In San Francisco, the solstice does not seem quite as notable as it does in my more northerly native land, where the longest days are indeed long – though I imagine the current wet weather back in England is not going to stir many thoughts of lazing outside on lovely mid-summer evenings. On Monday, as I had last week, I took off early for a short ride, this time my usual loop around the Marin Headlands. I saw other early riders, some happy photographers, runners, a tiny rabbit, a giant spider’s web, a lone quail by the roadside, and of course the incomparable views of the bridge and the city surrounded by mountain and water. It seemed a long way from a typical Monday morning rush-hour commute. Even drivers speeding through Golden Gate Park on my way back did not dampen my joyful mood. My legs felt good when I was making an effort, and the sunny warmth felt relaxing.
The other day I followed a link to a meditation website, and was struck at the images they were using – I don’t wish to single them out, and this musing is really a continuation of what I wrote about a few weeks ago. Here is a screenshot of the front page:
The other pictures on the right are also of the kind of nature scenes we typically find relaxing, and my first thought was, well most of us don’t live in places like that (somewhat ironic considering I was just back from Tassajara). I get that no-one would ever illustrate their meditation app with a frantic city scene, and yet for most of us, that is our common experience. I also reflected on how I have been taking people to find the quiet places in San Francisco for Roaming Zen, and on the quote I used recently. I do believe that people need to get away, to be immersed in nature as an essential reminder of what it means to be a human in the world, but our practice is not going to be very vital if it depends on stillness and wide-open scenery. In this sense, meditation at City Center was always a valuable experience; there was always some kind of noise outside – of course even at Tassajara, it is possible to get irritated by the morning chorus of blue jays squawking over their breakfasts.
My favourite zen equation these days is ‘equanimity = resilience + flexibility’. Equanimity is not just setting up blissful ease by listening to waves lapping on a lake shore, but being equally okay listening to the roaring of the garbage trucks. My ride on Monday was joyful, but I will also ride on cold days, wet days, days when my legs feel heavy and riding up a hill is an effort; at a certain point, we need to be able to integrate everything into our practice, and not simply set up boundaries of what we can manage and not manage, what is ‘peaceful retreat’ and what is ‘the rest of our life’.