Seeing an advertisement the other day for a company that makes beautiful and expensive things reminded me of an afternoon I spent downtown, perhaps a year ago. I was meeting someone and going out to dinner, but went early to allow myself time to take photographs of the Financial District in low winter sunshine; the area was fairly quiet, since it was the weekend, but this company’s store was open, so I had a look around and chatted with a person working there. All the objects were tasteful and well-made, and would make wonderful gifts; I could not afford any of them, and besides, I didn’t feel that they would necessarily enhance my life if I owned them.
It is a couple of years now since I left residential practice at Zen Center; my life continues to feel fluid as I piece together teaching assignments and other work in a way that feels satisfying and also allows me to live in one of the most expensive cities in the world.
I have never wanted to completely trade my time for money earned; this article from a few months ago, and this one more recently allow me to feel some affirmation about the choices I am making, but even so, my monastic training and temperament have long steered me in that direction.
I have lived in San Francisco for more than ten years, and I still find joy in living here: the weather has been very stable for the past couple of weeks – clear skies with warm sunshine in the middle of the day, high pressure and an east wind, the last full moon bringing king tides. This allows me to ride my bike without worrying about getting soaked, and to plan hikes; to watch monarchs and hummingbirds flitting around blooming flowers as we approach the shortest day of the year – so different to my experience of winters growing up in England, and, I have to acknowledge, much better for my well-being. It also, of course, enables wildfires that are devastating large parts of southern California, at a time of year when things should be too damp to burn, and means that reservoir and snow packs will be depleted again.
Recently I had again been feeling the need to go downtown and take more pictures: each time I ride down to our lunchtime meditation, I have been watching the latest swathe of construction south of Market take shape – the biggest of them all, the Salesforce building, now looks finished from the outside, though I suspect there is a long way to go before it is open. If I think back to ten years ago, I could not count the number of empty plots of land that have been developed around the city – there were more than a dozen within a few blocks of Zen Center – and the sense of progress, crowding and enrichment (for some) is quite tangible, and almost claustrophobic, these days. And still there are also quieter, simpler, and more stable experiences of the city to be found.
On my thrice-weekly commute across the bay, I get to say hello to the other cyclist who regularly makes for the last car of the train; and if the regular driver is working (I hadn’t quite figured this out when I wrote the previous article, but I realised soon afterwards), I enjoy the warmth of her voice, which reminds me of Viola Davis, as she calls the stations. There are couple of other drivers whose announcing style I recognise, especially the one who likes to leave a dramatic pause: ‘The destination of this train is – – – – Richmond.’ When we emerge from the Trans-Bay tunnel, I always lift my head from my book to see what the skies are doing on the east side of the bay.
Running to Twin Peaks, I enjoy the ravens throwing themselves into the wind, and the comprehensive views across the city, before the rapid descent down steep staircases that take me back to the low-lying street where I live.
Shopping for food (pretty much the only stores I go into regularly), I enjoy seeing the same workers I have seen over the years – especially at Rainbow – and running into people I know, which reminds me that this is a small city.
Of course I don’t always feel spacious enough to enjoy what is going on around me, but when it happens, it always feels like life is rich.
Walking around south of Market last week, catching the light as it falls between the tall buildings.
A view of the Oakland docks on a recent morning, taken from the BART train.
Ravens always seem to rule the roost on Twin Peaks and Mount Sutro.