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Michel de Montaigne Selected Essays

A recollection of a professor chastising me using a quote from a French philosopher more than 50 years ago has prompted me to look into this philosopher. And so, I begin to read the essays of Michel de Montaigne.

The introduction to this new edition by James Atkinson and David Sizes gives me insight into just who Montaigne  was. Plutarch and Seneca were his two major influences. Plutarch, a Greek Platonist, was known for his biographies of Greeks and Romans. Montaigne follows Plutarch’s example of illustrating his points with quotations from the classical period. Seneca, a contemporary of Jesus Christ, was a Stoic. His writings, very popular in the contemporary Stoic revival, bear remarkable resemblance to the New Testament.

This morning I’m fascinated by Atkinson’s view of Montaigne’s take on nature. He never explains exactly what nature is, even though the word appears in every one of his essays.


One of Montaigne’s fundamental distinctions is between the natural and the artificial. In the essay Experiences, Montaigne celebrates nature as a general guide, not gentle but wise and just, but doubts our prospects for following its directions. “I see its traces all over; we have muddled them up with artificial trails. Despite our best intentions then, will we be able to get out of our way?”  This doubt hovers over his whole intellectual life.

Here’s an interesting thing from the essay Physiology. “I have quite simply and bluntly taken this long-standing rule for myself: we cannot go wrong to follow nature; the cardinal rule is to conform to her. Unlike Socrates I have not corrected my natural tendencies by dint of reason, and I have never purposely fought against my inclinations. I let myself go along just as I came, I do not at all struggle.” This is a bold claim, but do we find that Montaigne has avoided the Socratic failure of correcting his gut instincts by dint of reason? Apparently not. Moreover, in his avowed conformity to nature, does he tend to follow an easy direct and clear path or a difficult, meandering and muddled human path? As I read the essays, my impression is that Montaigne’s path is meandering because he illustrates each idea with quotations from antiquity, which are often muddled.

The upshot of Montaigne’s take on nature is that society has succeeded in overturning the normal order which is natural in favor of the artificial. He laments that truth and reason have also succumbed to the artificial.

“We have so overburdened the beauty and richness of her works with our inventions that we have completely stifled her. That is why whenever her purity shines forth, she puts to surprising shame our vain frivolous undertakings.”

The limitations of our reason

Fortis imaginato generat casum. “A powerful imagination produces the event.”

Montaigne locates corruption not in the natural ways of what we would call barbarian people, but in the products of the human mind such as the rules of governance in society.

Nature forces all human beings to view matters through faulty, partial if not corrupt lenses. This introduces his second nature theme: The limitations of our reason. Because of our tendency to model nature’s trails, he believes that reason has a difficult time gaining the upper hand with us humans. For example, in the essay “Imagination,” he suggests that hares and partridges turn white in the winter because of the power of their imagination.

He brings his point home and a quotation from a Latin poet Tyrtaeus, “Let each man know his own way.” Knowledge derives from experience, which is not the same as a reason, and might in fact oppose it. Shaping a path that conforms to one’s own nature by following the rules of reason is tricky stuff.

The process of becoming

“Our world is nothing but a perpetual swing. Everything within it is endlessly swinging. I cannot pin my subject down. He goes along drunk by nature blurred and wavering. I take him at this point as he is just when I happen to look at him. I do not paint his being, I am painting his passage.”

The subject of Montaigne’s essays is not our static being, but our process of becoming. We are all as ephemeral as the wind.

Montaigne’s value today

Atkinson ends the introduction with four quotations that epitomize his value to the present time.

  1. The greatest things in the world is to know how to belong to oneself. (1-39)
  2. Knowing how to enjoy one’s condition to the full and be satisfied with it is essential to a fulfilled life (1-31)
  3. Life should be its own aim for itself, its intent, its proper study is how to govern itself, to behave and to be endured. (III-12)
  4. It is an absolute, almost divine, perfection to know how to enjoy one’s being in good faith. We seek other conditions because we do not understand how to use our own, and we go outside ourselves because we do not know what goes on inside.

We’ve all got some Buddhist in Us

In the contemporary world, dozens of factions compete to declare their version of Budddhism to be correct.

In fact, each of us carries a mixture of beliefs based on our experience of the world, things we’ve read, and what we had for dinner last night.

Here, I supply a summary of my findings, so you can locate your position in the land of the Buddha.

It begins

The Dhammapada, or the “Virtuous Path According to Lord Buddha,” probably written by Buddha, is considered to be the manual of Buddhist teaching. 423 verses divided into 26 chapters. The three main parts of Dhammapada are:

  1. Karma Yoga or the Philosophy of Action
  2. Sadhana or Spiritual Training
  3. Nistha or Faith

The four noble truths: There are many ways to express these 4 truths. My favorite comes from Plato, Not Prozac! : Applying Philosophy to Everyday Problems by Lou Marinoff, HarperCollins, (New York), 1999

  1. All life is suffering
  2. Suffering is cause by wanting things to be different than they are.
  3. There is a way to end suffering.
  4. Accept what is, and move on from there.
Lou Marinoff

The eight-fold path: A convention started by early translators of Buddhist texts into English, found within the 4th noble truth.

  1. Right understanding (Samma ditthi)
  2. Right thought (Samma sankappa)
  3. Right speech (Samma vaca)
  4. Right action (Samma kammanta)
  5. Right livelihood (Samma ajiva)
  6. Right effort (Samma vayama)
  7. Right mindfulness (Samma sati)
  8. Right concentration (Samma samadhi)

After the death of Buddha – about 400 to 800 years before Christ — two schools of Buddhism emerged. One was Theravada Buddhism, the original deal. Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The other was Mahayana Buddhism — we’re all in this together. Then, various cultures, various teachers split things up.

Xuan Zang, a 7h century scholar who traveled the Silk Road to India, where he gathered Buddhist texts and translated them into Chinese, said that Theravada is like a kayak; it carries the individual.  Mahayana is like a boat that carries a tribe. Mahayana is like an ocean liner; it carries the entire community.

The Major Schools

Theravada: “The School of the Elders.” Theravada Buddhism emphasizes personal salvation through one’s own efforts. The fundamental principle of Theravada Buddhism is that an individual must rely on his or her analytical power to understand the world around him. Although a rational man is self sufficient with his logic, yet he needs a guide or a wise man to guide him. In order to break the cycle of misery and agony, man needs to free his mind from the defilements of the temporal world Theravada Buddhism is the oldest school of Buddhism. It was popularized in Sri Lanka, Myanmar, China and other Asian countries. An individual needs to abide by the basic principles of Buddhism strictly. Moral conduct, meditation and wisdom are the three basic principles of Theravada Buddhism. all worldly phenomena are subject to 3 characteristics.

  1. They are impermanent and transient;
  2. unsatisfactory and that there is nothing in them which can be called ones own.
  3. All compounded things are made up of two elements – the non-material part and the material part.

They are further described as consisting of 5 constituent groups, namely

  1. the material quality
  2. sensations
  3. perception
  4. mental formatives
  5. consciousness.

When the perfected state of insight is reached, that person is a worthy person, an Arhat.

Mahayana School of Buddhism: The main idea behind Mahayana Buddhism is that anyone can reach the stature of the Buddha by following Buddha Marga. Mahasanghika sect is believed to be the source of the Mahayana Buddhism. This school of Buddhism had a huge impact on China, Korea and Japan. Mahayana school is a huge umbrella under which a number of philosophies and principles are included.

Madhyamika Buddhism, literally meaning the middle path, was founded in the second century, during the early stages of development of Mahayana Buddhism. It was developed by the great Indian scholar and philosopher Nagarjuna who wrote the ‘Wisdom Sutras,’ a total of about 40 texts which have been collected under the title of Prajnaparamita (perfection of wisdom). All phenomena are devoid of intrinsic nature, and exist only due to the conditions created by other phenomena. It is referred to as the middle path because it rejects the two extreme philosophies of eternalism and nihilism. It is a dialectic school which, according to Nagarjuna, was founded by Lord Buddha himself. In the 11th century, Madhyamikas divided into 3 distinct schools:  Prasangika, Svatantrika and the synthesis of later Yogacara and Madhyamika, referred to as Yogacara-Svatantrika-Madhyamika.

Vajrayana School of Buddhism: Indian tantric master Padmasambhava, the 2nd Buddha, founded Vajrayana in the 7th century. AKA The tantric school, a part of the Mahayana School, called Lamaism because at the center of the school lies the Lama. By practicing Vajrayana, a Buddhist follower can achieve enlightenment easily. Vajra is a symbol for thunder, diamond and lightning. The most prominent features of Vajrayana include the use of mantras; gives much importance to the teacher or guru; the significance of meditation, which also includes concentration techniques like; the visualization of bodhisattvas. The followers of the faith are brought in to these practices by initiation called empowerment. One of the salient features of Vajrayana is that it considers Mahayana and Theravada as the base on which the tantras could be practiced. The knowledge of these two earlier branches is absolutely essential to practice Vajrayana. It is more popularly used in Tibetan Buddhism.

Chinese Schools of Buddhism: An integral part of the Chinese culture, this school of Buddhism is further divided into 10 more Buddhist schools. Their way of expression may differ but the basic doctrines of Buddhism, such as the Eightfold Paths, Four Noble Truths and others are the same. The Chinese monastic community is an extension of the order of the monks that Buddha had established. The Arahants here are known as Lohans. The 10 Chinese Schools of Buddhism are:-

  • Reality School. Also known as Abhidharma School or Kosa School
  • Satysiddhi School or Chengse School
  • Three Sastra School or Sanlun School
  • The Lotus School or T’ientai School
  • The Garland School or Avatamsaka School. Also known as Huayen School
  • Intuitive School or Chan School or Dhyana School
  • Discipline or Lu or Vinaya School.
  • Esoteric or Chenyien School or Mantra School
  • Dharmalaksana School or Fasiang School
  • Pureland School, Sukhavati School or Chingtu School

Japanese Schools of Buddhism

  • Nichiren Buddhism: Nichiren propagated the Lotus Sutra. Nichiren was a Tendai monk but he left the establishment to pursue his own path. Followers need to recite the Lotus Sutra to realize the Buddha nature in them.
  • Pure Land: Amida Buddhism. It teaches the salvation tradition of the Amida Buddha. Amida Buddha is an incarnation of Buddha. He refuses to accept his enlightenment unless he has achieved it for his followers. Pure Land Buddhism gained popularity in Japan during the Kamakura Period. This school opened Buddhism for the lower classes as well as for women.
  • Shingon Buddhism: This school was established by Kobo Daishi. This is the tantric school of Buddhism in Japan. During the Heian Period it came into prominence. Till date it is one of the popular forms of Buddhism in Japan. The main doctrine of Shingon Buddhism was to realize one’s own nature with the celestial Buddha. This is can be achieved by following a secret doctrine that is transmitted orally fro the teacher to the disciple.
  • Tendai Buddhism: This is probably the most important Japanese School of Buddhism. This school is based on the Lotus Sutra. This sutra is considered to be the supreme mixture of Buddhist doctrine. It became popular in the Heian Period.
  • Zen Buddhism: This is the most popular Japanese School of Buddhism. It is closely associated with the art and culture of Japan. The origin of Zen Buddhism is in India. All the traditions of Buddhism are followed in this Japanese School of Buddhism.

Wake-up Call

I’m out of coffee. I grab a can of artificial buzz juice from my prepper stash in the fridge. The label touts 120 grams of caffeine. I wonder how that compares to a cup of coffee? By the time I feel the buzz, I have discovered 5 things about coffee.

1) There are over 100 different coffee species in the world. Two types stand out: Arabica and Robusta . Arabica tastes better. This is the Arabian coffee first discovered by by Kaldi, a 9th-century Ethiopian goatherd, when he noticed how excited his goats became after eating the beans from a coffee plant. Robusta, or Coffea canephora. has more caffeine. But, it can taste nasty. Robusta is typically used for instant coffee, esspresso, and as a filler in coffee blends. Biohazard Coffee, a top brand of Robusta, has 928 mg of caffeine per 12-oz cup.

2) The amount of caffeine in a cup depends upon how you make it. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) supplies generic guidelines. Note that this varies with the type of roast. The rule of thumb: The longer you roast the beans, the more caffeine gets burnt off. Light roast has more caffeine, dark roast has less.

3) Different brands have different amounts of caffeine in a single cup. I didn’t know this when I talked to my riding buddy Ren Doughty when we met up with a bunch of hooligans to view the solar eclipse. Look up your favorite brand here.

4) Chlorogenic acids and caffeine shape the flavor of coffee. Chlorogenic acids, like all polyphenols, are biological antioxidants. The acids control the “tang,” or the level of metallic taste. Caffeine controls bitterness.

5) Coffee is good for you. Yes, mamma told us coffee was bad for you, but modern research proves the opposite. Today, coffee is considered a functional food with antioxidant properties. It reduces the incidence of cancer in certain organs, diabetes and liver disease, protects against Parkinson’s disease and reduces mortality risk. My Doc told me that three cups of coffee a day will flush my liver better than milk thistle or Carters Little Liver Pills.

Oh man, I need a cup of coffee.


ginseng plant

Men of a certain age love their ginseng. Ask a ginseng user, and he’ll tell you it gives him more energy. It’s like a cup of coffee without the screeching violins. A health nut will tell you that ginseng is good for the immune system, it increases your concentration, and it’s good for the heart. An old cowboy will tell you it makes his dick hard.

What makes ginseng tick?

Until recently, scientists considered Ginsenosides (ginseng saponins) to be the active ingredient in ginseng. During the past two decades, pharmacists have found another active ingredient called Gintonin, a glycolipoprotein – a protein with bonded carbohydrates and lipids, or fats.

Ginsenoside and Gintonin

Ginsenoside is Yin. It acts as a negative regulator. Gintonin is Yang. It acts as a positive regulator.


At the atomic level, Ginsenoside blocks positive-charged ions and it enhances negative charged ions. In the amazing factory of our bodies, this atomic action relaxes the excitability of nerves, it relaxes smooth muscles, and regulates heart muscles. In plain language, the Yin property of ginseng is that it soothes jangled nerves, which increases concentration. It lowers high blood pressure and regulates the heartbeat. And because it dilates the blood vessels, it makes that old cowboy one of the favorites at the dance hall.


At the atomic level, Gintonin increases the calcium ions that play a role in signal transmission along those miles of nerves. In the amazing factory of our bodies, positive calcium ions stimulate neurotransmitter release, increase muscle contraction, and stimulate fertility. In plain language, Gintonin makes the brain and nerves work better, it makes muscles stronger, and yes, that old cowboy is smiling now.


Ginseng molelcule

Lost Tools

Old Gumbo Jones wove his way through the garage, stepping carefully to avoid power cords, fiberglass body parts, and hardware that had fallen from one of his many on-going projects. He was looking for the 4mm T-handle Allen key. “I had it in my hand 3 minutes ago. How could it disappear so completely? I mean, it’s just gone. Vanished into thin air.” His eyes lit up. “There’s that damn Phillips head screwdriver!” He pulled it from under a bungee cord where he had tucked it next to a Barbie doll on the rack of the Oilhead. It dawned on him that an old nemesis was back with him. Conventional wisdom saw it as absent-mindedness. But it was something else. His mind was always present, but it was present in different dimensions at different times. He knew that he had set the 4mm down in a different dimension which would reveal itself in time. That knowledge allayed his anxiety, but it did nothing for the fillister head screw that needed to go up under the side panel. He edged his way back to the tool chest to find another set of Allen wrenches. He reached out to the side work bench to balance through a tight spot, and there, behind a plastic tub full of odd bits from the table job – or was it the Airhead fairing job or the rug shampoo machine job or the timing belt job, he saw the old O2 sensor coiled up like a snake. He lifted it to study the carbon-coated sensor, the kinked wires and the corroded connector. “Where should I put this?” A small skirmish broke out in the middle of his mind. The poverty rider saves everything, because you never know. But here he was, trapped in a jumble of tables and benches littered with old parts and new projects. He lifted the O2 sensor and flung it. It landed in the galvanized trash barrel with a satisfying thunk. He lay the Phillips down at the work bench. A smile filled his eyes. “There you are!” he held the T-handle wrench up like the Holy Grail and admired it. He remembered that he has set it there in a hurry on the way to the restroom. The urgent bladder always summons the old guy into a dimension that is walled off from anything else that seems important. It is the balloon payment that comes after coffee. Old Gumbo Jones stepped out into the April sun. He looked at the 4mm T-handle socket and wondered, “Now, what was I going to do with this?”

The Difference Between a Novel and a Short Story


First, a passage from a the novel:

The old man kneels down on one knee. He bends over the ancient machine and tugs on the bent paper clip that used to bind a sheaf of papers from the Department of Agriculture. He slips the bend over the latch where the throttle cable used to nest. He tests the tension on the throttle spring. “That’s going to do her,” he mutters. He leans across the engine, probing with his index finger. He finds the priming pump, and fondles it like a beautiful woman’s belly button. A puzzled look steals across his face. For a moment, a cloud covers the sun. Then it drifts away. Or has the Earth rotated? He cannot be sure.

The old man rises to his feet and smoothes the wrinkles from his trousers. He turns toward the open door of the garage and marches forward. To an observer, his stride has purpose. What the old man feels is a marshaling of his separate joints and muscle groups, a conscious effort to control the pain that has settled into each of them. He smiles. “It’s working,” he says.

His eyes scan the concrete floor and he sees it. The red gas can with the jimmied spout. For five years he wrestled with that spout, sloshing gas everywhere. The 2 part safety lock required two hands, but the old man needed one of his hands to hold the can and tilt the spout into the opening of the tanks of cars, motorcycles, lawnmowers, and cans full of Japanese beetles. The safety lock had the net effect of creating danger. Once, the old man saw an ad for an open spout that claimed to be a solution for dangerous safety spouts. The price on the open spout was $11 plus shipping. “I paid $10 for the fucking gas can,” the old man said. “Why the fuck would I pay more for a fucking spout?” The old man remembered two poems by Ernest Hemingway. The poems cautioned readers to save the “f” word for circumstances where no other word would do. “Fuck Hemingway,” the old man laughed.

He unscrewed the cap from the rusting tank, tilted the spout, and poured. When gasoline ran down the outside of the tank onto the mower’s deck, he stopped pouring. He fastened the cap, and turned toward the garage. He took half a step and turned it into a pirouette. He bent over the engine and reached for the oil cap. There was some resistance to the twist, but it popped off. He stared at the dipstick and was satisfied. The gas can went back to its place under the work table. His eyes scanned the high shelf and he saw the green container with 30 wt oil. He would not need that today. “Now,” he say, wiping his hands one on the other, “Let’s see what we got.”

He poked at the primer and felt the resistance of fluid forced though the line and into the carburetor. He pumped 6 times, for that was the effective measure that he had discovered the first time he got his engine started, after replacing the spark plug and dumping ancient clots of debris from the carburetor bowl. He could not recollect how many years ago. It did not matter. Now is now, as it always is. He grasped the fading black handle and twisted back, pulling the rope in an easy, measured stroke. The engine sputtered, then roared to life. “First pull,” he smiled.

Now,, the same passage from a short story:

He started the lawnmower.

If this were an essay, I would belabor you with structural theory. I would insult your intelligence by pointing out, in minute detail, the richness of the longer passage. I know you are busy, so I’ll let you go with this:

Make you life a novel, my friends.

How We Turn Off the Light



                 If I’m such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?


We know that love can build a beautiful world. We know that our own fear and anger can only destroy it. Let’s take a look at one theory of the brain, and how it relates to this dilemma.

Was it Karma or did my parents do it?

Neither. We did it to ourselves when we programmed our Reptile Brain. The Reptile Brain crowns the spinal column like a knob in the middle of our heads. This is the involuntary brain that keeps our hearts pumping, that keeps us breathing. It is the seat of knee-jerk responses like flight or fright. The Reptile Brain is the repository of all our basic instincts. It is programmed by what we make of our very early childhood experiences. It sends electronic impulses to other parts of the brain in response to stimulation from what is outside of us, and in response to what is going on inside of us. These impulses carry no meaning. They are just energy. The patterns we stuff into our own little Reptile Brains are set for life. What other parts of the brain make of these patterns can change.

triune brain
Image from


Pink clouds and raging bulls

The energy of impulses from the reptile brain change as they travel through higher portions of our gray matter. The first area the impulses hit is the Mammal Brain, the seat of emotions. During the first year of our lives, before we develop language, the reptilian impulses register as feelings. Sucking on a nipple, whether of flesh or soft rubber, the gush of warm milk, feels good. That hot nasty thing in our diapers feels bad.

The sweet embrace of our mother, the loving cooing of our daddy feels good. When mommy abandons us to be with daddy, it feels bad. This little story is the basis of Freudian Theory. Oedipus wants his mommy and he wants to kill daddy. Electra wants daddy and she wants to kill mommy. Sweet romance.

Before we develop language, none of this has a story yet. We are programming ourselves with basic instincts, storing energy patterns into the Reptile Brain in response to their effect on our middle brain, the Mammal Brain, also called the limbic system, which scientists have discovered is located in the cerebellum. The field of human development calls this “early patterning.” We develop patterns of behavior that, in later life, will serve us well and drive us mad. Good instincts gone awry.

As we grow toward language, we learn how to exercise our will. Crying, we learn, will tear mommy from daddy’s embrace, bringing her to us to change our diapers or stuff a nipple into our mouth. Making bright eyes and gurgling sounds makes daddy coo and smile at us. We learn the power of a smile. We learn the power of a frown. We learn how to work it.

The Reptile Brain is territorial. It is the seat of the will to power. The Mammal Brain changes these primal instincts into basic instincts. These instincts are good, but they go awry. This is the basis of Country Music, The Blues, and all of their popular derivatives.

The shit hits the fan

When we develop language, the shit hits the fan. We begin to make up stories about the things that cause little electric currents to jump from the Reptile Brain into the Mammal Brain. When the language centers of the higher brain come on line, we begin to make up the story of reality. We are so convinced that our story of reality is true, that we are willing to die for it. All forms of life share this illusion.

In the Triune Brain scheme, this higher brain is called the Human Brain. The part of the Human Brain that makes up stories about reality is located in the pre-frontal cortex. To be fair to our beloved pets, they also have a pre-frontal cortex, but ours is 40% larger. This is why humans can invent complex things like politics and economics, but a dog can find a bone n a forest and be perfectly happy.

Like evolutionary theory, which has life moving from the swamp to crawling snakes to mammals on all fours and eventually an erect form, Homo Sapiens, the human brain has evolved to an erect state.

The erectile brain and the making of the new world

Before the modern world happened, the culture we were born into controlled the stories we made up about reality. People felt safe with a strong leader and a set of proscribed rituals that everybody practiced.. The theory of law came into being, and small tribes came together to form larger collective states. Like dogs, we were happy and secure when we were obedient to the laws of our culture.

genghis_khan_and_the_making_of_the_modern_world_by_jack_weatherfordThen things changed. I blame Genghis Khan. His will to power drove him to conquer much of the known world. He brought the best ideas of each culture into each new territory that his hoard swept into. Things got mixed up, and a new form of human mind evolved. Historians call it “the enlightenment.” The enlightenment brought about ideas of freedom that led to the greatest social experiment in history, The United States of America. Aamerican dieals of freemdom have spread to the rest of the world. Is that a good thing, or a bad thing? As the Zen Master.

Erectile brain dysfunction

And, so we come back to the question, “If I am such a spiritual giant, why do I get so worked up over bullshit?”

A conservative might point to a lack of discipline. A liberal might point to an over-developed sense of constraint. A politician will analyze your zip code and credit card bills and tell you “the other” is to blame. Most spiritual gurus say it’s in the stories we make up about things.

Chances are you are intelligent, you have a cultured mind, and because of this you are aware that the same bullshit pops up over and over again.

So what is it, really? It’s quite simple. Things bother us deeply when we don’t create a space between the primal instincts of the Reptile Brain, the emotional reactions of the Mammal Brain, and the stories we make up in the Human Brain. This lack of space is called “habit.”

Doing the Jerk

We cannot change the knee-jerk instincts programmed into our Reptile Brain. When we react to them without thinking, we act like a jerk. That’s where the term comes from. We jerk each other around, but in our own minds, we are innocent, meaning we can be unconscious when we truly feel “I’m innocent. You’re the jerk.” This is the wonderful thing about drugs like alcohol, cocaine, opioids. We can remain unconscious but the feel-good neurotransmitters flow, so we act with impunity and feel great – until the hangover sets in, the remorse, the self-loathing. We can make the decision to stop using drugs and alcohol, but after a year or two we realize, oh dang, the same bullshit keeps coming up over and over again. This is because we cannot change the primal instincts we stored in the Reptile Brain before we were old enough to use the Human Brain.

The only thing we can do is to become aware of the causes and conditions that live in that bump on top of our spines, how they leap into the higher parts of our brain, the stories we make up in response. We can change our habitual responses.

Space, the final frontier

In 1974, a group of neuroscientists met with a group of Tibetan monks in Boulder, Colorado. The monks asked the brain guys what they would most like to develop in their field. The reply was, “We’d like to help people take four seconds between stimulus and response.” This is the space between the Reptile Brain and the rest of it that is required to change our habits. This is the space required to become a happy person.

My mother knew that. She taught us to count to ten when we were angry. Neuroscientists got it down to four. They were smart guys. While it is true, that pausing when agitated can prevent World War III, we still have the old problem of pain, terror, and uncertainty that wells up almost daily as we have our average of 66,000 thoughts a day. If you think you’re over it, drive out to get groceries during rush hour. Fall in love. Check your bank account. The Days of Our Lives, a soap opera, has been showing weekly since 1965.

The way out is the way in

The way out is through daily practice. The brain will revert to it’s original state if we don’t tune it up on a regular basis. The practice of creating space in the brain has many names. Those who were born into or who adopted religious cultures call it prayer. Eastern cultures and the new age call it meditation. Cultures that predate the common era call it contemplation. Athletes call if focus. Atheists and agnostics sometimes think of it as self-hypnosis. By any name, it is Love. Turkish poet Yunnis Emmri wrote, “Love, you have taken me away from me.”

                                       The way out is the way in. May you find it now.


The Golden Shower

In a post-apocalyptic America, an old man sits with a group of people under a tree and regales them with a story.

“There was a man,” he tells them, “Called Lawrence Durrell who wrote a set of books that  stirred many readers. The subject of these books was Love.” His audience drew closer. “Romantic love is a relatively new invention,” he said. “Durrell told us that the invention of romantic love made man the most vulnerable of all creatures, subject to fits of hunger which can be killed by satiety but never satisfied.” He pauses to let that sink in. “ Unlike D.H. Lawrence, who built a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a good fuck, The Royal Road to Happiness, he told us, is open to souls with a morality that does not attach meaning to that which kills joy.” And then, the old man leaned forward and spoke in a whisper, as storytellers will do. “The subtext of the books,” he said, “Was power.”

“You see, during the time of the Industrial Revolution, when natural resources like oil became very important, the powers of Europe colonized North Africa and the Middle East. In Egypt, where Durrell’s tales of Love were set, the British encountered a sticky problem. The government leaders were smart people, the Coptics, who knew how to run things.” A woman who was listening raised her eyebrows. She knew the Coptics were Christians, that they had been wiped out by Muslim evangelicals. The old man nodded, and he continued. “The Coptics knew the pitfalls of governing, so they kept the people informed. As we all know, informed people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. So the British knew they must soften the will of the people They came up with a very crafty plan. They replaced these smart government leaders with the Mullahs, the religious leaders who were vain men, more subject to flattery than common sense. The powers of Europe, the colonizer, whispered into the Mullahs’ ears, You must convince the people of these truths: That you, the Mullahs, are the direct representatives of God, so the people must listen to you, for you are wise beyond belief, and as a sign of the favor of God, you wear rich garments, You have dinnerware made of gold and large, rare jewels on your fingers.”

The old man sat back and looked around. Then he leaned forward and put his hands on his knees. “And so the foolish Mullahs held sway over the people, convincing them of their fears, and the people began to feast on each others’ unwholeness. Women, they said, must be kept in their place. They are inferior to men. The Mullahs, you see, were very afraid of their own mothers, who in the time of smart leaders, ran the world. The shamans and healers amongst us, the Mullahs said, are tools of the Devil. You must come to our places of healing, and buy only or medicines at great cost. It is wrong for workers to join forces and make demands of their employers, for they, like the hand of God, make it possible for you to put bread into the mouths of your families. As the foolish Mullahs installed their religious policies, cities began to fall apart. That is how the colonizers gained their power. They allowed the infrastructure to crumble. They poisoned the water. Roads fell into disarray. Bridges collapsed. And the middle east crept back into the Dark Ages.”

“70 years later, my friends, the same thing happened in a land far to the west.” The story teller waved his hand in a semi-circle. “The ruins where we now sit,” he said, “Was once a great nation called America. For 200 years, America was a land of prosperity. Then, little by little, as it was colonized by a ruthless oligarchy, it slid into darkness.”

“Years before, a great leader tried to warn them. Beware, he said, of the military-industrial complex. And for years the people listened. As we all know, an informed group of people cannot be colonized and subjugated. They will not tolerate lies and manipulation. But, the conquering horde had a plan. They softened up the people, as colonizing entities often do, by reshaping the role of women. They made them into sex object because sex sells. Love became a hunger that could be satiated but never filled. Let’s go shopping, the people said. They subverted the Arts, building a Taj Mahal around something so simple as a promise of a good fuck. Where once they were purveyors of Truth, artists became the instruments of shame and fear. They began to craft an American Dream. They subverted a medium that came into everybody’s home, called television, and filled people’s heads with inane stories that had one message: You are not good enough. You cannot possibly live up to ideals portrayed in our images unless you become wealthy, and the only way to do that is to sacrifice your lives to the ideal of work, and to keep your money in these large banks, which we will manage for you. We will give you credit cards so that you can get whatever you want at low-interest rates of only 27%. They commissioned economists who convinced the people that a golden shower trickled down upon the land.”

The old man looked around to see if they were still with him. They were. “But still, the people maintained control of their government, which regulated the would-be conquerors and held them in check. The corporate oligarchy had to be content to work behind the scenes, using lobbyists and perks and junkets to buy the favor of politicians.” His older listeners nodded. They remembered these government regulations against monopolies and for fair trade policies.

“And so the oligarchy, who were billionaires by now but could never amass enough wealth came up with a second plan. They studied the techniques of Imperial Europe. We must give power to the Mullahs, they said. Just as our forefathers sent missionaries to soften the minds of the Indians so that we could take their lands, we will send them again to take the power of government away from the people. And so, my friends, America fell into the hands of the Mullahs, the vain and foolish fundamentalist leaders. They took over school boards and changed the textbooks. The deliberate dumbing down of America opened the floodgates. They ran test cases, poisoning the wells with industrial spills and bursting pipelines, to slowly gain the power of controlling water and selling it to people in plastic bottles. When The People stood up against this heinous act in South Dakota, they passed a law to make it legal to kill protesters with a car or a truck. As this new millennium began to ripen, the Mullahs gained control. Women, they said, must be controlled. We will close down their evil clinics which sin against God. Unions, they said, were evil. Our golden shower cannot trickle down upon the people if there is a minimum wage. The power of the evil empire came to a crescendo when they took over the government. They installed an orange faced narcissist with nylon hair as the chief executive. He appointed foxes to guard the hen houses, a cabinet of oligarchs, each of whom contradicted the very truths their positions were supposed to uphold. And the people who called themselves Patriots thought that this was good. The billionaires are smart, they said, so they know how to run things. This, they felt, is the Brave new World.”

A shrill whistle pierced the silence. “You,” a policeman hollered. He pointed at the storyteller. “Get on your knees. Put your hands behind your back.” The audience scattered.

How the Self Constructs Itself

Anyone who has contemplated the nature of being knows they’re making up a story when they answer the question, “Who are you.?”

The story we make up depends upon who is asking the question. During a job interview, we deliver prerecorded messages about our work habits. At a cocktail party, we trot out some version of the most interesting man in the world. If we are speaking with a potential lover, we dim the lights and play romantic music.

An existentialist would say, “You are what you do.” In turn, we ask, “Why do we do what we do?” The thing that makes us tick, the mainspring that runs our clocks, is a collection of inherited traits, ideas, values, feelings, and accumulated magnetism that comes from mental operations evaluating our past experiences. The Tibetans know how to have fun. They call it bag chags. Hindus call it Vāsanā, and psychologists call it the accumulation of habitual tendencies which predispose us to particular patterns of behavior.

My particular bag chags predispose me to go on at length to set up a context in which my thoughts can be understood by others who may have had the same thoughts but cannot understand what the hell I’m saying. I suppose this trait is the result of frequent constant hammering by academic committees who were themselves hammered by other academic committees. It’s a cruel world.

Running Away from Home

My cohort, the collection of people who operate on their suffering in the ways that I do, comes from the materialistic West, a collection of cultures conditioned by the belief that reality is concrete, that the world is made of “things” called atoms which behave in a predictable manner described by a belief system called “science.” This mindset underlies our suffering. *See bag chags above.

Somewhere between the ages of 9 and 12, when we begin to realize that mommy cannot fix our suffering, we begin to rely upon the mind. So begins the journey. When we strike out into the world on our own, we may choose academic disciplines like philosophy or psychology to “figure things out.” When our suffering becomes acute, we pursue religious experience. When our native religion fails, we find it useful to run away from home.

Eastern paths become attractive. We fly trial balloons painted with “I’m, like, into…Aztec Toltec Buddha Hindu Cabala Mormon Sufi Zen.” Some may delve into western forms with eastern origins – Christian mysticism, or a variety of Pagan forms from ancient cultures. Others find solace in derived forms like astrology, the enneagram, numerology the I-Ching, Tarot Cards. Eventually, we return to our capitalist roots and rent a guru who has distilled a variety of religious and philosophical systems into a cohesive commercial package like A Course in Miracles, Avatar, Scientology, EST, and on and on from Bryon Katie to Zig Ziglar.

When these “other culture” fixes stop working, those of us who survive begin to meditate on the nature of Self.

The Big Bang

Image result for the big bang theoryThe problem of “self” began with the Big Bang. Physical science sees the Big Bang as a massive explosion where a Single Big Thing – literally everything in the Universe – went KA-BOOM and separated into zillions of things. As these smaller things traveled away from each other, the notion of space came into being. Because it takes a while for these separating pieces to get from point A to point B, the notion of time came into being. If you ask a science type how that Single Big Thing got there in the first place, he will begin to mumble. Chances are he is actually saying something, but most of us feel like a dog listening to a person speak. “Blah blah blah primordial potential blah blah.” Ms Oddi, my 5th-grade teacher, told me that God put it there.

Here is why The Big Bang is a Problem: In order to experience “being,” the “I” must separate from “The One.” There can be no “self” without this separation. Speculation on the nature of “self” is, therefore, a flawed narrative spoken by a first person narrator with a limited perspective. When my “self” thinks about my “self,” it is purely subjective.

We believe The Big Bang happened a long time ago because The Big Bang itself created time. Recursive self-generation contrives to create obvious facts that are, strangely enough, not facts. Each time you reach that timeless state where you are one with everything, you know, somehow, that time and space are contrived notions. The Self, however, rails against such an idea, because a separate, distinct individual can exist only after the Big Bang. All life is suffering because our notion that we are separate and distinct entities hurling through space at high speeds is a contrived notion. And yet, the tools our minds have for becoming conscious of existence, the very stuff of awareness, depends entirely on being separated from the one place we really want to be. What a pain in the ass.

Wu Li Masters

Physical science does not bother with the idea of self. In strict materialism, we are just bags of fluids with electrical pulses running through us. The best way to end suffering is to get a good job and buy a big truck.

People who have run away from home see the Big Bang as a metaphor signifying the separation from unity, creating the duality necessary for consciousness and awareness.

Please take a moment to adjust the contrast in your thought bubble.

Matter, or stuff, is made up of increasingly smaller units. All matter, from a galaxy right down to an atom in your fingernail, obeys the Laws of Physics. The good orderly direction of the Laws of Physics provides us with a measure of security. We feel safe, knowing that everything will be there when we wake up in the morning. Life is good. Then something terrible happens. Anarchy. An outlaw gang of sub-atomic particle physicists shows up. The Wu Li Masters (Teachers of Physical Essence) dance with The Merry Pranksters, and suddenly the Laws of Physics don’t work anymore.

Image result for the wu li mastersProblems of duality did not arise in the field of science until quantum physics came into being. Until these guys started dissecting the atom, the laws of physics were a Fact. The solid, predictable nature of existence, heralded from the time of Aristotle right up until the Beatles made us start thinking about it, got blurry. Yes, there were smart people who understood what Albert Einstein was talking about way back when Henry Ford started up his assembly lines in Detroit, but most of us didn’t get it until we dropped a hit of acid. The Philosophers among us have come to terms with the anarchy by taking a cue from Einstein’s notebook. We know that everything is relative. It’s all about perception. The guys who work on sub-atomic particles feel the same way. They know that the observing system modifies that which is observed. It all depends on how you look at it.

Like the Self, which depends on its bag chags for a picture of reality that either promotes a nice, secure, safe feeling, or a churning nightmare of insecurity, the guys who cannot live with the contradictions between Newtonian Physics and Quantum mechanics have been scrambling for decades to explain why things ain’t what they’re supposed to be. Like a brilliant neurotic who cannot rest until he or she “figures it out,” they have come up with increasingly complex calculations that have rocketed out of the 4th dimension. We now have a calculus that can handle 11 dimensions. The secret formula for a unified field theory is hidden in the Tower of Babel.

The arc of descent

The Big Bang Happens. We are separated. We find our soul in a body, and we scramble to make sense of the world. We accumulate experiences and our mind incorporates these into evident truths, so we develop habitual tendencies – bag chags – that predispose us to particular patterns of behavior. Our personality, the mask we wear to navigate the world, colors our experience, and our bag chags cause us to behave in ways that accumulate something called “character.”

Most models of “self” hinge on duality: It’s all One, but here we are, separate from the one. We’re all in this together, but each of us is separate and distinct. Unless you’re one of the Three Musketeers, it’s every man for himself, which generates a trinity. In the egocentric world, it’s I, myself, & me. In society, it’s I, you, he/she/it. We take this for granted. Therein lies the rub. When Sri Maharishi Ramana followed the notion of “self” all the way to the end, he found nobody there.

Our notions of “self” are largely bound by culture. By culture, I mean a group of people who agree on a particular interpretation of archetypal myths. This unified interpretation makes things easy, in that there seems to be a hard, fast reality. It makes it difficult if that hard reality is difficult to accept. We become outcasts and we run away from home to find ourselves in alien cultures. The American experiment created a culture of outcasts united by the quest for life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

For most of us born in the USA, culture is a quaint notion, an organizing principle enjoyed by our ancestors, but celebrated as little more than a nostalgic notion in our lifetime. As a result, we are confused. We have shifting notions of who we are, what our function is in the larger community. We adopt artificial roles that work for a time, then become dysfunctional as reality shifts.

Our interpretation of the myths that explain human existence alter with each film, with each novel, with each trend that comes along. We are barraged by images of who we should be, calculated to sell us laundry detergent. We find that we fall short. To cope with that, we have adopted post-modernism, a form of phenomenology that accepts everything as relative to a point of view. This works fine until we decide that we need to control reality in order to feel safe. We try to find security through romantic relationships, membership in clubs, professions, work, money, possessions, positions, status. Unless we are in denial or outright sociopaths, the quest for security, the attempt to control reality, results in fear, grinding anger, frustration, a sense of hopelessness. This is an arc of descent.

There is a hole in the doughnut and we seek madly to fill it with work, fun, love, booze, ice cream, hobbies, avocations, new shoes, a bigger boat, a faster car, fame, art.

Don Miguel Ruiz, in his book The Four Agreements, describes the fog we operate in. The Toltec term is the mitote. This fog is created by the false agreements we accepted – first as children in order to survive or to obey our caregivers, then as adults when we found we could get what we wanted, that we could feel safe by making false agreements. Ruiz describes these false agreements as the source of our pain. The arc of descent takes us ever farther from our true nature.

The arc of ascent

Image result for doughnutThe hole in the doughnut is our desire to reverse the Big Bang, to be reunited with The One, The Divine, the Spirit of the Universe. God. Rumi describes the yearning song of the reed flute that is torn from its bed. That is our yearning, that is the hole in the doughnut. But we are human, separate, and everything we have learned is a result of this separation.

But there is something else, a quiet whisper, an intuition. We begin to understand that there is a lower self, that part of us that operates in the world beset with desires and fears., and a higher self, something or some part of us that is closer to the heavens. We begin to follow the bread crumbs that will take us back to the source. This is the arc of ascent. Often it begins when we run away from home and become seekers. For some, it starts in church or temple. For others, with the birth of a child, a magical experience in nature, a stroke, or a brain injury. The communication with the hidden part of ourselves, that vast connection we knew as children before the world jaded us, begins to open and we discover a different way of being in the world. We become free.

The range of Self starts at the lower end: complete self-absorption, and extends to the higher self: ecstatic awareness of the Unity of all Beings, which Ranger Bob calls having “both feet firmly planted in The Absolute.” We, all of us, experience the full range. At the low end, we suffer. At the high end, we feel joy. Our notion of self may be colored by the particular position between lower and higher self that we typically occupy with our mind and feelings. As we practice, in our daily lives, this movement from the lower self to the higher self, we embark upon the arc of ascent.

Thomas Carlyle presented the theological model for the arc of descent and ascent in his “Apologia pro via sutra, ” His attempt to master life through pure self-will plunged him into shades of Tartarian Darkness. After a long period of inquiry, he surrendered his agnostic logic. He emerged into the light by accepting Faith.

Gautama, born a royal prince, embarked on the arc of ascent by denouncing his birthright. He saw that life was suffering, that suffering was caused by wanting things to be different than they are.

Mohammed took a tour of the Seven Heavens with the Archangel Gabriel. When they reached the end of the seventh heaven, Mo was excited. At last, he thought, he would see God. But, there was nothing to see. Only a tree, the lote tree of the limits. There were symbols in the tree. “We cannot see God,” Gabriel told him. “Only symbols of his existence.”

The realization that the higher self is real, and that the lower self is an illusion, is called “enlightenment.” An old Zen proverb says, “After enlightenment, the dishes.”

Life goes on until it doesn’t. You never know what delightful surprise will come beyond the drudgery.

What we do for each other hearts

Chances are you’ve worked your way through the problems of existence in your own way. Most of us arrive at the conundrum of the dual nature of reality, that we are somehow all one, and yet each of us is separate. Many of us have become enlightened. However, life is like a yo-yo. Sometimes it spins up. Sometimes it spins down.

When a friend gets stuck in the fog down at the bottom of the yo-yo string, we give him or her a nudge to bounce back up from the bottom. Winston Churchill said, “When you’re going through hell, don’t stop.”

When we get stuck in a rut so deep that we move in and furnish it, it’s time to run away from home. Try something new.

When the chaos of tumbling shards from the Big Bang gets overwhelming, we learn to enjoy the ride. That’s why God invented motorcycles.

The simple fact is, we were born knowing. But we need to be reminded of what we know from time to time. That’s why friends will tell us the same stories, the same parables, maxims, memes, jokes, the same truths time and again. We forget when we get lost in the fog of the day-to-day, and those same old things that we’ve already heard are like a signpost to remind us. It’s what we do for each other.
In the end, the true answer to the question, “Who are you?” is, “I am everything.” This sounds like a cop-out to most people, or, at least, a supremely egocentric answer. For those of us who have chosen a mystic’s path, the honest answer is “I don’t have any idea.” Anything else is just a story.

Piriformis Syndrome: the anatomy of a pain in the butt

By Damun Gracenin

Olga K13S
Olga Kramar avoids prirformis syndrome by climbing 22 stories on her way to work each morning.

When you buy a blue bike, you notice other blue bikes. When it hurts to walk, you notice how many riders at rallies walk painfully. Most will talk about sciatic pain. Some really do have a back problem. Most have some combination of muscle and nerve pain. Orthopedics Expert Jonathan Cluett, M.D. Tells us why exact causes ares hard to pin down: It’s all theoretical. Just like  so many problems with your bike, ask 3 experts and you’ll get 4 opinions

Three different muscles connect the back to the legs: the piriformis, the psoas, and the gluteus maximus.
All three become annoying when we get “saddle sore.” The fun begins when the glutes spasm, the psoas fires up the core nerves, and the piriformis compresses the sciatic nerve. Dr. Cluett and most trainers call this the Piriformis Syndrome.  Common signs and symptoms of piriformis syndrome include:

  •  Pain behind the hip in the buttocks
  • Electric shock pains down the back of the lower extremity
  • Numbness in the lower extremity
  • Tenderness with pressure on the piriformis muscle (often causing pain with sitting on hard chairs)

            No one has written about how this comes about for motorcyclists, so let’s have a look at causes, conditions, cures, and prevention.

 The Penny Drops

My pain in the tush fired up three years ago. I would arrive at a rally a thousand miles from home, and find that walking was painful. It hurt worse when I stood still, talking with old friends. A nail-in-the-bone pain, that made it hard to straighten up. Sitting on  chairs was uncomfortable. Until year three,  laying down did not hurt. If I stayed off the bike for a few days, the pain would go away.

That would change.

gluteals-and-piriformis  Figure 1 – Butt muscles. Source:

When I arrived at the 2014 Top O the Rockies Rally in Paonia,  the suffering misery was on me. It would not go away. This was the first long ride on a resurrected K75 S. For years I had ridden  RTs. Those bikes can grind out the miles, but, they lack panache. The low bars, the tighter tuck, and the wind rush on the S  bike make for a thrilling ride. I had added a layer of high density foam to the seat. The idea came from bicycle. The harder the seat, the longer I could go. Not so on motorcycles. I paid the price for a failed experiment, I thought. But,  it was not the hard foam, nor was it the position on the S bike. At the Paonia rally, I was able to remove the seat cover, yank the high density foam out, returning the seat to the way Mike Corbin had builtt it. “Fixed,” I thought. To test my theory, I rode Monarch Pass and  back roads through beautiful cuts, a 300 mile round trip from the rally. When I returned, the pain was just as bad. That night, I could not shake the pain. That was new.

 Help Arrives

Lucky for me, a massage therapist had set up shop at the rally. Lynn worked on me for half an hour, releasing the hip rotators, glutes, and the piriformis. For an hour, I was pain free. I stayed off the bike the next day and got another massage. That night, the pain was reduced enough to dance. I thought the problem was solved. I was in the eye of a hurricane.

Lynn explained to me that the pain came from my Piriformis, deep in the hind quarter, that attaches to the tail bone on one side, and the top of the leg bone on the other. The swelling and tightness was causing it to press  the sciatic nerve, hence the pain that radiated down the hamstrings, into the calf, and caused my heel to tingle. “You guys,” she wagged her finger. “You ride all tucked up tight for how many miles? You’re putting a lot of pressure on the IT band, your glutes are relaxed, and that causes the Piriformis to spasm because it is doing all the butt work.” I ignored her when she said something about a shortened psas. Once I got the piriformis sorted out, the role of the psoas in the aging long distance rider syndrome came to the fore. More on that later.

Let Joe Muscolino, help you find your Piriformis.

I concluded , incorrectly, that the genesis of pain was the tight tuck on the S bike. I would have to figure out how to create a taller seat, and maybe lower the pegs. Discussions with several other riders who complained about sciatic pain revealed the real problem. A Canadian fellow said, “Get off the bike every 100 kilometers. Walk around.” I did the math. That’s 60 miles. Impossible. I’d seen Ardys Kellerman ride 1,000 miles without getting out of the saddle. She refueled while sitting. John Ryan rode 400 miles at a stretch with his fuel cell. Could it be that my butt was no longer iron?

Another fellow suggested Kegel exercises while riding, which he explained and demonstrated for me. Native Americans call this the Deer Exercise, which strengthens the pelvic floor. You’ve done it waiting between pee stops. We know it by a more familiar name: Twerking. “It increases blood flow in the compressed sitting muscles and strengthens the core,” he explained.

So, I thought I’d try these two suggestions on the ride from Paonia to St. Paul for the BMW MOA National. But something new occurred. My butt hurt while I was on the bike. The high cost of dancing, I thought. This was new, and worrisome. I found that holding my knees as far apart as possible, a position discovered by most K bike riders with roasting thighs, for a count to 10, followed by ten seconds of twerking, relieved the pain for a few minutes. Holding the knees out relieves the shortened hip rotators and brings the muscles into balance for a sweet few minutes. Twerking increases blood flow, giving compressed nerves a breather.

I did stop every 60 miles. I hobbled around, and stretched, using tecniques learned from Lisa Kinney and Andrea Borella in their Yoga and Chi Gung seminars at rallies. Warrior 1, a stretch familiar to anyone who does yoga, was effective for me. It brought some relief, enough to walk a bit before the pain went shooting down the hamstrings and into the calf, tightening them both. I stopped 50 times on the ride from Paonia to St. Paul, stretching the 1200 miles out to 2 1/2 days. That was a new slow record for me, and the start of something wonderful. It became a “smell the roses” ride. I met locals and chatted with them. I felt the mighty wind on  high plains. I stopped in Sturgis and had a buffalo burger at the Knucklehead, then toured the Black Hills. Those seed & grain places with the high towers are a wonderful place to learn about local color, and to share stories of the road with a small crowd. And, they have clean restrooms!

By the time I reached the National in St. Paul, I discovered I could not walk more than 100 feet. That is a problem when you have 5,000 friends waiting to kick tires and tell lies. Fortunately, the grounds abounded with benches. I could sit and lean elbows on my knees, which allowed the spasms to subside. I researched the area at the Internet Cafe and found The American Academy of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine  a few miles away in Roseville, MN. The wonderful thing about acupuncture schools is that they have a big staff of interns who are available right now and affordable. I became a regular for three days. The needles gave me a few hours of relief. On day two, a very Strong young woman who specialized in Yoga Massage took me on a Trip of Pain. She explained exactly what was going on, and prescribed stretches that you can find if you search for YouTube videos with the delimiter, “piriformis.”

 The Causes

Nick Jack at No Regrets Personal Training in Melbourne Australia says it best. Some of this has to do with your anatomical genetic make up, but in most cases it is due to Poor Posture, overuse or repetitive movements coupled with poor strength in the muscles that stabilize the pelvis and hip, being mainly the abdominals and glutes. As the primary muscles of the hip become fatigued, the smaller muscles, like the piriformis, work harder to maintain form. Trying to compensate for stronger muscles is how the piriformis becomes strained. Nick lhas described his wife’s advtures with prirformis syndrome n a comprehensive blog at:

Consider the sitting position on your motorcycle. With the feet spread on the foot pegs, and the glutes immobilized on the seat, the body stops dead in its tracks. This feels stable, but, as core expert Jonathan FitzGordon says, stable isn’t what we are looking for. We want a dynamic body that lives in a quiet state of perpetual motion. Try FitzGordon’s proof:

  • Stand with your feet together, close your eyes, relax your butt and feel how your body stands in space.
  • Then do the same thing with the feet hip width apart or wider.
  • Stand in both positions for a number of times to feel the different way the inner body reacts.

With the feet together there is a feeling of movement within the pelvis as the gluteus medius and minimus doing their internal and externally rotating thing in search of a place of balance. With the feet apart. that all tends go away.

As we ride for long hours, our tightly bent legs put a strain on the IT band (illiotibial tract) which runs down the outer leg from hip to knee. The psoas is shortened. The gluteal muscles are relaxed, and the piriformis starts to do all the butt work. This causes it to tighten up and swell, putting pressure on the sciatic nerve, which is the source of that pain that dances along the rear hip, hamstrings, calf, and into the heel.


Figure 2 – The psoas and hip stabilizers. Source:

 The Cures – release, stretch, and strengthen

I love my ice pack. Often, it is the only thing that will relieve muscle pressure on the firing nerves to the point where I can function.

If your pain has reached a chronic state, as mine had, see your doctr first. He or she may prescribe antiinflammatory and pain medications.

My Doc at the VA Clinic wrote for Prednisone and suggested ibuprofen for pain. Within two days, the medications reduced swelling and pain to the point where I could start releasing trigger points and stretching. If your insurance will pay for it, the physician may prescribe a physical therapist who will help you thorough the following exercises. Some of us don’t have that luxury, and will have to go the “Do It Yourself” route.


The first thing to do is to find and release those knots, or trigger points. Myotherapist Carla Hedtke defines trigger point as a self-sustaining irritated spot in the muscle. It causes the muscle to gradually become tighter and to shorten. This limits function and motion of the muscle causing

weakness and pain. On long rides, the Piriformis contracts and holds, creating tight spots that can be found by sitting on a ball – I like a baseball, but a lacrosse ball or a tennis ball is kinder. Leaving your weight on the ball for a few minutes will release the trigger points. There is a right way and a wrong way to do it, so have a look at some web videos before you try.

Theo Simon & the medicine ball –

Kai Wheeler & the lacrosse ball –

Brian Catania & massage technique –


Once the trigger points are released, stretches can be a blessing.

Stretching at home

figure 2 stretches

Figure 3 – Strteches learned at yoga classes and rally clinics. The illustrations come from Spine Health. Their web site offers  instruction at

YouTube videos offer more comprehensive instruction. Justine Shelton gets into yoga nuances, and you’ll find a variety of techniques in the sidebar at

 Stretching on rides

Tightness of the psoas can result in lower back pain by compressing the lumbar discs. The psoas lifts the thighs toward the belly. When we ride for long hours, the psoas is shortened, and its function is overtaken by the foot pegs. That’s how it gets tight. I believe this tightness is the first step in the process that leads to piriformis syndrome and sciatic pain for many riders Because the top of psoas connects to the front of the spine, rotation  will release it. Simply twist the torso from side to side. You can do this to an extent while riding, and more completely at red lights. Hyper extension of the hips – in plain language, sliding the leg backwards, will stretch a tight posas. The perfect combination of these two moves – rotation and hyperextension, is the yoga pose called Warrior 1. 

 If you haven’t learned the pose at a yoga class, you can find  instruction by searching the web. Core Power Yoga offers a written how-to at .

Real Bodywork offers a video that shows what to do, and what to avoid at

Warrior 1 is a great gas stop stretch. You can do it while filling the bike. It will loosen you up enough to enjoy a walk – which will stretch and loosen the cramped butt, and, if your lucky, lead to some roses yo smell.


Strong gluteus muscles are the key. Climbing stairs is the 3-in-1 answer for many. The gluteus maximus is especially active, and the single leg extension and flexion work the gluteus medius and the gluteus minimus. K13 pilot Olga Kramar avoids prirformis syndrome by climbing 22 stories on her way to work each morning.

Deep Eddie, Austin’s premier deep massage therapist, has three exercises for strengthening the 3 glute muscles using a Theraband or exercise tubing for resistance. Bands and tubing are color coded for strength. Eddy recommends silver for most people, which offers 40% more resistance than black, which works better if you have reached a point of low strength. I like to tie a 36” length into a circle roughly 12 to 14 inches in diameter, and slip it around my ankles for each of Eddy’s three exercises.

1. Gluteus maximus

  1. Hold onto a table or chair for balance.
  2. Slowly lift one leg straight backwards without bending your knee
  3.  Hold position for 1 second.
  4. Slowly lower leg. Pause.
  5. Repeat with other leg.

2. Gluteus medius

In the same posture and in the same sequence, lift one leg at a 45 degree angle, i.e., to the rear quarter

3. Gluteus minimus

Standing straight, lift one leg to the side in the same sequence as the previous two exercises.

Eddy’s prescription is to work muscles for 45 seconds to exhaustion only one time (set) in any one day Exercise different muscles 2 days in a row and rest on the third day for growth.

You may become one of the many long riders who suffer from sciatic pain emanating from the Piriformis Syndrome. 

If you know the causes and cures. it can be avoided, or staved off so that you may one day garner the Oldest Rider Award. See you down the road.




Andrea Borella, BMW MOA Rally Presenter, Follow Along Qigong

Jonathan Cluett, M.D., Orthopedics Expert

Core Power Yoga

Nick Jack, No Regrets Personal Training in Melbourne Australia

Jonathan FitzGordon, Core Walking

Carla Hedtke, Myotherapist

Lisa Kinney, BMW MOA Rally Presenter, Relax Your Road Weary Muscles: Yoga Stretching with Lisa

Dr. Joe Muscolino,

Justine Shelton, Yoga Vista Studio

Lynn Wetherell, Massage Therapist, Paonia, CO