Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Kids and Bars

I have been really enjoying reading a blog I discovered recently whose author discusses issues relating to running and Zen practice. Check it out. Jack and I have been recovering from some sort of a nasty virus that was causing us to manifest illness this past week. It kept me from the starting line of the NYC ½ marathon and made life challenging for a few days. It is interesting, and somewhat frustrating sitting up with a sick child in the middle of the night when you also have a fever. Fortunately we’re both on the mend and I have decided to run the Bronx ½ marathon on February 10th.

I was reading Gothamist yesterday and stumbled across an apparently contentions debate about whether children should be allowed to accompany their parents into upscale bars in New York City. The particular bar in question was the Union Hall bar located in Park Slope Brooklyn, whose owners recently raised the ire of besotted parents everywhere when they instituted a stroller ban at the bar. This is an issue that could only arise in a place like Park Slope, where over privileged children and their yuppie parents often run head on into over privileged single yuppies with no children. The parents are put out because not everyone thinks their beautiful intelligent children are beautiful or intelligent; and the singles are put out because being surrounded by children reminds them that they are getting older and should probably be doing something other than sitting on a bar stool in Park Slope in the middle of the day drinking over-priced beer.

Presumably the parents of these children are meeting other parents to knock back a few pints while their kids frolic around amidst the mid-day drinkers and soggy beer napkins. I was pretty surprised by the venom expressed by the childless tipplers who seemed to see the presence of children in a bar as somehow representative of the decline of western civilization. I wonder if this seeming hatred for children, out of all proportion to the wee ones impact on their immediate surroundings, is a narcissistic trait particular to New Yorkers. I lived in Philadelphia for a while and most bar/restaurants in the better neighborhoods always had a stroller or two parked in front and no one seemed unduly upset by a parent reading the paper and having a pint on a Saturday afternoon. I suppose the air of entitlement that pervades neighborhoods like Park Slope is to blame. I mean, paying $1,000,000 for a one bedroom apartment would sure put me in a bad mood. Really, it’s not the kids at fault here, it’s the self-centered childless adults who apparently never learned to play well with others.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Happy birthday little dude! Over the course of this past year you have brought me many beautiful moments. The sound of your laughter reminds me that it is still possible to see the world with the wondering eyes of a child. Your daddy loves you very much.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Forever Young

Becky would have turned 40 today. The very idea would have appalled her to no end, but I still wish she was here so I could listen to her complain about it. It is hard to believe that an entire year has gone by since we celebrated her 39th birthday by having dinner at Devi near Union Square where we mostly talked about what to name our little friend whose arrival was (correctly) thought to be imminent. I wrote about the actual dinner in some detail for a blog posting. You can read it by clicking here. It has been a difficult year for those of us left to struggle on without her, but life, as they say, goes on. I take some solace in the fact that even in her absence, Becky has taught me a good deal about many things, including what it means to be a good father. She was many things in her life, but a teacher first among them. She taught both by example and by getting you to look at yourself in a way that somehow brought your hazy confusion about your life into tight focus. She was clearly one of the most unselfish people to ever walk this earth and gave of herself constantly. A true bodhisattva. So, I would rather celebrate the day of her birth than spend undue time thinking about the day she was taken from us. I think she would agree. Happy birthday my dear. You are missed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Running and Music

I confess that I have been running with an I-Pod lately, which I never did years ago, mostly because they hadn’t been invented yet. When I was training for the Buffalo Marathon I remember trying a few runs with a Walkman, but giving it up because a 90 minute cassette tape only lasted for around 10 miles. The I-Pod is a great tool for the distance runner, and may offer a competitive advantage to those who wear it while racing. According to a recent article in the Times, studies have shown that listening to music during exercise can improve results, both in terms of being a motivator and as a distraction from negatives like fatigue. The most effective music seems to be that which clocks in at around 120-140 beats per minute, which coincidentally happens to be the roughly the heart-rate aerobic zone of a 40 year old male.

I started running to music much more frequently around a year ago. That's when I started running on my lunch hour-on a treadmill-and without some sort of distraction I would have gone stark raving mad. I am a little worried that I’ve been relying too much on the music lately and that it gives me an artificial sense of my running ability, not to mention that any pretension of running as moving Zen is lost when you’re bopping down the road boogying to the Grateful Dead. I try to mix it up and play some ragas and some eclectic eastern influenced music to restore my sense that I am doing something more meditative than dancing. Bhagavan Das’s “Now” is particularly effective as a focusing tool. When I'm in a more natural setting or somewhere unfamiliar, I eschew the music and just tune into my surroundings. I remember a great 7.4 mile run in Berkeley up Strawberry Canyon, surrounded in white fog that had come streaming in through the Golden Gate, where I felt like my ego disappeared and I had become one with the State of California. An interesting feeling I must say.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Running and Zen

It’s a pretty cold day here in the Northeast. I doubt we’ll reach anywhere near 30 degrees today and this morning was downright brutal. It was so cold when I went out to warm up the car that I wore a big puffy down jacket and still felt the chill. Yesterday it was somewhat warmer, which was a good thing since I decided to run 10 miles in preparation for the Manhattan ½ marathon, scheduled for next Sunday. It was the first time I ran 10 miles in quite a while and I’m relieved to report that I accomplished the run with minimal discomfort, despite the fact that there was a stiff cold wind blowing and I was underdressed for the temperature. Staten Island is also a pretty hilly place which also presents its own set of challenges. I had forgotten the feeling of bliss associated with runs lasting longer than one hour. The first five miles is the hardest, after that the run begins to flow and is remarkably effortless except for minor aches and pains. Increased alpha waves and endorphins together really make for a winning combination. I think if I can knock off the ½ next Sunday I’ll keep up the long runs and try to run a full marathon in the spring. After all 40 is the new 30 and I ran my last full marathon when I was 30 so what the hell.

Japanese Zen Buddhist monks practice a style of walking mediation known as kinhin. Practitioners walk clockwise around a room while holding their hands in shashu (left fist closed, while the right hand grasps the left fist). During this particular type of walking meditation a step is taken after each full breath. It is a rather slow way of getting around the room, but it works out the kinks in the legs common to long periods of sitting meditation. I have always thought of running as a faster, more fluid type of walking mediation; a running meditation, if you will. Running in the streets of Staten Island certainly requires total concentration. As a byproduct of this intense concentration I find that on the longer runs, solutions to problems that seem intractable when pondered during the working day often have a way of bubbling up from my subconscious. One can see the parallels to the instantaneous enlightenment experience of Zen. In any event, running keeps me sane and the longer I run, the saner I tend to get. Which is a good thing.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Judicial Activism?

There is an excellent article in Salon today which pretty much deconstructs the right wing-nuts approach to the rule of law in this country. I find it amusing how so many of them declare themselves "strict-constructionists" without having the slightest idea of what that means. They wouldn't know a tort from a contract case, but that doesn't stop them from holding forth on the legal system. Unfortunately for the conservatives, desiring an outcome in a case doen't mean that outcome is legally correct. Here's an excerpt, the link follows:

"The systematic erosion of the rule of law in America has many aspects, and one significant one is that conservatives have been trained that they have the right to have judges issue rulings that produce outcomes they like, and when that doesn't happen, it means the judicial process is flawed and corrupt. Put another way, those marching under the banner purportedly opposed to "judicial activism" have been taught that they are entitled to have courts ignore the law in order to ensure the outcomes they want.

What else could possibly explain how someone can be convinced that they are in a position to condemn a judicial ruling without bothering to learn anything about the laws and legal issues in play? Hence: Bush should be able to eavesdrop on Americans without warrants and any judge who rules that -- under the law -- he can't, is guilty of "judicial activism." They've been trained to believe they're entitled to have judges give them the outcomes they want, and when that doesn't happen, that alone is grounds for proclaiming that the courts and judges are not just corrupt, but illegitimate."

Friday, January 11, 2008

"A few more whacks of the ice axe in the firm snow, and we stood on top."

A true giant among men, Edmund Hilary, the first man to successfully climb Mount Everest died at his home in New Zealand yesterday. At 11:30 on the morning of May 29, 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit, 29,028 feet above sea level, the highest spot on earth. After his ascent in May of 1953, Hilary devoted the rest of his life to helping the Sherpa people of Nepal through the Himalayan trust, which he founded and to which he had given much of his time and energy. Through his efforts he had succeeded in building many schools and hospitals in a fairly remote region of the Himalayas. He was the Honorary President of the American Himalayan Foundation, a United States non-profit body that helps improve the ecology and living conditions in the Himalayas.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

A New Blog

Check out my friend Marty's photo blog. There are some very cool pictures of various California things:

Spiritual Materialism

The Patriot has been a lazy blogger lately. This is especially inexcusable in light of the elections, but my interest in politics has taken a back seat to the day to day drama of raising a toddler. Jack will be a year old in three weeks. I can’t believe an entire year has gone by since he was born. I have an entirely new relationship with the passage of time since Becky left us. Whole months go by effortlessly. Some days I struggle to remember what year it is. I don’t know if this is merely the downside of turning 40 or whether my relationship with the physical structure of the universe has actually changed. I suspect the former.

I was reading an essay by Sharon Salzberg , a Vipassana meditation teacher who said that raising three children taught her more about Buddhism than meditation ever could. I have found this to be true. Any time I sit down with the intention of reading a sutra or meditating, the little being whose care I am charged with reminds me that there is so much more to the world than my own ego. He is constantly teaching me lessons in humility and selflessness. I have looked for a teacher of the Dharma for a long time. Imagine my surprise to find him literally sitting in my lap. My little bald monk with wisdom of the ages.

I have decided that 2008 will be the year of conscious living. Whatever I do I will do it with awareness and compassion. I am trying to cultivate these qualities and the only way to do so is to live them. This is the goal of the Vipassana school of Buddhism. One brings about awareness by the simple and direct practice of moment-to-moment mindfulness. This awareness leads us to accept more fully the pleasure and pain, fear and joy, sadness and happiness that life inevitably brings. When caring for an 11 month old child you have to be mindful constantly. Failure to maintain full awareness could potentially result in your little Buddha sticking a paper clip in an electrical outlet and experiencing enlightenment of an entirely different variety.

In the future this blog will be less about politics and more about Buddhism, although the Patriot is mindful that too much writing about spiritual development has the potential to lead to Spiritual Materialism; the failure to let go of ego clinging in the development of an understanding of spiritual and related areas. Frankly, I am sick to death of politics. Namaste.