Saturday, July 31, 2010

a river (sort of) runs through it

we tend to aspire to things as we think they should be, holding in our minds visions of what we think to be the ideal. the ideal job. the ideal school. the ideal friends. the ideal family. all wrapped in an ideal package of ideal predictions for an ideal future following an ideal plan for the ideal race that is an ideal life.

but life, unfortunately, isn't about the ideal. even as much as we have been led to believe so by stories and books and songs and music and shows and movies. life is not ideal.

things happen. chaos. chance. challenge. the unforeseen. the unexpected. the unknown.

this creates a perpetual gulf between what we want life to be and what life actually is, with a dissonance that leaves us to struggle to resolve the two in order to make any way through the impasse.

our response to this, however, is not always the best way forward. in a rush to bypass our reality and pursue our ideals, we often understand and analyze but do not detach and recognize. the result is that we invariably try to act upon the things we cannot change without comprehension that we are doing so, leading inevitably to failure in a state of affliction overwhelmed by emotions like confusion, frustration, anger, anguish, sorrow, and despair--all of which are negative, and precursors to a downward spiral of self-destruction and ultimate disintegration.

a better, more constructive, way forward requires that we first detach ourselves from the dissonance, enough for us to recognize the disjuncture between reality and our ideals, to the extent that we can understand that we cannot always change things around us but we can always change things within ourselves, and thereby analyze the difference between the two until we comprehend what changes we need to make to improve our chances of successfully navigating through the impasse.

because we can't always expect the ideal. jobs and school can be dystopian, if not bizarre. friends and family can be dysfunctional, if even tragic. just as much as chaos and chance and challenge will always rule the universe.

as a result, we may never understand any of them well enough to analyze how to change them. but we can accept them for what they are, and learn to recognize how we connect to each one, and thus come to deal with them in a manner that changes their relationship to us for the better.

because no plan ever survives for long in a race.

all we can do is to do the best we can with what there is on the way before us...and that always comes back to who we are. meaning we must be the resolution to our own dissonance and we must be the bridge across our own gulf.

because the only peace we find is the peace we find in ourselves.

and only we can find our own way and reach our own finish before our own race is ultimately done.

Friday, July 23, 2010

playlist: friendship

we start our race thinking that we're alone. despite the sea of humanity around us, despite the mass of bodies moving beside us, we believe that we are alone in the endeavor that we have set before us, the only one undertaking the journey we have chosen to take. and so we go thinking we are the only ones going on our way, and that hence we do not want, should not need, will not have anyone else come with us.

but life soon teaches us otherwise. and as our race progresses and the miles add on and the road rises and the storms grow and chaos of the world takes its toll upon us, we learn that we're not alone, and that the humanity of bodies surrounding us have faces and names and feelings and thoughts and minds and souls, and that they are on journeys alongside us, perhaps not entirely identical but still moving in a direction and in a manner and in a way so very much the same to our own. and we come to learn then that we are not the only ones, and that perhaps we might want, possibly might need, probably do have some others go with us...we come to learn that it would be good to have a friend.

best friend:

the problem is how do we choose? how do we discern from the multitude about us those we want beside us? from those whose intentions we do not know? from those who could so easily choose to be our competitors? who can we look to as a friend?

unfortunately, the answer is just as hard as our race. we don't know anyone about us, so we can't discern who they are. we have too little information to make any judgment, so we can't know what they will do. and despite our best efforts, we can't read their intentions. and in all truth, everyone is likely to be a competitor. in short, we're never sure who we can look to as a friend.

you've got a friend in me:

and so we're forced to learn the hard way, going through people in droves, making such mistakes through so much misfortune over the so many souls passing through our lives just to accumulate through painful experience the lessons that we unfortunately have to come to know:

people can claim to be our friends, but they won't be really. they may say they're our friends, and act like our friends, and feel like our friends, and even be our friends, especially when things are good and everything is easy. but then, at the most inexplicable moments at the most difficult times under the most terrible circumstances, they'll prove to deceive us leave us betray us hurt us for that which will suit their own ends, leaving us in the wreckage on the road side with no one other than ourselves for company.

with a little help from my friends:

but sometimes, however, we'll find something else. sometimes by accident. sometimes by chance. sometimes in ways we never expected. sometimes we'll find someone. sometimes someone we know. sometimes someone a stranger. sometimes at the most inexplicable moments at the most difficult times under the most terrible circumstances. and they'll prove to be honest and stay with us and be loyal to us and help us even though it means sacrificing their own race just so that we can get back into ours...and it's then we know how we choose a friend:

a friend is someone who would and will and want to share with you offer to you give for you their last water their last food their last parts when times are toughest and the journey is the worst, for no other reason than to see you make your way on the long road that lies so far so hard so long ahead and that, above all, you finish it to its conclusion.

lean on me:

stand by me:

and it's then that we come to know the meaning of friendship. we come to know the meaning of not being alone.

and because of all the pain and all the suffering of all the experiences from all the people we've learned were not our friends, we've come to learn the full value of what that word truly means.

we've come to learn that friends--true friends--are rare. they're special. they're wondrous and magical in ways we cannot really say and in ways that we can really only know.

and friendship--true friendship--is deep. it's powerful. it's profound. in ways that we cannot understand and in ways that we can really only experience.

and from what we know and what we experience, we can say and understand that they enrich the journey that is our lives and embolden the endeavor we have chosen to undertake and taught us that in this race--our race--we are not alone...and that this does make a difference.

and for that, they are beautiful.

bridge over troubled water:

auld lang syne:

Friday, July 16, 2010

national ice cream day 2010 (thank god!)

oh thank god.

oh. thank. god.

and if there is no god, then i say that there is one now.

because it is that time again.

yes, yes it is.

it is that time when every god-fearing American is asked to fulfill their patriotic duty and take up their arms and pick up their bowls and grasp their spoons and come together and share in the national commemoration of that most holy of holy holidays:

National. Ice. Cream. Day.

yes, yes, you heard it right.

National Ice Cream Day.


declared by none other than President (he's a Prophet!) Ronald Reagan, July is National Ice Cream Month and on the 3rd Sunday in July culminates in National Ice Cream Day. on this day, all Americans (including you, pilgrim!) are expected to observe a time-honored and ancient commandment that is most righteous and worthy and just, and worship in a manner most pious and pray in a manner most divine: go forth, and anoint yourself in ice cream--and let it be plentiful (it's a moral imperative!).

because god is ice cream.

yes, you heard me right.

god is ice cream.

as in holy. as in sacred. as in sacrosanct. as in supreme. as in divine.

sweet cold creamy yummy yummy yummy yum yum yum goodness.


ice cream.

take. eat. this is the body. given for you!

ice cream.

pray! pray, i tell you!

ice cream.

it's good for the soul!

i won't say too much more, since i've written my homages to ice cream before, both serious and humorous, and so have covered my gamut of sentiments regarding the esteemed position that ice cream holds in my life...and maybe does as well for you. they'll make you laugh, they'll make you cry, they'll make you ponder the mysteries of ice cream, and make you wonder why.

you can review them at your leisure--hopefully over the said delicate treat:
enjoy my friends. honor this day. honor your country. honor our god. honor ice cream.



ice cream.


ice. cream.




Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Susan Rule

note: this is a follow-up to my previous post regarding quitting and knowing when to quit (reference: quitting). this post deals with a underlying assumption inherent to the decision to quit but which i didn't address in the previous commentary, partly because for reasons of focus but more because i think it is important enough to warrant its own article: quitting when you don't have the capacity to know to quit.

there are times in sports when an athlete reaches a condition where they are no longer able to exercise rational decision-making (some people think they never do, but that's a different story). for any number of possible reasons--harsh environment, substantial injury, poor nutrition, sheer effort, or outright exhaustion--an athlete may be pushed so far that they no longer have comprehension of themselves or their surroundings, nor coherence in their thoughts or actions, nor control of their mind or body. quite literally, you no longer have the capacity to know what you are doing--or what you should, and actually need, to do.

with respect to endurance sports, i've written about this particular state before, with videos of specific examples from the Ironman World Championships in Kona. if you can, i strongly recommend you take a look (as hard as it may be) to understand the condition i'm talking about:
as you can see from the videos, it's not pretty. and in some situations, it's deadly. Chris Legh, for example, suffered necrosis of his intestines (i.e., parts of it literally died) and doctors said that his life was actually in danger. what happened to him affected the rest of his life and career. these are the kinds of things no one wants to see result from Ironman...which is why we have cautionary tales about them.

in this kind of state, there are 3 things that happen:
  1. you cannot recognize your situation, and so cannot recognize that stress (i.e., a challenge pushing you temporarily outside your comfort zone, and so a useful spur to expand your performance capabilities for better long-term health) has become distress (i.e., a danger that can permanently injure or impair you, and so destroy not only your performance capabilities but also your overall long-term health)
  2. you want to keep going into greater distress, because you are at the mercy of the biochemical processes in your body (endorphins, adrenaline, whatever cocktail of hormones is in your system) driving your mind to continue in a manner that is obsessive-compulsive. horses are known to run themselves to death, and human beings (particularly athletes motivated to compete) are no different.
  3. you don't know you're in distress. you may know that you're in trouble, but you don't know how bad things are...or you don't care.
as a result, it becomes highly unlikely that as an athlete you can make a good decision about racing, quitting, or anything at all. you can make all the plans and set all the criteria about when it's good to quit, but once you're in the intensity of the race and in the moment of competition, you'll find it very difficult to say no or no more or i quit. in other words, your judgment will become impaired.

and you can't rely upon race organizers (who are already pressured by corporate sponsors, host governments, and individual competitors to have the race) to protect you. and you can't count on the race volunteers or medical staff (who may be too far away or too otherwise preoccupied) to save you. and can't expect other competitors (who are in the same situation you are) to help you. you are, in essence, on your own out there in the distance.

and if you push hard enough far enough long enough, you'll lose yourself and become one of those cautionary tales.

in which case, what do you do?

a friend of mine told me his response was The Susan Rule. it's named for his wife, Susan. it arose following his involvement in the inaugural Ironman Utah from 2002. that Ironman was made infamous because of severe weather that ultimately contributed to the drowning death of a competitor.

at that race, my friend woke up race day morning and saw the conditions, but even though other athletes were refusing to start the race because of the storm, he was still adamant on doing it--the reason, he told me, was because he'd built up his emotions to such a high state that he could not bring himself to quit. according to him, it was probably the stupidest thing he ever did, since he found himself stranded on the run course disoriented and lost, with no motor control over his body, and rapidly descending into hypothermia. although he didn't quit, the medical staff ensured that he took a DNF before his situation became critical.

it was because of that race that he and his wife had a very long, very intense conversation about why he was racing, what he wanted from racing, and most importantly, when he should continue a race and when he should quit a race. it was out of this that he realized that no race was worth permanently disabling or destroying his own health, and that as an athlete in a race he is not always able to recognize when either scenario is happening.

the result was The Susan Rule. the rule is simple: if his wife, Susan, tells him to quit, he quits. no questions. no debates. no complaints.

there is, of course, a bit more to the story. my friend says that he and his wife always take time before every Ironman to discuss why he's doing it and what he wants to get from it and thus when it's acceptable to continue and when it's acceptable to quit. they then discuss at what points during the race she will check on his status and make the decision for him.

he says The Susan Rule has been exercised once, and he didn't regret it. in fact, he thinks it probably saved him from another dangerous situation (this time in high heat, high humidity, and approaching heat stroke).

of course, the key thing implicit in The Susan Rule is trust. he trusts his wife to understand him, understand his race, and thereby understand the appropriate time and conditions he wants to use as his criteria to quit.

i've come to think that The Susan Rule--or at least some form of it--is relevant for all of us. because we can't always make the best decision for ourselves and we won't always have the capacity to recognize our own distress.

in those times, we need to be able to rely upon someone else. we don't all have a Susan. we don't all have a spouse. but we can certainly find someone we trust. someone who has our best interests in their heart. someone we know understands us and our race. and above all, someone who has the judgment to know when both are in danger and the courage to then stop us from going any farther.

and if we don't have that kind of someone, maybe it's time we start doing what it takes to find one.

because sometimes we'll be on a path to self-destruction and won't know it, or even if we do we won't be able to help ourselves get away from it. it is at those times that we need someone to take our hand and guide us along, so that we can change to a better that allows us to survive and continue and move on with our deeper mission to explore ourselves and our universe and make of the two a greater whole--a whole as hopefully as great as the connection we have with our better halves.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010


(note: i've written indirectly about the effects of a DNF before: the anguish of failed expectations. but here, i've decided to tackle head-on something i consider to be a very crucial, very misunderstood subset of the DNF: quitting)

"quitting" is not a word that an athlete likes to hear. it's among the list of vocabulary (like "surrender", "dropping out", or "giving up") treated like the plague and as things (to borrow from J.K. Rowling) That Must Not Be Named.

quitting is not to be confused with the equally dreaded term "DNF". DNF (Did Not Finish) is more general, and refers to an athlete not finishing a race for any number of reasons: physical injury, broken equipment, canceled races, etc. quitting can lead to a DNF, but it deals very specifically with an athlete's choice to voluntarily stop and exit before completion of competition.

quitting is taken as a negative for several reasons:
  • it connotes personal weakness in character in terms of deficiencies in values associated with sports: motivation, courage, or drive;
  • it creates an obstacle in the mind, with the athlete now becoming much more aware of an inability to face personal challenges and thereby generating greater uncertainty as to personal capabilities, in turn increasing the possibility of accepting self-imposed personal limitations--something entirely contrary to the spirit of athletics;
  • it renders the sporting event moot, and means that all the sacrifice in time, energy, and resources (from the athlete or athlete's friends and family) was in vain and hence a waste representing an opportunity cost of things that would have been put to more productive use in other endeavors.
none of these are good in terms of encouraging optimum performance nor enabling positive outcomes. which is why so many athletes treat quitting like an anathema and avoid any proximity to its utterance.

in a way, this is good. the fear of quitting and its consequences serves as a spur prodding us to persevere in the face of dangers that intimidate us. it pushes to stay in the arena of competition despite our fears. it causes us continue in the race even though we're not sure we can. and in so doing, it forces us to expand our minds: it enables us to see that we really can do more than we believe, that we really can produce more than we understand, and that we really are more than we know. in short, it helps us to liberate and better make ourselves.

but it can also be bad. it can make us dysfunctional, and blind to the harm resulting from our dysfunction. it can lead us to overlook our well-being, to the extent that we persist past the point of injury and in so doing permanently debilitate ourselves. it can lead us to ignore the environment around us, to the extent that we fail in our responsibilities and thereby neglect or even hurt others around us. it can lead us to forget the point of competition, to the extent that we never discover the spirit of our efforts and never learn the nature of our actions and never realize the better aspects of our existence. in short, it causes us to limit and, in extreme cases, destroy ourselves.

which suggests that a refusal to quit, while often lauded and promoted, can sometimes be a problem, and that quitting is not always a negative thing. which raises the question: when is quitting good and when is quitting bad? or more succinctly: when should we decide to quit?

the answer is perhaps best found from first principles. that is, from recognizing the reasons why we engage in athletics and sports. both mean different things to different people, and hence require a measure of personal reflection about what it is that we individually are seeking from our own involvement in them. are we doing them for fun? are we doing them for camaraderie? are we doing them to release pent-up energy? are we doing them to resolve issues? are we doing them for glory? are we doing them for better overall (physical, mental, spiritual) health? are we doing them for personal fulfillment? we have to ponder these questions, since they then set what expectations we have in relation to our own involvement in athletics and sports.

this is relevant, because once we have set our expectations, we have a standard by which to judge our decisions. with a standard, we can recognize something as positive if it acts constructively towards achieving our expectations and as negative if it acts destructively towards not achieving our expectations. if it's constructive, then it's good. if it's destructive, then it's bad. which distills our decision to this: if something is good, we should continue it; if something is bad, we should quit it.

admittedly, it's not always this easy. things are often a mixture of good and bad. but we can always make a judgment as to the net effect--we can always sense in the big picture if something has an overall result of being good or bad. the important rule to remember is: overall, does it help achieve us expectations, or doesn't it? on a general level, is it constructive or destructive?

because on a deeper level athletics and sport, if nothing else, are about making us better. physically, mentally, spiritually. for ourselves, for others, for the world around us. and if what we're doing is not achieving our expectations, then it's not constructive and it's not making us better.

in which case, it's at that time that we have to make our choice: it's then that we have to decide to change...for the better.