Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Focus and contemplation

From Patanjali's Yoga Sutras (Chapter 1, v. 39):

        yatha abhimata dhyanadva

        Or by contemplating on whatsoever thing one may like (the mind becomes stabilized)

Which reminds me of Soren Kierkegaard, "Purity of heart is to will one thing."

I love this because it is telling us, on the one hand, that the most important thing is focus and meditation/contemplation and, on the other hand, it is less important what we focus or meditate on. In fact, following our natural attractions can be the most fruitful.

So whether you are mesmerized by a beautiful view on your daily hike or drawn to meditate on a beautiful painting or icon or love the sound of your breath and footsteps while you run, all of these are worthy objects of contemplation.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Time, plenty of time

Mon:    Yoga    50 min.
Tue:    Yoga    50 min.
Wed:    Yoga    48 min.
        Run     4.65mi  44:41
Thu:    Yoga    45 min.
        Run     3.01mi  29:30
Fri:    Yoga    30 min. (then chanted and meditated for 90 min.)
        Run     3.07mi. 32:49
Sat:    Run     6.43mi. 1:02:34
Sun:    Yoga    50 min.
        Bike    8.86mi. 47:42

I was able to start back running this week, which was really good. And, you'll notice that I did yoga 6 out of 7 days. That was really, really good. I can see at least three immediate benefits to doing yoga every day:

        first, if I'm feeling tired or sore, I feel freer to do a more restorative or relaxing session, rather than feeling as if I must do something strenuous to "get more bang for the buck".

        second, I experience changes in my body -- I can feel that I am more flexible some days than others or in certain parts of my body more than other parts.

        third, yoga is becoming more of a spiritual practice, particularly an awareness exercise, than physical exercise.

Alors, bon, I think I will continue like this.

One thing that is very good for me about Africa is the slower pace of life. When I am trying to get things done, or feeling like I should, this is often frustrating. However, since the entire context of life is far more basic and moves much more slowly, it is easier for me to be more gentle with myself, as I have needed to be this week after being ill. One thing most Africans seem to feel they have is time. They may not have money, they may not have technology, they may not have things, but everyone has time, plenty of time. This is so different than the US where the general feeling is that there is not enough time for anything.

As Chris Rice's song, "Life Means So Much," says:

        Every day is a bank account
        And time is our currency
        Nobody's rich, nobody's poor
        We get 24 hours each
        So how are you gonna spend
        Will you invest, or squander
        Try to get ahead
        Or help someone who's under

Monday, November 20, 2006

Malaria + dysentery

Well, no long run this week. In fact, no runs at all. I came down with malaria and amoebic dysentary and spent a couple of days in the hospital. Feeling better now but still a bit tired and weak.

I rode my bike to the market in Bambui in Saturday and that went well, particularly since I ate before coming back and that gave me strength. I went for a short and easy 3 mile run on Sunday morning which wasn't too bad. It was more of a lope than a run, really. But this morning (Monday) I didn't feel strong enough to run. I did about 45 minutes of yoga, though, and that felt good.

During the time I was in the hospital, I had numerous people pray for me -- friends of friends back in the US, the elders of the church where I passed out after Sunday services (what a scene that was!), and various staff and visitors to the hospital. Somehow, when you are very weak and ill, it is easier to experience the power of prayer. If nothing other than having all those people thinking and caring about me, it was strengthening.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

My decorated bike

I finished decorating my bicycle today, so here are a bunch of pictures --
overview and details. I think she's beautiful.

(later) -- can't get the photos up here, rats. You can see them at:

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Juicy, messy, emotional, passionate

Today's long run brought to me by: Shanti in a mix from the "Stories" ANDC in March 2006. I had shuffle songs on an after about a mile, this mix came on and lasted until mile 9. Thank you Shanti!

Mon:    1 hr. Yoga
Tue:    3.02 mi., 27:35
Wed:    45 min. Yoga
Thu:    5.56 mi., 55:40
        1 hr. Yoga
Fri:    3 mi., 26:32
Sat:    10.01 mi., 1:43:24

Feel like I may be coming down with a cold, but maybe it's just a reaction to the dry season and the dust. I feel a bit spacey, but for some reason, that actually seemed to help on today's run -- I was more relaxed and not so hyper about my pace. But I thought I would do 12 miles and decided to turn around after 5 and only go 10 so I didn't overdo it and get sick. Took what I would consider the "back way" towards Bafut, which is a shorter route, although more treacherous, than the one I biked last Sunday. It was a really nice run because I didn't encounter a single vehicle. I didn't even mind the fact that miles 1.5 to 3 were all uphill.

The past week, or two really, I've been very conscious of all the things I miss. Predominantly things from my own culture like the fine arts, reliable infrastructure, public hygiene, freedom of self-expression. . . But today I had the thought, "I miss love." A startling thing to think, but it rang true. I miss real, concrete, here's-another-person-in-your-life kind of love. I've never really been much for abstract love (you know, like "love your fellow man"), although there is some intellectual appeal in that direction. But it doesn't feel real enough to me; I'm too practical and kinesthetic to find that wholly satisfying, I think. I want wipe-the-snot-from-a-child's-nose kind of love. I want heated argument kind of love. I want juicy, messy, emotional, passionate kind of love. 

Just in case you wanted to know, God.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Rev Bikes, too

This afternoon I went for a bike ride to Bafut (west of Fonta). I had driven through there two weeks ago when I went to the church in Nchum with Pastor Pascaline and it looked like an interesting ride.

It is quite a bit hillier than Fonta Rd. to Bambui and about twice as far, but it was a good ride. Geez, there is nothing like having a million gears to choose from (well, really only 27, but still a lot). My biggest challenge was controlling my speed going downhill. And some of the road was pretty bone-rattling--there is a way that the red dirt roads get, kind of like an old-fashioned washboard--and my personal shock absorption is apparently in my neck and shoulders. . .

So, 16.7 miles in an hour and forty minutes, with a beer stop at the turnaround point. This was my ostensible reason for going -- to see Beatrice's place. It's called the West Life. Yes, for those of you in the know, it is named after that concocted boy band of Simon Cowall's of the same name. There is a DVD collection of Westlife music videos that apparently every bar in Cameroon (or at least every bar in the North West) has a copy of. And I think it must get a lot of airplay because everyone knows every word to every song. At first I thought it was just the young people, but today in the bar, there was a guy who was my age singing along with every song. Of all the great music in the world, how on earth did Westlife make the big time here? Now, granted I haven't gotten out much, but this DVD is the only non-African music I've heard in the two months I've been here. Eegads. It makes me want to buy a bunch of CDs and just burn a pile of them to distribute to every bar around.

And I'm not even anti-pop per se. My sister used to make fun of Barry Marshmallow (as she called Mr. Manilow) and, sure he was schmaltzy, but at least he wrote his own music.

Riding the bike here is a new experience. I've ridden a bicycle since my 5th birthday and the goal has always been speed. Whether I was riding for fun or transport or exercise, the name of the game was always to go as fast as I could. But when you are riding on trails, that's not the game anymore. I'm sure all of you who mountain bike already know this. (Oddly, although I have a great mountain bike, I never took it off-road when I lived in the Bay Area--the birthplace of mountain biking.) Now the game is control. A game that my two bike crashes indicate I am still learning. It is fascinating and fun to be approaching something I know so well in a totally different way.

And it makes me look at my equipment differently, too. Hard, slick tires are NOT a good thing. Soft and knobby is much better. I appreciate the front shock on my bike enormously. And now I understand why the woman in the bike maintenance dept. at REI was asking whether conditions would be wet or dry when I was picking new brake pads. ("Wet! Wet!" I wish I'd said.) I've always had a thing for good quality appropriate tools -- the kitchen knife that slices through tomatoes in a single pass, the software program that lets me think the way I find natural, the watch that tracks my speed and distance and time and pace and even maps it. Now I am falling in love with my bicycle--a Cannondale F400--designed to fit a woman, which is why I bought it, and tough! The color is a bit garish (really bright blue), so everyone around sees me coming a mile away (as if my being one of the only white people isn't enough of a beacon <g>). I thought I'd cover it in black tape, but I'm not going to go that far, just decorate it with stickers. When I'm done I'll post a photo. So far I only have "We are One in the Dance" (the motto of the Rhythm Society, of which I am a member:, Cold Steel Tattoo (where I got my latest tattoo, the day before I left for Cameroon, something I would not advise) and Conexus Cathedral (which I could not attend at Burning Man, since I was on my way to Cameroon, but I am blown away just to know the people that did this:, but there are a few more to add.

Thoughts on God

Sat: 10 mi. in 1:34:34

A bit of frustration as, for some unknown reason (unknown to me, at least), my Garmin Forerunner 205 would not pick up and satellites. I spent at least 30-45 minutes delaying my run trying to get it to work. Of course, after my run, I tried again and it worked perfectly. The second frustration was that I used my Nike+iPod transmitter with my new Marware case for the transmitter, but I didn't recalibrate it, thinking it was close enough. It wasn't! After I'd gone a distance I knew to be close to 3 miles, it finally said "1 mile complete". Sheesh.

Nonetheless, it was a beautiful day and I created a special playlist of (mostly) uplifting songs which was quite helpful when my butt was dragging. "All Jacked Up" came on just as I was midway up a hill wanting to stop--thank you shuffle songs!

My playlist was:

Feel Good Inc. (Album Crossfade)        Gorillaz       
Over My Head (Cable Car)        The Fray       
21 Things I Want In a Lover     Alanis Morissette      
Crazy   Gnarls Barkley 
Steady As She Goes      The Raconteurs 
Gia     Despina Vandi  
Tomber la chemise       Zebda  
No Scrubs       TLC    
Pay Me My Money Down    Bruce Springsteen      
Nothing Left to Lose    Mat Kearney    
Suddenly I See  KT Tunstall    
Hey Ya! OutKast
Put Your Records On     Corinne Bailey Rae     
Black Horse & The Cherry Tree   KT Tunstall    
Dani California Red Hot Chili Peppers  
Until the End of Time (Explicit)        2Pac   
Cubicle (Edit)  Rin
Lose Yourself   Eminem 
Complicated     Avril Lavigne  
House of Love   East 17
Chasing Cars    Snow Patrol    
Girlshapedlovedrug      Gomez  
Unpretty        TLC    
Close to the Edge (The Solid Time Of Change Total Mass Retain I Get Up I Get Down Seasons of Man)       Yes    
All Jacked Up   Gretchen Wilson
I Wish I Was a Punk Rocker (With Flowers In My Hair)    Sandi Thom     

There's a line in "21 Things I Want in a Lover" that goes "you are happily employed in work that helps your brother" or something like that and I was struck by her use of the male-specific "brother" rather than something more inclusive. This reminded me of discussions I've had in the past where others (most often men, but not always) would argue that "man" and "mankind" were universal terms meant to include everyone. But of course, "woman" and "womankind" would somehow not be equally universal. And this had me begin to reflect on God, so often referred to (in the Western tradition at least) as male. God the Father, God the Son, He, King, Lord, etc. I know people who have successfully and powerfully transitioned to reference to God in the feminine -- Mother, Daughter, She, Queen, Lady -- and I admire them. I have tried this a few times, but it always seemed somewhat fake or strained and I've not worked with it long enough to get past this, although one of the most powerful prayers I have ever experienced is Bobby McFerrin's feminized version of the 23rd Psalm (on the Medicine Man album).

All of which had me reflecting on how distant God feels to me these days. Although I have not been consciously present to it, I think I have been seeking, searching, looking for God or an experience of God, for awhile now. And I think I may have assumed I would find that experience here in Africa, having had the experience quite deeply here on previous occasions.

But ever since the death of my partner, God has seemed very distant, as if in retreat. I always had such a deep experience of God in our relationship--both because we always felt that our relationship was a gift from God (or a test, depending on the day <g>) and because the covenant upon which our relationship was based was not only with each other and our community but with God. So everyday I would look across the table and see the hand of God, regardless of how I felt about it at that particular moment.

Now, without that constant undeniable reminder, I have somehow reverted to childhood thoughts of a distant, parental God high in the sky (which tells you much more about my psychology and family dynamics than about God).

Yet, creating a covenant with God as the foundation of our relationship was a conscious decision on our part, a decision which somehow became a profound, felt experience. Perhaps that is now my guide. I know God can be found not only in relationship, but in nature, in beauty, in community, in the face of suffering. Perhaps it is up to me to make a new covenant with God.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Thoughts on art and beauty

Mon:  3.03 miles in 29:12
Tue:  4.12 miles in 42:07
Wed:  3.09 miles in 30:18
Thu:  4.23 miles in 40:14
Fri: 3.01 miles in 28:39

If you want to see my workouts in excruciating detail, go to and search under tlongacre. You'll see little maps and everything!

Went out to the field this week, so Tuesday and Wednesday I ran in a town called Belo (or Mbelo) and Thursday I was in Fundong. The Belo runs were both quite hilly, but it was fun to be in a new place -- and a gorgeous one at that. Green, green mountains, waterfalls pouring down, cliffs -- very beautiful.

There is a tremendous amount of natural beauty here. It is almost overwhelming. When I mention this to the people I live with, they do not seem to notice. It's just "the way it is." And there is very little man-made beauty. I wonder if there is a relationship. There is African art, but most of it is either for adornment (women's clothes, for instance) or for ritualistic purposes (masks, costumes, etc.) Most of the ritualistic art is related to power -- gaining, preserving it, manipulating it. But either for reasons of poverty or different values (I don't know which) there is not a strong aesthetic sense here. Or perhaps it is just very different than mine. People certainly do not leave walls blank -- they cover them with calendars or magazine pictures or unbelievably tacky (my judgment) religious art. Every house or office I have been in has had several out of date calendars on the walls. So, maybe it's just a question of doing the best you can given the circumstances.