Tuesday, March 30, 2010

As Ignatius Said

As not every household, probably not every rectory, has in its library a copy of Ignatius of Loyola's little classic, the Spiritual Exercises, I will render his note 2 in it fullness.
"The one who explains to another the method and order of meditating or contemplating should narrate accurately the facts of the contemplation or meditation. Let him adhere to the points, and add only a short or summary explanation. The reason for this is that when one in meditating takes the solid foundation of facts, and goes over it and reflects on it for himself, he may find something that makes them a little clearer or better understood. This may arise either from his own reasoning, or from the grace of God enlightening his mind. Now this produces greater spiritual relish and fruit than if one in giving the Exercises had explained and developed the meaning at great length. For it is not much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but the intimate understanding and relish of the truth."
All good teachers know from experience - first acquired in their own learning processes - that this is the only way a student can acquire a genuine, realistic, knowledge of any subject. The same goes for athletic coaches, or personal fitness trainers, even if they are not theologians, although sound theology as an infallible way of improving the climate of the teaching, coaching, or training situation. He or she who has learned to listen to God in the learning process, intellectual, imaginative, or physiological, is much better able to listen to a student, a patient, a client. Once a learner has gone through all the essential steps, one at a time, and over and over again in a pleased and contented frame of mind, he can put an amazing amount of stuff together - Beethoven with a sonata, Tom Brady reading the dispositions of the twenty-one other football players on the field with him as he starts calling his signals. But it doesn't begin that way, and it's the genius of the real teacher or coach who knows how to break the problems down into individual steps before it's the genius of the performer.
And the truly happy and efficient performer is the soul that has been taught or learned to relish all those little individual steps. Beethoven and all possible thirds, major and minor; Tom Brady learning to throw consistently accurate short passes before he studied the long bomb. And what is even more necessary, the pleasure and confidence-building experience of ruminating accurately over each and every move away from the game, the keyboard, in the middle of the night, out on  a walk, or, like Tim McDaniel, up amongst the trees on the Whitewater ski hill. I asked him recently if he reflected on his interval studies, and he said yes, when he was ski-ing.
So now I'm doing my calf stretches properly, after all these inefficient years, loving every second of the sensation the right stretch gives, and rethinking all my recent fears that my thoughts of running might be no longer valid.
And I also wonder if it's time to take the press to the cleaners. This puts a lot of zip into the time with the erg, but also reduces the time I can spend with it. I've dropped to 200 calories per day, to concentrate on the stretches, give more time to a little over head barbell work, and think about the paparazzi. You have to be really, really, stupid to attack this Pope, and it's time the long, long, history or the media mediocrity on the question of sex abuse by clergy is exposed. Beat the rush, guys. Get your sorry asses into the confessional before the crowd swells. Only three more coughing-up days before Lent is over.
The line-up should be led, of course, by a certain ex-media baron. Oh, my, what a story Citizen Con could have got to cover if he'd only answered a certain letter.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Mucho Culpa

A very dear friend has just written to announce her return from a Mexican holiday, so my title is somewhat inspired by some of the very little Spanish that I know.
It is a long established human custom to complain to God, the universe, one's friends and family, when we finally realize that in some department or another crucial to our getting through our regular activities in due order we have been making a serious mistake. How in heaven's name could I be so thick? Why didn't somebody tell me?
Why have I spent so long doing something the wrong bloody way?
I speak of the calf stretch. Today's lesson is about fitness. Primarily the fitness of my feet, but also, I suspect, because of the holistic relation of one part of the musculo-skeletal system to another, my upper legs and possibly the lower back as well. Maybe the whole back.
Now I did read the stretching bibles, initially that little gem put out by Anderson's,  Bob on text, Jean on anatomical sketches. Great book. Do what they say, and you should never have an injury, as well as the mental satisfaction of knowing you're looking after your body. I appreciated their wisdom very much, and thought I was following along well enough to be able to attribute any muscle problems to old injuries, too much too soon, cold weather and of course the mystic's peculiar contract with a God who admires athletes, even old ones, but can never see any way they are as necessary as contemplatives, who by definition must spend a lot of their time being very, very, immobile in their bodies, in order to give their souls freedom to roam the heavens at will. Scratching an itch is in, another dozen miles is not.
And wouldn't you know it, the calf stretch is their first example. Beautifully explained, too. Very clearly, the knee closest to the wall bends to pretty much of a right angle, so the forward shin is vertical, while the back leg, which owns the calf to be stretched, goes straight back, so the body forms a perfect line from head to the rear foot.
True, there is a another diagram later on showing the back leg as bent somewhat, but that is to stretch the Achilles and the LOWER calf muscle, not the BELLY, where all the real trouble can collect like garbage in the bottom of a pit.
Somehow, I fixed on the second diagram. For years, and years, and years. Oh my, what a red face. What a lesson not only  about reading the directions, as in that Old American Proverb, but about reading them in the right order.
What brought this to my attention, finally, was the rowing machine. Our lovely Concept 2, which for the last three weeks of Lent is getting a lot more attention. Except for the occasional day off, I'm operating on a 500 calorie per day schedule, 300 in the morning, 200 in the late afternoon, day after day, and loving it. In order to maintain this schedule, there cannot be much going for broke, maybe a couple of bursts and no more, but it has been enough of an increase to give me a sore inside right heel. There was some other stuff too, closer to the toes, but it never struck me this could have anything to do with tight calf muscles. But the heel, bless it, was a dead give away. It was new, and I had not been running on it. I finally put my mind to reasoning outside the box as I had learned to think of it, erroneously of course, and put the physics of physiology to work.
The first thing you notice is how it simply feels like a nice stretch. Big and totally comfortable. The whole body involved, as I think I prefer putting my arms straight out, not bending them so I can rest my head on my hands. The whole body sensation I have missed from Day One in that area, although I had known similar sensations in the other stretches.

That was then. This is today, as  I ponder that I might have been kept stupid about the real calf stretch because my guardian angel didn't want me to get too good at running before I discovered the merits of the erg, which is of course a much more balanced workout. I can hardly wait to see what happens when I return to the road and the track, but all that relies on the spark that gives permission and inspiration.
Meanwhile, I've been able to adapt the relearned calf stretch, with the extended arms, to include not only adjustable pressure on the muscle, but also a bit of a work-out to provide the necessary triceps antidote to the rower's constant pulling. Straight arms provide a nice push stress, and if you bend your arms gradually to diminish the angle of the back shin to the floor, you can sense with immense precision just how much pressure to apply, or not apply, to the muscle. This delights someone with my analytical mind especially, as become terrifically bored as soon as I suspect my body suspects I'm interfering with the natural cohesion of body, mind, and spirit.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Incredible Retirement Four

It was at least ten years ago, I think, that I asked Marianne if she thought she might be able to get back to her old habit of writing poetry if I took over some of the cooking. This was probably not too long before I actually did succeed to the bread making  and then started up again as a brew master, this time with the skills to make beer from real malted barley grains, not the tin stuff of my youth. (Also with  considerably additional equipment, which is the most essential element of the skills.) MT had put out quite a nice little volume of lyrics before Shawn went to the museum and left her with the household stuff. A few poems had even gone to Rome, once I took over my responsibilities with the central intellects of the Eternal City.
She paused in motion, possibly with a French knife in her hand, from chopping broccoli, and said, "I don't like anyone else mucking about in my kitchen."
I took that as a no, and found my conscience eased. I had every freedom myself from domestic or any other pressures that could prevent me from writing all I wanted to - the mystic's Muse permitting of course, after the necessary concentration on the prayer life - and I had to wonder from time to time if she felt hard done by. She was, it must be said, regularly at work at her journal. But still, prose is not poetry, any more than one very valuable, even essential, friend is not another.
But with the other female contemplative suddenly eased off her public duties to local history and the arts, available for kitchen detail and garden support, MT's poetry stock has risen as sharply as that of any oil mega giant which has discovered how to make gasoline out of offshore breezes. Seven excellent lyrics in seven days, over an admirably broad range, from the meaning of violets to a child, to the odiferous signs of a late bishop in hell.
For the moment, there may be difficulties in finding these illuminative gems. She tells me that her  blog title, "From George", does not quite spark up the swift response readers get from the Ranger, and thus she has to issue information about links to the inside circle. But that will change. Mankind is always in need of clarification, one of the specialties of the real poet, and she certainly clarifies. I know from experience.
As Padre Pio said, and I somewhat expand upon, no man really grows up, not even a priest, until he becomes a spiritual director.
As I understood from the very first sight of her poetry, MT is a primitive, perhaps directly descended from those early painters who drew bulls on the walls of the caves of Lascaux. She deals in images. Sharp, clear, colourful. Like the point of an effing spear going through your gut. To hell with ordinary metre and rhyme. Especially rhyme. It would be interesting to watch her rewrite the Iliad, for example, or perhaps Genesis. No drawing room stuff this, and T.S. Eliot would understand bang on. If she keeps going as she's begun, the entire Church Militant, if it's lucky, will have its very sorry butt, post Vatican Two,  in the confessional long before next Easter. That is, if it reads. At the moment, I have trouble believing that the Church Militant is actually literate.
Never, never, never, underestimate the power of a woman. Especially when she's a close personal friend of the Virgin Mary.