For many, the first step on a spiritual journey is to become lost. The final step is losing one’s self.~ Lost writings of Wu Hsin
For many, the first step on a spiritual journey is to become lost. The final step is losing one’s self.~ Lost writings of Wu Hsin
I [generally] hate the Internet. I wanted to start this post with a reference to a little children’s TV skit I saw many (many) moons ago, on Sesame Street or maybe it was the Muppets… about a guy named Henry with a bucket with a hole who tried to fix it based on another character’s—named Liza—ministrations, but which eventually lead him to need the hole-y, original bucket to haul water to complete the bucket-repair process. If you’re not yet grabbing your head, try reading: “There a hole in my bucket. Dear Liza. Dear Liza.” Fortunately, Wikipedia, and a pile of YouTube clips I managed to not watch, have me covered. Long live the Internet!
“Holey-bucket-fixing” is a long chain of tasks which turn out to be circularly dependent. Obviously, I don’t realize it’s holey-bucket-fixing at the start of the side quest. I start off on some simple problem. To do A, I need B. To do B, I need C. To do C, I need… A? Where’s the Tylenol?!
But sometimes, I start off on some simple problem and it goes very well. As in . . .
Your merry band enters the dimly lit inn, glad to find shelter from the stormy night. The rogue among you sticks to the shadows to the left, the dwarf angles right, (in both senses of the word,) towards the bar, and the elf-archer, with the balance of the band in tow, strides for a long table against the doorless, far wall. The dwarf orders the first round of whatever-it-is-they-serve-around-these-parts, and the bartender strikes up a conversation. “Haven’t seen you folks around before. You look like you might be up for an adventure.” If you want to go on an adventure, turn to page 42. If you just want this idiot to shut up so you can drink your whatever-it-is-they-serve-around-these-parts in peace, continue reading.
And so, with a hole in my bucket, or a simple question in mind, or—challenge-loving dwarf-at-the-bar that I play so well—just too curious for my own good… I almost always turn to page 42.
(Part 74 of 74 in series, My Journey)
Quadrupedal Movement (QM) is a diverse collection of movements using both hands and feet on the ground to support one’s weight.
QM is almost always done using just the feet, and not the knees, since our knees are not capable of taking prolonged usage or impact. That said, there are some small-size, low-impact, movements using various surfaces of the knees, lower legs, buttocks, and thighs which integrate well with the usual hands-and-feet-only QM.
There are countless variations of QM. Many variations are physically demanding, but many are drastically easier than the more usual bipedal movements: Using a railing with your hands for balance and support as you ascend stairs, using walking sticks and canes, and “scrambling” on hands and feet up steep slopes, are all common variations of QM.
Start here https://gmb.io/locomotion/
…and then take a look at some advanced options, Two Hours and a Slab of Concrete.
Meta: I’m retiring this series, “My Journey.” Over the years, my blog has changed a lot. In the beginning I had a lot of more random things here and I used this series as a way to highlight this aspect of my blog writing. Today, the blog itself is basically a record of my journey.
We forget that what we have is more than what we need. Obscenely more. I know it may sound perverse, but here in the future people often feel like they need more than they have.
~ David Cain
There’s a sense of accomplishment in being prepared to sleep on the floor when traveling. There’s a sense of freedom in being able to carry a small backpack and live comfortably. I always knew this was at least partly due to knowing that I was prepared enough for important contingencies and free enough to roll with whatever comes up during the day.
But now I see that there’s a second dimension to why I enjoy it: The self-imposed hardship. Sometimes the floor is cold and drafty, sometimes there’s a cat (I’m allergic to cats), sometimes everyone stays up very late (I usually turn in around 9:30), sometimes I miss a meal, sometimes I don’t sleep much if there’s too much light, sometimes it’s noisy, … and so on. Still, I am invariably in a better mood than usual the morning after each of these choose-your-own-adventures-gone-bad. Cold, stiff, sneezy, tired … sure. But in a good mood. Well, that’s very interesting, now isn’t it?
I’m not making a call for you to take up Parkour-flooring. I’m only pointing out that when I occassionally reset my callibration by intentionally taking on some suffering, I’m invariably happier after.
Most people have been in some version of this mental stress state so consistently, for so long, that they don’t even know they’re in it. Like gravity, it’s ever present — so much so that those who experience it usually aren’t even aware of the pressure. The only time most of them will realize how much tension they’ve been under is when they get rid of it and notice how different they feel. It’s like the constant buzzing noise in a room you didn’t know was there until it stops.~ David Allen from, https://www.librarything.com/work/1844807
The key insight for me was once I realized there are two “directions” to thinking: I was always good at vertical thinking, going down thru a project (big or small), planning, organizing and doing. This was simply “thinking”, and how could there be more than one “direction” in which to think?
Unfortunately, I often got stuck when my brain started doing this other direction of thinking for which I had no name; no concept to attach: The horizontal thinking. The hopping from project to project — and I use “project” in the most broad sense of ANY thing involving a goal (“remodel house”, “send holiday cards”), any size (“seven years of projet management and contractors”, “buy stamps, buy cards, stuff, mail” ), and any number of steps. My mind hopped uncontrollably from thing to thing, around and around, across all the open loops, as the same things came up over and over and over.
These days, having a solid capture and review system enables me to close those mental loops. I can often read for a half an hour without my mind once interrupting me with some random, “I need to do this,” or “I need to remember that,” thought. (And if it does interupt me, I simple capture that thought once. Done. Freedom.) In the beginning I used paper notecards, then notebooks, software, and on and on. The exact system does not matter. It only matters that you trust your system. Only when you truly trust your system will your subconscious close all those open loops.
(Part 67 of 74 in series, My Journey)
I had to change my expectations of how much I trained because I was in that mindset, the more training, the better. You can’t do more intense training, so now I probably train, if you look at it, still, I train maybe four or five hours per day, but three of those hours or four of those hours are watching video, or reading books, and researching because I can do that without damaging my body or going too far. For me, it’s not saying, “Well, I guess I’ll never be this good. Well, I’m just not going to have the expectation that I can get on the mat and grind it out with the 20-year-olds for five hours a day.” That’s not going to happen.~ Burton Richardson from, https://gmb.io/episode-92/
If you don’t know who Burton Richardson is… uh, think: Direct student of Bruce Lee, and 30 years of training with many of the greatest martial artists in history. Also, zero ego.
This interview with the legendary Burton Richardson is life-changing. My pull-quote does not do this interview justice. This 45-minute interview contains an insane amount of insight into training and practice for the long-haul.
…yeah, how many hours a day do I train?
(Part 66 of 74 in series, My Journey)
Somewhere in my 30’s, slowly, year by year, the frequency of my back problems increased. I’m not talking about, I helped a friend move over the weekend, or, I did climb-ups for an hour at Parkour class, and now my back is “out.” I’m talking about,
I sat down to put socks on — because I cannot hold my foot up to reach it standing — and my lower back “just” gave out.
I was just standing at the sink washing dishes.
For me, these incidents where I was clearly not doing anything amazing and was still somehow injured, became a clear sign that I needed to change something. In hindsight, this is the article I wish I had found first and so I hope it helps someone.
Elsewhere, in my Changes and Results series, I’m laying out all the big things I’ve changed, project by project. But there was never any one thing that I worked on specifically to fix my back. It simply turned out that many of the things I did contributed to — knock on wood — resolving my back problems. Of course my back still gives me trouble when I deserve it. But these days, I know when it’s going to be a problem. I can feel when my back is getting tired, and if I listen to that quiet signal I can avoid the worst of the problems.
Although I had been doing some intentional, general improvement efforts, such as losing weight and getting better sleep, my back-focused improvement journey really began when I heard Ido Portal say something to the effect of:
Your legs are for moving you through your environment. Your arms are for manipulating your environment. Your spine is for orienting yourself within the environment. So your spine should be this incredibly mobile and powerful system with a huge range of dynamic movement.
(That’s not an exact quote because I don’t feel like going through the entire “Rewild Yourself Podcast” episode where Daniel Vitalis interviewed Ido Portal. It’s episode number 8: Ido Portal on the Movement Diet which you should probably go listen to.)
When I heard that, I realized that my spine was nothing at all like Ido’s vision of a human spine. Mine barely moved at all, and when it did, I often felt nervous about impending disaster. After hearing Ido’s way of describing the spine, I had this new perspective where each time I’d do some movement, I could see how much my spine was right at its limit of ability. I realized that my spine should be an incredibly varied mover, and that my spine’s flexibility (the total movement possible) and range of motion (the smaller space of movement where my back is usable, comfortable and strong) are critical, foundational elements to all of my health and movement.
I realized that for years I had tried to “stabilize” and strengthen my spine as a defense against movement causing injury to my back. But I now see that this is an erroneous reaction to weakness. If instead of being immobilized as a defense, my spine is strong, then it can be mobile, able to make all the movements I need, and not be injured.
The first step was to learn to avoid injury. This sounds trivial, but it was not at all obvious to me at the time. When I was so fat and inflexible that putting my socks on regularly endangered my back, it was a terrible, humbling experience to admit that I had to change how I put my on socks.
I had to identify all the landmines, and own up to them. I had to learn that stretching — really just moving around — was mandatory each morning. I had to stop automatically rushing to help everyone move heavy objects. I had to stop trying to be “the strong guy,” and generally dial down all my activities to a level my back could handle. I had to acknowledge those random days when my back felt “off”, and learn to take a rest day for recovery.
All of which forced me to face that I was no longer indestructible and to own up to the deteriorated state of my body. Awareness and honesty were the only way that I could stop taking frequent steps backwards. They were the only way that I could begin to make glacial forward progress.
(I’ve written more about the Philosophy of the changes I’ve made in my Changes and Results series.)
Losing weight is obviously not easy. But every pound that I peeled off paid dividends to my back. It turns out that weight around your middle drastically increases the load on your lower back. “Lost weight” is a woefully inadequate summary for this element of fixing my back, but hopefully I’ll get around to writing out everything I did to lose weight.
What began as endless massage work by my spouse, slowly morphed into self-massage and then into mobility work; Basically, I learned to lay on the floor moving in all the ways my spine was meant to move. I mastered the use of a foam roller and Lacrosse ball for myofascial release and self-massage. As my back got stronger, I was able expand this recovery practice to a more general, whole-body movement, stretching and — much later — general strengthening.
(I’m writing a separate post on my “20 minutes of morning stretching” which is one of the cornerstones upon which I have built the whole new me. It’s not yet published, but will eventually be part of my Changes and Results.)
Finally, chiropractic has saved me countless times. I know many people who believe chiropractic is quackery. But for me, it doesn’t matter how or why, it simply yields results.
Years of sitting, and progressive weakening of my back, took their toll. Worse, the hunched back, rolled shoulders posture was so common in my environment, that it seemed normal. So I didn’t even realize what was happening to me.
The first baby step to improving my posture was when I learned how to understand, and control, the orientation of my pelvis through learning to sit as part of martial arts training. The traditional Japanese seated posture, seiza where you sit with folded-under knees and pointed toes is great for learning posture. Of course, this type of sitting initially rewards you with agony from the knees and ankles. But once your legs adapt, there is a delightful feeling of peace and centralized weight when you learn to center your pelvis and to balance and align your entire spine. But maintaining this alignment, even in a statically balanced seated position, required a certain muscle tone. A tone which I had lost through endless sitting in a poor posture.
I soon realized that the orientation of the hands as they hang at your sides is indicative of your upper back posture. Palms turned to the back, (the shoulders being in interior rotation,) with that “knuckle-dragger” appearance is a sign of a week upper back and poor scapular position. I began incorporating various exercises, (the ‘Sphinx’ pose from yoga, ‘shoulder dislocations’, and thoracic extension in supine position, etc.) into my daily recovery work. (For a great introduction, read De-Quasimodo Yourself.)
As I’d gained weight, I hadn’t realized that I had also, slowly transitioned to a “dumped” lower abdomen: guts hanging out the front, pelvis tipped forward, and lumbar spine pulled forward into a maximum arch. This led me to lower back agony whenever I spent time on my feet, especially if I over-worked my lower back by strolling and slowly shift my weight from one leg to the other. But as I’ve lost fat from my typical abdominal male pattern, and as running and jumping in the context of parkour have strengthened my glutes, it has become easier to maintain a neutral pelvic position and a neutral curve of my lumbar spine.
Solvitur Ambulando ~ It is solved by walking
Today, I have a ton of stuff here on my site about walking.
But it all started, long ago, when I read a blog post by Steve Kamb, about Walking to Mordor. “One does not simply walk into Mordor!” Except, that is exactly what Sam and Frodo did. Elsewhere I’m writing an entire post about my efforts and progress related solely to walking; But all of my walking was kick-started by Steve’s Nerd Fitness blog post.
This was the least obvious thing which improved my back: The closer I get to living barefoot, the better my back feels.
Long ago, I was wearing “normal” shoes, and then I started taking some parkour classes. Turns out that I want to wear the lightest weight, and thinnest soled, shoes I can; because I want to use my feet and toes. Anyway, roll with me here when I say: I wanted to wear minimal footwear for parkour. So, I started wearing Feiyue shoes to class — not the fancy French brand of shoes, but the el’cheapo, crépe sole, martial arts shoe. They have no structure, no arch, and just some padding and protection from most (not all) things you might step on.
I started to run in Feiyue. I ran 10 feet and my calves cramped up. I kept at it. For years. I relearned how to run. Then I relearned how to walk. Then I relearned how to use my knees. Then I realized that to get things working again, I needed to stop wearing “normal” shoes entirely. So I started wearing Feiyue everywhere.
I went on reading about feet. …and about minimal shoes. …and about barefoot training. Then I learned about the amount of nerves in our feet, (the same as in your hands,) and I had some discussions about sensory input through your feet. …and balance. …and acupressure points.
It is not an exaggeration to say that learning about my feet has changed my life.
Today, I exclusively wear an old-school track running shoe called Bullets, made by Saucony. I remove the insoles, so that from the midsole to the toes there is ZERO padding; just a few millimeters of hard rubber sole between my foot and the world. I wear these same shoes for everything. All surfaces, all activities — everything.
It was at this point — after all of the above changes, and after I had spent about two years full-time in minimalist shoes — that I realized my back was fundamentally different.
Then I set out to write this, over the course of 18 months. :)
Despite all that I’ve written here, this is still only scratching the surface of information about the back and spine. Take a look at the Human Back and Spine topic over on Hilbert’s Library.
(Part 65 of 74 in series, My Journey)
For as long as I can remember, I’ve had an idea I call “bookending.”
While most of life is reasonably flexible, there are certain important events which are scheduled at firmly fixed times. Bookending is planning, starting with the fixed event and working backwards. From the fixed event, I can imagine in reverse all the preceding steps, and how much time each requires. I can then determine the time at which I must begin the first step in the chain. From the beginning of that first step, through to the fixed event, defines a wide bookend during which all my actions are more or less known.
As I was writing my series on Parkour Travel, it became clear that bookending is critical to my success with traveling. A Parkour trip tends to be very random and unorganized (those are good things,) but that means it’s even easier to get surprised by firmly scheduled things sneaking up.
Bookending is simply a visualization practice. Various professions use visualization to minimize mistakes. They visualize each step happening successfully, as a complete chain of events, which leads to the desired outcome. When they face time constraints, visualizing the important details of each action they will take reduces errors and increases the likelihood of success.
Here’s an example from traveling:
My flight leaves at 11:00. I don’t have any checked luggage, so I’ll plan to arrive an hour and a half before my flight departs. I’m now thinking, “9:30.” There’s a bus which leaves at 8:00 and arrives at the airport at 9:27. That’s too close for my personal preference. I’ve already bookended the time before the flight: It’s not, “flight at 11:00”, the fixed event is now “be at airport at 9:30.” The previous bus leaves at 7:00, I’ll plan on that one. Now I’m thinking, “bus leaves at 7:00.” I need 15 minutes to drive to the bus terminal, and let’s aim to be 15 minutes early for the bus. That’s now 6:30. I need to park, buy a bus ticket, probably stop at the bathroom, and I need a cup of coffee somewhere along the way, so I’ll throw in another half an hour. I’m now thinking, “6:00.” My bookend is from 6:00 through 11:00. When I begin at 6:00, everything falls into place, bumps in the road don’t cause significant problems and I’ve plenty of time at each step of the way.
Before I learned to bookend, I used to remember the time of the firmly scheduled event (“my flight departs at 11:00”), and then I’d have in mind how long I needed before that (“I need five hours to get there.”) People would ask me, “What are you doing tomorrow?” and my train of thought each time was always, “Flight at 11, I need 5 hours… Five hours? Really?! Yes, I’ve already thought about this. I should leave at 6:00. Ouch. That’s pretty early.” And then I would finally say, “I have a flight at 11:00 and I want to leave about 6:00.”
With my old “method” is was, “Flight at 11:00 and then here are more details that aren’t important, but actually 6:00.” In my mind, and everyone else’s, it’s 11-and-then-all-these-other-details. In my mind, and everyone else’s, we’re always second-guessing why I seem to want to start so early. How did a flight at 11:00 lead to wanting to leave at 6:00?
A large part of what makes bookending useful is that it flips the thinking to, “I would like to leave at 6.” I’m thinking 6:00. I’m saying 6:00. 6:00 is what’s bouncing around in my head. 6:00 comes around and the entire planned sequence of events for the bookend is cued. Off I go, and on time I am.
As I got used to this process, I discovered other benefits: People who host or who are helping you when you travel, understand when you do NOT need their help. If I say “I have a flight at 11:00,” does that imply I’d like a ride to the airport? Perhaps. But if I say, “I’m leaving at 6:00,” that implies I have a plan to get wherever it is that I’m going.
There’s another huge benefit that sneaks in. Having extra time padded in, leads to little chunks of time for me to read. I keep a collection of read-this-later items in my phone (via services like Pocket or Read It Later.) As I find pockets of spare time I always have things to read rather than wasting time in social media or bookface.
(Part 64 of 74 in series, My Journey)
My level of motivation varies tremendously, and it took me far too long to learn that it was cyclical. I used to think I had these huge swaths of motivated productivity with an occasional, unexplained crash. I used to think I just needed to figure out how to avoid those anomalous crashes, and I spent too much precious time fighting with myself in the down-turns. I now see that I was wrong; My motivation is inherently cyclical.
When I am highly motivated, it’s alluring to believe that I should spend my time working only on focused and directed things. I used to fall into the trap of trying to focus all of my time and energy on moving forward. I felt that if I wasn’t on-task, then I was wasting time, and that feeling fed into my sense of guilt.
Because I now expect the inevitable down-turns, I feel justified spending time on things which support my motivation in the long run. I work intermittently in two directions: I spend some of my time working on-task towards achieving my goals, and some time goofing-off cultivating my motivation and inspiration. In effect, I’m prolonging the motivational peaks by spreading them out wider. At the highest points, I may not be as motivated as I once was, but I maintain a productive level of motivation for a much longer time.
(To be fair, I have a pretty organized way of goofing-off. I read from a wide range of online sources and books, from health, wellness and exercise blogs to physiology text books. I constantly fiddle with new exercises to try, places to go, health tweaks, and habits. I make plans to travel near and far, where I can meet new people, and visit old friends. I even have no-thinking-required things — music playlists, and monotonous chores — which I can draw on when I need to be off-task.)
But eventually, I head into a down-turn. They vary from mild bouts of, “meh,” where I simply feel unmotivated to do any of the things I’ve set out for myself, to dark moods of depression. Regardless of the depth, when I’m heading into a motivational down-turn, my best tactic is to stop doing — to stop trying — and to simply be. It’s as if I’m at the crest of the first hill on a roller-coaster; I see what’s coming, and prepare for the inevitable ride.
At the bottom of that huge, thrill-less, depressing hill it is agonizing to lay in a puddle of “meh” and believe that this is exactly what I need to be doing right now. But that is the truth. After countless cycles of ebb and flow, I’ve learned to think: “Right now, laying in this puddle is exactly what I need.”
…and that is the key to my success.
I remind myself to roll with this down-turn, guilt-free. I try to avoid “should’ing” on myself. (I should stop this. I should do that.) I remind myself this down-turn is only one phase of a healthy cycle.
Maybe I watch a movie and have some popcorn. Maybe I nap. Maybe I nap in the hammock if it’s warm outside. Maybe I bask before the fire, or lay in the sun. I do whatever it is I feel like doing, which may well be absolutely nothing at all. I throw down the reigns which my executive-level mind normally holds with an iron grip. I set my thoughts and body free. They weren’t listening anyway.
And then I could write a long diatribe where I try to explain how it feels as if there’s this big, gloomy, moping, dog that sits around keeping me stuck in the down-turn. And eventually that dog gets bored and I can convince it to go away. And, honestly, it’s a stupid metaphor. Except for the fact that here I am, stuck writing some lousy metaphor, making me hate writing this, which — it turns out — is exactly the sort of perfect metaphor for feeling lousy when I’m stuck in a down-turn…
I’m going for a walk.
Just the tiniest little stroll.
Walking invariably loosens up my mind. Sometimes it takes days of doing nothing interspersed with some walking before I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Soon, I find I have at least a few things on my mind that need to be unloaded. When I hear that quiet calling, I write whatever-it-is into my journal. Writing things down — moods, worries, plans, ideas — unjumbles my mind. So I record my thoughts as inspiration for future projects, and as reminders to expect future down-turns.
Eventually, I simply find the thought of working on something might actually be fun. At which point I realize I’m headed back towards the next up-turn.
When things go badly, relax; It will not last.
When things go well, relax; It will not last.
(Part 63 of 74 in series, My Journey)
I’m working on a crazy idea as a side project. Totally unrelated, I’m reading Julie’s CinéParkour. I’m just reading along this evening, and I get to this paragraph. This is so apropos of my train of thought these past few weeks.
Traceurs are active subjects within dominant power relations who use parkour as a technology of the self; an active transformative tool, to create and understand themselves and move away from fixed notions of identity and behaviour. Through a process of critical thinking and self-awereness traceurs problemitise and set ethics by which they adhere to. Parkour becomes a ‘practice of libery’, where traceurs practice freedom as a lifestyle, based on inventions and styles, that create ethics centered around creative environmental interactions and connections, to reclaim the body as an autonomous vehicle, away from the dominant notion of ‘bio-power’ and other dominant discourses.
~ Julie Angel, from CinéParkour, pg 152
‘technology of the self’
‘freedom as a lifestyle’
‘ethics centered around creative environmental interactions and connections’
‘reclaim the body as an autonomous vehicle’