As I was giving my dharma talk on the solstice, I started by invoking it, and how the darkest time of the year has acted as a time of reflection and renewal across human cultures. I nearly mentioned one of my students, who had told me that week that he had been stressed right through December, but was managing because he could see the holiday break coming.
In a recent writing on one of the five hindrances – sloth and torpor – I expressed that none of us are metronomes, and that energy fluctuates. Sometimes we can give our all, and sometimes we need to step back and let ourselves recover. And of course, our meditation practice is all about getting our body to move towards the rest and repose state.
Overall, my end of year break was deeply relaxing, even if I was very active on a number of occasions. For the last of my runs during my house-sit, I completed a 270 degree survey of the landscape (the other quadrant is where I have ridden through a number of times). I started by heading along Baltimore Canyon again, only this time I turned left to head towards the Blithedale Ridge – and once again came up against a reality the map hadn’t quite prepared me for. The Barbara Springs trail climbed several hundred feet in about a quarter mile, by following alongside a cascading creek. It was as sustainedly steep as anything I can think of around Tassajara, and also involved clambering over tree root systems on soft ground. It was intense and gruelling, and I was glad to see the fire road ahead of me – there I turned and followed it almost along a level, letting my body recover, before it turned around and started climbing towards the ridgeline.
I have long understood fitness, at least as it manifests in running and cycling, as being marked by how well your body recovers from intense effort and is able to continue; as I have got older, this ability has diminished somewhat, but along the fire road I did settle back down into my stride and was able to continue up to the ridge. Though of course, as at Wilbur, the ridge, while being the highest point, is not necessarily flat, and there were some short climbs to take on, with the reward being views through a hazy sunny day, right across Mill Valley to Mount Tam, and, as I approached start of the descent, seeing the rolling folds like theatre scenery at the wings of the stage, curving down to allow open space in the centre – the centre in this case being Richardson Bay.
The descent was the route I had taken up the hill on my first run there in the spring, which, as I went down it, seemed impossible to have climbed. But I had done it, just as I had got up the hill a different way this time. For some reason I was thinking about Tassajara practice periods – they are intense and gruelling, and sometimes impossible to enjoy at the time, or even contemplate how you have managed to get through them – but there is also the amazing effect they have on you afterwards, how all that intensity has left your body and mind in a more grounded place.
This week I took the opportunity of a free morning to ride over the bridge to the Headlands. I know the climb so well, and it is a good place to observe how my body – specifically my legs – respond to the climb from the foot of the bridge by the coastguard station, up the first steeper sections, through the easier mid-section, and then noting how much I am able to give as the road rises again for the last few hundred yards to the top of Hawk Hill. After which the always exhilerating descent on the narrrow road right above the ocean. It was quieter than usual on the Headlands roads that morning, and I appreciated once again that the area had been saved from development.
I felt good after that ride, but I also went out twice on my bike around town through the day, by the end of which I really noticed how much work my legs had done.
Checking in with the same student this week, he was gauging how his body was responding to being back to full-on work mode from a place of having rested. We reflected on paying attention to that level of effort as it becomes normal again.
Riding back from the house-sit on Saturday morning, I stopped to take this picture of the hazy city from the approach to the bridge.
Looking back from the San Francisco end of the bride, the Headlands are rising to the left.