Loving the Mountains

Being at Tassajara feels like a skin I put on, and most times it feels like the skin I am most myself in, where I can easily embody my version of practice, in the monastery and in the mountains. It was, as usual, a very physical experience: I came back to San Francisco with a fair amount of bodily fatigue, various scratches and dings, any number of deer fly bites, and dabs of poison oak; somewhat more tanned than when I left, also a few pounds heavier, at a guess, from eating so much. I would not have it any other way; this is why I love being there.

My time was divided into two parts, and they were both rich and enjoyable. The first week I was leading retreats, first with Ann where we took twenty people around the Horse Pasture, and most of them up to the Wind Caves the next day – a few of them preferred to take it easy, making us think we should add an extra day next year. The weather was a little kinder for hiking than last year; there were abundant flowers of all types, and more butterflies than I can remember seeing, positive clouds of them gathering at little water holes. The creek was running more healthily than for the last few years, and Cabarga Creek, the waterfalls and other water courses were all still active, unusually so for this time of year. The days that followed with Lirio were a little slower, with her very therapeutic style of yoga, and a bigger group, which made it a little hard to connect with everybody. I loved getting both sets of retreatants to slow down to the pace of the valley, to sit in the zendo, the retreat hall, by the creek and on the trails, and to have a chance to share the joys of Tassajara with them, as well as once again spending time with two teachers I admire so much.

Once we had said goodbye to the second group, I turned my attention to taking photographs, and also spending a few hours each day in the creek at the bathhouse, where the old steps to the water had been washed away with the winter rains. I had wanted to do some work on these anyway, and now I had the excuse and the time; I found enough hefty rocks to wrestle into place, trying not to undo all the good work that a week of yoga had done on my alignment. When I am working with rocks, it is easy for me to over-exert myself as I try to finish a section or get a huge rock properly settled, but I made sure not to continue too long, and to space out the trail-running I did as part of the photography so as not to get too tired.

There was also the physical work of sitting for more than an hour each morning; longer than I have sat recently, and for eleven days straight as well; my backside suffered more than my legs, but it did get easier. The first morning I was there, I was asked to be doshi as Greg was away, and it was a pleasure to let my body remember how to do the jundo and service, and to find again the dignified posture that wearing priest robes requests of a person. I was able to do a couple more morning services before I left, and it always feels special to be standing in the middle with a kotsu.
Beyond that I managed to spend a lot of time reading, mostly preparing for my classes, and I met with a few students, some of whom I had talked with before, other who were new to me, but who wanted to ask about some aspect of my practice as they clarified their own path.

It was also interesting to watch how quickly the magical effects could dissipate; it started with sitting in slow traffic all the way up from San Jose to the East Bay – Friday afternoon rush hour. At the BART station where I was dropped off, I ran up the stairs to jump on the train at the platform, closely following someone else, and even though I saw the driver looking down the platform at us, he started shutting the doors as I entered. Pushing them apart with my elbow caused a malfunction. The carriage was full of Warriors fans – pre-game, they were pretty ebullient, and in the mood for light-hearted banter – and I had to hold up my hands and apologise out loud to everyone as the train was delayed several minutes until a few of us managed to wrangle the door shut by realigning the rubber seals. When I finally got home and went online, I discovered that an expected payment had not gone through to my bank, and I had been running an overdraft the whole time I had been away, which horrified me – and also left me unable to go out and buy food until my house-mate loaned me some money.

That bad mood lasted until I got myself out on my bike the next morning, enjoying the sun in Golden Gate Park, rolling down to the ocean, glad to be sharing the space with other human powered morning people. The ride was partly a reconnaissance for the Bicycle Roaming Zen the next day, which was very sweet: riding car free from the Panhandle to the Zoo; a small group of us pedalled in the sun and the wind, sat in the rose garden, at Ocean beach and beside the polo field, drinking in the sun, and the peaceful feeling of the city.

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I took about 1500 photographs, but these were perhaps my favourites, as the clouds gathered on my penultimate day while I was out on the Horse Pasture trail – the light was amazingly different to the usual endless summer brightness and strong shadows. The waterfall behind the Suzuki Roshi memorial is just visible in the exposed rock, and the white patch at the bottom of all the hills is the zendo roof.

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A little further along, on the other side of the Flag Rock Ridge, looking south east over the trail, to Indian Station Road and Junipero Serra Peak.

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