52 Popsicles, Three Valleys and the Wisdom of No Escape

Yoga instructor. The Googleplex. Mountain View, California. 

My resolution for 2013 was to spend more time being attentive to the simple pleasures of experience. The 52 Popsicle assignment is a part of this, but there have been other experiments. Over the last month, the LBM team has had a fantastic Yoga instructor, Drake Powe, visit our studio on a weekly basis. I’ve tried to use some of Drake’s mindfulness exercises outside of class. But once I hit the road for Three Valleys, all of this progress came to a halt. Since landing in Silicon Valley a week ago, I’ve been too busy devouring the world to pay quiet attention to my own experience. And I certainly haven’t had time to read for pleasure.

So there is no way I can fulfill this week’s popsicle assignment. Nevertheless, while sitting here in my room at the Microtel Inn and Suites in Modesto, I did finally pull out the book that Drake recommended: The Wisdom of No Escape by Pema Chödrön. This is what I read on the first page:


When people start to meditate or to work with any kind of spiritual discipline, they often think that somehow they’re going to improve, which is a sort of subtle aggression against who they really are. It’s a bit like saying,

“If I jog, I’ll be a much better person.”

“If I could only get a nicer house, I’d be a better person.”

“If I could meditate and calm down, I’d be a better person.”

Or the scenario may be that they find fault with others; they might say, “If it weren’t for my husband, I’d have a perfect marriage.”

“If it weren’t for the fact that my boss and I can’t get on, my job would be just great.”

And “If it weren’t for my mind, my meditation would be excellent.”

But loving-kindness -maitri- toward ourselves doesn’t mean getting rid of anything. Maitri means that we can still be crazy after all these years. We can still be angry after all these years. We can still be timid or jealous or full of feelings of unworthiness. The point is not to try to change ourselves. Meditation practice isn’t about trying to throw ourselves away and become something better. It’s about befriending who we are already. 

Reading this makes me wonder if I need to rethink this statement I made in an interview a few years ago:

I think photography is the most anti-Zen activity. It’s all about stopping time, possessing things, holding onto them. And you know, if my goal was to be a healthy person, photography would not be the thing. I have this joke about becoming a binoculographer: you go around and look at the world without photographing. That would be a spiritually healthy way of taking things in. But this wanting to possess it is not so healthy.

I’m still not sure that driving around in a minivan and drinking from my Bubba Keg is the best spiritual practice, but I can still work on mindfulness while doing this stuff:

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5 Replies to “52 Popsicles, Three Valleys and the Wisdom of No Escape”

  1. Jumping Krishnananda, what a great picture of you in the turban, Alec. (Or scarf, actually.) I think photography and spiritual practice are quite compatible. Think of David Lynch’s devotion to meditation. I try to breathe zazen-style in the darkroom and make it a moving meditation. (I fail frequently, but oh well.) Your perpetual curiousity keeps me always curious.

  2. Nice post Alec. I love that book, have read it many
    times and have actually implemented and lived it for
    45 second stretches. Sigh.

  3. hey alec :))…love the turban ;))…

    yea, yoga’s (and meditation) have totally saved my life especially this past year with the loss of my family…

    loving kindness as sutra, …

    anyway, with regard to mindfulness, i read this today, Michael Shaw’s reporting of Paolo’s series on Rochester …have you read this yet?…

    just broke my heart, really…


    and the discussion of awareness, is seems is critical to an assessment to what appears to have happened…

    how to assess this?

  4. Hi Alec :)

    Here’s Paolo’s response. Happy this has been published. The original article should have included Paolo or at least had his input to the criticism, otherwise the original article comes across as a hatchet job, well thought out, but a hatchet job nonetheless. Anyway, here is Paolo’s reponse. :)



  5. Late to this party but…
    Meditation is not necessarily a spiritual discipline.
    Regarding it as such is often the most facile way to approach it.
    It can actually be a process of attaining a state of physical exhilaration.
    Sort of like sex without the orgasm.
    Really great sex, btw.
    Not explosive, but constant.
    The effects of meditation can be subtle but palpable, particularly in the long run.
    Try practicing meditation while eschewing the “spiritual journey” that is often packaged along with it.
    Unless you have some spiritual void that needs filling, just take it straight… without the zen chaser.
    If you’re into yoga… well, whatev. It’s good to exercise.
    Doing magic tricks while on your treadmill can be very mindful.
    Don’t let any yoga teacher tell you otherwise.

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