Tag Archives: Buddhism

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Slow Down and Slow Bike

Originally Published: August 3, 2011


Just came across a fun piece at treehugger.com that introduced me to the Slow Bicycle Movement:

Copenhagenizing Has Another Name: The Slow Bike Movement

We have talked about “Copenhagenizing“, Mikael Colville-Anderson’s term for learning to ride bikes like they do in Copenhagen, in street clothes, at a comfortable pace, usually without a helmet. Andrew Sullivan points us to the American version, where it has become part of the Slow Movement, and is now called Slow Biking.

The whole blog post and the pages it links to are totally worth the time to read, and it all really resonated with me.

Often, when I tell people that I ride my bicycle to work everyday, I’m asked if I’m into road cycling or mountain biking. And, when I answer that I’m not, they seem perplexed. For some, it’s hard to understand why anyone would ride a bicycle just for purposes of transportation. For them, cycling is all about getting stronger and stronger, going farther and farther, getting faster and faster, either or all of those. For them, that kinda thing is fun, and I respect that. (I think of my friend and fellow blogger Mike McQuaide, who does things like riding up the last eight miles of Mt. Baker Highway four times in one day, at a total elevation gain of 9,200 feet. Just.Wow.)

For me, however, while I was quite the athlete and participated in numerous sports when I was younger, I’m no longer interested. I absolutely need and want exercise, I desire to be healthy and active. But, commuting to work on my bicycle or cycling around town on errands, hiking (not mountaineering) to a modest peak or ridge for a nice view, or paddling a kayak on calm or, at most, lightly-choppy water, keeping an eye out for harbor seals, is my idea of fun, and the fact that it just happens to be good fitness is merely icing on the cake, to use a terribly incongruous figure of speech.

There’s this guy I know, who also commutes by bicycle to our workplace at Western Washington University, a campus situated atop a fairly substantial hill, he’s considerably older than me, and I didn’t think it was possible to pedal as slowly as he does on the hill without gravity pulling him back down.

And yet, he doesn’t appear to be laboring at all. Rather, he seems to be completely at peace and content, no matter the weather, day in and day out, and when I occasionally see him locking up his bike on campus in the morning he’s not breathing hard and he looks like he hasn’t broken a sweat.

It seems to me that in these modern times, in this, to borrow a phrase from Douglas Coupland, accelerated culture, the slow bicycle movement can bring some balance to one’s life. You don’t have to commute to work every day, or any day for that matter. All you have to do is get on your bike and ride, slowly, and breathe normally, take in your surroundings, smile at the people you pass by, stop to say hello even, or ask them to join you.

Now, if I could only leave my house about 10 minutes earlier everyday, I could practice what I’m preaching and not have to rush to work, inevitably arriving sweaty and gasping for breath.

It really is so very Zen.

Best of Fish & Bicycles: Video Fridays: Long Live Hippies

Originally Published: July 26, 2011


A friend of mine recently tweeted a wonderful YouTube clip (video embedded below) of a joint performance by The Flaming Lips and Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros of the Lips song Do You Realize?, filmed in a cemetery in Los Angeles, CA.

I dare anyone to watch the video and NOT have the word “hippies” come to mind, and I’m reminded of a post I wrote back in April 2010, a lament on the fact that for some, in my opinion too many, the word “hippies” carries a negative connotation.

I watch that video of Do You Realize? and it’s quite bittersweet for me. While it’s heartening to see hippie culture surviving, it breaks my heart to think of how squashed the movement got, as I wrote previously, by cynicism and conservatism.

What I see when I watch that video is a crowd of people being incredibly peaceful, lovingly joining their voices together in song, singing about how precious life is and how we should, together, make the most of every single second. I’ve been fortunate enough to have had the pleasure of similar experiences, and while I was raised Jewish and now dabble in Buddhism, I’d have to say that gatherings like that, especially when they involve making music, are really the only church I’ll ever need.

Back in April 2010 I quoted a line by Pete Townshend of The Who, a line that I remembered but couldn’t recall exactly where it came from. Well, I’ve since remembered.

In 1993, Townshend released an album titled Psychoderelict, a concept album about an aging rock star lamenting the fact that back in the late 60s and through much of the 70s artists and their fans really did believe that their music and art, along with their love and community, could change the world for the better.

Townshend’s aging rocker says at one point, “Whatever happened to all that lovely hippie shit?”

Well, despite all the cynicism in our screwed up world, that hippie shit is alive and well and recently showed up in a Los Angeles cemetery. And, it really has very little to do with how people dress or how often they do drugs and drink, and everything to do with a sincere belief that love; peaceful, supportive, inclusive community; and freedom of expression, are the most important things.

The Boston Marathon & The Cycle Of Violence

meditationMy heart aches for the victims of the explosions today at the Boston Marathon

…just as it aches for all victims of violence everywhere, as well as the conditions that drive people to act out in violence.

I’m a longtime pacifist and aspiring Buddhist, who passionately agrees with the notion, commonly attributed to Mahatma Gandhi, that an eye for an eye makes the whole world blind.

The belief, held by some, that injuring and killing people is ever warranted, for any reason, is just about the most alien, incomprehensible, indefensible concept that I can think of.

For sure, outrage is an understandable reaction to acts of this sort, and yet allowing that outrage to transform into a desire for revenge is at the heart of a cycle of violence that we humans are so tragically susceptible to.

I pray for peace.

Eyecatchers: The Latest From Do Ho Suh

karma-1In two previous Eyecatchers posts and one Video Fridays post (Post 1, Post 2, Post 3) I wrote about a fantastic art installation, Cause & Effect, by artist Do Ho Suh that had just been, well, installed here in Bellingham, Washington, on the campus of my employer, Western Washington University (WWU).

Today, I’m excited to discover news of his latest work, via Colossal:

Towering 23 feet (7 meters) into the sky, Karma is a recent sculpture installed in the Sydney and Walda Besthoff Sculpture Garden at the New Orleans Museum of Art by Korean sculptor Do Ho Suh (previously). Captured here in a series of photographs by Alan Teo, the piece depicts a tower of piggy-backed men, each successively covering the eyes of the man below him, creating an illusion that the blinded tower seems to stretch to infinity like a fractal, although technically it was made from 98 cast stainless steel figures.

Once again, Do Ho Suh does NOT disappoint. Karma is stunning and thought-provoking.

Like Cause & Effect here at WWU, the artist continues the motif of multiple figures stacked up on each others’ shoulders. Of Cause & Effect, the artist said:

…the artwork is a “physical realization of existence, suggesting strength in the presence of numerous individuals. The work is an attempt to decipher the boundaries between a single identity and a larger group, and how the two conditions coexist.”

The artwork at Western metaphorically places the individual within an intricate web of destiny and fate. “It comes from a belief that every individual is spawned from the lives he/she may have lived previously. The vertical context of the figures becomes a collection of past influences, and again, begins to define the inherent powers and energies that characterize an individual,” he said.

Karma is clearly a continuation of these spiritual themes, themes plucked from the Hindu, Jain, Buddhist, and Sikh religions.

Interestingly, as I observed Cause & Effect, both in photos and in person, somehow it didn’t really register with me that each figure is covering the eyes of the figure holding them up.

Now that the motif has been continued in Karma, however, it really jumps out at me, inspiring me to consider the implied meaning, something about how we’re all blind, blinded by illusions, and yet we’re all interdependent, and so, under those conditions, every action we take affects every other living thing and our environment in general, creating a delicate balance, what goes around comes around, and all that, such that, if any one of the figures in Do Ho Suh’s pieces was to upset that balance, it would be disastrous for everyone.

Here are some more photos of Karma. Enjoy!

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Eyecatchers: Michael Grab’s Balancing Rocks

glue-ver-2Via Colossal, today’s Eyecatchers installment features the work of Michael Grab, an amazing balancing rock artist. (Yes, his last name is “Grab” and he balances rocks.)

No matter how many times I see this stuff, it’s like I’m seeing these structures for the first time.

I think it’s because they are so unlikely! Gravity is just not supposed to allow these rocks to do this!

Now, some might see these as symbols of human arrogance, as a boast of some kind of mastery over the elements.

But I would argue that anyone who suggests such a thing has never actually tried to balance rocks.

I have tried, and I can tell you that it is frickin’ HARD! The first time, my family and I were on a beach in Stanley Park in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. We came across a guy doing his own, we thought it looked fun, and so we gave it a try.

Fun, Michael Grab will tell you, isn’t exactly the primary objective or outcome.

Over the past few years of practicing rock balance, simple curiosity has evolved into therapeutic ritual, ultimately nurturing meditative presence, mental well-being, and artistry of design. Alongside the art, setting rocks into balance has also become a way of showing appreciation, offering thanksgiving, and inducing meditation. Through manipulation of gravitational threads, the ancient stones become a poetic dance of form and energy, birth and death, perfection and imperfection.

So, I’ll admit it. Despite the fact that I normally consider myself to be a very patient person, trying to balance rocks felt very similar to the struggle to quiet my monkey mind when I’m on the cushion meditating. In meditation, I’m never able to stay focused on the breath for very long, and while trying to balance rocks, I could not hold still long enough to find the “gravitational thread” needed for the more dramatic of structures.

So, I post the following video of Michael Grab at work, along with some photos of his work, in total reverence for and appreciation of his achievements. And, I find it fitting that the video ends the way it does, a reminder that, even if balancing rocks IS an arrogant attempt to master the elements, the elements get the last laugh in the end, a beautiful lesson in impermanence.

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Tweet of the Day: @DalaiLama

A tall order, for sure, but a good one:

Tweet of the Day: @Buddhism_Now