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Outside The Known Territory: Meditation for innovators and engineers

-  an introduction to Pause by John Tarrant

We’re all on a journey and no one knows how it will turn out. We just have our part of the story that began before us and continues after us. That’s comforting, exciting and might be alarming. Humans have been setting out on journeys for a long time, out of Africa with our dogs, across straits in canoes, from the now into the future.


We like known paths and we try to predict how the journey will turn out. But really we are always heading off into the unknown. Weirdness always appears. We won’t know how the road we didn't take would have turned out. But we can rely on what we don't know and side with the surprises that are always appearing. That can be a happy thing. Siding with uncertainty is siding with reality.

(continues below)


Thursday after dinner:  Kickoff meeting. Introduction to the program, short meditation session and discussion: meditation how to and how not to try.


Each Morning at 6:30: Optional meditation ending with a walking meditation half an hour before breakfast. There is five minute break every 25 minutes and you can come and go during any break =) We'll provide cushions or chairs for the seated portion. Come for one 25min session; try two the next day.


Breakfast at 8am: Trying to stay silent till after breakfast. Giving people a chance to taste and enjoy their own minds. And for many of us, a silent group meal is another new thing to try.


Each Evening 8pm: Short meditation session, talk and discussion. You may want to bring something to write on and with.

Zen meditation relies on uncertainty. It approaches difficult or apparently impossible tasks. We use questions and little transformation stories called koans. You don't have to believe them, you just spend time with them.


Not knowing is most intimate is an example of a koan.

You can just hang out with that saying. 

Here’s another koan.

What is your original face before your parents were born?

You don't have to work it out; working it out is knowing. Your mind empties by itself. 

Here’s another koan about the journey:

Step by step in the dark,

If my foot’s not wet,

I found the stone.


Here are few rules of thumb:


1. Mostly we learn by adding things. In meditation, you can just throw stuff overboard.

2. You don't have to know how to do this. Uncertainty is on your side. You can just take step; it’s always going to be a step into the unknown.

3. Skepticism and curiosity are helpful; believing things is not. 

4. In meditation, it’s good not to judge, assess, or critique how you are doing. If you do judge yourself don’t judge yourself for that. Those judgments are all just thoughts.

5. If you don’t oppose yourself, your mind will calm itself. Trying to calm your mind is agitating your mind.

5. You are not your thoughts and don’t need to defend them.

6. There might not be a problem or a mistake.

7. Meditation is just showing up for your own life without arguing about it. Everything in your life is allowed to show up. You are not living the wrong life.

8. A koan is somewhere else to look when you need a new approach.

John Tarrant

John Tarrant directs Pacific Zen Institute devoted to meditation and the arts. He wrote Bring me the Rhinoceros & Other Zen Koans that will Save Your Life and The Light Inside the Dark: Zen, Soul & The Spiritual Life and, online, The Zenosaurus Course In Koans  John is a Zen Roshi who developed new ways to teach people with no experience of Zen or even of meditation. He has a PhD in Psychology and has taught integrative medicine & leadership at The University of Arizona at Tucson and at Duke Health. 

Trail Running

A Moving Meditation

Running is a lab for watching how the mind works. And so much of running comes down turning off the need to keep making decisions. Because it’s the process of deciding that pulls us out of running and into narratives about running (should I walk now, should I speed up, am I running as well as I planned, am I a complete fraud?).

The same is true of working and coding: blocking off time to work means time off from evaluating the story of work. Time off from weighing it against competing demands.

When running is on, you're just watching yourself run--watching your legs flow under you--wonderfully free of trying to decide how you feel about it.


Friday and Saturday at 3pm:  Distance and duration will depend on the group. Runners of all levels, especially beginners (i.e. this is your first time), are encouraged to come. There is an awesome 3/4 mile loop on the property (here's a video) that we may run. If we wanted something longer, we could run 1.3 miles on the road up to the Bear Creek Redwoods Open Space Preserve, run in there and then run back.

This is not a race; it's a running clinic. We'll finish in time to clean up before dinner but likely not in time for sessions before dinner.

For some inspiration, here is one of Jonny's favorite running films: Western Time

On June 28, 2014 Nike Trail athlete Sally McRae ran the original and most prestigious 100 mile race, the Western States 100 for the very first time. This short film documents her story and her journey leading up to this event including qualifying at the Montrail Ultra Cup race, the inaugural Sean O'Brien 50 mile earlier in the year. 

Although recently garnering a sponsorship, Sally opens up about her personal struggles and self-doubt leading up to the race. Her story also involves the tremendous support of her friends who were with her throughout her journey to and during the race of her life, the Western States 100. 

Starring: Sally McRae |


Instagram: @yellowrunner

Twitter: @SallyMcRae


Film by: Billy Yang |


Instagram: @BillyYangFilms

Twitter: @BillyYang

copyright Billy Yang Films 2014

Jonny Lee

Jonny Lee is a Chi Running coach and ultra runner in Portland, OR. He recently completed a circumnavigation of Mt. Hood. We won't be running that far.

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