Thursday, March 27, 2003
Issue #1384 - Thursday, March 27, 2003 - Editor: Jerry Greg No Hands
No Brakes -- or,
Zen on Wheels
Greg Goode, Ph.D.A track bike, no brakes, riding on the street -- you're one with everything.
--Paul Allemby, Graphic Artist
It doesn't coast. That's the thing about it.
--Kent Peterson, from Sheldon Brown's "Fixed Gear Testimonial" web page
No brakes? You'll kill yourself!
--Concerned bystander, 5th Avenue, Manhattan
What does cycling has to do with nonduality? Is this something about unicycles?
No it's not, even though unicycles have only one wheel. And it's true that nonduality has to do with everything. So just what is nondual about bicycling? The track bike!
The "track bike" or "fixed-gear bike" is famous among bicycle aficionados for giving its rider a serene, concentrated feeling of unbroken connectedness with everything. When people imagine that nonduality is like a certain feeling, this is the kind of feeling they imagine :-) . It's like being in "The Zone" all the time.
What They Are
What's so special about a track bike? Bicycle messengers in large cities like them for being simple and ultra low-maintenance. Kevin Bacon rode one all over San Francisco in the movie "Quicksilver." They are used in Olympic velodrome events and the exciting Japanese "keirin" racing, which involves mild jostling and the country's wildest betting. In the early 1900's, track biking was the most popular sport in the U.S.
What really makes these bikes special however, is that they have a direct-drive system. The single rear sprocket is fixed to the back axle and doesn't spin freely. This means that the pedals never coast. Whenever the wheels are moving, the pedals are moving, whether forwards or backwards. It is a fixed-gear system with no slippage and no coasting. The the chain is connected to the large chainring on the front and the small cog on the back. The small cog is fixed to the bicycle's back wheel. Track bikes are also special because they are minimalistic. Originally designed for velodrome racing on glassy smooth banked oval tracks, these bikes are very very light -- they've got no cables or levers or shifters. No extra apparatus at all. Track bikes look like sleek racing bikes, with very thin tires and curvy "drop"-style handlebars. And there are no brakes and no derailleurs! The acceleration, speed, deceleration and stopping are all managed by controlling the spin of th e pedals. Experienced racers can pedal at the rate of 3 or 4 revolutions per second. (Click here for a track bike photo from Harris Cyclery.)
I first saw a track bike in a 1990 bicycle guide. There was a photo and a very poetic description of how this kind of cycling can improve one's pedalling technique. I loved the slim, taught lines of the bike. I was intrigued by the reviewer's cautious tones, warning that "suicidal New York bike messengers" like to ride these bikes with no brakes in the street. I was hooked! I lived in upstate New York in the city of Rochester, and none of the local bike shops knew about track bikes. So I drove 10 hours to New York and asked a lot of questions.
Some bike shops didn't even like to talk about them, as they were illegal to ride in the city without brakes. It was one of those things where they'll give you information if it sounds like you know what you're talking about. And certainly I didn't! But I kept on looking and asking, going through the Manhattan yellow pages for bike shops. Finally I found a nice shop in Greenwich Village that took kindly to my earnest questions. So I bought the bike on the spot, including the front brake they suggested. They even had a salesman who was able to give me a few pointers on how to stop without the brake! I took it back to Rochester, to practice in the safe streets of suburbia. And whenever I visited Manhattan, I'd quiz anyone I'd see riding a fixed gear bike. Mostly the questions were, "How do you stop it?" It turned out there are lots of ways to stop, including several emergency measures you can take if the chain breaks. (The chain is your accelerator and your brake.)
Mystical Experiences and Sensei
It turns out that Jamaicans are the ones who brought the popularity of fixed-gear cycling to New York. They ride these bikes in Jamaica growing up. Coming to NYC, they ended up teaching lots of New York cyclists. Over the years going to every bike shop in the city, I've found a great bike shop owned and operated by Jamaicans -- Larry and Jeff's Bicycles Plus. With an owner who has an affection for track bikes, and mechanics who include former Jamaican national track champions and Olympic competitors, they really know this kind of bicycle, and effortlessly keep my bikes in tip-top shape.
I remember how I came to take the front caliper brake off after a year of practice. It was almost a mystical experience. For about 3-4 months, I had been using the brake less and less, almost not at all. Then one day I had a deep insight, an out-of-body experience like a flowering realization -- I was watching myself riding and feeling how it was to negotiate on the bike without the brake. It culminated in a very natural and positive feeling of, "I can do this!" So I took it off, and never rode a track bike with a brake since. And the totally connected oceanic riding experience is there, every time. Since 1991, I've purchased and designed several custom tracks of different styles. I was fortunate to hook up with a group of old-time track riders at Central Park, one of whom became like a sensei to myself and some of the other newcomers. He taught us track techniques that even the messengers and bike mechanics didn't know, and took us on trips via little-known routes out side Manhattan. Today I ride my track bikes everywhere, including up and down steep hills, in NYC rush hour traffic, over the 59th Street Bridge to Queens, over the George Washington Bridge to New Jersey, and even on the streets of London, where the traffic goes the "other" way!
My First Teacher
Actually, it was track bikes that turned me towards non-dualism! One day in 1992 I was riding my track in Central Park. I was a church-going born-again Christian at the time. As I rode the bike, I approached another guy who happened also to be riding a track. I slowed down a bit and we nodded, commenting sagely on each other's bikes (it's a guy thing). We rode a few laps around the park together. It turned out that he was also interested in philosophy, but not the academic kind I'd gone to grad school for. Rather, he liked the perennial philosophy. He was interested in Rudolf Steiner, Anthroposophy and Theosophy. He spoke of the astral body, Jupiter spirits, and God being within us. I'd never heard of any of this! It all sounded vaguely New Age-ish to me, but I wasn't sure, having been enclosed in a Christian cultural bubble throughout the 1980's. I was fascinated however, so I sought out the Steiner book he recommended. That book and that bike rider opened up huge vistas for me through both Western and Eastern spiritual paths. The rider and I became wonderful friends, he being a great teacher to me. His name is Paul Allemby, and his quote is at the top of this article.
What Others Say
The quotes are true! In fact, here are some more comments and testimonials, from other aficionados of fixed-gear track cycling:
Riding a track bike is a totally Zen-like experience. You are in total contact with the bike, the road, and everything around you. A track bike is cycling stripped down to its barest essentials.
--Brian Dorfmann, Programmer at a large Manhattan law firm
A "fixed" is the best kind of bike. You're always pedalling so your concentration is, like, really there.
--Doug, track cyclist, habitue of Central Park
I have so much fun riding the track bike that it is frustrating that I can't convince riders to spend more time on a fixed gear. The fixed gear builds a wonderful sense of oneness with the bike that can't be duplicated with a freewheel bike. I am absolutely convinced that the fixed gear is better than a freewheel, not only in developing and maintaining the pedal stroke, but also in developing strength and power.
Fixed-gear is a totally new dimension in riding. I really feel like I'm part of the bike.
It's probably all in my head, but it does seem that I'm more aware of the pedals moving in circles, and to what extent my legs are with them.
This is riding. This is a bicycle that teaches me something every time I ride it, that makes me more by virtue of it's being less. It's the bike I ride until the street lights come on and sometimes even longer. It's the bike I put away sadly and take out joyfully. It's the bike that never forgets why we ride.
--Kent PetersonIncense Making 101. The Basics. Part One.by Mother's Hearthfrom Incense_ExchangeHere is a photo taken on the road between Lhasa and Xigatse......it's an incense making operation using a
mountain stream. At this place they make cedar 'bricks' to go into incense. Photo by Dianne Boons (Dgboons@...)So, want to try your hand at incense making? I understand, as I love making
incense. It is truly art. As a result, it is both very simple and very
complex at the same time. The physical process of creating incense,
especially basic incense, is not that difficult. If you have a good recipe,
your incense should burn when it's dry. But making incense is much more
Some people, including some on this list, think that the best way to become
an incense maker is to examine and study one ingredient at a time. They
believe that studying the various scents and how they interact is a key step
in the learning process. Simply jumping in and rolling incense without
sufficient background study just isn't proper and will not yield the best
results. Know what? They're right. Getting to know the individual
components of incense is a lifelong process and very important to becoming a
great incense maker.
But some of us might lack the depth of interest, time, patience and devotion
to study required - especially when first starting. Many people want to
make incense as a craft or a hobby. Other's are more interested in creating
combustible forms of loose incense that they are burning now. Some just
want to add to their overall base of knowledge. As a result, I'm going to
do these messages in a form that some here will consider backwards. I
apologize for that, but experience shows me that this is what people are
most interested in. It's a more journalistic approach than a literary one.
We'll start with the punch line and then work our way back to where we
should have started.
I'm not going to offer any philosophy with these first messages (egads -
heresy!) just the basics of becoming a home incense maker. This is my own
approach to incense making and other approaches are equally valid, but this
works for me.
Blah, blah, blah. Let's make incense!
Incense is made up of three dry components: aromatic, base and binder. The
aromatic is the part you want to smell. The base is used to assist in
burning and to "mellow" the scent of strong aromatics (although most bases
are also aromatic). The binder is the "glue" that holds it all together.
There is also a liquid component, usually water, that you have to add to
activate the binder, but then you have to wait until it's all evaporated to
burn your incense.
As you might have seen in recent messages on the list, the simplest way to
roll incense is to make sandalwood incense and add essential oils to the
mix. I suggest using sandalwood because it's such a wonderful aromatic in
its own right and an excellent base as well. You can use other powdered
woods as long as they don't smell bad when burned (red cedar and pine are
good, inexpensive choices).
For a binder, I recommend guar gum, gum tragacanth or makko/tabu. Many
books recommend using gum arabic, but it's not a good binder. It's very
sticky (so it sticks to your hands and tools) and not very strong, not to
mention that it's no easier to locate than any other binder. On the topic
of incense books, many recommend using saltpeter (or saltpetre a.k.a.
potassium nitrate) - avoid it. A recipe that won't burn without saltpeter
is not worthwhile. Reformulate it. I will talk more about these substances
in later messages.
If you use one of the gum binders, try this recipe:
1 tablespoon sandalwood powder
1/8 teaspoon guar gum or tragacanth gum
in a bowl. Mix completely.
If you want to use makko/tabu as a binder, try a mixture of 2 teaspoons
sandalwood and one teaspoon makko.
Gradually add 2 teaspoons of water. Use the least amount of water possible
to completely moisten the mix.
Stir the mix and put on some latex (or similar) gloves. Press the mix
together and it should stay in one lump.
Pick up your incense "dough" and begin to knead it. When you begin, the
dough might have bits that don't stick or drop out of your hands. Knead the
dough over the mixing bowl and add any bits that drop off back into the
Knead the dough for several minutes. It will become a uniform color and
Finally, you need to roll your incense. If you'd like to make cones, take
about 1/4 teaspoon of your dough and form a rough, four-sided pyramid
between your fingers. Make sure it is tall and thin, not short and fat. If
you'd like, you can dry it in that shape, but for better results, lay the
rough cone in the palm of one of your hands. With the index finger of the
other hand, press down on the cone with the tip of your finger over the tip
of the cone (the cone is now hidden by your finger). Press down lightly on
the cone and roll it back and forth in the palm of your hand. Keep more
pressure on the tip area and less along the length to keep the tapered
shape. This will make your cone smoother, thinner and taller. The base of
your cone should be no thicker than an unsharpened pencil.
If you want to make stick incense there are several approaches. You can use
an extruder (the topic of a future message) if you have one. You can
actually roll nice, thin Japanese-style incense sticks by simply rolling out
a "rope" of dough. It's just like playing with clay when you were a kid!
Finally, and this is the easiest approach for new incense makers, you can
use a dowel rod like a rolling pin to roll the dough out flat. You can then
use a knife or razor blade to slice the dough into thin sticks. They'll be
square instead of round, but that won't have a significant impact on their
Here comes the hard part - drying. Don't try to hasten drying times. I've
tried it all and every approach can damage your incense. Don't destroy all
the time and materials you've used by trying to hasten the drying. In fact,
the slower the better as long as it does not mold. Fast drying can lead to
serious distortions and even cracking. Cracks often cause cones to stop
For cones, set the wet cone down on a drying board as if you were going to
burn it. Allow it to sit in that position over night and then lay it on its
side and allow to dry for two more days. If you light a cone and it goes
out before it burns completely, allow the other cones to dry for another
Sticks will distort as they dry. The faster you dry them, the more they
will distort. To greatly reduce the warping, try this little tip. Put your
sticks on a drying board and then slide the board into a plastic bag. Don't
let the bag touch your incense. Keep the bag closed for 24 hours and then
open the end for 24 hours. Remove the sticks and, if they are still
flexible, dry for another day outside the bag.
That was pretty simple, wasn't it? If you want to experiment with oils, you
can add them directly to your dough once you've kneaded it for several
minutes. You can add a drop or two to a single cones, or add more to scent
the entire batch of dough. Personally, I rarely use oils in my incense, but
you certainly can. Lots of people have a large store of oils and want to
experiment with them in incense. I say trust your education and experiment
with them if you wish.
I hope that showed you the light on the ease of incense making. In the next
message, I'll talk about using aromatics and how to prepare incense
ingredients. I'm sure there are some questions, so please fire away.The Basic Premise of Sorcery
I personally detest the darkness and morbidity of the mind. I
like the immensity of thought. However, regardless of my likes and
dislikes, I have to give due credit to the sorcerers of antiquity,
for they were the first to find out and do everything we know and do
today. Don Juan explained that their most important attainment was
to perceive the energetic essence of things. This insight was of
such importance that it was turned into the basic premise of sorcery.
Sorcerers of Antiquity
THE ART OF DREAMING
About the NowThe now has been popularized by Eckhart Tolle.
I haven't read his book, The Power of Now, but
I am sure that to be such a runaway best
seller, it is worth reading. I would like to
raise a question....has the now been
populated...can it be...should it be? We have
all driven through sleepy little towns with
signs reading, "Population five hundred." The
now is rather weird in that respect. It is made
up of no one and everyone. The sign would read,
"You are entering the Now, population no one
and everyone. Come back soon."It's fun to speculate. Is there a Now P.D. ? Do
Now's finest drive motorcyles and ticket
passengers who are illegally parked. Obviously
not. Is there a Now Cafe where people hang out
talking about the whether? I wonder if people
have sex in Now, have babies in Now. Is there a
Now 500....a Now Steeplechase?Whenever I have found myself in Now, it seems
as if everything is proceeding exactly as it
should. No crimes are being committed....there
are no streakers, no soap box preachers, no
baseball bleachers....no classroom
teachers....just me experiencing the moment.There is something very mysterious about the
town of Now. You can be there on the Now Square
enjoying the feel of sunlight on your face and
boom! all of a sudden you find yourself in the
town of Then. In Then it's overgrown with weeds
and you are apt to get poison ivy before you
know it. You find yourself scratching the itch
of memories, both good and bad.Once when I was in Now I decided to take a
stroll to the local cemetary. All of the grave
markers read the same way: Never born, never
died. This begged the question, "Why do they
have a cemetary in the first place, if no one
has ever born or will ever die in Now?' I guess
it's for the bodies...Some people come to Now for a long weekend. The
locals call them No-hows. They come to Now but
don't know how to stay. Sometimes people rent
them room over their garages, only to find the
space mysteriously empty most of the time. They
have returned to Then as quickly as they could.I am not quite prepared to live in Now myself.
I like the mountain ranges and the clear blue
sky. The annual rainfall is perfect and the
temperature is always seventy degrees.
Sometimes celebrities purchase elegant pads in
Now. They venture out onto the streets wearing
Wayfarers and driving little Vespas. Sadly, I
heard it said that Celine Dion wants to move
into the Now as soon as she finishes her
three-year stint in Vegas. I am not at all sure
that Now recognizes celebrity, though. Perhaps
she would be happier in Then.Well, that's about all I can think of to say
about living in Now. It's more of an
experience, anyway. The next time I go to Now,
I'll try and send you a postcard. And if you
get there before I do, enjoy.Vicki Woodyard
Of Bhagavan Sri Ramana Maharshi
D: What are the characteristics of the jivan-mukta (the liberated in life) and the videha-mukta (the liberated at death)?
M: 'I am not the body; I am Brahman which is manifest as the Self. In me who am the plenary Reality*, the world consisting of bodies etc., are mere appearance, like the blue of the sky'. He who has realized the truth thus is a jivan-mukta. Yet so long as his mind has not been resolved, there may arise some misery for him because of relation to objects on account of prarabdha (karma which has begun to fructify and whose result is the present body), and as the movement of mind has not ceased there will not be also the experience of bliss. The experience of Self is possible only for the mind that has become subtle and unmoving as a result of prolonged meditation. He who is thus endowed with a mind that has become subtle, and who has the experience of the Self is called a jivan-mukta. It is the state of jivan-mukti that is referred to as the attributeless Brahman and as the Turiya. When even the subtle mind gets resolved, and experience of self ceases, and when one is immersed in the ocean of bliss and has become one with it without any differentiated existence, one is called a videha-mukta. It is the state of videha-mukti that is referred to as the transcendent attributeless Brahman and as the transcendent Turiya. This is the final goal. Because of the grades in misery and happiness, the released ones, the jivan-muktas and videha-muktas, may be spoken of as belonging to four categories - Brahmavid, - vara--variyan, and varishtha. But these distinctions are from the standpoint of the others who look at them; in reality, however, there are no distinctions in release gained through jnana.
* If there is prolonged meditation that the worlds are an appearance in me who am the plenary Reality, where can ignorance stand?