Monday, April 15, 2013

The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals About the Nature of Endless Change

Book Review: The Whole Story of Climate: What Science Reveals About the Nature of Endless Change by E. Kirsten Peters (Prometheus Books 2012)

Hot off the presses, this very readable book delves into the history and implications of climate science. The potential implications of climatology go way beyond just man-made global warming and this book does an excellent job of presenting much of the developmental picture of climate science as we know it, without being overly biased regarding predictions and policy. The author is a geologist too and provides a wonderful geological history of climate science. Although this book is a great and valuable read it is in no way the “whole” story of climate. It is a great history of climate science from a predominantly geological perspective but it neglects much meteorological and atmospheric data and is not in great detail as some climate studies are. Her conclusions regarding the immediate threat of climate change are a bit more muted than the detailed data suggest in my opinion. Nonetheless she does paint a nice picture of the development of climatology as well as some ideas for the future.

Geological evidence reveals multiple massive climate change events. The author notes that many of these happened very quickly (in geologic time terms) although the pace of anthropogenic climate change seems likely far quicker than any of these.

She suggests that climate scientists rely too much on computer models and should rely more on geological studies of past climate events. This may be true but it does not offer any evidence to the contrary that man-made climate problems could be in a precarious position in danger of feed-backing out of control as evidence suggests. In fact, studies of the geologic past may be supporting the alarmist position. She talks about rapid climate change events (RCCE) such as one that is thought to have occurred in ancient Egypt around 2300 BC where there are records of drought, crop failures, and subsequent famine to the extent that people were said to have eaten their own children. She does point out that we have been remarkably fortunate for the climate stability since the last Ice Age since natural climate change can be extreme, especially on a local scale.

We have a very good geologic picture of the extent and conditions of Pleistocene glaciation that began about 1.8 million years ago (mya) and ended about 10,000 years ago. The general pattern has been about 100,000 years of cold Ice Age conditions followed by about 10,000 years of warm conditions so logically one could assume that we are due for another Ice Age soon. The Holocene Era (dubbed so due to the influence of humans) begins after the last Pleistocene ice recedes and humans very soon make jumps such as agriculture, animal domestication, pottery, cloth-weaving, and eventually writing. The implications of a new Ice Age are potentially as bad or worse than current scenarios of global warming. The world’s foremost grain agricultural regions would be under ice and famine could kill billions. The author notes that such a change could occur rapidly, in the space of a few generations, and indeed this was more of a concern before the data about industrial greenhouse gases was discovered and tracked to show that it was causing climate to warm. There is also the possibility that humans have increased greenhouse gas emissions since the advent of agriculture through such methods as slash and burn. This, along with industrial greenhouse gases may have actually held off the Ice Age that was due in the current solar minimum. Even the foremost climate scientist and global warming alarmist champion Dr. James Hansen has implied that that might be the case.

The author gives a nice history of the development of glacial geology in the early 1800’s in the story of the Swiss scientist Louis Agassiz’s work beginning in the Alps. This is a story of the development of glaciology as a science. He convinced the famed naturalist/geologist Charles Lyell of his theory of Ice Ages and mounting evidence brought it into the mainstream. Geology as a profession led to detailed observations and terrain mapping that further confirmed mechanisms and multiple periods of glaciation. The glacial extents of the various periods are now well mapped. Water wells revealed multiple layers of glacial debris called till, with layers containing wood in between, which indicates changing climatic conditions through time. Reading the vertical record through geologic time became established and thus stratigraphy was born. Beach strands indicated sea level fluctuations through time. In terms of climate, sea level is low when ice is thick and high when temps warm back up. It was also discovered that land surfaces flexed upward, or “rebounded” through time after heavy weights of ice were removed. Such is happening now around the Great Lakes and in Scandinavia. The author gives stories of other early geologists such as Whittlesey, T.C. Chamberlain, and G.K. Gilbert. Gilbert unraveled the mystery of the Lake Bonneville Salt Flats in Utah, the massive lake that was breached and emptied into the Snake River Canyon and on to the Columbia River Gorge to the Pacific. It is now well-known that catastrophic flooding accompanied the retreating and melting of glaciers.

The proliferation of religion and observations of an ordered world led many in the past – such as Thomas Jefferson – to infer an ‘intelligent design-like’ theory of nature where everything has its place, created by God, and so the idea of extinction was rather alien. Examination of fossils in the stratigraphic record confirmed that many species had gone extinct. The connection between climate events and extinction events gradually became clear. Many Ice Age mammals became extinct during or after the Pleistocene ice retreated but many are still around today.

The accurate study of the geologic past (Historical Geology) requires relative timing and dating of events. Fortunately, nature records prevailing conditions through time in various ways. For instance, one can study current rates of erosion and extrapolate back. The study of “varves”, which are alternating thin layers of clay-mud and silt along the shores of what were once bodies of water, indicate annual conditions. Several hundred years of varves are accessible at the bottom parts of glacial lakes that once existed in Sweden and Denmark. The contrast between summer and winter conditions of such northern lakes bounded by glaciers is enough to create these contrasting layers. Gerhard Jakob de Geer and his students surmised that it had taken about 800 years for the Swedish glaciers to melt.

Another method of unraveling the earth’s recent regional climate history year by year is the study of layers of pollen in peat bogs. Pollen is stable and can reveal the local vegetation and thus suggest climatic conditions. The pollen record, later confirmed through coring, has given us a good picture of the climate variation of the late Pleistocene and into historical times so that more detailed knowledge of this climate variation is now available. Much of this evidence has been corroborated through ice core data and even tree ring data. Pollen data has been especially good at mapping regional climate variability so that comparisons of conditions in different parts of the world at the same time could be made.

The author also gives the history of the unraveling of local and regional climate history through tree ring variability and dating. This is called dendrochronology. One could even say that anything that grows or accumulates also records – even if it is just changes in the growth or accumulation rates that are recorded. The author details the development of dendrochronology through the work of Andrew Ellicott Douglass in the American Southwest in the early 1900’s. Douglass was also an astronomer and remarkably discovered the relationships between tree rings (and thus weather variations) and sunspot cycles. During his retirement in the 1930’s and 40’s Douglass worked out that the sunspot cycle was affected by the planetary orbits of the larger planets – Jupiter and  Saturn. Although the relationships between planetary motions and alignments and sunspot cycles and weather patterns are complex and not reliably predictable, the relationship seems likely, even if controversial.

Next she describes the development of radiocarbon dating and the great implications of this more precise form of dating. This has done much to corroborate and date climate evidence from other sources such as tree ring data and the pollen record.

The story of the ice record is next told, beginning with the expedition of Ernst Sorge and Alfred Wegener to Greenland in 1930. Wegener, the first purveyor of the radical “continental drift” theory, died there, but Sorge came back with evidence for the detailed yearly recording of climate variations by the layers in the ice. The annual layers of variable summer and winter snowfall amounts are called “firns” and can be compared to  the seasonally alternating varves. The Greenland ice sheet was eventually found to be close to 2 miles thick which represents quite a time period. After World War II the ability to core the ice sheets was developed. Trapped air bubbles in the ice layers give detailed data about atmospheric composition. Traces of salts, dust, and volcanic ash can also give information such as wind speeds. Temperatures of the ancient past can be deduced from the ice record through analysis of oxygen isotope ratios. The ice record gives the most complete and detailed picture of the climate past from the middle of the Pleistocene glaciation to the present. The ice cores collected in the 1980’s and 1990’s were key to unraveling this detail. The Vostok ice data records the last 420,000 years. These are where our CO2 and temperature graphs of the past come from. Temperature variations up to about 20 deg F occur at the onset of warm periods such as the Eemian period about 125,000 years ago which was warmer than today. Some of this data was suggested from other sources, such as the pollen record, varves, the glacial till record, and fossilized tree ring data. The reason for the 100,000 year cold/10,000 warm general cycles was unknown but in the early 1900’s a Serbian engineer – Milutin Milankovitch built upon the work of Scottish geologist James Croll who suggested that differences through time of the power of sunlight could be a factor. Croll also suspected the earth’s elliptical rather than circular orbit to be a factor in sunlight intensity variation. Croll’s work did not reveal close correlations to the data, however. Milankovitch added to it in various ways, demonstrating several planetary cycles that could affect solar intensity. One was the change in the angle of the earth’s tilt on its axis, its wobble, which also accounts for the apparent phenomena known as the precession of the equinoxes. Another cyclic variation due to earth’s orbit is its distance from the sun in winter relative to summer through time which can either enhance or suppress temperature. Milankovitch calculated the cumulative effect of the three orbital cycles and got a closer match to the geological data but there is still variability due to other factors such as clouds, the amount of open sea, and the amount of ice cover. Since reflection or absorption of solar energy is dependent on color, there can be much variability in the feed-backing mechanisms. The three cycles that make up the overall Milankovitch cycle occur at intervals of 100,000 years, 40,000 years, and 23,000 years. I believe another affect is that of the larger planets whose orbits can also affect the elliptical-ness of the earth’s orbit so it can change through time as well. The author mentions other cycles in the ice record of climate, one a 6000 year cycle, the other a 1500 year cycle, which are covered below. This underscores her theme throughout the book that climate change is complex with many variables and low overall predictability. Many other climate scientists, such as James Hansen, would agree that there is complexity, but they think there is more than enough information to begin mitigating anthropogenic greenhouses gases immediately.

The climatic evidence from sea floor sediments is an important subject. The rocks, debris, and silt from glaciers and icebergs end up in the sea when they melt. These layers of glacial sediment were found at 6000-7000 year intervals in tune with climatic cycles. These are called Heinrich events, named after geologist Harmut Heinrich’s work in the 1980’s. The changes are linked to the complexities of ocean circulation which can strongly affect climate. The 1500 year cycles are called Dansgaard/Oeschger events, named after the Danish and Swiss researchers. While Heinrich events lead to colder temperatures, Dansgaard/Oeschger events lead to warmer temps. British geologist Gerald Bond, who studied Cambrian cycles as well, discovered variations in these 6000 and 1500 year cycles. The Bond cycles may mute or enhance the other cycles and all three cycles are thought to have been muted in their intensity in the Holocene. It is not yet clear why this is so. Fortunately (or maybe not) for us this climate stability helped us develop our civilization.

A significant climate event occurred about 8000 years ago (6000 B.C.) that had a negative effect on humans. This is a cooling event not as severe as the Younger Dryas that occurred at the end of the Pleistocene as a millennium of Ice Age relapse. The climate event mentioned earlier, around 2300 BC, may have helped bring about the collapse of the Egyptian Old Kingdom, the Akkadian civilization, and the Harappan civilization. Other extreme climate events are recorded in history as well: the Roman Warming, the Medieval Warming, and the Little Ice Age. The Medieval Warming may have helped the Norse to settle Iceland and Greenland. The so-called Little Age may have led the Norse to abandon their long-held settlements in Greenland as the climate cooled too much. It should be noted that these were overall trends with some variation in successive years – but crop failures and famines are both reported and seen in the archaeological record.

She mentions the possible effects on sunspot cycles in these warmings and coolings, not just the 11-year cycle but other longer-termed cycles. There is much debate about this and some think their increase since about 1850 has had an effect on current global warming. While this may be true, the effect is surely nothing like that of man-made greenhouse gases. Many scientists, however, do not see a correlation between sunspot cycles and climate.

The author gives the Little Ice Age dates from 1300-1850. Incidentally, she says, climate records began to be kept, esp. temperature as thermometers became available, around 1850. However, she notes, most or all of these records were in populated areas with none in the Arctic and remote regions so graphs of avg. global temps from the mid-1800’s. esp. the early ones, have been statistically manipulated, and should not be seen as definitely accurate.

The hypothesis of William Ruddiman, that humans have been affecting climate for millennia, is next examined. I am mot sure how plausible or accepted this is, although Ruddiman is considered to be a distinguished scientist. In examining the ice core record Ruddiman thinks he sees evidence for CO2 and methane increases due to the advent of widespread human agriculture. Ruddiman suggests that this early modest increase of greenhouse gases helped stave off the increase of glaciation here in the Holocene. Ruddiman noticed an anomaly in the regular atmospheric methane cycles (from the ice cores) that began about 5000 years ago. This anomalous rise in methane would have been predicted to be a drop. He looked to the expected sources of increased methane: tropical swamps and peat bogs, but both were known to decline in these periods. Ruddiman noticed that the timing of rice farming in East Asia through the making of rice paddies, ie. man-made swamps, corresponded to the increase in atmospheric methane. Extrapolating back from 1700 CE, the time when hydrocarbons began to be burned and utilizing known population then and suspected population 5000 years ago, Ruddiman determined that the data from methane concentrations could be explained by rice farming. Other farming methods, land clearing, and slash-and-burn agriculture could also contribute to the increased methane concentrations seen in the ice core record. Increased domestication of propagation of livestock in settled agricultural societies with growing populations could also have contributed. The author also emphasizes the complexity and complicated nature of the carbon cycle. The unexpected increase in CO2 beginning about 6000 BC (8000 years ago) also perplexed Ruddiman. He also thought this could be attributable to clearing and burning of land and wood. He also thinks this rise in temperature due to a rise in CO2 and methane could be why the retreating glaciers in North America did not begin to re-grow after the optimum which may have led to a runaway feedback where more light was reflected of the ice cooling things down making more ice, more cooling, more reflection, and on and on. Nowadays with man-made global warming the danger seems to of a runaway feedback in just the opposite way. Ruddiman thinks the overall 1.5 deg F rise in global temperature over the millennia since agriculture began may be attributed to it and may have warded off the scheduled return to increased glaciation. Ruddiman does point out that his theory in no way denies that global warming is occurring at present due to industrial greenhouse gases. The author does acknowledge the uncertainty of Ruddiman’s hypothesis. She also points out that eventually catastrophic climate change of some sort is inevitable:

“… scientists know from a variety of evidence that Earth’s climate changes naturally, rapidly, repeatedly, and drastically.

There is a discussion of early efforts to modify climate, specifically the civil engineering suggestions of Carroll Livingston Riker in 1912 to divert the Gulf Stream in order to warm eastern Canada and Greenland, making them more habitable. Riker worked on the Panama Canal so knew the possibilities of large civil engineering projects. Governments and their militaries also did climate modification experiments such as cloud-seeding. This was also tested to break up hurricanes and to increase rain for crops in dry areas. Results were marginal. In the 1960’s and 1970’s many scientists were concerned about the potential of global cooling and some thought that increased greenhouse gases would be helpful. The 1975 National Academy of Sciences book Understanding Climatic Change mentions both global warming and global cooling. The global cooling effect of particulate pollution was considered but the warming effect of CO2, etc. was thought to be more dangerous over time. It should be noted that as we decrease particulate pollution as is necessary for improving human health, global warming will be somewhat enhanced. The Soviets were particularly worried about global cooling due to their northern latitudes. They developed plans to melt ice by spreading black coal dust over it. There are efforts now to study the effects of forest fires of the American west on enhancing melting of the Greenland ice sheet as ash is deposited by prevailing weather patterns. The concern about global cooling was based on the general cooling trend from the years after WW II till the 1970’s. It was also discovered in the mid-70’s that lichen had disappeared from Baffin Island from about 1600 to about 1900 corresponding roughly to the coldest parts of the Little Ice Age. What the author wants to convey is that fears of both global cooling and global warming echoed from respected scientists and were reasonable assumptions.

Next she conveys the history of global warming and the effects of atmospheric gases on climate. Discoveries were made in the 1800’s regarding the different effects of different gases. Even though the greenhouse effect was understood in the early 1900’s no one predicted the massive increases in world population and subsequent use of fossil fuels. Oceanographer Roger Revelle gave a lecture at Harvard in 1965. A graph of Charles Keeling’s curve of atmospheric CO2 increase was shown. Al Gore was in the audience and often mentions how profoundly this affected him. The graph shows quite obviously, and continues to show up to now, that the rate of CO2 increase is increasing. The ice cores of the 80’s and 90’s showed definitely the relationship between atmospheric CO2 and temperature. The data also show multiple RCCE’s. Apparently, most scientists agree that it is temperature rise that causes greater CO2 and methane in the atmosphere and not the other way around:

“Most Americans who have seen Al Gore Jr.’s documentary An Inconvenient Truth or who have followed public global warming arguments are sure of one thing: they believe the ice core record shows that carbon-dioxide and methane increases create warmer temperature on Earth. But the significant news is that the facts actually run in the reverse direction. On long time scales, increases in temperature, controlled by the Earth’s orbit around the sun, create more methane and carbon dioxide. That’s right: from what most scientists can tell, greenhouse gases are not the primary driver of long-term climate change on Earth – Milankovitch’s orbital variations are. Still, everything about climate is complex, and it’s quite possible that greenhouse gases can help trigger changes at particular times, or they can help exaggerate feedback processes already underway on Earth.”

She further reiterates that it is Milankovitch’s planetary cycles that have initiated the major climate changes of the past seen in the ice cores. Actually, the likelihood that temperature changed before CO2 is probably not good news for mitigating global warming as it suggests that more CO2 will be released from the oceans after it circulates through and out. Hansen refers to this as global warming “in the pipeline” and it may take more than 600 years to cycle through the oceans before it is released to the atmosphere.

The author notes the growing influence of science-based journalism, particularly in influencing public opinion and policy suggestions. Groups like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) have been very influential. Climate modeling with supercomputers and statistics are now used extensively to try and predict what will happen as more greenhouse gases enter the atmosphere. The author thinks that statistical modelers need to work more with traditional scientists. She examines the pros and cons of “group think” a bit. She mentions the great details of climate change that came out of the GISP2 ice core data as well as recent sea floor coring. Competition for funding, policy formulation, and agreement on the degree of immediate danger of global warming has been and continues to be confusing and difficult to balance. Many favor the “precautionary principal” which means we should prepare for the worst as best we can while others disagree. Al Gore and many others have described climate change mitigation as a moral imperative. The IPCC is not strictly scientific as it is a hybrid of scientists and government representatives. The author suggests that what comes through as the nature of current climate change is that it is a well-defined ordered change towards a runaway feedback that needs to be stopped as soon as possible. She thinks that the policy suggesters of IPCC fail to acknowledge the chaotic nature of climate change. She then shows the famous “hockey stick” graph of Mann, etal. which depicts temperature climbing abruptly in the early 1900’s and staying there till now. She also describes McIntyre’s partial refutation of it using the same data, suggesting that the temperature was not constant before 1900 as Mann depicted but up and down as much as the increase in the early 1900’s. That is possible – but I think it is a longshot as there seems to be much corroborating evidence for the Industrial Age- linked temperature rise. The U.S. Congress hired a statistical expert to investigate the matter and he came to the conclusion that McIntyre was more correct – that the past temperature fluctuations were more chaotic. The influence of bias and ideology in these matters can be complex as can be the interface between science and policy. Obviously, it is difficult to make decisions that might affect the lives of many people. Robert Muller, an oceanographic researcher, recently changed his position and now agrees that temperature has climbed strictly due to man-made global warming. It seems that is the most reasonable position. I think the real question is, “How bad is it?” She again invokes climate complexity but others lake James Hansen insist that the evidence is more than compelling. Nowadays, we do have ideologically driven “climate change deniers” as well as scientist “climate change skeptics”. As for myself, as a scientist, I think that climate change as depicted in the global warming models is likely, but the exact details and the immediacy of the danger is not fully assessed. Yet, I think the “precautionary principle” should be a guide and we should do everything we can to mitigate catastrophic climate change as soon as possible.

In the last chapter the author actually makes her own plea for a way to mitigate greenhouse gases. She advocates for worldwide efforts to extinguish the many long-burning coal fires throughout the globe – many of which are in places like China and India and are having negative health effects on local populations. Though she does not give numbers, she notes that these unintentional coal fires “create a meaningful fraction of total global greenhouse gas production.” These fires can burn for decades, even centuries. The Centralia, PA fire has been burning for over 50 years, has caused the town to be abandoned, and even though eight attempts have been made in the past to extinguish it – it still burns the equivalent of 400 acres of land space. Many coal fires were started by humans but some occur naturally as wildfires encounter burnable coal seams. Open mines often allow a supply of oxygen to keep the fires going. Some estimations say that coal fires in China alone put out the annual CO2 emissions of all cars in the US combined. Forest-clearing in Indonesia by burning is estimated to have started around 3000 coal fires. This clearing might be due to palm oil plantations used for food as well as bio-fuels – though I am not sure how much for food and how much for biofuel. The author thinks there should be way more effort and money spent on trying to extinguish these fires and that it would ultimately be a cheaper way to mitigate a significant amount of CO2 and particulates than other means – as well as improving the health of poor local people living near the blazes.

The IPCC global warming predictions note greater warming for arctic regions, less for the tropics, warmer winters, warmer nights, and species ranges will change (which has already been happening). She suggests that the media fail to report that there are some actual benefits of global warming as noted by the IPCC reports – such as less deaths since there are more deaths due to excessive cold than excessive heat, better crop yields in some areas, and lower heating costs. Of course, the predicted downside dwarfs the predicted upside, since many people living near coasts could be inundated and weather patterns could become drastic as recent superstorms have indicated. The author does generally express the opinion that global warming is not the only climate change possibility and that it could be over-hyped and policy could lead to over-preparation for it which could be detrimental to societies. I am not sure if I agree but I think we do need to keep an open mind while sticking as much as possible to the facts, timely data, and pre-caution.

Overall, this is a good book with some great background on climate science but I think the view here about the dangers of man-made climate change is overly muted somewhat.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Frey: God of the World

Book Review: Frey: God of the World by Ann Groa Sheffield (LuLu 2002, 2007)

This is a neat little book exploring the Norse god Frey, of the Vanir pantheon. Frey means “lord”. His name is given as Yngvi and he is sometimes called Yngvi-frey. In the Ynglingasaga (History of the Kings of Norway) there is a lineage of kings given beginning with Odin, then Njord, and then Frey. Frey’s reign was one of great peace and prosperity. His seat was in Uppsala, in Sweden. After he became ill and died his death was concealed from the public and he was buried in a mound, a howe. After three years the prosperity continued so it was thought that as long as Frey was in Sweden there would be peace and prosperity, so he became the king under the earth securing the peace and prosperity of the kingdom. Frith and ars, peace and prosperity, are the key domains of Frey. Frey became the ancestral-king residing in the grave-mound. Sacrifices to the king in the grave-mound were common. Even though Snorri Sturluson mentions that mound-burials were introduced by the entombing of Frey, the archaelogical evidence suggests that mound burial and cremation were contemporaneous into antiquity.

In Sweden, Frey is the ancestor of the Yngling royal house and is called Yngvi-Frey, or Ingunar Frey. The Swedish Ynglings ended up in Norway. The source of the word “Yngvi/Ing” is obscure but it has been used for “king” and Tacitus in the Germania mentions a Germanic tribe called the Ingvaeones. Frey, as “lord”, is properly a title rather than a name.

The word ar actually means “good seasons” and it was the king who was responsible in the magical sense for providing food, prosperity, and peace. Sacrifices were made, of cattle, of men, and finally of the king himself, if good seasons were not secured. This was the fate of King Domaldi of Sweden and King Olaf Tree-feller of Norway. The Danish story of King Frodhi is similar. Frodhi means ‘learned and wise’ and may also be a title similar to Frey. According to Saxo’s account his fate was almost identical to that of Frey, his death being concealed, he being carried around the countryside for a time, and he being buried in a mound. The story also bears much resemblance to Celtic relationships between the king and the land. There is a story of the Yngling King Olaf Geirstadhaalfr where he instructs the people not to sacrifice to his mound for good seasons after his death because it will turn him into a troll but the warning is suspected of having Christian influence. Nevertheless they do sacrifice to him and thereby avert a famine and they then refer to him as an elf – an ancestral spirit. Frey and the elves are associated with mounds and it is said that Frey was given Alfar, the realm of elves. The story of the Yngling king Halfdan the Black is that he was quite ‘ar-blessed’ and so his body was divided up and buried in different mounds presumably to bless a wider area. Thus, the ancestral spirit-king was very important. King Holgi’s mound contained offering layers of gold and silver.

Frey was said to get about in a cart or chariot pulled by a boar. Tacitus mentions chariot processions about the land for the goddess Nerthus and similar stories appear about Frey nearly a thousand years later. The word Nerthus is thought to be a female variant of the word Njord, Frey’s father, and so Nerthus has been painted as a possible Vanir goddess.

The 22nd rune from the Elder Futhark is called Ing or Ingwaz. The Old English rune poem gives the following:

Ing was first among the East-Danes
seen by men, until he afterwards eastward
departed over the wave; the wagon ran after;
thus the hard {men} named the hero

The wagon may refer to a procession of the god. The word ‘departed’ may suggest death. The author notes similarities to the story of the Danish king Scyld in Beowulf. Scyld is found abandoned in a boat as a child, becomes king founding a dynasty, and rules a prosperous reign. At his death he is set out to sea on a ship. Frey’s father Njord was a sea god and Frey is associated with the sea also, having one of the treasures of the gods, his ship Skidhbladhner, made by dwarves. Ship-burials were common in Scandinavia and are thought to have been common from about 500 C.E. suggests the archaeological evidence. This may have been an adaptation of mound-burial to ships as the people became more mobile and seafaring. Baldur’s funerary ship being set afire is one story from myth and comparing to the archaeological evidence may time-define the earliest manifestation of this story.

Ars, as prosperity and abundance referred to the year. In Viking times the year was divided into summer and winter. Summer was the raiding time but also the time of the short growing season in the north. Success in agriculture and success in plundering were perhaps both necessary for prosperity. Snorri definitively associates Frey as an agricultural deity. The ar-king, or year-king, also seems similar to sacrificial agricultural year-kings more to the south. In an on-line discussion I was told that peoples in the north did not have a myth of the dying and risen god but the story of Frey, the year-kings, the Green Man and others as myths of sacrifice and renewal all contradict what I was told. The season may be shorter and planting and harvest times different than in the Near East and Mediterranean but the grain king is there nonetheless. The word for the hero Beow means barley. Scyld was said to be the son of Scef, meaning sheath (of wheat). One of Frey’s servants is called Byggvir, or barley. His story in the Lokasenna indicates he is tiny, ground in a mill, and used in beer. This even suggests possible origins for “John Barleycorn.” Byggvir even threatens to grind Loki to a pulp! So we see here the sacrificial grain king motif being connected to Frey.

Another of Frey’s servants is Beyla, who may refer to cows. As grains, milk, and meat were the food of the people, the cow was very important to Northern Europeans. Cattle and swine were sacrificed to Frey but the author also notes that the roles could be reversed as ox and swine were sometimes called Frey and there are a few stories where kings are killed by cattle. Even King Frodhi was said to be killed by a “sea-cow”, apparently a race of gray cows that originally came from the sea. Cattle are generally synonymous with wealth in IE cultures.

The story of Frodhi’s Mill involves two giantesses who make gold (and peace and happiness) in a mill for Frodhi’s kingdom. Gold is called “Frodhi’s meal”. Frey’s magical boar was called Gullinbursti, or “Golden Bristles”. With him pulling Frey’s chariot he could traverse land and sea with great speed and the golden bristles would light the way. The boar was a symbol of both aggression and protection. A sacrificial boar was a tradition at Yule when oaths would be sworn on the boar. “Battle-boar” was a kenning for a helmet and Anglo-Saxon helmets depicting boars have been found.

Frey is also associated with Frith, often translated as peace, but also “inviolability” and “sacredness”. Frith was also associated with kinship rights and privileges. Norse legends tell of a time of great peace often called the “Frith of Frodhi” and the Swedes associate it with Frey. The lord of frith as sacred king seemed to have required peace, self-control, and commanded that there be no violations. Weapons were thought to be absent at the (Vanic?) festival of Nerthus as Tacitus noted and at the assemblies, or Things, in later times. Tacitus does mention that weapons abounded at business assemblies in his time so perhaps the peace-code of the Thing is more recent. Both the Thing and the hof, or temple were to be places without weapons.

Frey gave his magical sword and his steed to his servant Skirnir so that he will bring to him a giantess he has fallen in love with. Her name was Gerdh. Frey’s giving up of horse and sword – the two chief attributes of warriors – is perhaps telling of his status as a god of frith. He was also associated much with horses and possibly to horse sacrifice and consumption of horse meat which was a common but probably occasional practice. Frey, like Tyr, may have also been a patron of oaths so oaths sworn upon him or his symbol the boar tended to be kept. Those who betray Frey by violating the sacred conditions of Thing and hof, assembly and temple, often receive the fate of loss of frith and ar, peace and prosperity. I recently read about the warrior Starkath fighting for the Anglo-Saxons who desecrates a temple in Sweden (probably a temple of Frey) who was cursed by the priest to not die in battle as he longed to do and the curse was fulfilled.

Both Frey and frith are also strongly associated with love and sexuality. Adam of Bremen and Saxo both  give accounts of the temples of Uppsala where Thor, Wotan, and Frey (Frikko) were honored. The warrior Starkathar was said to be disgusted with the sexual aspects of the temple folk, thinking them unmanly. The Christian authors tended to agree and of course were disgusted by sexuality and likely scrubbed any references to sexual practices. Idols of Frey were said to be adorned with huge erect phalluses. The IE root word for Vanir is thought to be the same as that for Venus and indicates desire or striving. Frey goes into a maddening desire for Gerdh and when he sends Skirnir to her he threatens her with violence and sexual torment if she refuses the desire of Frey. One is perhaps a curse of insatiable nymphomania. Curses of perpetual sexual dissatisfaction also occur in sagas. Romantic love and passion were also thought to threaten the social order as marriages were often alliances. Gerdh accepts Frey’s terms and becomes his wife so that particular curse does not play out.

The story of Ingimund in Landnamabok and Vatnsdaela saga tells of a prophecy of him going to Iceland and finding a silver image of Frey, which he does, and sets up a farm there, and calls his farm Hof. This is kind of a story of Frey’s cult being established in Iceland. As Christian kings came to power in Norway it was thought that Iceland was still a place of the old ways. The prosperity of Ingimund in Iceland echoes that of Frey and establishes Frey as a patron of Icelandic farmers as well.

An appendix is given regarding the tripartite social functions in IE societies propounded by Georges Dumezil. The three functions are magic and judicial sovereignty, physical force, and fecundity. Odin and Tyr were assignedthe two parts respectively of the first function, Thor the second, and the Vanir (Frey, Freyja, and Njord) the third. The author notes that Frey came to acquire some of the other functions as well, as Germanic society changed, particularly when it became more militarized after threats from the Romans and from migrating tribes displaced by Romans, Huns, and others. Frey may have taken on the more priestly functions of Dumezil’s first function especially in Sweden where Tyr was not venerated. The author compares the peaceful aspect of Frey to that of the peaceful Roman leader Numa who is contrasted with the previous violent Roman leader Romulus. Dumezil sees the first function dichotomy in Mitra and Varuna of the Indian Vedas where Mitra is the lord of contracts and judicial functions (frith?) and Varuna is the more wrathful warrior aspect. A telling comparison is between the Roman priests (flamen dialis) and the Indian Brahman priests – both of which are forbidden to bear weapons and to ride horses. Frey’s giving up his sword and horse can be seen as similar in this respect. Varuna was said to be a god of binding and Mitra a god of unbinding. In the Lokasenna it is said that Frey “releases everyone from fetters” so this certainly suggests a Mitra-like first-function. Frey’s attribution as a sacred king also suggests a first function so we see that Frey defies the universality of Dumezil’s classification quite a bit.

Finally a list of sources, a few tables of kennings, and a bibliography is given.

This was an interesting account of Frey as the lord of frith, of peace, prosperity, fertility, and sexual vigor and the archetypal sacred ancestral spirit king at one with the land itself.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Freyja, Lady, Vanadis: An Introduction to the Goddess

Book Review: Freyja, Lady, Vanadis: An Introduction to the Goddess by Patricia M. Lafayllve (Outskirts Press 2006)
This is a good introduction to the Norse goddess of fertility, love, sex, magic, battle, seidr, and death. She is the lady of the Vanir. The Vanir are thought by many to be among the original tribes of the northern areas before the arrival of the Aesir, who are sometimes equated to Indo-European conquerors.
This book is a thoughtful and honest attempt at revealing the nature of Freyja through careful analysis of the Sagas, Eddas, and other literature, and through information from the archaeological record. Not much is known directly from these sources about Freyja but plausible inferences can be made.

According to the Eddas, Freyja and her brother Frey are the children of Njord of Noatun. The name of their mother is not given but some have speculated that it was Nerthus, an earth goddess mentioned by Tacitus in the Germania. Njord was said to be married to his sister just as Freyja and Frey are given as both sister and brother and as lovers. As part of the settlement after the to be among the original tribes of the northern areas before the arrival of the Aesir, who are sometimes equated to Indo-European conquerors.

This is a good introduction to the Norse goddess of fertility, love, sex, magic, battle, seidr, and death. She is the lady of the Vanir. The Vanir are thought by many  war between the Aesir and Vanir there was a hostage exchange. Frey and Njord went from Vanaheim to live in Asgard and Freyja went as well though no reason is given why she went along. Perhaps it was simply that the rest of the family went. She was given a hall in Asgard called Sessrumnir and her field for the slain -  Folkvang, and choice of half of the slain warriors with Odin getting the other half. Here it becomes apparent that she, like Odin, has attributes of a psychopomp, or purveyor of the dead. She was the next ‘highest’ goddess to Frigga and though she is sometime equated to Frigga, most researchers emphasize that they are different goddesses with different etymologies. Some of the information and inferences about Freyja come through “kennings” which are descriptive phrases, often compound words, in skaldic poetry. These work well to give attributes and correspondences. As a high-ranking goddess she often serves mead in Asgard. 

The word Freyja simply means ‘lady’ as Frey means ‘lord’. So we see that her name is her title. Some have speculated that the original lord and lady of Wicca are Frey and Freyja. Some of her kenning names are Mardoll (sea-bright), Syr (sow), Gefn (giver), Horn (flax?), Skjalf, Thrung, and Menglad (necklace-glad). She has been associated with Gullveig (gold-greed), Heid (the name of the volva, or seer, in the Voluspa), and Gefion as well. She is also called Vanadis, which may mean ‘lady of the Vanir’ or ‘Dis of the Vanir. The dis are female ancestors, usually in the form of ‘light elves’.

In Ynglingasaga, (History of the Kings of Norway) after the death of the gods in Ragnarok, she is said to have survived and kept up the sacrifices and due to these all women of rank thereafter were called Freyja.

She was known to have a magical falcon-feather-cloak which she lent to Loki on occasion. In the Lay of Hyndla she rides her lover Ottar transformed into the magical boar Hildisvini. She is also associated with cats. She dons the famed necklace ‘Brisingamen’ made by dwarves. She is associated with gold (Freyja’s tears).

Freyja is often associated with love and sex and was said to be fond of love songs and possibly bawdy songs as well. Traditions of lovers writing erotic love songs to one another – called mannsongr were thought to be so powerful that the Icelandic Christians outlawed them. Freyja is known for her “promiscuous” sexual activity in myths though the moral implications of such actions and what constitutes them in Norse society and myth seem to vary. She is said to have had sex with four dwarves in order to obtain Brisingamen. Loki accuses her of promiscuity and incest (astride her brother Frey) in the Lokasenna but it is unclear what is the crime as Njord says that such is no big deal and in the Heimskringla  Njord says that sibling intercourse is a custom among their tribes. These type of accusations against Freyja occur in the form of “flyting” which can be said to be true statements designed as hurtful insults that are sometimes put in a poetic framework. It should be noted that she is not accused so much with sex with multiple partners but of inappropriate sex. Freyja, as a goddess of fertility and sexuality, was consulted in all matters of sex, and presumably would have some say among the gods in how sex appropriateness was evaluated.

Freyja shares the battle-slain with Odin. This certainly suggests that she has aspects of a battle-goddess. Her association with boars also suggests this since boars are known symbols of battle among Germanic peoples. The boar she rides in the Lay of Hyndla is called Hildisvini, or “battle-swine.” In one saga Gondul is told by Odin to start a war to win back her necklace. Gondul is thought to refer to Freyja and is also used to refer to Valkyries. Thus, Freyja is sometimes thought of as a Valkyrie, ie. Valfreyja, though the author notes there is nothing in the written lore that identifies her as a valkyrie. The author notes that the valkyries are considered servants of Odin and lesser deities, often interwining in the world of humans. She considers Freyja as a goddess beyond this stature.  Freyja is also often associated with Gullveig, who precipitated the war between the Aesir and Vanir. The sacrificial kings of early Sweden may have been sacrificed to Freyja as Skjalf hangs Agni with her necklace. Thus it is likely that Freyja, like Hel, is a goddess of death. She is sometimes associated with the Dis, female elven ancestor-spirits. This is logical since her brother Frey is considered lord of the Alfar, the male elven ancestral spirits.

Freyja has long been considered patroness of magic, seidr, and witchcraft. In the Lokasenna, Loki accuses her, in a derogatory manner, of being a witch. Seidr is an ecstatic technique with shamanistic elements that was typically practiced by women in the Norse culture, though it was Freyja, who is said to have taught magic (seidr?) to Odin and the gods. Seidr was used for divination, battle magic, and likely many other things. The tradition of spae is very similar, sometimes considered a less elaborate form. The practice of utiseta, or sitting out, was also practiced, and is thought to be more like a personal vision quest. Freyja is said to have gone to Baldur’s funeral in a chariot drawn by cats and so cats are thought to have been a familiar spirit, or fetch, of Freyja. Though no texts label Freyja as a volva, or seer, her depictions as shapeshifter of herself and others strongly suggest it. Gullveig, sometimes thought to be Freyja, was able to return after passing through fire three times. Some have suggested this as some sort of shamanic initiation.

Chapter 5 is called “Gold, fertility, and the sea”. The daughters of Freyja, Hnoss and Gersimi are called treasures. Freyja, as well as all the Vanir, can be seen as wealth deities. Njord is a merchant god and clearly a sea god and Freyja has reference to the sea as well. In the myths the giants often demand Freyja as a reward which might be seen as demanding her wealth-giving attributes. In the Lay of Thrym, the giant Thrym, after stealing Thor’s hammer demands Freyja. Brisingamen may symbolize wealth, gold, and fertility. Some authors have equated the necklace as a long-standing universal symbol of the fertility of the mother-goddess, esp. in Indo-European formats. Even so, Freyja has never been considered a mother-goddess and H.R. Ellis Davidson has said there is little evidence of a mother-goddess figure in Scandinavian lore, though Frigga is sometimes considered to have some of those attributes. The author also notes Nerthus, sometimes thought to be Freyja’s mother, as an earth goddess, rather than a mother-goddess – though she is not real clear on what the difference is. Gold as well as flax for linen are thought to have been common offerings to Freyja. Some associate amber with her as well. Freyja has been compared to Venus and Aphrodite as a love goddess and some later attributes of her may have been influenced by them. A friend of mine pointed out some similarities of the girdle of Aphrodite to Brisingamen. Both also mated with smiths – Aphrodite with Hephaestus and Freyja with the dwarf goldsmiths. Freyja wept tears of gold. Especially when she searched for Od, or Odr (possibly Odin), her missing husband who never returned. The author makes a rather interesting speculation that Freyja takes her golden tears, shed from the loss of Odr, to the dwarves so that they can be transformed into the necklace. Both magicians and smiths are transformers of the raw into the refined. She suggests the power of Brisingamen as a union of the creative power of smithcraft and the creative power of sex. In this scenario of providing her tears and her sexuality, Freyja can be seen as a co-creator of the necklace. Gullveig too may have been forged in the fire.

Freyja has also been associated with fire. The story of Gullveig passing through fire is one way. Another is in the Lay of Hyndla where she calls down a ring of fire on a giantess. Fire is transformative and Freyja as goddess of magic and love and sex might also be seen as a goddess of transformation.

The author compares Freyja and Odin as deities of magic and possible mates as suggested by her husband Odr. She also compares Freyja and Frigga and their differences – Frigga being more associated with frith, the luck of the hall, social order, and domestic matters. Freyja (one of her by-names is Gefn) may also be related to the Danish goddess Gefion who also has a magic necklace given to her for favors, although she is said to be chaste, and as well a handmaiden of Frigga, so the author thinks this connection unlikely.

The author notes that Heimdall is seen as an ally and champion of Freyja and may even be a Vanic deity. Heimdall suggests “earth-bright” as Mardoll is “sea-bright”. Heimdall recovers Brisingamen by chasing Loki down and fighting him for it. Freyja is known as a friend of Thor but there is a likely adversarial relationship with Loki.

The author examines the Lay of Hyndla from the Poetic Edda. Here Freyja travels on the back of her human lover Ottar in the form of a boar and awakens and confronts a giantess in order to reveal the ancestry of Ottar and win a wager. Knowledge of family lineages was very important as was/is ancestor veneration. Here, like Odin, we see Freyja travelling to the otherworld and commanding a seeress. Freyja may be compelled to help Ottar for had made an altar to her and offered blood-sacrifices. He was said to sacrifice to her so much that she owed him a boon, as per the rules of gift-giving. This story also suggests that men were active in the cult of Freyja. Their travel to the land of the dead to wake the spirit of the giantess can be seen as a shamanistic event involving shapeshifting and possibly a witch riding the spirit of the man. The similarities to Odin’s Ride to Hel are not too few and this story can be interpreted similarly as shamanistic.

The author examines UPG (unverifiable person gnosis) attributions given to Freyja by herself and others. The whole idea of UPG is important for maintaining an authentic yet evolving type of pagan reconstructionism but there can be much disagreement. Interestingly, the author sees Freyja as a feminist “wild woman” given to danger and ecstatic forays. She is also seen as seductive and yet unpredictable. Her penchant for bawdy ballads might indicate an unruly nature as well. I might see her as a prototype of the archetype of Our Lady Babalon, whose egregore is less traditional and more dynamic. She too is seen as a patron of transformation and initiation. She too rides a beast. For me - I am not so much interested in worshipping gods as discovering what symbolic forms influence the psyche and our ideas and ideals.

Finally, the author suggests as topics for further study, comparisons of Freyja to Celtic goddesses and Roman goddesses as well as to beliefs of continental Germanic peoples and Anglo-Saxons who had more direct contact with Rome. Both of these peoples bordered Germanic lands. Recently I read a blurb of the similarity of Freyja and Brighid. If the IE root of Freyja’s name is pri – to love, then it is maybe a small step to Bri but such is speculative.   

Among the various appendices there is a list of source materials in the Eddas and sagas. There are some suggestions for modern worship such as seeing Frey and Freyja as fertility patrons of the Maypole rite and there is a sample blot to Freyja. There is a bibliography. Finally there is some poetry by the author, including a nice one about Freyja’s lament for her lost Odr.




Friday, April 5, 2013

Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind

Book Review: Running with the Mind of Meditation: Lessons for Training Body and Mind by Sakyong Mipham  (Kindle Edition 2012)

This is a great book for runners, meditators, and especially for those who do both. Sakyong Mipham is a Tibetan-American lama steeped in two cultures. He has also been trained in the Shambhala tradition that venerates the path of the warrior and recommends athletic development, thus his training in martial arts, archery, dance, and horsemanship.

He took up running much later but has come to be a long-distance runner and has run quite a few marathons. He has also practiced meditation his whole life from a young age. He sees meditation as the chief means of training the mind and running as a method of training the body so the book serves as an analysis of the integration of mind and body training methods. He advises: “Meditate with delight and run with joy.” He appears to be a very disciplined fellow.

Sakyong Mipham relates many personal experiences and tales like running before dawn in India where one must be present to possible encounters with elephants, cobras and leopards, running in the high elevation of Tibet, in the wilds of Scotland, and in various parts of the US and Canada. He sees running and meditation as mutually supportive.

“When we run, we strengthen our heart, remove stagnant air, revitalize our nervous system, and increase our aerobic capacity.”

Running and meditation both support health, strength, and flexibility of mind and body. The stresses of modern society, such as sedentary time due to travel, work, and electronic pursuits and other stresses such as pollution point to a need for physical and mental strength, flexibility, and overall health.

He talks about his early running experiences beginning around 2003 with his trainer Misty Cech. As for everyone else it was a struggle in the beginning and one needs to “build a base” which is simply running enough without overdoing it in order to strengthen muscles, tendons, and bone integrity so that the body becomes used to it. My own first few runs are memorable for calf pain and quick loss of breath. I was amazed that people could run as far as they could (I still am) but improvement and relaxation did come. Building a base takes about two years, say doctors, and my own experience confirms this as well. He compares this to meditation – defined as “the act of familiarizing your mind with what you want it to do.” “The bones and tendons of the mind are mindfulness and awareness. Mindfulness is the mind’s strength, and awareness is its flexibility.” In one aspect, meditation is simply training the mind as running is one means to train the body. So, he says, ‘building the base’ has to occur with meditation as well – in order to get the mind in shape. He says that when learning meditation it is good to have coaching especially in regards to posture, attitude, obstacles, and antidotes. He says that movement is good for the body and stillness is good for the mind. He thinks that a balance of the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems can be attained through this movement and stillness, thus relieving stress. 

The importance of breathing to both meditation and running is emphasized. Connecting to the breath is perhaps the best way to be present. Breath can be a problem when one begins running but this usually improves as one learns to relax and breathe deeper. He gives instructions for meditation using the breath as focus and other useful advice.

The relationship between breath and mind is important. Tibetans say the breath is like a horse and the mind is like a rider. The horse, or breath, must first be tamed, but ultimately it is the rider, or mind, that is tamed. Mongolians and Tibetans depict this relationship of breath and mind in the idea of windhorse (lungta). In the depictions, above the saddle is a jewel. The jewel is the mind, and more specifically the enlightened mind.

The author suggests that running does not tame the horse (breath) but exhausts it into a more settled state. He says the peace from meditation is more cumulative, while that from running is incidental. Even so, the two activities are usually complementary.

He discusses the difficulty of beginning to run and making it a habit, the possibility of overdoing it and losing interest. Gradualness is the key. He suggests interspersing periods of walking and running for beginners. He notes (as I confirm) that the early part of a run is often the most difficult. This likely has much to do with the body adjusting from a relaxed to an active mode. In contrast, with meditation one is typically slowing down the thinking mind. 

Sakyong Mipham emphasizes the importance of motivation in both running and meditation. He talks about types of motivation – from without and from within, - and levels of motivation. Pacing and setting reasonable goals can be important to running. He sees a balance between challenging oneself and not overdoing it as important for runners. He also talks about short-term and long-term motivation. These should be balanced as well so that even if one’s short-term motivation weakens one can still think in terms of long-term motivation. Meditation can be a means to watch how such motivations can change in very short time periods.

He tells of his first marathon run in Toronto. Apparently, he bought new socks and this was not such a good idea. He finished the race but acquired a large and painful blister through most of the race. At 12 miles he decided to pop the blister by stamping hard on it. He describes his meditation on pain and finally finishing and getting his bloody foot fixed up.

Next he goes into the Shambhala warriorship tradition which is a method of training in courage without aggression. Training is given in four phases, called the ‘four dignities’ – tiger, lion, garuda, and dragon. The result is a strong windhorse.

“The Shambhala teachings present goodness as our base and splendidness as our natural state of being. These qualities are neither spiritual nor worldly but inherent – there to be uncovered.”

The tiger phase refers to cultivating mindfulness which leads to contentment. This is the phase of developing technique. Next is the lion which represents the joy of having developed the technique and discipline. Next is the garuda where newly-found skills and abilities appear and new challenges are taken on. Finally, there is the dragon which represents mastery and the ability to see beyond personal goals to benefitting others.

Detailing the tiger phase he notes that gentleness is the key to mindfulness. Building a base and developing and perfecting technique are the work. He notes that there are several different running techniques but that he prefers feeling connectivity from the navel up through his central core leading to mouth and nostrils. This is a focus in meditation as well. Running from the center is also recommending in “Chi Running” which is the technique that I have come to prefer. He gives his own technique and warns against slumping forward too much. He also recommends (as do other runners) landing in the center of the foot. He mentions the technique of counting breaths, as in meditation. I have never done this but I routinely do mantras in rhythm with the breath while running.

He discusses the effects of feelings/emotions/sensations on both meditation and particularly on running. He notes that much of the components of our feelings are mental and often mental discomfort is mistaken for physical discomfort. Mindfulness of how one feels is important. Dealing effectively with injuries takes mindfulness throughout as one needs to regularly assess one’s condition, healing, and readiness. Indeed, sensible pain and injury management is important to any exercise routine and it gets more important as one ages. He uses the term “embodiment’ to describe a synchronization of body and mind that he also equates with the egolessness of windhorse.

He discusses the benefits and pitfalls of treadmills and how they have helped him since he travels a lot. He discusses music while working out as a distraction yet it seems to work for lots of people. I actually like to read on an elliptical or a fast walk on a treadmill. He criticizes our half-hearted multi-tasking and recommends being fully engaged in our activities. As for me, I don’t mind multi-tasking.

Success in meditation or exercise can be simply that the action is sustained and practiced regularly. He mentions that the sluggishness we often feel at the beginning of exercise is not only due to the stagnation of muscles but also to the stagnation of organs – as in Chinese medicine. Exercising speeds metabolism and processing of toxins. Meditation may help us process our mental baggage and societal imagery.

He contrasts an attitude of gentleness with one of aggression and concludes that gentleness leads to a more optimal edge to both body and mind. Gentleness implies more flexibility, understanding, and care than aggression. Stress and worry are mental factors that can affect us physically as well. Meditation, in this sense, can be a means to train ourselves to hold less worry and stress.

He mentions yoga and walking as complementary to running. This is rather obvious as stretching and light exercise can keep one tuned up for more strenuous exercise.

He emphasizes the importance of optimism and confidence in both meditation and running. In meditation one is optimistic about the power of the mind. In running one is optimistic about the power of the body. He notes the importance of staying in touch with one’s confidence.

“With confidence, our activity becomes a path.”

As a tiger phase practice, he gives a technique of contemplation meditation where one investigates one’s motivation(s) for running.

The lion phase is characterized by enjoying the results of one’s hard work and training. Effort gives way to ease. This phase involves “panoramic awareness” where we focus on our surroundings having thoroughly trained in technique. Releasing struggle allows us to tune into the world around us.

In the Shambhala tradition and in Tibetan Buddhism in general, the natural state of our mind is said to be one of “basic goodness.” He posits a similar natural condition of the body as “basic healthiness.”  “… the mind is raw material. It is like tofu – neutral and pliable.”

Dealing with pain can be a part of running. A big part of life is pain therefore we should learn how to relate to it as best we can.

“When we are able to work with pain and understand it, life becomes twice as interesting. Relating to pain makes us fearless and happy.”

Pain should be acknowledged and accepted for what it is instead of overly focusing on it and reacting overly negatively to it.

“… happiness is the natural screen saver of the mind.” He says that “happiness is not a goal, but a by-product of mentally and physically healthy activities.”

He associates egolessness with happiness and lightness, and ego with heaviness and restriction. He discusses pride as a part of the lion phase and notes the five kinds of pride given in the Buddhist tradition: pride from position (family), pride from wealth, intellectual pride (knowledge), pride of youth/beauty/prowess, and pride from thinking you do not have pride. The antidote to pride is humbleness and good humor is also helpful in trimming pride. Healthy pride is simply confidence. A lion phase contemplation is given which focuses on feeling fortunate, grateful, and content. He demonstrates the value of this cultivation for everyone – including the poor, sick, and dying. Simply being content and grateful for the present moment can be a very powerful outlook.

The garuda phase is called ‘outrageous’ since this is when one challenges oneself beyond one’s comfort zone. A garuda run may involve new location or fresh stimuli. It may involve surpassing previous limitations. In meditation this may be an all day meditation or a long retreat. Strangely, after reading about this ‘garuda run’ I actually did one. I went out for a run and planned to go so far but I felt good near the end so I extended it and ended up going twice as far as I had planned and significantly farther than I had ever run before. I kept thinking about the garuda. The power of expectation? Perhaps. He says this garuda phase can help one break out of a rut. He describes his own creation of a 32-mile ultra-marathon in the high elevations of northern Colorado with 1000 ft differences in elevation. To me, that seems pretty outrageous.

The wings of the garuda represent focused mindfulness and panoramic awareness. The garuda symbolizes balance and freedom from hope and fear. Hope arises from not encountering what we want. Fear arises from encountering what we don’t want. Pain and pleasure can lead to avoidance and obsession. How we handle them is very important. Due to our habits in handling pain and pleasure we often switch from hope to fear and back. This cycle of hope and fear can undermine our lives, thus it is important to free ourselves from it when we can. Fear is based on attachment. Scholars are often attached to their knowledge while athletes are often attached to their bodily fitness. We all have hope and fear. The goal is to minimize its influence. Garuda is also associated with freshness and spontaneity. My own garuda run exhibited spontaneity. I did have another garuda run, or rather outrageous run of sorts but this one not so successful. I went out to run on cool day after not much sleep and the wind blowing against me got the better of me so I went far less than my minimum level and just gave it up. Felt bad for a short time then just got over it, no big deal. Sometimes the equanimity is just not there and the conditions get the better of you. Running in the heat is a problem for me as well. Maybe if I took water.

As another possible garuda phase method he mentions trail running. He says it is great for core training as there are more obstacles to overcome and flexibility to develop. I have not done this yet so maybe something to look forward to. Better scenery might also be a benefit of trail running. He relates experiences of running up and down big hills and running in extreme weather. He also relates a run where he and another runner experienced meditational clarity while running in the wilds of Scotland. He thinks that mind and body were in balance that day so their internal beauty allowed them to experience external beauty.

Meditation in the garuda phase emphasizes mindfulness itself as the object of meditation. Having discovered the qualities of a state of mindfulness during previous meditation training, one focuses on getting into that mode and holding to that state. The idea is to not be threatened or seduced by external distractions. Interestingly, he discusses boredom as being influenced by self-worth and pride. He says that in meditation or exercise we do not consider our activity worthy of our attention. The boredom related to pride can be when we become impatient and annoyed about having to wait for something. He says that cultivating attitudes of appreciation and self-worth are more important than ambition. Ambition and goals disappear in the garuda phase. He notes that one can take the outrageousness too far and that it should be grounded in one’s previous training. He gives a contemplation of love and kindness for the garuda phase. Letting go of self-centeredness is a key to happiness for oneself and focusing on kindness and the happiness of others is a key to letting go of self-centeredness.

The dragon represents deep purpose, our secret or innermost level, says Sakyong Mipham. He says dragon also symbolizes inexpressible power, brilliance, and the profundity of mind.

“The dragon embodies all the lessons of the tiger, lion, and garuda – mindful, perky, and in balance. Thus the dragon arises as coincidence and auspiciousness.”

In the Shambhala tradition the dragon represents the recognition of nonconceptual wisdom, referred to as the joining of heaven and earth. In this phase, he sees runs and meditations as focusing on what is most important, most beneficial – compassion, caring for others, and thinking beyond ourselves. He talks about the ‘dragon’s breath’ as being a special way to relate to breath, air, or wind. The yogic winds, or pranas are invoked here.

“The power of the dragon is intention. The dragon knows that with full, unbridled attention we can bring goodness and benefit into any activity.”

He mentions two approaches to breathing meditation – the gentle and the coarse. The gentle is appropriate to sitting meditation while coarse breathing is the method of vigorous exercise and requires control. He recounts an experience of running in the high altitude of Tibet where he was winded quickly and came to understand and appreciate the limitations of breath.

The contemplation given for the dragon phase is about compassion and selflessness. The goal is egolessness and bringing the intention to the best of intentions, that of benefiting others. Another goal of this contemplation is to discover that the self is an illusion.

The next section is about windhorse, representative of the state of egolessness. He talks about having conversations while running and how they can be revealing and without preconceptions. I have only had a few conversations while running and they seemed like regular ones to me so I am not sure I followed that part. He contrasts the bluntness of Western conversational style with the art of conversation among Tibetans. He talks about a run for peace he organized that ended at the Great Dharmakaya Stupa of Colorado. He talks about running for fund-raisers and charities as well. He talks about runners having an ethos of optimism and exertion and perhaps a connection to the life force energy that is windhorse.

“The windhorse phase is realizing we are all gifted; we all have something to offer.”

The windhorse contemplation is on basic goodness. He sort of refers to windhorse as the energy of basic goodness. It is “basic” because it is fundamentally who we area and “good” “in that we are complete, intact, and whole.”

Sakyong Mipham finishes out the book with some recounts of his marathon runs and with a poem called “Freedom” which elegantly expresses for him the bliss of running.

Overall, this is a great book with useful insights. There are better books on running techniques such as “Chi Running” but this one is unique in that it also encompasses meditation.