Sunday, July 15, 2012

Up A Mountain, On The Ground

Just like when I used to take myself up the road to the ridge the day after a sesshin at Tassajara, after yesterday's sitting I took myself up Mt Tam this morning; there was a similar reward as well (see the last picture here), in getting above the greyness that had been unremittingly firm in the city and had rolled damply over the road at Throckmorton Ridge, into an entirely different climate with endless blue skies above. It was still early, so the roads were quiet, and at the top of the mountain, I had three mountain hares, a lizard and a skyful of swallows for company, as well as a handful of other riders.
It is familiar terrain for me, which helps, and I had confidence in my legs, having been building up my form since I got back from England - especially having been up Mount Diablo ten days ago, which is like Tam, but more so.
There are several distinct sections of the climb up from Mill Valley, each with its particular joys and challenges; the key to a successful climb is meeting each of them appropriately, without losing a sense of how far you still have to go. There is no way up a mountain on a bike except under your own power - no-one else can get you up there. Even at the summit you are not done - the road continues, drops down and back up a couple of times, causing tricky changes in rhythm, and the final ramp up to the last car park is the steepest and hardest section of the entire climb - as it is on Diablo, only more so there.
At the top, apart from basking for a while in the warmth, there is nothing to do but go back down, which might be easier on the legs, but requires its own effort of continued concentration as you manoeuvre the bike around tight downhill corners, balancing speed and safety, and the heat turns back into cool moist air. At the bottom again, riding along the bikeway to Sausalito, everything seems flat and simple, and it is hard to believe you have just been up and down a mountain.

It's hard for me to say anything about yesterday's sitting and the beginning of the retreat. I know that Teah gave a beautiful talk, and that the group sat well together with a peaceful schedule, but I spent the day in a cloud of my own suffering. I had come to realise that I had to let go of something I had been cherishing since the end of last year, and it hurt. It was a sharp and salutary reminder that all conditioned phenomena are unreliable and unworthy of confidence, but no comfort was forthcoming. Rosalie checked in with me after lunch and kindly asked if I wanted to continue in the ino seat, but, as painful and slow as the day was in the zendo, it would have been worse not to do anything.
I was surprised, then, after this day of sitting and silence and heaviness, to wake up feeling completely grounded this morning, especially since I have been getting re-acquainted with several wee small hours of the night this past week. It was not a conscious effort on my part, but the fact of it made me feel that I had made the right decision; just like it says in all the books, letting go of desire can be the most beneficial thing, and it was so relaxing after recent striving and clinging. I am grateful that the practice allows shifts like this to manifest, whatever happens further down the road.

San Francisco from the slopes of Tam - today, only the very top of the Mount Sutro tower was visible above the fog

Likewise, the ocean was not to be seen today - one of my favourite corners of the road
P.S. Mike, this may not have been what you had in mind, but it is what came up...


Ruth said...

Nothing like the clarity you get on the top of a mountain.

Shundo said...

And how about when you get down again?
Where have you been hiding, anyway? I hope you are having fun.

Ruth said...

Hopefully it's still with you when you get back down again.

I'm all good... living not hiding :-)

Look out for me in SF in 2013.

Shundo said...

So I hear