The Blackburn Challenge – September 4, 2014

July 19th was the annual running of the Blackburn Challenge – 20 miles racing around Cape Ann in honor of the heroic exploits of Gloucester Dory Fisherman Howard Blackburn. This race has become the premier open water rowing race in New England in its 28 years of running. This is the race that I designed and built the Westport Racing Skiff for.

The morning of the race was too early for any nerves, hitting the road well before any signs of sun to get up to Gloucester for a pre-7am registration deadline. These are hard moments in a race – the rushing to wait. Wait in line to register, wait for the Captain’s meeting, wait for the start. I’m bouncing foot to foot, need to get in my boat.

My heat was third, not bad. The multi-oared boats started first. A quad (4-person sculling boat) took off from the start with the crisp, clean sound of expert rowing. The four of them moved as one, and the boat responded in kind, as they quickly opened up a sizeable lead. One splash as the blades entered, one loud thump as the blades flipped from the water and settled in the oarlock. They won’t be long getting to the finish. I found out later there was at least one Olympic rower in that boat. Quite a few international competitors entered the race in both rowing and paddling, pushing the 20 miles into faster and faster times.

My heat started fast, with two expert Adirondack Guideboat rowers pushing the pace. I settled into third place, thinking that this will be a difficult and great race! We flew down the river with the current pushing us along, dodging moored boats, buoys, and other racers. Trying to figure out our positions, testing each others speed. One boat pulled further ahead, I crept into second. Then there was a loud crack and I looked over my shoulder to see the lead boat swerve away – a broken oar. We swept past. Less than three miles in, already lots of action!

Once we got out of the river I was able to pull into a lead and creep away in the calm waters of the north coast.  It was a cool 70s, no wind, and a quiet sea. A little haze softened the horizon. All conditions pointed to record-breaking possibility. Keep on the oars, all the way around. Enter the zone that is really joy – joyfully becoming a space of awareness – a meditation that encompasses the mind, the body, the art that is the boat, and of course the great sea and sky.

There is an intensity in racing that is uplifting. A race is a safe space to go to dangerous places – those wild places deep within our minds and spirits that stay covered in more mundane experiences. It cleans us out and lets us see ourselves clearly, to balance the movement of life with the stillness at the core. Its a place of community – a community where there is great togetherness in appreciation of the effort and will it takes, even while each member brings a different history, a different philosophy, and even vastly different goals all to the same course. A race is also very private, similar to the mountaintop monk retreat. It’s a space to heighten all senses, to make a great effort in removing all obstacles to fearlessly approach the possibility of pure existence…

Coming into Gloucester Harbor I caught a nice big powerboat wake and surfed across the finish line, 3hours 12 minutes after the start.

-Ben Booth

*The previous record was 3 hours 20 minutes.

The Road to Blackburn – May 29th 2014

On May 10, I gave the newly designed and built Westport Racing Skiff its second race test – the Essex River Race. This is a 5.5 mile race with a mix of curving river and open bay rowing. I took first place in the fixed-seat single category by a margin of 13 minutes!

I designed and built the Westport Racing Skiff this past winter for the Blackburn Challenge (July). This is the east coast’s premier open water race – a 20 mile coastal race that circumnavigates Cape Ann, MA. I won the race in 1994 and 1995, and haven’t raced in open water since. So this year has been an exciting return to racing. Particularly since I gave myself the added challenge of designing my own boat. It’s also a bit of a personal experiment, because in the 19 years since I last did this race, I have spent much of that time in temples and on extended retreat. So I am folding all of that mind-body training and introspection into this rowing journey. In fact, my ultimate goal with this is a sort of Zen Rowing experience. Each race is a moment to condense all of reality into a small moment of simplicity: row fast. Its a moment to put aside all doubts and to open up the mind to appreciate the vast potential of unhindered, pure connection to Being. Each day I am out on the water is a meditation – connect with each stroke, each ocean wave. I feel like training is an expansion of mind’s capacity to percieve potential even more than it is “getting fit.” It’s a moment to wonder about energy and life and to wonder if there are mental spaces that I hold which may hold me back from a full appreciation of energy and life. It reminds me a lot of the time I spent living in Shaolin Temple, Wudang, or the Mind-Light Temple.

This year’s Blackburn Challenge is also the first in a multi-year project: to design, build and race boats in multiple rowing categories. Designing and building boats is such a creative endeavor. Particularly for me, since I have no formal boat design training. I design the old way – from feel, eye, intuition, and a lifetime of being on the water. A boat is a work of art – a sculpture that is a perfect balance of creativity and receptivity. You need to create the shape, lines, dimensions yet you need to respond to the environment. Its a beauty that is functional. Its also a challenge to innovate and to trust yourself to be mentally fresh in a field that has such a long tradition. Its also a balance in not innovating just to be innovative, because you still have the environment that is in charge. So you could return to the Zen moment and say that looking for design innovation is an art of peering into the soul of the sea to see not what you think or want to see, but to see what is actually there. What is the sea and what shape will move through the sea? And of course, a huge part of it is luck – because really, there are too many factors to balance. And that ultimate release of “control” is the best part. Let the project go and let the boat take its own life.

– Ben Booth


Spontaneous Stroke – A Sumi-e ink brush painting demonstration by master Jan Zaremba November 2nd, 2014

137_chipmunkDate: November 2nd, 2014
Time: 4:00pm-7:00pm
Location: Democracy Center in Harvard Sq.
Address: 45 Mt. Auburn Street Cambridge, MA
Cost $20

“Humanity is now dangerously insane. The Far East has always considered art a way to sanity. Is it possible to lead a spontaneous life, finished with fear and with doubt?” Zaremba, who was declared a Master of Sumi-e by the Living National Treasure of Japan, will demonstrate ancient techniques of painting, while answering all questions of art, philosophy and nuclear physics.

To get a sense for Jan’s work check out his website:



Finding Balance – A Rock Balancing Art Workshop with our teacher Robert Kauffman July 12th, 2014

34682_1520039766157_4333848_nSince discovering it in 2009, Rob has developed rock balancing into a spiritual practice.  This primal art includes performance, land art, sculpture, architecture, and communal art.  As the subject of photography, video, drawing, and writing, evidence of the art is created.  “These renderings, however, cannot become the object of artistic moment, but only offer testimony. These media cannot store other essential elements brought out by the performance of this art.”  Join Dharma Voyage at Gooseberry Island in Westport, MA as Rob shares insights he has gained through his practice. Then experience “listening to the rocks” by balancing some for yourself.

See the video!

Date: July 12th, 2014
Starting Time: 6:00 PM
Closing Demonstration: 7:30 PM
Location: Gooseberry Neck in Westport, MA


Dharma Voyage “Encounters” – Four Seasons Qigong with Wudang Master Zhou Xuan Yun May 17th, 2014

137__MG_9606Please join Dharma Voyage on Saturday, May 17th for a special Qigong workshop taught by martial arts master and ordained Daoist monk, Zhou Xuan Yun. Sifu Zhou entered training on Wudang Mountain at the age of 13 and is an expert in Daoist philosophy and health practices. For our Dharma Voyage Encounter, he will be working with us on Qigong practices for each of the four seasons.

“Chinese traditional thought says that the four seasons are caused when the shifting of Yin and Yang brings about changes in the natural world. The human body is seen as a small ecosystem, created from a mix of Yin and Yang and nourished by the Qi energy of heaven and earth. Using breathing, gentle stretching, and visualization the Four Seasons Qigong exercises were designed to bring your body in harmony with the climate around you. In Spring, the energy of the earth brings new life and growth. During this time we must disperse wayward Liver energy. In Summer, Yang energy has reached its extreme, and we must expel excess heat in order to strengthen the heart. In the Fall, the world cools off and dries out, and we must strengthen the lungs. In Winter, when everything is cold it is important to keep the body warm, and protect your kidneys. Four Seasons Qigong will teach you essential exercises designed to help you move through the turning of the year without illness.”

  •  Date: Saturday May 17th, 2014
  •  Time: 4:30pm to 7:30pm
  •  Cost: $45
  •  Location: OmNamo Center 21 Belmont St., Cambridge, MA

Dharma Voyage “Encounters” Documentary Film “Room to Breathe” March 9th 2014

137_22Please join Dharma Voyage at Boston College on March 9th at 2:00pm for our exciting first “Encounters” event: a screening of the film “Room to Breathe”, a documentary on a mindfulness education program implemented in an urban middle school in San Francisco.  Learn about how meditation and mindfulness skills can help struggling students in difficult circumstances.  Our film will be followed by discussion with a panel of mindfulness educators with diverse and unique backgrounds:

  • Ellen Lempereur Greaves – Playmaker Coach and Yoga instructor with Life is good Kids Foundation
  • Brad Kershner – Pre-K educator and meditation practitioner, PhD student in curriculum and instruction
  • Peter Ryan – Principal of Tinicum Art and Science, a mindfulness-focused independent high school
  • Charles Setterland – Holistic healer and former counselor and Qi Gong instructor at the Penikese Island School

Sunday March 9th at 2:00pm in Campion Hall, Boston College

See videos of the panel discussion here!