Dan John: Wandering Weights, Issue # 181

Wandering Weights
Our Epic Journey Through All Things Heavy, Issue # 181

New book on OTPbooks.com: Sue Falsone’s Bridging the Gap from Rehab to Performance [CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION]


I had the weekend “off.” I babysat my grandkids and I am convinced that I never trained as hard as running around after those two. This weekend, I go back to MKE for the RKC and that’s fine with me.

It’s raining as I type this morning. The pollen count in Utah had gone off the scales, so this will be a nice day for breathing. I was working the other day, replacing the outdoor lights (they look amazing), and Tiffini said it looked like I was in a rainstorm…of pollen.

It’s a great time of year. School is coming to an end and my teacher friends are all giddy with the smell of summer in the air. My lawn is happy and green; flowers are blooming and people are going outside again.

I can feel the difference when I train. People ask sometimes why I wear gloves when I train and I simply need them to touch the frozen iron in my gym to realize that the gloves prevent us sticking to the weights. In a few weeks, we will keep towels on the handles of the kettlebells to prevent burns.

Utah has two seasons: really hot and really cold. In between, we have a few minutes of spring or fall (autumn). It’s not unusual to have the heater on in the morning in May and the AC cranked up at night on the same day. Growing up in South San Francisco, we had one season: fog.

This morning, then, is a perfect day for me to sit down with my coffee and tell you what I found on the web this week.


As Jason Kelly writes in Sweat Equity: Inside the New Economy of Mind and Body, connecting the body and mind is a major trend. Bloomberg’s New York Bureau Chief, Kelly believes that the intensely personal, essentially the sacred, and the communal are shared in group settings.

The community aspects of running and cycling clubs are in some cases replacing the shared purpose once found in the pews of a church.

As Kelly writes, many businesses are tapping into this relatively new empire of movement. Since private equity started raising its eyebrows a decade ago, the fitness industry has grown to some $3 trillion worldwide. This is human habit: where the people are, the money goes. Religion has known this for millennia.

A deeply personal experience is possible through movement. Abraham Maslow and Mihaly Csikszentmihilayi related their concepts of peak experiences and flow to the runner’s high, the moment of complete absorption in a task at hand. Thoughts temporarily cease; consciousness seems suspended. All that exists is what you are engaged in.

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I found this bigthink site to be a lot of fun. With my “day job” in religious studies, I am always drawn to articles like this that take diet/exercise into the realm of spirituality.


In the late nineties, physician Steven Bratman noticed an increasing number of Americans becoming so obsessed with healthy eating that a paradox emerged: their focus on certain foods became unhealthy as they eliminated more and more foods from their diet; simultaneously they increased their anxiety and experienced social isolation due to a fear of swallowing “impure” foods. He coined this condition orthorexia nervosa.

I’ve known people with this condition; it essentially goes like this: you read an article stating meat is toxic, then decide to cut meat out of your diet. After which you discover an Ayurvedic rant against nightshades, so tomatoes, eggplant, and a variety of peppers are out. And oh, garlic and other root plants and vegetables stoke a mysterious “inner fire,” creating agitation and restlessness during meditation, so they too must be abandoned. After watching the false claim in “What the Health” that eggs are as deadly as cigarettes, you stop eating one of the healthiest foods on the planet. On and on restrictions add up until you’re subsisting (barely) on one or two foods.

This psychological disorder exists on a spectrum. Vegans are careful not to consume animal products, so elimination is required. But the range of potential foods they can eat is widespread. While vegans can be orthorexic, it is often prevalent in “counting” diets, in which you incessantly keep track of the percentage of carbohydrates versus fats and protein, for example.

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Any time I see Wittgenstein, I’m going to read the article.  At Utah State, I studied the “games” theories noted here a lot. Frankly, I loved it.


In Investigations, Wittgenstein argues that language is a series of games. When we are speaking to somebody else we use particular words to convey a certain meaning. The only way they can hope to understand us is if they understand what rules we are currently playing by and exactly how the words are used in relation to those rules.

For example, if I write “He is a real chatterbox,” I could be speaking sarcastically, literally, lying, or slightly exaggerating. You have to know what “game” we are playing to fully understand me. This is a far cry from the picture theory of the Tractatus and his denunciation of the earlier work discredited parts of logical positivism.

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This article really takes a big look at water. From Bruce Lee to fluid dynamics, this is a very interesting piece.


One day, frustrated after many hours of meditation and practice, Bruce Lee, still a teenager, went sailing. His martial arts teacher, Yip Man, had been instructing Lee in the art of detachment, a key facet of gung fu. Lee couldn’t let go. “On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water!” he later wrote. “Right then—at that moment—a thought suddenly struck me; was not this water the very essence of gung fu? I struck it but it did not suffer hurt. I then tried to grasp a handful of it but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.”

For Lee, the budding martial artist, water embodied an ideal of lithe and effortless strength. He learned this from ancient Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching and updated it, adding, “When heated to the state of steam it is invisible but has enough power to split the earth itself.” It’s striking that water can illustrate and elucidate a martial arts philosophy while also being, to this day, the “least understood material on Earth,” as researchers reported recently.

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This next article ties into the earlier article on being orthorexic, but it returns to the issue of choice. Frankly, the obesity epidemic is partially fueled by the one thing humans can’t deal with: too many choices! I found this to be a nice wake up call for my way of thinking about diets.


This is how the omnivore’s paradox breeds diet culture: Overwhelmed by choice, by the dim threat of mortality that lurks beneath any wrong choice, people crave rules from outside themselves, and successful heroes to guide them to safety. People willingly, happily, hand over their freedom in exchange for the bondage of a diet that forbids their most cherished foods, that forces them to rely on the unfamiliar, unpalatable, or inaccessible, all for the promise of relief from choice and the attendant responsibility. If you are free to choose, you can be blamed for anything that happens to you: weight gain, illness, aging—in short, your share in the human condition, including the random whims of luck and your own inescapable mortality.

Humans are the only animals aware of our mortality, and we all want to be the person whose death comes as a surprise rather than a pathetic inevitability. We want to be the one of whom people say, “But she did everything right.” If we cannot escape death, maybe we can find a way to be declared innocent and undeserving of it.

But diet culture is constantly shifting. Today’s token foods of health may seem tainted or passé tomorrow, and within diet culture, there are contradictory ideologies: what is safe and clean to one is filth and decadence to another. Legumes and grains are wholesome, life-giving staples to many vegan eaters, while they represent the corrupting influences of agriculture on the state of nature to those who prefer a meat-heavy, grain-free Paleo diet.

Nutrition science itself is a self-correcting series of refutations. There is no certain path to purity and blamelessness through food. The only common thread between competing dietary ideologies is the belief that by adhering to them, one can escape the human condition, and become a purer, less animal, kind of being.

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Mike Brown will tell you about my ranting about “hacks.” I think hacking is the antithesis of mastery and mastery, of course, is the core of what I believe we are called upon to strive for on our short visit here on earth. Sure, for some tasks, we use the phrase “shark habits” (see Now What?), obviously, you can hack them out quickly. This article talks about the business side of things, but I see the same in sports. I would love to see the “hack” to a 200 foot discus throw.


“Hack your way to success.” “Meet the right people.” “Become a business superstar.” They’ve found their silver bullet. They boast of building a passive income from a web business, all while traveling the world as the rest of us mortals are slaving away at our 9-5 jobs.

In a world where we are searching for silver bullets, these people seem to have amassed an arsenal of them. Moreover, they’ve found audiences to sell their silver bullets to, en masse.

The most blatant example of this are some of the disciples of the 4-Hour Workweek, by Tim Ferriss. The book itself is not really the issue. Ferriss indeed outlines some interesting tips on managing resources to get the highest ROI on your work. What is objectionable, however, is the hack-your-way-to-success mentality it has spawned in entrepreneurial circles.

It’s a mindset that is antithetical to everything I know about entrepreneurship; a mindset that I see when I hear people talk about having an amazing idea that they want to farm out to a young college student who can code, or outsourcing development of a product to a cheap dev house. It’s a mindset that assumes entrepreneurship is a series of networking events and fundraising meetings, or even some silver-bullet business connection they have, in lieu of a real distribution strategy. It’s taking a passive approach to a very difficult undertaking.

What is missed in all of this is the mindset of craftsmanship; that one’s expertise and deliberate focus on one’s craft is actually the primary driver for success — and not some crapshoot of a series of hacks.

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Well, there is a lot of challenging material in our selections this week. I don’t think I started out this with “Let’s find some challenging material,” but this is a good list to begin a discussion about how we humans think. It’s almost time for me to lift, but I think the articles on food and thought will give me food for thought.

Until next time, keep on lifting and learning.


New release on OTPbooks.com: Sue Falsone’s Bridging the Gap from Rehab to Performance [CLICK FOR MORE INFORMATION]


The Sword in the Stone

TSITS 38, Chapter 8

We now pick up on one of my favorite chapters in the book. This chapter begins with a wet, cold day (exactly the same kind of day I have today) and ends being one of the most insightful discussions of our whole book. We will discover the phrase “Never Let Go” in this chapter and that phrase, of course, is my personal motto. It will make more sense as we read along. Let’s begin at the beginning:


It was a cold wet evening, such as may happen even toward the end of August, and the Wart did not know how to bear himself indoors. He spent some time in the kennels talking to Cavall, then wandered off to help them turn the spit in the kitchen. But there it was too hot. He was not forced to stay indoors because of the rain, by his female supervisors, as happens too frequently to the unhappy children of our generation, but the mere wetness and dreariness in the open discouraged him from going out. He hated everybody.

“Confound the boy,” said Sir Ector. “For goodness’ sake stop mopin’ by that window there, and go and find your tutor. When I was a boy we always used to study on wet days, yes, and eddicate our minds.”

“Wart is stupid,” said Kay.

“Ah, run along, my duck,” said their old Nurse. “I han’t got time to attend to thy mopseys now, what with all this sorbent washing.”

“Now then, my young master,” said Hob. “Let thee run off to thy quarters, and stop confusing they fowls.”

“Nah, nah,” said the sergeant. “You ‘op orf art of ‘ere. I got enough to do a-polishing of this ber-lady harmour.”

Even the Dog Boy barked at him when he went back to the kennels.

Wart draggled off to the tower room, where Merlyn was busy knitting himself a woollen night-cap for the winter.

“I cast off two together at every other line,” said the magician, “but for some reason it seems to end too sharply. Like an onion. It is the turning of the heel that does one, every time.”

“I think I ought to have some eddication,” said the Wart. “I can’t think of anything to do.”

“You think that education is something which ought to be done when all else fails?” inquired Merlyn nastily, for he was in a bad mood too.

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One of my favorite parts of The Sword in the Stone is how we occasionally “check in” with minor characters. I think we could argue that Wart (King Arthur) and Merlyn are the main characters with Kay, Archimedes and Ector would be the key supporting cast. But, we meet lots and lots of other fun people who influence Wart and push the story along.

On this miserable day, everyone hates everyone else and this makes for a fun beginning of another transformation story. We will get a chance to bump into our characters a few more times, notably the Christmas boar hunt and the coronation (oops, spoiler!).

This line leaps out to me: “You think that education is something which ought to be done when all else fails?” I know a few people who live by this method, but it seems, from my observations, to be painful.

White does a marvelous job weaving (perhaps “knitting” would be better here and you will get the joke if you read a bit further) Merlyn and Wart’s ongoing dialogue about education. Later, Wart will be depressed (over the knighthood issue…again) and Merlyn will try to inspire him…again:

“The best thing for being sad,” replied Merlyn, beginning to puff and blow, “is to learn something. That is the only thing that never fails. You may grow old and trembling in your anatomies, you may lie awake at night listening to the disorder of your veins, you may miss your only love, you may see the world about you devastated by evil lunatics, or know your honour trampled in the sewers of baser minds. There is only one thing for it then—to learn. Learn why the world wags and what wags it. That is the only thing which the mind can never exhaust, never alienate, never be tortured by, never fear or distrust, and never dream of regretting. Learning is the thing for you. Look at what a lot of things there are to learn—pure science, the only purity there is. You can learn astronomy in a lifetime, natural history in three, literature in six. And then, after you have exhausted a milliard lifetimes in biology and medicine and theo-criticism and geography and history and economics—why, you can start to make a cartwheel out of the appropriate wood, or spend fifty years learning to begin to learn to beat your adversary at fencing. After that you can start again on mathematics, until it is time to learn to plough.”

“Apart from all these things,” said the Wart, “what do you suggest for me just now?” (Chapter 21, The Sword in the Stone)

“Apart from all these things.” I think this is a marvelous: education is the cure for boredom and the tincture for sadness. But, it also comes with a high price. In the last book of the original The Once and Future King,” Arthur says this:

“Long ago, when I had my Merlyn to help, he tried to teach me to think. He knew he would have to leave in the end, so he forced me to think for myself. Don’t ever let anybody teach you to think, Lance: it is the curse of the world.” (Chapter 27, The Candle in the Wind)

Oddly, the more we get exposed to the 24-hour news cycle, the more misery and sadness we see each day. King Arthur has a point, but “not thinking,” as what seems to be the rule of our social medial universe and celebrity ruling class, is the antithesis of everything I learned in my education.

I come from the classic teachings of Liberal Education. Now, before I lose more readers (I once applauded President Obama’s reading habits and got some interesting emails), let me explain:

A “Liberal Education” is the education of a free person. I have never been taught to dig a hole, fix a tire, or even reboot a computer, but with a book, magazine, manual or video, I can do a solid job of any of these tasks. I was taught to think, discuss, disagree and combine throughout my years in both private (Catholic) and public education.

I think this is part of what draws me to reading White. Our characters have depth and breadth; they can be brave and then less than brave. We will see Wart boast, then regret his boast. White’s insights, of course, go beyond just this one book. A friend of mine has to put his beloved dog “to sleep” this week and I was trying to think of a way to console him. Of course, I can’t, but this little quote from T. H. White seemed to help him:

“It is a queer difference between this kind of thing and getting married that married people love each other at first (I understand) and it fades by use and custom, but with dogs you love them most at last.”

“You love them most at last.” Perhaps that is why I find “Never Let Go” so perfect for my vision of life, living and learning.

Until next time.


New Dan John article on OTPbooks.com: Dan’s 30/30 for 30 Programming Q&A [CLICK TO READ]


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