More updates

Okay, I’m really sorry I haven’t been blogging consistently. It’s easy to say there’s been a lot going on, but man, has there been a lot going on!

  • I’m buying a condo! It’s in a beautiful converted house that looks like a castle. It’s still in Ghent, and will be about a mile closer to downtown from where I live now. The location is perfect; I’ll be equidistant from my workplace and the Naro, and in walking distance of both.
  • Just came back from a short trip visiting my family in Texas, and helped welcome my great-nephew Bridger Callahan into this wonderful, crazy world.
  • Finished the St. John the Apostle 5k Stingray Run on May 1st, eleven minutes faster than I did last year.
  • Will be running in the Run/Walk for the Kids 8K benefit for Children’s Hospital of the King’s Daughters.
  • Still in training for the Rock and Roll Half-Marathon in September.
  • Will be attending Esperanto USA’s national congress in Washington later this month.
  • Will be moving next month.
  • And going to Spain in July!

Losing Weight, Gaining Life!

The Alternate Day DietLast night I ran into a friend whom I hadn’t seen since December. She was shocked at how different I looked. Since January 18, I’ve been following a program called The Alternate-Day Diet. I started at 225 lbs. (102 kg) and had a BMI of 33. A few days ago, I weighed in 202.5 lbs. (92 kg, BMI 29.9), a loss of 22.5 pounds or 10% of my starting weight in less than 13 weeks. And 20 lbs of my loss has been fat. I’m looking and feeling younger and I’m really looking forward to continuing the progress.

Why was she shocked? I’ve been obese now for a long time. I crossed into 200-pound-plus territory in 1998, never to return, except for a brief, ill-fated flirtation with the Atkins diet.

Until now, nothing else has helped me take it off. Several years ago, I tried Weight Watchers and found it decent for the strongly-disciplined, but I found counting points tedious and unendurable after a few months. Last year, I attempted the “mindfulness” approach described in I Can Make You Thin by Phil McKenna and The Gabriel Method by Jon Gabriel. It seemed dead-on in principle, but required a tremendous amount of time spent in mental conditioning, and the effort the constant mindfulness required was too difficult for me to keep with it.

The gist of The Alternate-Day Diet is to eat very lightly (really a modified fast) every other day. And on “up” days, eat just your usual amount. I’m keeping myself to around 500 calories on the short days … a few pieces of fruit and a protein bar, and another snack, like microwave popcorn or low-fat cottage cheese. I’ve found that as long as I spread my little snacks well throughout the day, I’m very seldom hungry unless I stay up very late.

The diet isn’t restrictive about what to eat at all… only that for weight-loss, you should limit your “down” days to about 25% of your typical intake. However, to use the diet simply for the benefits of the calorie restriction lifestyle, down days can be as much as 50% of regular intake. “Good” food is encouraged, of course, and the author says that most followers soon find themselves preferring healthier choices. That certainly has been my experience. On my up days, I tend to eat wraps and salads, heavy on vegetables, but often including eggs, cheese or fish. Sometimes I also enjoy a nice dessert. I’m losing my taste for many fried foods—I haven’t had or even wanted French fries since starting, and the thought of a heavy Chinese dish with fried rice actually repels me now. (On the other hand, I still have a weakness for tortilla chips!)

I’ve been blogging my progress on my review of the book at Amazon.

Since I’m training for a half-marathon in September, and I’m currently running about 10 miles per week, there’s a question of whether the weight loss is from the eating program or the running program. I believe it’s almost entirely from the eating program, because last fall I was training even more vigorously than I am now, and I didn’t lose a pound during three months of training. Seriously, my weight was as unchanging as a rock — 225, 225, 225 during the whole period, give or take a pound. More evidence is that in February, I was sidelined with an Achilles’ injury, and not running at all. I lost as much weight during that period as I did in March, when I resumed my running.

However, a mixture of cardio and strength training actually is part of the ADD, although it’s not emphasized and gets easily overlooked.

My goals? At first, I was thinking of shooting for a weight goal, 162 lbs (BMI 24), and possibly down to 145 lbs (BMI 21.5) which is where I stabilized when I got into great shape the first time. However, I’ve been reading about the advantages of Waist-to-Height Ratio over BMI as a fitness measure, and that, combined with the fact that I’m not being drawn to a low-fat diet like I was 20 years ago, makes me think a waist goal, rather than a weight goal, is more in order. My primary goal will be 34 in. (WHtR 49%), and then, I may decide to go further. We’ll see.

In the meantime, I’m looking forward to many more celebrations along the journey: crossing the 200-pound mark, breaking 190, buying new pants, and so forth. But the main thing is just the newness, freshness, strength and vitality I feel. It frims!

Watching Life

LOST poster

Once I watched an exciting past episode of Lost with a friend who also enjoys it, but who couldn’t stop thinking about it as he watched it. An action scene begins, and he shouts, “No way! The water wouldn’t have risen that high!” or “I really doubt Kate would’ve said that; that was off.” Fine. But that’s looking at the show, interpreting it, critiquing it—not experiencing it. He’s enjoying it in a certain way, but I wonder if he wouldn’t enjoy it more to simply enter the world that’s presented on screen for 45 minutes, and leave the analysis aside until the end credits. (I know I do!)

I find myself in an episode that’s going on 24 hours a day, every day. It’s there for me to enjoy every minute, whether that means laughing, crying, complaining, or sleeping.

For me at least, it’s turning out that there’s nothing very mystical about “mysticism” after all. It’s just the desire to experience reality, nothing more.

Beyond Impossibility

Living in a world of “conditioned existence” as Buddhists say,
is living in a world of possibilities, and impossibilities.

Freedom lies beyond impossibility.
All the Teachers know it.

Hence the koans:
What is the sound of one hand?
How does one pinch smoke?
What did you look like before your grandparents were born?

The voice of God from the whirlwind:
Can you bind the Pleiades?
Were you there when the morning stars sang together,
and the sons of God shouted for joy?

The eternal questions of the gurus:
What am I?
What is happening right now?
Is reality really real?

The questions of almost every child
until they learn that one shouldn’t question
the things that others no longer question:
What is beyond the end of space?
Can God make a stone so heavy he can’t lift it?
Who made God?

The questions that we don’t laugh at
because they return years later:
Why am I here?
What am I supposed to do?

Beyond impossibility
is this.

Marathon (and other) updates

I won’t be running in the Shamrock Marathon this month. I had some substantial problems with my left Achilles’ tendon, and after some rest, a lot of physical therapy, a couple of shoe changes, and wearing an ankle brace, I think that’s behind me, as long as I go slow in building up to the distance. These problems started in late December. At that time, I changed my plans to run in the half-marathon event instead of the full marathon, but my Achilles’ problem kept flaring up, and I was never able to run more than seven miles without tremendous difficulty.

So now, I’m training for the Rock-and-Roll Half Marathon in Virginia Beach in September. That should give me ample time to train without hurting myself. I’m looking forward to it!

Other news:
La Sagrada FamiliaI’ll be going on vacation to Barcelona and Majorca this summer. I’ve dreamed about this for years. My dad will be coming along with me, and I think this is going to be an amazing experience for both of us.

I’ve been trying to studying both Spanish and Catalan this year, but I’m finding that studying two languages at once, especially if they’re closely related, is really difficult. The result is that I haven’t really studied much of either so far this year. I have a pretty good base in Spanish now, which I’ve been studying off and on for about three years, but my Catalan is very basic, and it’s tough to find good learning materials and anyone to practice with.

I love Catalan and really want to learn it (it’s like a cross between Spanish and French, spoken with a Russian accent); but I’ve come to realize that I need to give Spanish priority. That way I when I get there I’ll have a very decent grasp of one of the area’s languages. If I try to concentrate on Catalan alone for a few months, I probably won’t be very good in either one when I get there. (Sigh.)

I’m planning not just on going to Esperanto USA’s national congress this year as usual, but I may actually be giving a workshop in Esperanto there. (Public speaking in a foreign language! Just a couple of years ago that would have been unimaginable to me.)

Seeds

The mightiest redwood grew from a small seed in a cone, and that, in turn, sprang from a seed from a cone from another redwood, and so on. For generations, centuries, millennia.

Every seed stores not only the raw potential of the mature plant enfolded within it, but of that plant’s future generations.

Every action taken or not taken today, every word said or unsaid, changes the timeline of the Universe forever.

And all futures spring from this present moment, as this moment in turn arises from all the past moments that have ever been.

The seed from which the whole Universe blossomed is the One.

The seed from which that One came forth is unfathomable.

My faith lies not in answers, nor questions, but in that mystery beyond, behind, beneath, within Everything. There is no surer foundation, no wider reach, no grander canvas, no presence more persistent. Or intimate.

When you can dance on nothing at all, you can never fall.

Marathon(s) update

Well, the writing marathon, NaNoWriMo, is finally over. I and my friends Zach and Margreet all won, which is to say, we completed the challenge of writing a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel.

Now, some friends have enquired about when they can read my work, is it public yet, is it “finished” yet, and so on. Here’s an excerpt from an email I sent to a good friend about that:

… I’m discovering that the words “rough draft” seem to mean wildly different things depending on the author, the book, and to non-writers.

I’ve got friends asking me to post it online, as though this is something slightly less polished than the book I envision. NOTHING could be farther from the truth.

I tweeted that my rough draft is so rough, it makes the surface of Mars look like glass by comparison!

The main story arc is pretty much finished… needs to be fleshed out, and needs an epilogue… everything is about as sketchy as can be… Most of the minor characters still are named with XXX as a placeholder!

So, yeah, I pretty much finished a “rough draft” in the roughest, draftiest, most skeletal sense of the word, but yeah, there’s a heck of a lot more for me to discover!

2009 NaNoWriMo winner badgeOr to put it more concisely… you don’t even want to think about reading it in this state… I’m probably going to take many months to revise it. I do think it’s a good science-fiction story, and will be seeking to publish it eventually.

As for running, my eight weeks of preliminary conditioning are over, and I’m officially on the training program of The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. Last night I jogged four miles. Sunday, I’ll do five. And on March 21st, I’ll do more than 26. It’s exciting, and I’ve got to say, endorphins are the best drug in the world! They make it worth it, even in spite of sores, rain, and slogging through mud.

These continuing projects, both turning the draft into a book, and turning myself into a marathoner are great challenges, but I’m already off to a great start, and I’m enjoying the heck out of them.

My Other Marathon

Besides the marathon I’ll be running in March 21, I’ve signed up for another one of sorts as well. This one starts in just three-and-a-half hours. It’s called National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo for short.

I’m not really sure which is the greater challenge … to build up to the point of running more than 26 miles, or to write a 50 kiloword first draft in 30 days. Well, actually, it’s got to be the latter. This will require a heck of a lot of discipline, every day or almost every day for the entire month. After work, writing will be my top priority. Fortunately, I’ve prepared myself a bit and feel (more or less) ready and definitely eager to take it on.

Inspirations I’m working with: The myths of Atlantis and Icarus, a setting in Mallorca and Barcelona, and the exciting possibilities of space and time.

In Training

I’m in training. For a marathon! Yeah, you read that right, and it still sounds as unbelievable to me as it does to anyone reading this who knows me.

Sure, I wrote earlier about starting a running program; I began running again this spring rather stupidly. I just started jogging, and tried way too quickly to extend my runs. I didn’t begin by getting my body to get used to the idea of moving first, by walking, then gradually adding jogging, and slowly, smartly building up my bones and muscles from those of Internet potato to jock wannabe.

And after I finished my 5k race in May, I slacked off, and stopped running again, although with geocaching as a hobby, I’ve been getting outside and moving a bit more than I used to.

images.jpgFast-forward to the present: Almost everyone on my team at work (yeah, fellow geeky Web developers and engineers!) has been reading either Born to Run by Christopher McDougall, or The Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer by Whitsett, Dolgener and Kole, or both.

The first book is about ultra-marathoning, and deals with the subject on two levels. First, it’s a brilliantly-written account of its practitioners, from the Tarahumara people of Mexico, to some of the most colorful characters in the the States that you’ll ever read about.

The second level is a examination of the science of running, which is no less interesting, and to me, was even more so. One mystery that McDougall was intent on solving, is why US distance running capability has been decreasing since the 70s.

Over the course of his investigation, with discussions ranging from sport science laboratories to casual conversations with extreme runners, a pattern emerged that running injuries exploded proportionately with the advent of running shoes, and a rapidly-growing segment of doctors, coaches, and runners are eschewing shoes for barefoot running or minimal footwear, such as Vibram FiveFingers.

The results (for many people at least) have been remarkable. Some people with debilitating running injuries have been quickly able to surpass their previous abilities, and there are coaches now who insist their athletes train barefoot to prevent injuries.

I had decided to order a pair of FiveFingers long before reading Born to Run, and the book only increased my interest. Last week, I received my VFFs and the feeling was amazing—exactly like being barefoot, but with protection from the glass, stickers, and pebbles that make city streets foot-hostile. Alas, my shoes were a size too small, but I’m looking forward to getting the right size later this week.

nonrunnerguide.jpgMeanwhile, I’m following the Non-Runner’s Marathon Trainer. It’s from 1998, so naturally doesn’t have the latest and greatest information about footwear, but it seems a sane (though still scary) guide to get a non-runner like me to complete a marathon. The marathon-training program is 16 weeks long (about the length of a college semester, which is where this approach was developed originally). There’s also a more basic 10-week program to prep complete non-runners to have the strength and stamina for the training program. Needless to say, I’m in that preparatory phase.

All in all, this is pretty amazing stuff. More and more, we’re realizing that the corporate-controlled running shoe industry is slowing us down and killing our feet, that our God-given arches and natural pronation is the best shock absorption possible, and that what we’ve had all along is all we ever really needed.

footprint.jpgThis renewed attention to the bare foot makes me think of one in particular: the empty footprint. As Karen Armstrong wrote, the first symbol of Buddhism wasn’t the Buddha-image, but the Buddha’s footprint. That, to me, is a wonderful illustration of the impact of spirit and mind upon matter, more distinguished by what’s not there than what is there.

Back to Basics

In an earlier post, I wrote that most people learn to see the world from the ideas they’re taught, instead of “the undeniable aspects of their own experience.”

Yes, there are undeniable aspects of our experience. Do you want to explore what’s undeniable, what’s real, what’s unquestionable? Do you want to get past the crap that has been shoveled into your head since you were a child? Want to see the world, its wonders, and all the people in it afresh? Are you sure? Don’t answer too quickly. Courage is required.

Because when you learn to look at the world and not your thoughts about the world, it might be surprising. And when you learn to look at yourself instead of your thoughts about yourself, it might be more than surprising. It might even be frightening. Or not. But you won’t know until you look. Hence, the requirement of courage.

This has been known for millenia. According to the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus cautions:

Whoever searches
must continue to search
until they find.
When they find,
they will be disturbed.
And being disturbed, they will marvel
and will reign over All.
—Thomas 2