Tending Each Moment

After last week’s relatively dreary weather, it has been wonderful to experience the temperatures rising, and the skies clearing in San Francisco. This feels like the unfurling of spring, fully manifested by the beautiful snapdragon on our deck. The birds have been abundant, with, in recent days, the robins loudest of all in the nearby trees. The moon has appeared, half full, in the bright morning sky. All reminders of other cycles continuing, as we remain mostly sequestered, with no exit strategy being laid out yet.

I continue to sit every day, with Core, with Zachary (on the deck this week, where I sweltered), with the group in Hebden Bridge (and elsewhere) again this week. I will be giving a talk for the group next week. These sittings, this watching of the small signs of spring, and some hours spent riding my bike are my way of taking care of myself in these unprecedented times. I feel lucky that I know nobody in my immediate circle who is sick, and San Francisco feels at a remove from the intense crises being played out elsewhere.

Still, the news is hard to endure. I find my appetite for updates slowly shrinking, but have read many things worth spending time over: a rousing editorial for the ages in the New York Times; Zadie Smith’s corruscating take on things in the US; thoughts about mental well-being, a wider ecological view; and, if you want to change the scale of your perception entirely, a quick look at how the universe might have had some luck in being formed the way it has.

Most moving of all for me, though, was this interview with Jack Kornfield. i have heard him speak on several occasions, but here he seems to articulate beautifully all the reasons why Buddhist practice is a way to keep ourselves going no matter what is happening to us – by noticing how we tend each moment.

IMG_3652.jpgThe view downtown from Twin Peaks on Monday afternoon.

IMG_3644Blossoms in the city.

IMG_3678.jpgThe snapdragon a week on – no sign of the hummingbirds feeding from it yet.

More Sitting, More Breathing

‘Courage is the ability to be fearful in proportion to the actual danger that exists, while still being able to overcome it through the depths of one’s character and commitment to higher ideals’ (Dale S. Wright – The Six Perfections)

‘If you are sad and frightened, it is a sign that you care, that you are connected in spirit’  (Rebecca Solnit in the Guardian)

As I posted on Instagram yesterday, these might appear to be contradictory messages, but in the flux where we always find ourselves, especially now, they can both be held at the same time.

I find myself pondering the candy-like appeal of Instagram. I have amassed about a third of the number of followers there in two weeks as I have in four and a half years on here. I don’t think I am ready to give up this daily practice yet, but I don’t want to just repeat myself across forums; so I imagine I will continue to use this to stretch a little – since there isn’t much room for word count on Instagram.

I sat three times yesterday. First up was my 8am session on Instagram: I landed in it a little stressed as my internet had been very fuzzy beforehand, and I was worried that the connection would drop. As happened a couple of weeks ago when I knocked over my water bottle all over my cushion and the floor right before going live, I used my own instructions and the breath practice to settle myself down. It was one of those sessions like I sometimes have at Wilbur where I get to the end not really being sure of what I have just said.

Later in the morning, I dialled in to the Hebden Bridge online sit; it was lovely to see a number of familiar people from around the UK who were joining in, and I think they were mostly surprised and please to see me. When Rebecca rang the bell, I found myself surprised that most of the participants turned around and had their backs to the camera. I stayed where I was, as that is how we have done it on Mondays and in my student group; softly gazing at the quilt of more than twenty different backdrops, and listening to the digital gamelan that was burbling over the noise gate.

I ducked out before they conducted their well-being ceremony, to support my Core colleague in the midday sit, and to sit with the Core device, as part of my effort to do their April thirty-day meditation challenge. I started with their suggested minimum of three minutes last week, because it’s not hard to squeeze three minutes into any kind of day, but I am going to aim for at least ten minutes when I can. Considering how many hours I have sat over the years, it’s not so much of a challenge.

Since the rain had moved on, I got out on my bike in the afternoon, for the first time since last Friday, and it was good to get my body moving, and to feel the strain somewhere other than my lungs. It has been colder than I would have expected for the time of year, and with the general seclusion, it feels like winter is dragging on. Nevertheless, signs of spring are all around us, and, as has been widely noticed, the sound of bird song is much more noticable now that the volume of traffic is way down – which I am enjoying, once again, as much as anything.

IMG_3261.jpgWe are encouraging plenty of bird activity on our deck.

DSCF2928.jpgAnd we hope the hummingbirds will enjoy this when it blooms fully.

IMG_3493.jpgPoppies growing down by the Caltrain tracks at Bayshore.

The Illusory Body Is The Dharma Body

Camus’ La Peste was part of my French syllabus at high school; as such it had a pretty strong influence on my teenage thinking, and thus a lingering effect on how I see the world. It is interesting to see it quoted so often in the press now. One recent reference that stuck with me was that of the meaninglessness of the plague.

I think this is a part of why we find the time of virus so unsettling: we are reluctantly confronted with this, and with our essential powerlessness in the face of nature (as strongly outlined by Barbara Ehrenreich in the New Yorker recently) and we don’t know what to make of it.

For a lot of this week I found myself continuing to feel listless, unable to fully land with the fragmentary nature of everything. Perhaps a part of this is feeling that I am spread between many different platforms. I reach out to people on email, text, Slack, WhatsApp, Zoom; there is this; my occasional Patreon updates; now there is Instagram, where I seem to be accumulating followers in the Zen Center orbit (one of whom said he was switching from unread-by-him emails of these posts to following me on Instagram).

And, as the quote from the Shodoka I titled this piece with reminds us, this is the truth of the reality we are in. Sometimes good, sometimes shaky. Nothing is excluded. There is nothing else.

I have enjoyed several bike rides this week, with my lungs feeling more normal, and wonder how the bright – if a little chilly and windy – weather of this week will somehow transform into another weekend of rain.

I wait for an hour in line to get food at Rainbow, having not wanted to do that the day before, but the mood is mostly relaxed. I start to wonder why people are in a hurry to get anywhere. I wonder what I can use as a mask the next time I go out.

New routines continue. I will teach another couple of sessions on Instagram for Core during the week, as well as offering the lunchtime sit on Monday. I continue to post routes for hikes you can take by yourself – the next one up will be a bicycle version. I am glad to be able to offer teachings when I can, and hope that people take the opportunity to develop a practice they might not have been inclined to otherwise.

And, doing that selling and promoting thing which does not come naturally to me:

Should you be tempted, you can get a Core trainer with a discount using the code SITWITHSHUNDO, which as these things do, benefits you, me and them.

Simple Habit, for whom I have recorded many sessions, have made their content freely available for the time being. If you want to make the most of that, input the following link: https://www.simplehabit.com/redeem/UQGMTFLB. You will be asked to create an account if you haven’t already. Download the app and enjoy! The free trial will then be applied to your mobile app as well (ios and Android) Please note, the redeem link ONLY works on the web. Please do not try to input your code in the app.

Some articles I have bookmarked this week: how not to stress about being unproductive (which definitely applies to me); what kinds of exposure are actually most dangerous; and what these times show us about the society we live in.

I hope you are all keeping well, and staying sane.

IMG_3228.jpgA couple of different slopes from recent bike rides: Twin Peaks Boulevard, now closed to cars, looking towards downtown.

OvpjbU66QIG23Lpl3p62FQ_thumb_1543.jpgCallan Boulevard in Daly City, looking across to Mount Tam.

Sitting And Breathing

The rain passed through the city over the weekend, as it did a couple of weekends ago, as the slowdown was starting. That, of course, seems a long time ago.

Most days, I feel like I end up spending too much time sitting down. I am sure this was true of my life hitherto, but it seems more evident when we are not moving from place to place during the day. I remember the man who used to walk up and down Oxford Street decades ago, with his placard urging less sitting (along with less protein); and of the quote I stored from Hui-neng: ‘sitting all the time constricts the body.’

And so I try to go out – riding or walking. Doing so, I found that any strong effort brought about a recurrence of the feeling of congestion and weakness in my lungs, something that has been lingering through the month. Happily, a long sleep on Saturday, and a gentle ride on Sunday once the rain had moved on left me feeling a little better, though I am still wary – and things being how they are, do not expect to be able to find out what it is that I have.

Still, sitting and breathing is what we do. This week I will be offering much the same as before in terms of teaching and encouragement, in the continued hope that it helps people:

Zachary and I will be hosting a sitting on Zoom, Monday lunchtime – details are here.

I will be live on Instagram with Core Studio on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings, 8am. It is open to everyone, you don’t need the Core trainer, but, should you be tempted, you can get one with a discount using the code SITWITHSHUNDO, which as these things do, benefits you, me and them.

And if you want to take to the streets in a socially responsible way, I have now posted routes for three roams, which you can find here, here, and here.

The best article I have read in recent days was another piece in the New Yorker on the traits of the virus. Definitely not fake news. And I finished the Hilary Mantel, so am now trying to decide what to occupy myself reading next.

60695602151__DC0EBA71-FC2B-404B-9811-ADDEC3C3929D.jpgDark clouds appeared on Thursday afternoon.

IMG_3173.jpgOut to get food as the rain headed north on Saturday afternoon.

IMG_3179.jpgIt’s that ship again – still moored in the Bay. Seen from Heron’s Head on Sunday after the rain had gone.

IMG_3186.jpgIslais Creek as it re-emerges before flowing into the bay; Twin Peaks and the Sutro tower behind the freeways.

Connection

‘I should dispel the suffering of others because it is suffering like my own suffering. I should help others too because of their nature as beings, which is like my own being.’ (Shantideva)

I had a whole month’s worth of posts lined up to cover the time I was due to be in England. Now I comb through them to see which ones still feel helpful during this time. Some of the harder-edged, or more abstract stuff does not feel to me to speak to what I imagine we need to hear.

In the midst of the disruptions and the lack of mobility, I notice how much I try to find ways to be useful, to be able to connect, or find words to offer people. And of course I need them myself. Leading the Core meditations on Instagram – words I never thought I would type –  I find myself relaxing (though knocking over a full water bottle right before I was due to go live on Monday did not help me start the session relaxed). I have felt supported by, and connected to, the invisible audience there; and just as much when I follow the other teachers leading their sessions. Sitting with Zachary on Zoom, joined by new and regular people on this new forum; meeting with my student group on the same screens – these are the connections we have now, not as nourishing as real, face-to-face interactions, but better than isolation. I offer up routes for roams in the hope that people will enjoy a solitary hike, as I appreciate the value of being immersed in nature.

My daily rides ended on Sunday: I rode up to Crystal Springs, and down to San Bruno; since I found myself so close, I took to the Bay Trail again, in the opposite direction. But once home, I felt tired. On Monday, after we sat, I set off for Rainbow, but seeing the lines, decided against waiting out in the cold wind. A headache developed, and during the night my body and my dreams suggested that my temperature might be rising slightly, again. I rested for much of Tuesday – apart from leading the morning meditation, and then going to Rainbow after the rain broke for a while. The line was forty minutes or so, but inside was quiet with the low number of shoppers inside. One roll of toilet paper was allowed per person, so I took my share. Then it started raining again on the way home.

I try not to spend all day looking for updates online; most of what I read is not uplifting, and there is the sense that we really don’t know how long we are going to be going through this unusual phase of our lives. A few articles have stood out, though: one on the perils of social isolation, such as we contemplate now, one on the benefits of connection with nature, and one from a pregnant nurse, a bodhisattva in action. And, just in time, once of my favourite distractions, not least for the soundscapes it offers, has come to life again: the osprey cam from Scotland. That cycle continues, unabated.

IMG_3042.jpgUpper Crystal Springs Reservoir from the trail on Sunday.

IMG_3047.jpgIt was warmer down by the bay  – the fishermen were not sheltering in place, but they were keeping good distances.

Dominion and the Rate of Change

The weekend ended up feeling tremendously long. I had kept my calendar clear as I had anticipated doing the kinds of things I have generally done before one of my trips to the UK – finishing up writings, organising and cleaning, resting ahead of the overnight flight – and so I found myself with nothing I needed to do. Since it rained – finally – much of the time, I had little incentive to be outside.

The lack of football was notable: I freely acknowledge that this is a way I ‘narcotise’, to use a term that illuminates a tendency most of us have, to want to tune out for a while, to rest the mind in something diverting and unchallenging. Between watching matches and reading about them, I can let hours of a slow weekend enjoyably go by.

I did not attempt to do some of the writing I have due. Instead I went out to the bookstore up the road to pick up the latest Hilary Mantel book, and, since I had the time and space for it, had a good old-fashioned binge-watch, rewatching the six televised episodes to remind myself of the characters and the plots from the previous books that I read avidly when they came out. Having done that, I dived into the book itself.

The setting is resonant, in that it is a part of English history that is taught and focused on in schools.  I also appreciated a review that underscored not just the huge fundamental shifts in religious practices that were occurring at the time, but how – no doubt intimately connected – Europe was shifting to a mercantile model that created the conditions for the consequent colonisation of most of the rest of the world.

And, fittingly for this time of pandemic, my attention was drawn again to the losses that the characters suffer due to illness. Reading about the sweating sickness that devastates Cromwell’s family reminded me that things now, however grim and fear-inducing they may be, with many losses to be endured, could be so much worse. Death was always so close at hand then; in our world we have tried so hard to distance it.

On Monday I rode to Rainbow to buy my groceries; it was an entirely different scene to how it had been last week: many empty shelves, gloves, masks, much of the bulk section closed off. Nobody was panic-buying there, but I had never seen so many people in the store on a Monday; the cashier said it had been like that for the past few days. We were encouraged to stay a cart-length away from each other, and I tentatively navigated my way around, and found most of what I wanted to get. This is now the new normal, and I idly wonder to myself if those of us who practise around the understanding of constant change are perhaps less likely to be unbalanced by it as it happens.

And then, even just after I had got back home and added the paragraph above to a post otherwise already written, we got news of the ‘shelter in place‘ order. A new, new normal. I am trying to figure if the prohibition on ‘non-essential travel “on foot, bicycle, scooter, automobile or public transit’ will indeed overrule the permission to get exercise. I guess I will find out soon enough. Apart from that, I can’t say I am alarmed at the prospect – another benefit of the years of monastic training.

Of the other reading I did, some disparate strands of thinking began to pull together a little. As before, I will leave the strands unfinished:

‘A young woman asked Dr. Gagliano how her scientific work had changed her understanding of the world. “The main difference is that I used to live in a world of objects, and now I live in a world of subjects,” she said. There were murmurs of approval. “And so, I am never alone.”’ (from the New York Times)

Having finished Jenny Odell’s excellent book as well over the weekend, there were many notions that added to the subjects I have been wanting to address (and will write about soon):

‘I read for the first time about “species loneliness,” the melancholy alienation of humans from other life forms. Kimmer writes, “I’m trying to imagine what it would be like going through life not knowing the names of the plants and animals around you. Given who I am [a member of the Citizen Potawatome Nation] and what I do, I can’t know what that’s like, but I think it would be a little scary and disorienting – like being lost in a foreign city where you can’t read the street signs” She adds that “[a]s our human dominance has grown, we have become more isolated, more lonely when we can no longer call out to our neighbors.”‘

An article in The Guardian over the weekend offered many thoughts that aligned with this:

‘“It’s wonderful when it occurs; people in distress find that encounters with the natural world do restore them,” says [Richard] Mabey. But two things concern him about the concept of a nature cure. “I’m worried that it’s become mooted as a kind of panacea – green Prozac. And if there’s anything wrong you just go out and look at the pretty flowers and you’re going to be marvellous. That’s a tall order if the natural world is in a state of crisis with the insect apocalypse and British songbirds collapsing all around us. There is also a danger that therapeutic nature becomes another way in which nature is reduced to service provider. The foregrounding of us being the centre of attention, the central agents of change and growth, all form part of a mindset that I think is obsolete. We need to rethink where we stand in relation to all these other organisms and what the transactions are between us, and stop saying they are all for our benefit, even though most of them probably are.”’

‘But [Lucy Jones] is aware that “the medicalisation of nature” also “demonstrates that we still see ourselves as takers and overseers, the authority figures, rather than being on an equal footing with the rest of nature”’

The New Yorker had a piece about epidemics and human behaviour (and human history):

‘Epidemics are a category of disease that seem to hold up the mirror to human beings as to who we really are. That is to say, they obviously have everything to do with our relationship to our mortality, to death, to our lives. They also reflect our relationships with the environment—the built environment that we create and the natural environment that responds. They show the moral relationships that we have toward each other as people, and we’re seeing that today.

That’s one of the great messages that the World Health Organization keeps discussing. The main part of preparedness to face these events is that we need as human beings to realize that we’re all in this together, that what affects one person anywhere affects everyone everywhere, that we are therefore inevitably part of a species, and we need to think in that way rather than about divisions of race and ethnicity, economic status, and all the rest of it.’

I have been thinking of the term ‘dominion’, that many parts of the human world have assumed we have over the natural world, and how, really, we have very little control over much of what happens. Right now, a virus has dominion over us, everywhere. We are all in this together.

The last word, to Wendell Berry, from the Guardian article.

“Whether we or our politicians know it or not, Nature is party to all our deals and decisions, and she has more votes, a longer memory, and sterner sense of justice than we do.”

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IMG_2876.jpgOn Friday, before the rain came and set in for much of the weekend, I set out on my bike for a gentle ride, and ended up exploring new-to-me parts of the Bay Trail towards the airport. It was amazing to be riding on a creekside path right underneath the intersection of the 101 and the 380, to see the ducks and egret going about their business, and to smell the abundance of flowering ceanothus, even stronger than the fumes of traffic.

Alternative Scenarios

The past two Sundays in the Bay Area have been marked by strong winds.

On the first of these Sundays, having seen the forecast, I knew I would not be comfortable riding over the bridge. So I headed south, and positively flew down Great Highway, which had been closed again for a race, with the tail wind. Of course, on the way back up from the Peninsula, as I remember from the very first time I road up Camino Real, heading into the teeth of a wind funneling down between the hills is no fun. I did my best this time around by heading for the bay shore, more in the lee of San Bruno Mountain, and it was not so grim.

Our Embarcadero sit the next day was challenging for everybody, with the north wind cutting through many layers of clothes, unmitigated by the sunshine. I was glad to ride home vigourously and get somewhere sheltered.

Last weekend I was up at Wilbur. The wind overnight on Saturday had kept the temperatures above freezing, but again there was little warmth in the sun. Sitting on the yoga deck, the plastic sheeting rippled and a part of the frame was banging. Back in the city, the wind had brought warm air, so I did the Monday sit in a t-shirt and felt pretty toasty. Afterwards, I did a meditation in a meeting room which always has noisy air-conditioning. In my closing observations I returned to words I had used at Wilbur on Sunday: the mind is always apt to create alternative scenarios. Wouldn’t it be better if it were ten degrees warmer or not as windy? Or, in the latter case, wouldn’t it be nicer to sit outside in the warm sun? And along with that, how we impose our ideas on the circumstances of the moment: the wind is too disturbing; the air-conditioner is too noisy. Instead of pushing things away, or shutting them out, can we just let conditions be as they are?

One of the participants in the latter session asked how we can do that. Staying engaged and curious, a continuous opening rather than closing, was the response I came up with. I might need to bring these stories to another session I am doing this week, as part of a team-building off-site, where I have been told that harmonising the group is the priority.

I had had a preliminary engagement with this topic on Saturday morning, when it had been clear and frosty at Wilbur (I would say I left the city under clear skies, but unlike at Wilbur, there was the typical low-hanging brown haze visible around the bay as I drove up). I was setting up the cushions, and the cold of the floor of the deck reminded me of all the hours on the engawa – the walkway around the zendo – at Tassajara, whether I was playing one of the instruments, or waiting as part of an oryoki serving crew on biting winter mornings. That was really a practice of making the unwanted wanted (I forgot that I had brought this up in connection with Wilbur): this was the reality of being at Tassajara (just as the cold deck was the reality of being at Wilbur on Saturday), so how are you going to meet it?

DSCF2193.jpgReally clear skies on the way into Wilbur on Friday afternoon.

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DSCF2251.jpgI enjoyed spending time with Frank on Friday afternoon, and, as a cat should, he was enjoying the late sunshine.

DSCF2287.jpgThe full moon setting on Sunday morning.

DSCF2267.jpgThe bathhouse was steaming away in the freezing temperatures on Saturday morning.

The Quiet Of The City

Even though it was the last day of January, it was warm in San Francisco yesterday. I had the chance to go for a quick ride in the early morning; at that hour it was still chilly and misty, but, taking a turn around Stow Lake, the sun burst through and it was exhilarating to behold. As much as I enjoy long hard outings on my bike, I am also loving opportunities for short rides in the quieter parts of the city, and, heading up towards Grand View, I left all sense of the morning rush hour behind. Working my way across to Twin Peaks, I got to look down on the mist; there were only a handful of the tallest buildings downtown showing above it, and to the south, I had the sense of the river valleys that the city used to be.

This glorious moment was slightly spoiled when I ran over some glass and my rear tyre deflated rapidly, but I had the wherewithal to fix that, and of course the two riders who passed by checked to see if I needed help.

Later in the day I got to ride over to have lunch at Fort Mason, and took the scenic route through the Presidio and along the waterfront, surprised to still hear the foghorns from the bridge as the mist had all burned off elsewhere. Once again, I was a long way from any cars; there were walkers, joggers, tourists on bikes heading to the bridge, and everyone was relaxed.

DSCF2139.jpgJoyfully quiet riding along Crissy Field.

DSCF2143.jpgLooking over the last sliver of fog to Angel Island from Crissy Field.

On the way back I took a route that allowed me to ride up Market St; this week, the big local news was the closing of Market Street to cars. I had ridden down it with a group from the Bicycle Coalition on Monday morning to preview the changes. On Wednesday – the first day the closure came into effect – heading to the new Core Studio to teach, I had the opportunity to ride on it four times; the first, when it was still dark, in the serendipitous company of a long-time Coalition volunteer who told me he had been commuting down Market for 27 years – I can only boast twenty. I also chose to take it on Thursday: needing to stop for groceries on the way back from the East Bay, I opted for the Trader Joe’s at 4th St, so I could ride back west along Market. Once the little knot of cyclists and scooters I was with had passed the usual Tenderloin bustle, what I noticed, apart from the relaxation, was the lack of noise, with no cars moving within a couple of blocks – it felt like being out in the middle of the night. I have written about the volume aspect before – and it feels like a major component in the improvement that isn’t necessarily being spoken about so much.

DSCF2168.jpgThis is actually where the westbound car-free section ends, but I had been following this sharp-looking cyclist for a while on Friday, and love the view up towards Twin Peaks as well.

Of course not everyone is happy about the decision. If you really want to spend a chunk of time reading some entrenched positions, I can recommend this thread. In it, I was rather surprised to see someone claim that the streets were originally built for cars, which displays broad historical ignorance. Indeed, this week the local paper had highlighted an 1896 demonstration by cyclists to have better riding conditions on that very street. And I was happy to have an excuse to delve into the archive at Open SF History, which provided plenty of material – though I can imagine most of these scenes would have their own amount of noise.

http://opensfhistory.org/Display/wnp37.03790.jpg

http://opensfhistory.org/Display/wnp71.1950.jpg

http://opensfhistory.org/Display/wnp24.330a.jpg

http://opensfhistory.org/Display/wnp100.10001.jpg

I am hoping that today’s roam up Mount Davidson will also benefit from quiet streets and locations away from the bustle, as well as continued sunshine. I am also looking forward to a quiet city on Sunday as the 49ers play in the Super Bowl; last time that happened, there was a noticeable lack of activity out and about, much as I remember in London when England were playing in the World Cup. Perhaps I will get some more happy and peaceful miles on my bike.

By The Numbers

This isn’t a running blog (or a cycling one), even if I tend to get likes from some quarters every time I talk about my running practice. Reading this article about Strava the other day really got me thinking, though:

‘Richard Askwith, a British writer and fell runner, is the author of Running Free, a book about the over-commercialisation and datafication of running. He gave up running with a smartwatch years ago. “I think if I was constantly wanting to tell other people about my runs I would be losing out on the experience of the run itself. If you’re running off-road, then you’re inhabiting your environment and you’re sensing how your step feels and you’re thinking about where your next step is going to go. Then if you want to think about how much effort you’re putting in, you just sort put your foot on the pedal a bit, but it’s all subjectively measured.”’

Most of my running years were definitely analogue ones; I would keep track of my times on various courses, in terms of noting what time I left and what time I returned, and hoped to stay within certain parameters. In my college years, my criterion for being entirely happy with my fitness was being able to run ten miles in less than seventy minutes – with the routes generally not being completely flat – and not feel completely wiped out afterwards. In the last of the three marathons I ran, in London, I know what the official time at the end said, but I was also aware that it had taken me almost ten minutes to get over the starting line, since those were the days before personal transponders.

My very first ‘racing bike’, which I got when I was eleven, had a mechanical speedometer on it, and I spent several years tracking my speed as I rode to and from the nearest towns – in ways that probably did not enhance my safety. This was also true of the computer I had on my commuting bike in London, where I kept an eye on my average speed, and hoped for a series green lights over the five miles (I think my record time set on a homeward journey was at 6am after a night-shift at the BBC). On my road bike, I tended to clock segments – how quickly did it take me to climb Box Hill, or later, the climbs from Highway 1 to the Ridge on Mount Tam, or to the summit of Tam or Diablo?

So I am very aware of the lure of quantification, even though I eventually let it go: I was only ever competing against myself, and at the age when I figured I wouldn’t be getting any faster, I lost interest in that.

These days, both with running and cycling, I am happy to set myself a course and see how I do: can I get over Mount Davidson on a run? How do I feel as I tackle the Headlands? I like to challenge myself still, but I am very glad not to be in thrall to the competitiveness Strava offers. As the quote above suggests, there is being in the moment, and there is being focused on something else, and the former is everything my practice has taught me – both in running and in meditation (and the running and riding came first, of course!)

Rest and Repose

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.

Lastly a plug for Bryan’s recent talk at City Center, which touches on effort and no-effort in ways that I have been musing about. As usual, I think he nails it.

IMG_2205Riding back from the house-sit on Saturday morning, I stopped to take this picture of the hazy city from the approach to the bridge.

IMG_2209Looking back from the San Francisco end of the bride, the Headlands are rising to the left.