Roaming Zen

I was just reading about WalkSF’s Stair Challenge (they are a wonderful organisation working to keep the city safe for us as we navigate it on foot), and realised that it intersected with some of the popular roam that we have done a few times around Russian Hill. It seemed a good opportunity to try the route again – and again, in a slightly remixed version (don’t worry, all the highlights are still there).

This is a shorter route than some, but we more than make up for distance with the elevation involved – up and down Russian Hill, with a plenty of climbing to go with the quiet alleys (more and less famous), and parks with views.

For this one we meet at the Maritime Museum on Beach St – the side facing away from the water – at the usual time of 1:30 on Saturday 3rd June. 

One of my favourite hidden spots in the city.

After that, I have roams lined up on June 9th and 11th and July 1st. Future dates will likely include July 9th and 22nd.

On June 9th we will wander around Bernal Heights in all its many forms. Meet by the buildings on the Treat St side of Garfield Square at 3:00 on Friday. Then we will take in the Sutro baths and Mile Rock beach; meet outside Andytown Coffee at the plaza at 800 Great Highway at 1:30 on Sunday 11th. On the 30th we will start from the Visitacion Valley Library on Leland St to visit the greenway, McLaren Park and Bayview Hill.

The view of Land’s End from a plane – Mile Rock beach is this little spot ^

‘Shundo David Haye has probably walked through more parts of San Francisco than you have.’ I’ll take that endorsement – it came from this nice article in  the SF Chronicle at the beginning of the pandemic.

Camille, who I have known through Zen Center for more than twenty years, had a lovely piece on Roaming Zen published in the Bold Italic.

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The lost art of writing copy 2Corona Heights – the first picture I used to promote Roaming Zen.

IMG_6671Views to the Farallons from this little-known park.


Quartermaster Reach at the end of the Tennessee Hollow watershed.

A spectacular afternoon on and above Ocean Beach.

If you need some prompts as to the benefits of roaming, here are a trio of articles from the Guardian: 
Two-hour ‘dose’ of nature significantly boosts health – study
Woodland sounds help relaxation more than meditation apps – study
Blue spaces: why time spent near water is the secret of happiness

All of which is achievable without leaving the city limits!

And this from the New Yorker:

A small but growing collection of studies suggests that spending time in green spaces—gardens, parks, forests—can rejuvenate the mental resources that man-made environments deplete. Psychologists have learned that attention is a limited resource that continually drains throughout the day. A crowded intersection—rife with pedestrians, cars, and billboards—bats our attention around. In contrast, walking past a pond in a park allows our mind to drift casually from one sensory experience to another, from wrinkling water to rustling reeds.

Or, to put a name to it, Attention Restoration Theory.

The genesis for Roaming Zen was perhaps my shuso practice period at Tassajara, where I noticed that I derived as much energy from being on the trails or up the road, among the trees and by the creek, as I did from the hours in the zendo. It was also crystalised by a visit to Tassajara with a group from Young Urban Zen a year or two later: after the days of work, a group of us set off for a hike along the Horse Pasture trail, and at one stage, hearing all the talk of people’s pre-occupations and mundane affairs, someone in the group asked if we could all hike in silence for a while and properly take in the surroundings. Afterwards, the agreed verdict was that the silence had transformed the hike.
And so, having tried versions of it at City Center, Green Gulch and Tassajara, one of my favourite things to do these days is to gather a small group of people, sit with them, maybe introduce a little quote or theme, and lead them around a chosen route, cultivating mindful presence through walking and sitting quietly in the midst of city life.
There are so many little corners of San Francisco that lend themselves to the activity, surrounded by beauty, views, and sometimes quiet. We have visited forests, hills and canyons, creeks and beaches, staircases and alleys, lakes and hidden parks; we have listened to birds and waves, watched butterflies, bees and coyotes, smelled flowers and ocean spray. We have looked over all sides of San Francisco and to the mountains beyond.

I like to give credit to OpenStreetMap, for featuring much more detail in paths and trails than I ever get from Apple Maps or Google Maps – I would not have found some of these routes without it – and FoundSF/OpenSF History for filling me in on what used to be in the places we visit.

27 Tassajara.jpgLeading the way along the Horse Pasture Trail near Tassajara, summer 2019. Photo courtesy of April Nemeth.

IMG_20191026_130458.jpgLeading the way up the Smelter Trail at Wilbur in October 2019. Photo courtesy of Laura Della Guardia.

image2 copy.JPGCloser to home, leading a group around the Presidio.