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Posts Tagged ‘Erik Boomer’

carnage61Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling.Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.

“Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud.

Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t do near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?”

“I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
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In my  mind, expedition kayaking tests the zen practice of paddling more than any other aspect of the sport. In expedition paddling all decisions are magnified and every decision is cumulative. As many people have commented in previous posts, finding the balance of concentration, focus, acceptance, unity with the water and your surroundings lies at the heart of kayaking. This “practiced zen” is what draws us to rivers and keeps us searching for new rivers to paddle. One of the hardest things for me on a multi-day expedition is to leave each rapid where I find it:  if I run the rapid or walk around it, I have to make the decision, accept the decision and move on.
Expeditions test your ability to make a decision and be content without dwelling on the past. One of the tests for me of this is whether or not I can sleep at night after a long day on the water. It may seem like exhaustion would simply take over and force you to sleep, but when you are camped out of top or a huge rapid that is roaring in your ears all night, putting your mind to rest and focusing on the immediate is often very difficult.  Your body physically needs sleep to recover, and your mind needs time to recover so that you will be in shape to paddle the next day, and the next day and the  next, until you have completed your mission, but this is only possible if you are at peace with the decisions you make and don’t carry them with you down the river.
– Rob Bart

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chopwoodcarrywaterWhen Bankei was preaching at Ryumon temple, a Shinshu priest, who believed in salvation through repetition of the name of the Buddha of Love, was jealous of his large audience and wanted to debate with him.

Bankei was in the midst of a talk when the priest appeared, but the fellow made such a disturbance that Bankei stopped his discourse and asked about the noise.

“The founder of our sect,” boasted the priest, “had such miraculous powers that he held a brush in his hand on one bank of the river, his attendant held up a paper on the other bank, and the teacher wrote the holy name of Amida through the air. Can you do such a wonderful thing?”

Bankei replied lightly: “Perhaps your fox can perform that trick, but that is not the manner of Zen. My miracle is that when I feel hungry I eat, and when I feel thirsty I drink.”

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Bankei was not impressed with the Shinshu priest’s story because, to Bankei a true miracle is Zen.  Bankei understands that when Zen is present one performs at their best and that is when a true miracle can happen.  Kayaking teaches one this by the way we mentally approach a certain play move, rapid, or river.  In Zen a kayaker can perform at his/her best by being totally focused on the task at hand.  On the other hand, if one focuses on an entire rapid he/she will loose focus and perform under their natural ability.  For example, Gorilla rapid on the Green River was one of the first true class five rapids I ran.  When I first starting running it I was extremely intimidated because all I could see was one huge, scary rapid with lots of potential for carnage.  With more kayaking experience I realized that Gorilla was like three, “smaller” rapids instead of one huge rapid.  Further down the line I started focusing on particular moves within these three smaller rapids.  Next, I learned to focus on each individual move within the rapid.  Once, I learned to be in the moment and focus on the present task at hand I started having more success in paddling Gorilla.  Not to say that it doesn’t still make me nervous but it is more manageable when taking a Zen approach.

What is Zen?  To me, Zen is a state of mind where the mind is relaxed yet focused.  Zen is living in the moment thinking about neither the past nor the future.  Because the mind is focused entirely on the present this allows one to perform above their natural ability.  Eastern culture calls this Zen as where western culture would say being in the Zone.

Anyone can find themselves in a Zen state or the Zone.  It could be a musician playing a hard piece of music, a machinist shaving off the last 1/1000 piece of metal off a part, a teacher giving a lecture, a Buddhist Monk meditating, or a kayaker paddling a rapid that is challenging his/her ability.  In speaking of kayaking, or other extreme sports there are three things that must be present to enter Zen or the Zone; a commitment, confidence, and control.

If you kayak long enough you will find yourself in company with someone who is like the Shinshu priest.  This person will be telling you of some miraculous trick they know of and will challenge you to do the same.  It may be paddling a certain river, a particular rapid, etc.  I have found that just because a certain someone can paddle a clean line through a rapid, it doesn’t always mean that I can.  Why is this important?  In kayaking and life it is important to be honest with yourself about your skills and what consequences you are comfortable with.  When you can honestly judge your own skill level you will find yourself with more control that leads to more confidence and this allows total commitment.  When you have control, confidence and commitment you will find Zen more often.

One can find Zen in anything they do.  For me kayaking has been a terrific gateway because kayaking is where I spend the majority of my time.  The Zen I find in kayaking has allowed me to find it more often in other aspects of life.  If you are interested in learning more about Zen I recommend three books.  The first one is, “The C Zone Peak Performance Under Pressure.”  The second is, “The Art and Zen of Motorcycle Maintenance.”  The third book is, “Chop Wood Carry Water.”

– Jason Aytes

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imagesThe old monk sat by the side of the road. With his eyes closed, his legs crossed and his hands folded in his lap, he sat. In deep meditation, he sat. Suddenly his zazen was interrupted by the harsh and demanding voice of a samurai warrior. “Old man! Teach me about heaven and hell!”

At first, as though he had not heard, there was no perceptible response from the monk. But gradually he began to open his eyes, the faintest hint of a smile playing around the corners of his mouth as the samurai stood there, waiting impatiently, growing more and more agitated with each passing second.

“You wish to know the secrets of heaven and hell?” replied the monk at last. “You who are so unkempt. You whose hands and feet are covered with dirt. You whose hair is uncombed, whose breath is foul, whose sword is all rusty and neglected. You who are ugly and whose mother dresses you funny. You would ask me of heaven and hell?”

The samurai uttered a vile curse. He drew his sword and raised it high above his head. His face turned to crimson and the veins on his neck stood out in bold relief as he prepared to sever the monk’s head from its shoulders.

“That is hell,” said the old monk gently, just as the sword began its descent. In that fraction of a second, the samurai was overcome with amazement, awe, compassion and love for this gentle being who had dared to risk his very life to give him such a teaching. He stopped his sword in mid-flight and his eyes filled with grateful tears.

“And that,” said the monk, “is heaven.”


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The river is the ultimate teacher, the proverbial monk on the side of the road engaged in zazen described in this parable.  Water molecules are polar- positive and negative, organized yet disorderly, heaven and hell all at the same time.   The first time I tipped over in my kayak when I was just starting out, you could say I was experiencing hell.  It was dark, I couldn’t breath, I was upside down and strapped into this boat without any ideas about how to right myself.  At the time I thought that was hell. After learning to roll I found heaven and hell were actually in the same place at the same time, it was just my fear and then my elation that defined them. Heaven was just as present when I was out of air, in the dark and afraid as was hell. I get to choose heaven and hell every time I paddle, just as the samurai discovered that heaven and hell existed in his own definition of his experience.

By: Erik Boomer

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