By Christopher Cudworth
A martial arts student went to his teacher and said earnestly, “I am devoted to studying your martial system. How long will it take me to master it?”
The teacher’s reply was casual, “Ten years.”
Impatiently, the student answered, “But I want to master it faster than that. I will work very hard. I will practice everyday, ten or more hours a day if I have to. How long will it take then?”
The teacher thought for a moment, “20 years.”
I am reminded of these lessons every time I see someone “working hard” on their bike or “running hard” on the track or road. Are they actually making things more difficult by trying so hard?
It is universally known that a high cadence makes best use of energy in cycling. Yet the art and zen of keeping a high cadence dictates that your feet must spin, not mash. No portion of the pedal stroke can exceed the other in force, or you lose power along the way. It seems counterintuitive. But that’s the beauty of it.
We face questions like this all the time. If it is raining outside, will we get just as wet by running to our car as we would by walking?
The zen master might tell you that neither running or walking is the best answer. The best answer is to wait until it stops raining. Then you can run or walk to your car without risk of getting wet.
Are we too impatient for that answer? Are our training schedules trying to suck value out of every day, and as a result, squandering what we can gain in strength of mind and body?
If you cannot wait out the rain of a break in training or a lull in your schedule, it appears the real rain in your life is washing away peace or mind.
And If you cannot live in the moment and accept what goes around you, perhaps you are working too hard by keeping too busy or mashing the pedals of your soul.
We want to get better fast. Or else we better get fast. We place demands on ourselves that count as threats. If we fail, we lack forgiveness. If we succeed, we lack satisfaction. All so-called victories are balanced by the costs. Yet sometimes we choose pain because it brings enlightenment, or expresses a value that says we are willing to suffer for what we believe. That is the zen philosophy in many respects.
Two monks were washing their bowls in the river when they noticed a scorpion that was drowning. One monk immediately scooped it up and set it upon the bank. In the process he was stung. He went back to washing his bowl and again the scorpion fell in. The monk saved the scorpion and was again stung.
The other monk asked him, “Friend, why do you continue to save the scorpion when you know it’s nature is to sting?”
“Because,” the monk replied, “to save it is my nature.”
Every hard effort in running or riding is like the scorpion. We save those memories in order to save ourselves. What we give to the universe comes back to us in some way.