though, always have my doubts.  Be well, and thank you for taking the time…  rc

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Enjoying God’s creation, in his creation, and where I feel most real..

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Fat Dogs, Niebuhr, and Tomorrow…

No Time For Obese Dogs…

I sat down this morning preparing to pose a question on social media about the responsibility humans have in stewarding obese dogs.  This after an exchange last week about who is responsible for canine obesity.  My stance is that, much like obesity in humans, pet owners bear only a portion of the responsibility for canine obesity.  That is, dogs like humans, are subject to increasingly complex food, pharmaceutical, medical, and social systems.

Though humans do have some say in the obesity of their dogs, these systems are probably also influencing canine obesity, though not to the level that the same systems are influencing human obesity.  To a lesser degree, canines are also susceptible to the economic and media systems which influence humans, though the freewill thing which humans relentlessly pander to, probably doesn’t distract dogs too much.

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I’m thinking, too much bread in his diet….

I chose not to post my original question on social media though, because I realized it would have done nothing more than set anchor to a line of convoluted and irrational arguments that would chain me to my laptop for hours.  At the end of the day I thought, we’re all caught up in an endless web of systems anyway…

Three Wise Men…

In his book, The Religions of the World (formerly The Religions of Man), Huston Smith suggests,

We need to remember that in their own day, prophets are not seen as prophets.  To most, they appear to be fringe thinkers, not to be trusted, and often irrational.  It is only those few who follow them, and with the posthumous spreading of their ideas over time, that elevates them to prophet status.

As they walked and spoke in their own communities, men like Jesus, Confucius, and Muhammad did not command the attention of too many, though they did make some noise.  It was only after death, and by those few who valued their ideas who worked to spread those ideas, did they become elevated to prophet status.

I have been reading (some of) the works of Reinhold Niebuhr recently.  Niebuhr is hard to classify.  He was a Christian theologian and educator.  He was a prolific author, a public intellectual, a sounding board for other intellectuals, and an occasional advisor to heavyweight political figures during his time.  Though he considered himself a socialist Christian, and since both of those terms today have been hijacked and mutated, I will argue that Niebuhr was the ultimate conservative by the real meaning of that word.

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A portrait of the American Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892 – 1971), United States, mid-20th century. (Photo by Bachrach/Getty Images)

I came to Niebuhr by way of Chalmers Johnson and Andrew Bacevich, both of whom draw on Niebuhr’s moral and diplomatic sensibilities in their own works.  In his book The Limits of Power, Bacevich refers to Niebuhr as a prophet at least a dozen times.  Chalmers Johnson suggests that if every nation had a Niebuhr whispering in the ear of its leader, there would be no need for NATO, The United Nations, or military bases beyond domestic borders.

All Systems Go (Where They Want To)…

Among other things, what the works of Bacevich, Johnson, and Niebuhr reinforce to me is that principled ideals, however impactful their potential might be, are not going to immediately override systems which are already in place and aimed in a forward direction.  The best we can hope is that reasonable ideas take root, and are cultivated over time to gradually steer the trajectory of a system.  The civil rights movement, still in progress, is a good example of this.  If we take an honest big picture view, it’s clear that prophets make good helmsmen on the initial watch, but communities need to keep steering once the prophet is no longer around.

Americans are caught up in all the systems of modernity; technical systems, political systems, cultural systems, economic systems, and many others.  Whether we are talking about obese canines, the military industrial complex or international diplomacy, and whether we consider ourselves passengers, components, or victims of the systems which carry us, I am reminded as our presidential election draws near, of the two flies believing they control the horse who’s ears they stand upon.  We are driven, and we are bound by systems.

Vote The System To A Slight Turn…

Like many, I often think voting doesn’t matter and I don’t trust any of the candidates.  I do though, believe that voting is a responsibility and it’s one I take very seriously.  Perhaps my vote this year, which will go to the most Niebuhrian candidate on election day, will help steer the modern political system just enough toward a new direction that we can pass it off to a more reasonable generation, who might spread the word of Niebuhr’s prophecy and steer us better still.  Of course I’ll need the help of 100,000,000 or so like-minded friends to make this happen.

Before you vote this November – before you decide on a candidate, a platform, or donate any more money or your own sensibility to a cause, please consider reading The Irony of American History by Niebuhr, The Limits of Power by Bacevich, or Blowback by Chalmers Johnson – all 3 if you have the time.  It’s time we steer away from America’s imperial ambitions abroad, and that we take a good look in the mirror.

I gasp at what is taking place with the current presidential race, but realize the idiocy of it all is a reflection of our culture at large – of the systems we have set into motion and make no attempt to steer.  It seems clear to me that we could benefit from a new prophet to help lead us out of our Idiocracy.  As Bacevich calls for a Niebuhrian revolution, I stand alongside him in hopes that someone – anyone will listen, learn more, and help spread the word.  If not Niebuhr, perhaps David Brooks.  Be well…  rc

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We are just one or two elections away from President Dwayne Elizondo Mountain Dew Herbert Comacho…

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Abbondanza…

Malaise Isn’t A Sandwich Spread…

I’m reading The Limits of Power by Andrew Bacevich – again. It was published during the campaign between Obama and McCain. One of the book’s primary threads is the changing role of the presidency in post-World War II America.

The author lends time to Jimmy Carter’s malaise speech in 1979. Regardless of your thoughts on Carter as president, that speech remains the only instance in my lifetime where a president told the nation what we needed to hear, and asked us to adjust our behaviors in order to protect and sustain a reasonable standard of living. The speech had a short-lived effect though, and with it Carter handed the presidency to Ronald Reagan. It turns out America didn’t want to change its behaviors for very long in order to live as a less gluttonous society.

“It’s morning in America” was the starting gun fired by Reagan that would set in motion the quest for abundance that has expanded from the1980s to the present day. Retail culture, image culture, and fiscal culture joined together in a symbiotic disharmony that has become the social cancer we are now choosing not to treat. That quest for abundance by the masses, by the way, has largely shaped our policies abroad which most of us complain about. For more on that, read Bacevich’s very important book.

I doubt we will ever again see a president, nor a mainstream candidate speak to the American public as Carter did in July of 1979. With his malaise speech, Carter taught all politicians that, going forward, candor is not the best policy, and look at the shape we’re in today. Voters don’t elect austere presidents any more than 3rd graders would elect a strong-willed teacher were they given the chance. Talk of rainbows and unicorns will trump roll up your shirt sleeves every time.

As It Relates To Fitness…

The award winning documentary Bigger, Stronger, Faster is, I suspect, a malaise speech for the fitness community. It was one of the first things to get me thinking about, and to check my own behaviors and ideals as they relate to fitness and exercise.

Our national question for bigger, stronger, leaner is as inwardly gluttonous as our quest for better ear buds, dope shoes, wi-fi cars, and granite countertops. At the other end of the wellness spectrum, we also find people who could care less about exercise, and care more about portion size.  Whether it is 6-pack abs or bottomless fries, we just want more of it.  That math does not seem to add up.

I saw this asinine meme earlier this week, and I have seen others like it in recent years. This image is a reflection of everything wrong with fitness culture today which is simply a byproduct of culture at large.
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It’s one thing to suggest a 40-year woman pursue the beach body of her youth, despite that those transitions are rarely successful, and even when they are, they aren’t likely to be sustainable. It’s hard enough for a 16-year old boy to gain muscle when he’s working out like madman and eating everything but the family cat. Suggesting that granny go get guns is a bit over the top.

It is shameful to suggest, as the image above does, that looking like this into one’s 70s is a choice. Though there are people in their 70s, 80s, and even into their 90s who maintain aesthetically pleasing physiques that (may) also function well, they are rare exceptions.

We get old. We break down. Skin wrinkles. Hair grays. We gain weight. We receive diseases. We slow down. We weaken. We die, though there is some choice in this at some levels. Dick Lamm’s famous assertion that people have a “duty to die and get out of the way” should be the first amendment to the Golden Rule. Although Lamm said it in the context of the terminally ill artificially extending their lives, I have always appreciated that statement as the only fools fight aging doctrine.

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Truth to power:  Dick Lamm…

Every Meme Has Two Of Me…

Notwithstanding to any of this is the underlying message in these social media memes and in modern social values in general, suggests that looking good makes us better people. I assure you, our prisons are full of well-crafted triceps and 6-pack abs.

Within reasonable bounds, functioning well physically while we live is as much a responsibly as dying and getting out of the way when the living ain’t so good. The Confucian ideal that families, communities, and businesses all function better when we take care of ourselves physically has been long lost, though I guess it was never really a part of western culture to begin with.

Fixed Not Educated…

What Jimmy Carter couldn’t do to the consumption culture that began expanding through the 70s, from the highest office in the land, I know I have no chance of doing to the fitness culture of the current decade from the lowest blog on earth.

When our quest for abundance positions us into a places we no longer recognize and that drown out rational thinking, people don’t want to be educated to change, they simply wish to be fixed.  They look to, and depend leadership to do the fixin’.

I lead a microscopic sample of the fitness community, and my voice doesn’t carry. I wish though, I could better help people understand that, whether it’s the quest for more muscle or the quest for bottomless fries at Red Robin, our relentless American quest for more isn’t serving us too well. Be well. Jhciacb
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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I hit the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from The Meters. Enjoy!

Epidemicology…

Caveat: I chose not to cite any data sources in support of this essay. There is much conflicting data on the topic of obesity and health. The opinions expressed here are based solely on my experience in health & fitness, my observations, as well as books, data sources, and websites which, it turns out, all agree with me.

Not Really…

We are all familiar with the term, obesity epidemic. We see reports, studies, and media programming that remind us how dangerous yet widespread the obesity epidemic has become. We are led increasingly to believe that being overweight is unhealthy, avoidable, and wrong.

I’m not going to argue in favor of, or against obesity. I’m going step back and share my big picture perspective that obesity is less an epidemic and more the unavoidable result of our increasingly complex food system and shifting cultural values, and that fighting obesity on an individual basis will not slow or stop the expansion of the expansion.

The Flow…

While it is true that obesity, as defined by the CDC, has increased steadily over the last 6 decades, I believe that any large scale reversal of that pattern will not be the result of the individual mechanisms we use to fight obesity on a personal level, such as gastric related surgeries, liposuction, excessive dieting, excessive exercise, nutritional supplementation, and pharmaceutical support. With these means being more available and more used than ever, and obesity still being on the rise, that math does not add up. It simply demonstrates that, collectively, fighting individual obesity is not working to reduce obesity overall.

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Though some individuals find success with using exercise, diet, and medical/pharmaceutical technologies to reverse or to avoid obesity, a majority of people who use these resources will not find success in the long-term. I believe any permanent change to the cultural obesity trend will be the result of both large and small changes in our food system, over time, which are organized and called for by society as a collective, similar to the changes in civil rights, animal rights, and global ecology that we have seen in recent decades.

Those efforts to change the food system are already forming and gaining traction, but the arc of their results is a slow turning. Examples of this are laws requiring calories to be included on menus, local food movements, transparency in food manufacturing & marketing, and social awareness created by the propagation of literature; books and documentary movies on the subject.

As It Relates To Health…

We have been fed the ideal over time that obesity is intertwined with heart disease, diabetes, hypertension, and the probability of early death – a lesser quality of life notwithstanding. Increasingly though, there is data that suggests that obese people who exercise regularly, and include reasonable amounts of fruits and vegetables in their diets are no more likely to suffer from these ailments than people of average body weight. Some call this fat but fit. I call it, doing one’s best within a failing system.

Still, many people who fall into this category of larger, but healthy, attempt to fight their obesity by the means mentioned above, because they feel a social pressure which suggests they are unhealthy and undesirable. Whether or not they are unhealthy is coming into question, and that fruitless debate continues. Being socially or personally undesirable is simply a matter of bigotry.

As It Relates To Vanity…

Yesterday I visited a friend in the hospital who, for the last 13 months, has been dealing with the severely debilitating consequences of a lap-band surgery gone bad. I am removed from the internal thinking which led to her to the decision to have lap-band surgery, but from the outside looking in, though she might have been overweight at the time of the surgery, she was attractive and seemed to be in good health.

That is, her surgery was as much about vanity and/or social pressure as it was about health. My friend will remain in the hospital for at least several weeks. Her life has been in jeopardy as a result of this failed surgery on at least two occasions, though it appears now she will ultimately be okay.

Wide And Prejudice…

The epidemic which scares me more than the so-called epidemic of obesity, is the epidemic of prejudice toward heavier people. If a person wakes up in the morning and fails to eat fruit and Greek yogurt for breakfast, fails to remove the pile of clothes from the treadmill and put in a hard 30 minutes, or if they fail to stop at the gym on their way to work, they are not a bad person. And doing any or all of these will not make them a good person.

Being a good person is more related to mindfulness, kindness, and noble effort. Being a bad person, I suspect, is more related to disrespecting people, institutions, and animals – period. Body weight and body size have nothing to do with one’s character. Judging somebody for their shape size or weight does – period.

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The Slow Turn Of A failed System…

When I look at our social values as it relates to body image, male or female, young or old, and when I observe what it is that we revere and what we are willing to do in the name of looking better or being leaner, I often shudder.

I don’t fault anyone for wanting to pursue or maintain an attractive appearance, and I have certainly put effort into that ideal through the years. I’ll suggest though, for those who strive to improve their physical appearance, that before they begin, they closely examine the potential for cascading consequences which may result from the means they choose.

The quest for a smaller stature, and the emphasis we place on it is as old as culture itself, and I’m not arguing we abandon that pursuit. I’ll suggest though, similarly to civil rights, animal rights, ecology, and government, that the system we have allowed to place us here, and that we are all caught up in, is more in need of repair than any of us as individuals. I believe the arc of this system improving is on the rise, though obesity may still be a social issue for a few more decades.

That obesity is a contributory factor to poor health is, in my opinion, still just a theory. That we treat obese people with a greater guard, is simply a shame. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from the Dharma Violets. Enjoy!

A Call To Think Before We Follow…

Richual…

Arrive. Light the candle. Do the gesture. Say the words. Sip from the cup. Eat the thing. Read the verse. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

Arrive. Unzip the bag. Lift the thing. Do the stretch. Sip from the bottle. Eat the thing. Read whatever, while your legs move. Talk with some like-minded folks. Leave.

When viewed in these terms, it’s hard not see parallels between the observance of religion and the observance of exercise. Largely, both are based on ritual in the day-to-day practice. I think it’s fair to say, whether we are talking about religion or we are talking about exercise, many who observe these rituals don’t viscerally understand how their rituals, or that their rituals have evolved over time.

It’s also fair to suggest that many who observe these rituals don’t understand how those evolutions have been influenced by those of varying levels of intent through the decades. Often, people have been indoctrinated into these cultures and rituals superficially, without adequate study, and have only the feeling that they should be observant.  Many people feel if they aren’t observant, they will be seen by others as missing something important in their life. That is, they go through the motions unwittingly, because they feel they should.

The Bible Of Fitness…

Lore has it Rabbi Hillel was approached by a student to recite the entire Hebrew Bible while standing on one leg. The story goes that Rabbi Hillel took to one foot and spoke,

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow. That is the whole Torah, the rest is just commentary. Now go you, and learn it.”

An early Hebrew interpretation of The Golden Rule.

The only rule that matters...

The only rule that matters…

Most religious scripture is just that; commentary on a very simple theme which, when lived by, serves us well as individuals and as societies.

I have been told many times that this book or that book is the bible of exercise. I have purchased dozens of so-called bibles in my fitness life. Each one of them has contained variations and over complications of what can be reduced to a simple theme; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent. In a sense, that is the golden rule of fitness.

Most exercise scripture is protracted commentary on the theme of proper eating and movement. A lot of words, variations, and agendas assembled, rewritten, manipulated, and utilized for good and for lesser intent. None of it though, more important than the simplicity that Hillel prescribed to his student while standing on one foot.

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside...

The only fitness bible you need. Hint: There are no pages inside…

Who Wears The Collar: Dogma And Leadership…

I can’t pinpoint the year, but somewhere in my mid-teens is when I made the connection between religious leadership and leadership in exercise. When I was 15 years old my church gym was the Eisenhower Park Recreation Center in suburban Denver. The biggest, strongest guy there was Gary Dorren. Gary was in his mid-20s, puffy if not muscular, with red curly hair, and made his living as lineman for Mountain Bell.

Being the biggest, strongest guy in the gym made Gary the go-to guy for advice from us smaller folk. In a sense, he was our minister, and he even sold himself to us in this way. One problem; Gary was the beneficiary of good genetics and quality pharmaceuticals, not the pinnacle of wisdom nor education. He was qualified to be a telephone lineman, not a gym priest. It was poor vetting and high expectations of my friends and I which elevated his stature in our naive eyes.

One of the first pieces of advice that Gary offered me was that if I wanted to make good gains, I needed to eat a loaf of bread a day. So I took the sacrament, and for several weeks thereafter, I ate a loaf of bread every day of my life. I gained nothing but body fat.  That wasn’t the only bad advice Gary gave me, nor was he the only one who sent my eager mind down counterproductive paths through the years.

As I grew older I sought fewer answers from the exercise clergy – men like Gary who stood on the mountain top.  I quit listening to others and began looking for those answers within, where I would ultimately find them. At the heart of my search, alongside common sense, was the golden rule of fitness; eat properly, exercise regularly, be consistent.

Though I would advance to make this a career, create and share my own commentaries on that central theme through the next several decades, I have always kept my opinions streamlined and easy to comprehend, for myself as well as for those I teach.  With leadership comes responsibility. From my own perch, the responsibility I take most seriously is the idea of keeping things simple, and keeping agenda filtered out to the best of my ability.

The overcomplicated, relentlessly dogmatic, and ever changing trends in fitness are selling a lot of gym memberships, DVDs, books, magazines, and supplements. Cardio theaters fill like pews on a Sunday, pockets get lined with cash, and though there are some beneficiaries from this process, many more just go through the motions not knowing why, and with little to show for it.  At the end of the day, most answers will come from within, and individual success will be the product of simplicity and consistency. Go now, and learn it. Be well… rc

Post Script:  Please feel free to superimpose this message over the ideals of religion, business, higher learning, and politics….

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there’s this from Harlem. Enjoy!

Mixed Thoughts On Religious Tolerance…

Calling 9/11…

In the days after 9/11 people went to books stores and got online in droves to attain, read and better understand the Qur’an. Presumably, so they might better understand the motivation behind the attack on the World Trade Centers. Huston Smith once wrote, “nobody ever curled up on a rainy night with the Qur’an.” Honestly, on the heels of 9/11 the need to better understand Islam never crossed my mind.

I guess I was fortunate inasmuch as I didn’t feel a need to read Islamic text to better understand Muslims. I simply saw them daily and up close. I had two Muslim clients at the time; hardworking business people with dreams, beliefs, shortcomings, puppies, and tonsillitis – just like me. Because we were social in and out of the gym, I saw firsthand through their extended families and friends what their surface lives looked like. With the exception of names which were often difficult to pronounce, their lives and mine were surprisingly similar.

My friends, both female, didn’t dress in what we think of as traditional Islamic women’s attire – unless sweat pants and ponytails fall into that category. From their gym memberships, to their favorite chocolates, to Wiggles concerts and all in-between, they were Americans.

They didn’t remain clients too long after 9/11, though they do remain friends. Despite that they dressed and conducted themselves like normal Americans, they had middle eastern names, darker skin, and did little to hide their Muslim faith, though they were not overtly Muslim. Their Islam, like many people’s religion, was just something they carried in their back pocket, to be taken out as needed.

Celebrate difference...

Celebrate difference…

In a conservative town though, it became increasingly hard for them to go out without having their faith publicly questioned, and often persecuted by the ignorant. In watching this take place I would learn that ignorance can be overpowering. So overpowering that my two friends eventually left the area in favor of the more forgiving downtown San Diego where there is a more broadminded populous.

To think, from that singular day in 2001, and from the actions of only a few, every day thereafter my friends, like many Muslims in the US, would have to pull their Islam from their back pocket and present it like some kind of cultural ID card to be scrutinized whenever questioned by the ignorant. How old that must have gotten. Rarely do I see Christians and Jews have to explain their beliefs or justify their intentions while buying detergent, based solely on the act of a few on a given day.

Broad Brush Strokes…

I was asked recently by a young woman I mentor about the differences between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. I was quick to channel her toward seeking the commonalities between them, explaining she would learn more by directing her attention to how similar the 3 faiths are. She kept pressing me though, as if she might discover some major difference(s) if I were to better divide the 3 religions for her.

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I explained that broad brush strokes usually paint blurry pictures, but I would do my best to reduce it to three fundamentals differences which I see to be as much cultural as they are religious:

– Christianity is fundamentally about forgiveness over indiscretion.
– Judaism is about repairing indiscretion.
– Islam is about living life in a way that there is no need for forgiveness or repair.

None of those 3 explanations is more noble than the other two. I’ll even suggest that it is the goal of each faith to combine all 3; to forgive, to repair, and to move forward in a better way, but that each tenet noted above is central to its corresponding faith. However broad those brush strokes might be, I actually stand with them. I feel very good about offering this perspective to my young friend.

Atheism, Islam, And Prejudice…

One of the great ironies I see in the social media era is this: I have a network of liberal, open-minded friends who would fight to their death to protect my human rights. If I were gay, transgender, or preferred to have sex with monkeys, they would support me. I find an unsavory duality with the knowledge that many of those open minded friends are against all religion and call themselves atheists.

By the way, being against religion doesn’t make one an atheist. It makes one an anti-theist. In an even more inverse irony, many of these anti-theist friends are now standing up for immigrant Muslims, yet take a hard stand against American Christianity. This makes no sense and can’t be explained, only rationalized.

Simply put, if a person is against religion as a collective, or any particular religion, that is a form of prejudice – period. To be against anyone’s beliefs in favor of their own is an undeniable act of bigotry. So please, don’t defend my right to have sex with monkeys if you won’t also support my right to pray to a god – any god, or every last god in the pantheon.

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Religion has been part of our cultural DNA since hunter-gatherer times. Like any trait of biological evolution, if religion did not serve a sound purpose in carrying our species upward and ahead, cultural evolution would have weeded religion out long ago. Clearly it has not. Be well… rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head. Oh, and there is this from Jellyfish. Enjoy!

The Elegant Plateau…

Road Detour…

In life we often find ourselves traveling a road which takes us in a direction that was once obvious and fitting, but in time becomes no longer consistent with our personal growth and changing values.  So we choose a new road, one which we see leading us in a better direction or into the next phase of our life.  Somewhere down that road, we may realize we’re back on the original road we turned off of.  Either consciously or subconsciously we’ve circled back only to find that we’re headed in that same direction which we had exited for all the right reasons.

As it relates to my relationship with strength training, several times since my mid-40s, I have chosen to leave one road in favor of the road which makes more sense for the next phase of my life.  It usually doesn’t take long though, for me to end up back on the road I left; the road of bigger, stronger, leaner.  That was the right road for the younger me, but no longer.

At least 3 times in the last 10 years I have said enough is enough in the pursuit of more; more strength, more mass, more lean.  I well understand the limits of age; that the human body will only get so strong, so muscular, so lean.  So I choose a new road; the road of the elegant plateau.  The elegant plateau is a direction where if I don’t get any stronger, any more muscular, or any leaner, I’m ok with it.  That if I can just maintain what I have as I grow older, that is progress enough.

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This Time I Mean It…

Nearly 10 years after I first told myself enough is enough, I found myself on the road to bigger, stronger, leaner yet again.  Daily in my strength workouts I note in my journal how challenging or not a movement is.  If it’s not too challenging, and the form is intact, I note to increase the weight for the next workout.  In some exercises I’m actually using more weight in proper form than ever.  That this progress is doable is feeding me ego.  It is also stifling the very purpose for my workouts.

This pursuit of increased poundages is not breaking my body down excessively.  It isn’t hurting me.  It isn’t stressful.  It’s simply a departure from a philosophical tenet; that I just don’t need more of anything.  In all other aspects of my life I pursue less or just enough, yet when it comes to my workouts, I have been pursuing more.  I’m done.

I am once again committing to the road of the elegant plateau – and this time I mean it.  Simply stated, I will no longer pursue more strength, more muscle mass, or a leaner physique.  The condition I maintain today, is also the site of my next month.  If I can maintain this condition ongoing, I’m ahead of the game.

I look ok in a form fitted shirt – even when it’s tucked in.  I push reasonable weights in proper form.  I can run as fast as needed if being chased by Frankenstein.  I’m as lean as I’m going to get.  For all of this, I have few aches and much confidence.  I work out first and foremost to enjoy it.

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Buddhabuilding…

Bodybuilding light, or Buddhabuilding as I like to think of it, is based on the structure of traditional bodybuilding for larger purposes, but with a little less intensity, a little less volume, and a more moderate load.  It is still concerned with strength, size, and aesthetics so far as maintaining them goes.  However, it carries with it more utility in the areas of functional strength, balance, flexibility, sustainability, and the best aspect of all, a transformative, meditative state during the workout that just isn’t there when I’m in pursuit of more.

Buddhabuilding also incorporates balance and stretching movements in-between sets.  That is, if I’m doing 3 sets of incline bench presses, in-between sets I’ll either hold a stretching posture for 30 seconds or perform a balance exercise for 30 seconds, then on to the next set with more balance or stretching in-between the sets which follow.

The weights used with a given strength exercise are by no means light.  They are challenging, yet achievable, and lend themselves to a meditative state as I am better able to concentrate on the muscles involved.  This is where a connection takes place between my mind and my body that just isn’t there when the weights are heavier.

The Soundtrack & The Result…

One of the better aspects of Buddhabuilding to me is the soundtrack.  I gave up listening to music while exercising years ago.  These days it’s books on philosophy, religion, and cultural evolution which lead me through my games with gravity, efficiently building body and mind simultaneously, one hour at a time.  I had a great run at Buddhabuilding from 2005-2011 when I got greedy again and wanted more.  It’s time to get back to being me.

Liking my workouts – loving them has been the methadone of my existence for years.  It’s where time stands still for me.  I find that when I’m pursuing bigger, stronger, leaner, the physical results may be glorious, but that timeless state that sooths my soul is elusive.  When the weights are more moderate, the concentration is higher, and my mind is similarly stimulated, the result is a transformative workout, and that result is much more needed in my life than larger triceps.  Be well…  rc

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Please check back in a few weeks to see what happens when I push the STOP button on the blender in my head.  Oh, and there is this from Jason Falkner.  Enjoy!