To the Top of the City

Coming into this weekend, I felt like I had a lot of time and space – there was very little on my schedule, though I knew I would have some writing and recording to do. Mostly, with the sun doing its best, I was looking forward to getting some exercise.

Between the summer weather and continuing tendon issues, I have barely been running for months; I don’t remember the last time I ran in the city, though I did make it out on my last two visits to Wilbur. So while my cycling legs are in reasonable shape – I got up to the top of Tam, well above the damp fog, a week ago, and have in mind to get up Diablo before I go to England (again!) – I realised I ought to at least try to get my running legs back so that I can enjoy the runs I typically get to do once I am over there.

It’s also a while since I felt the need to run around a roam route; mostly I am on familiar grounds now. McLaren Park was such an unknown quantity that walking round it with a phone map at hand seemed a better option. For the next roam, while I am well acquainted with the high points of San Francisco, either on foot or on a bike, the open-ended route I had planned took in a few places I wanted some refreshing to get back into my body. So on a sunny afternoon, I took the N-Judah outbound from Duboce Park to Cole Valley, and started trotting, quite slowly and self-consciously, at least until I got on the trails, where it became a matter of tackling what was at hand.

A lot of the climbing is fairly gentle – especially the trails on Mount Sutro, where I was least familiar with the North Ridge trail, which meanders about Medical Center Way to the summit; I also wanted to tackle the new Clarendon connector from the other end to the one I usually come into the mountain from.
I hadn’t planned my food intake very well prior to running, so while my legs were doing okay at the first peak, my blood sugar felt off; luckily I had a bar with me, and in time that took effect, as I sweated up both of the Twin Peaks. And then realised that I was also going to be approaching Mount Davidson from an unfamiliar angle. In the end, I was able to use visual cues – like the covered reservoir – to get me to the entrance on La Bica, and from there to the summit. On the way down, I tried a different trail to the usual one, and ended up at the top of Dalewood, a fearsome road I have not dared to climb on my bike for a few years, and only ever attempted when I was at my fittest. And then it was a short trot to West Portal station, where the T took me back home in a matter of minutes, a little stiff after the exertions.

I only hope that there isn’t a repeat of the McLaren Park roam, which was scouted on a gorgeous day, and then largely fogged in on the day itself.

Mt Sutro woods statue.jpgLooking back at my photos of the woods on Mount Sutro from a few years ago, I noticed how much more overgrown things seemed on my last visit. This water-guardian is much less visible now.

Chan Master Sheng Yen

‘The Sanskrit word for fundamental ignorance, avidya, means ‘not-clear.’ What we are unclear about is the true nature of being – that of no-self, or emptiness.’ (There Is No Suffering)

I quoted this during my class this week, as we discussed the second Bodhisattva vow; ‘Delusions (or desires depending on the translation, which in itself gave rise to a good discussion, or vexations, as Sheng Yen delightfully calls them) are inexhaustible, I vow to end them.’

Lou Hartman

‘You can’t stop your mind – I think we have all realised that. But you can put your butt on a cushion.’ (from an unpublished talk)

I used to love listening to Lou give talks, when he still did. It took me a while to cotton on to the fact that something calamitous always happened before he gave the talk that meant he couldn’t give the talk he originally intended to – some dramatic news story or unexpected event. And a little longer to realise that this was actually his theme – that we couldn’t rely on what we expected to happen, or wanted to.

Lou.jpgDapper even in old age – I’m guessing this is Tassajara in 2003.

A Blast Of Summer Weather

My habit has been to schedule Roaming Zen alternately on Saturdays and Sundays, as some of the regulars had trouble making one or other of those days. Without that, if I had decided to do the last roam on Sunday, it would have been a day of endless blue skies, and far less wind.

These are the kind of days that remind me what a privilege it is to live in San Francisco. I had begun the day with a wedding – my third of the year – officiating for a great young couple in front of their families, in the middle of the redwoods at Roberts Regional Park, up in the east bay hills (just across Skyline from a place where I officiated a wedding about eighteen months ago). It was cool in the trees, but the light was amazing (and too hard to capture on my phone, so I am looking forward to seeing the official photos). It was a light-hearted but touching occasion, and joyfully informal.

Having dropped off the rental car I had used to get me up there, I ended up walking most of the afternoon – from Union Square to MOMA, and the wonderfully absorbing JR Chronicles, to the newly reopened Transbay park, past our Monday sitting location, and back from Mission Creek to the Castro.

On Monday morning, with little motivation needed since the skies were already blue, I took a ride around the city, from the park to the Presidio, Seacliff to Land’s End, with the glorious views coming down to Ocean Beach, and back via Golden Gate Heights (where the previous, solstice-flavoured roam had ended – though if it had been as clear and warm then, we would have lingered on Grand View longer) and a final challenging climb up Medical Center way, past the trails the next roam will follow. While the Monday morning commute was in full effect, some parts of the city were blessedly peaceful and traffic-free.

Shade was a sought-after commodity come the lunch-time sit; we shared our usual place under the olive tree with a posse of toddlers and their carers, who barely added to the overall hubbub of the city. I was actually glad of the shelter and the breeze as the hour wore on. I realised that next week will be our second anniversary of offering the sit, so if you are local and have ever thought about joining us, it would be a perfect time to do that.

IMG_0542.jpgThe light was too complex for the iPhone…

IMG_0550.jpgMy little altar set-up in the midst of the redwoods.

DSCF8718.jpgSuch clouds as there were reflected in yet another SOMA high-rise.


Blue skies and bougainvilla in the Mission.

GG Heights 14th.jpgRiding these roads on Monday morning, I remembered seeing these pictures from their construction less than a hundred years ago (thanks to as so often)

Suzuki Roshi

‘We are studying now the sutra of the sixth patriarch, in the evening lecture, and PRAJNA (this is of course Sanskrit word) we mean, wisdom, but this wisdom is not intellect, or knowledge. This wisdom is so-called our inmost nature, which is always in incessant activity. Zazen practice is to — wisdom seeking for wisdom is zazen practice, if I use technical term. Wisdom seeks wisdom is zazen practice, and our everyday life is wisdom. Realization of our precepts is our everyday life. When wisdom — When our everyday life is based on wisdom we call it precepts. When we sit, we do not do anything; we just sit. There’s no activity of our mind. We just sit and all what we do is taking inhaling and exhaling. Sometimes you will hear some birds singing, but that is not actually — you are not hearing. Your ears will hear it. You are not hearing it. Just, you know, sound come, and you will make some response to it, that is all. This kind of practice is called “wisdom seeks for wisdom”.’ (from the Suzuki Roshi Archives)

The Morning Schedule

In the end, I woke up very early on Saturday morning, bothered by back pain, so I had no reason not to get up and go to Zen Center. I arrived just as the han started, and the ino showed me to a seat next to Bryan (one of the few changes since I left is the way that all the seats are assigned to residents, as they are at Tassajara).

I settled with the familiar flow of the instruments and the jundo, marvelling at how fifty people can be so quiet together, even as the traffic noises from Oak rose and fell in traffic-light-induced waves. Upstairs at service I noticed how I still want all my movements to be crisp and tidy – and that mostly happened – my memory of the forms is still etched in my body.

There were a few smiles and raised eyebrows at my presence, and, once we started talking at breakfast, some words of surprise and appreciation that I had joined the schedule. It was certainly nice to be among friends.  I may even do it again soon. And then I went off to offer the zazen instruction, which seemed to go pretty well, and later went across town for the roam.

When I had scouted the route last Saturday, it had been warm and sunny, though the wind had been fierce – for the roam itself, the fog had descended right across town, which meant we could not see far in most directions; sitting up at the water tower, fog poured through the trees at speed, though there was warmth and shelter in the lower parts of the park, and a little sun at the Bayshore end where we sat peacefully above the houses and the water. The sounds of the city were muted, but there was a continual soundtrack of hawks mewing, mostly as they seemed to be being harassed by gangs of ravens.

IMG_0534.jpgThe fog rolls over San Bruno Mountain, while Visitacion Valley and Cow Palace are clear.


With this and that I tried to keep the bucket together,
And then the bottom fell out.
Where water does not collect,
The moon does not dwell.

Chiyono is the last name chanted in Zen Center’s list of women ancestors, though she lived in the 13th century. This poem is quoted in The Hidden Lamp, where reference is made to this decorous print by Yoshitoshi:


Zazen Instruction

While I was at the Gen X conference recently, I had a long chat with Zen Center’s new abbot David Z, who I have known since I moved to San Francisco – we moved into City Center at about the same time, and then moved down to Tassajara at the same time a couple of years later; after which, he stayed put, practised and worked hard, while I came and went.

He encouraged me to spend more time at City Center, not just coming to teach, as I did on Tuesday for the first of my classes, but also to sit, and that made a lot of sense. Apart from the Genzo-e a couple of years ago, I haven’t really done that at all – most of my sitting these days is either outside, or with my students, or when I am teaching.

Since I was due to give the zazen instruction today, it seemed like a good time to give it a try, even though I also have a roam in the afternoon, and I am officiating a wedding tomorrow morning, so it is a busy weekend. And I noticed a little resistance, especially to setting an alarm; I am often awake early enough to make the Saturday morning sitting, even including the walk over, but I found myself giving myself permission not to get up. Not sleeping well on Thursday night added to the sense of resistance…

I’ll let you know what ended up happening.