It was 112 degrees when I arrived at Wilbur on Friday afternoon; I think that is the same as the highest temperature I experienced at Tassajara, in my first summer, fifteen years ago. It was also hazy with smoke from a fire in Oroville. These are the kinds of temperatures that I could not imagine, growing up in England. I find a kind of bodily relaxation in the intensity of the heat – provided I am not, as I often was at Tassajara, trying to move large rocks in the afternoon sun, or wearing four layers of robes in the sweltering evening zendo.
The evening before, I had come across the Bay Bridge, at around 8pm, in the car I was borrowing for the occasion. The traffic was flowing freely – in itself a cause of joy – and the view of San Francisco from the upper deck of the bridge, which always seems to produce in me a feeling of gladness that I live where I do, was heightened by the post-sunset colours of the sky – smoky orange, lilacs and mauves. On the Friday morning, rising typically early, I had crossed the Golden Gate Bridge on my bike to take a quick loop of the Headlands before leaving town. The day was already warm, and the red, just risen sun was reflected along the pearlescent blue still water of the bay. It was life-affirmingly beautiful.
I have been thinking a lot about face-to-face transmission, as Tenshin Roshi recently talked about at City Center; last week I was reading a chapter in Kobun Chino’s book that touched on the same topics; taking in the words on my commute, I reflected (not for the first time), that people do not have the chance to experience this when they are, as so many seem to be when out in public, staring down at their phones. In each moment there is the opportunity to come face-to-face with the life force of the present, whether that is face-to-face with a person, or with anything that is alive – which is why the teachers of old always insisted that grasses, trees and walls are always expressing the truth of reality, if we are open enough to pay attention to it.
I thought of talking again at Wilbur about how its location offers many chances to experience this – phones are of no use; people are moving at human pace; there is abundant silence and delightful nature all around; everyone is taking time to be physically immersed in and relaxed by the hot springs water. I wanted to add that as beautiful and energising as both of my bridge crossings had been, there is no way to hold onto the experiences. We can allow them to fuel us as we move forward, but if we get stuck thinking about them, then we miss the opportunity to experience the life force of the actual moment we are living. In the end I talked about something else that was more alive at the time. Tune in tomorrow to find out…
The hazy sunset on my first evening at Wilbur last Friday, seen from the little tub at the Fountain of Life.