Sunday, August 5, 2012

It Is Possible To Illustrate This With More Analogies

At a time when riding up Mt Tam seems straightforward, the thing to do is to go to Mt Diablo, which I did today. Once again, I got above the clouds and the greyness of the city, into warm, dry California mountain air. There are two ways up the mountain, and I usually alternate - up one, down the other. The North Road is a very steady climb, which means that you can settle into a sustainable rhythm for the seventy-plus minutes it takes to get up the road, and adjust when the gradient is a little steeper. The South Road, my choice today, starts a little harder at the bottom, but then levels off for a couple of miles, before rearing upward again just before it meets the North Road, four miles below the summit, so you have to find your rhythm a second time. These days I don't worry about anything much until I get to that junction; a mile beyond that is a steeper section, which then eases off at a sweeping bend at Juniper Camp, a spot like the corner of Mt Tam where you are suddenly overlooking the ocean, where I almost always feel a great burst of energy. Then the trick is to see how much is left in the tank for the final couple of miles, which are, or at least feel, a little steeper than average, before the final effort of the last ramp up to the summit, which may only take a minute, but is always hard. As the miles tick by, I focus my effort on relaxing my spine between the shoulder blades, which releases me from a feeling of wrestling the bike, and allows the legs to do the work more fluidly.
I had plenty of energy when I was a kid, and was usually either riding my bike or playing football (the kind the rest of the world plays, with the feet), so it was hardly a surprise that I gravitated towards endurance sports as I grew older, first cross-country running, and then biking. There was something I found purifying about sustaining an effort until the brain subsides and there is just the motion and the intention to keep going, and something gratifying about learning the body's limits, how long you could continue, staying just below the threshold of exhaustion, and at the end, about feeling depleted and fulfilled at the same time. It was a great counter-balance to my tendancy to be cerebral, and has probably spared me much stress and anxiety in my life. Meditation, of course, has the same effect, but at the complete opposite end of the spectrum, and I have never stopped being a little surprised that I took to it.
On the way down, since the descent is not so technically demanding, I was nodding at those coming up, noting those who had a clean style and energy to burn, and those for whom it was a greater effort - everyone who can get up Diablo on a bike deserves huge credit. I felt the temperature changes as I dropped through the layers of air, a thousand feet at a time, and then I was down with the traffic again.
I don't think that this is what Shohaku was refering to when he talked about san chu nin (山 中 人), the person in the mountains, during the Genzo-e, but I was thinking of that phrase on Mount Diablo, as well as remembering other details of my time at Green Gulch. There was Shohaku's practice, which I remember well from other times, of starting every class, after he had nodded to the ino to lead us into the chant, by raising up his cup of water, taking a sip, and then bowing and saying "Good morning, everyone", or "Good afternoon, everyone". There was the almost complete silence of the zendo, apart from what sounded like plastic sheeting flapping on the roof from time to time; there were no streams of traffic, no passing cell-phone conversations, and not even the steady creek and bird calls of Tassajara. There was the sunshine, which we arrived in, and which made progressively fewer appearances as the days wore on, but which allowed me to sit out by the tea house after dinner the first few evenings, and feel warm and quiet. There was the intimacy of the priests in Cloud Hall; perhaps twenty priests were participating, and at most junctures in the schedule, before and after soji, before zazen and before meals, there would be a close array of us kneeling on the cushions and either putting on or taking off okesas together in silence. And there was of course the fact that, thanks to Carolyn's understanding and sympathy in the matter, I had absolutely no responsibilities during the sesshin, and could just sit there through it all.
Finally, I feel like I short-changed the garden in my last selection of photos, so here are a few more.

Jizo garden

Overlooking the garden

Starts in the greenhouse

I am reliably informed these are montbretia, or coppertips - they filled the area in spectacular fashion anyway

Sweetpea down at the farm

The Wheelwright Center

These are apparently cosmos, but the colour is cyclamen in my book

Definitely a poppy


Amy said...

The orangey-red flowers are freesia.
The pink ones are cosmos, and can range all through from white to a much darker pink.
This is a cyclamen.

But whatever you call them, still stunningly lovely. I don't know if it was just the change in the sky, or the brightening of the senses as sesshin progressed, but every day the colors seemed more saturated.

Dugald said...

I think the orange-red flowers are montbrecia, Shundo. Lovely to see in the autumn, wild by the side of tracks and lanes in Donegal, where they grow bright orange.

Shundo said...

Thanks to both of you. Lovely cyclamen picture, Amy. I suspect that montbrecia is what Marcia called them, which is why I didn't remember.

Amy said...

Montbrecia was my other thought - guess I shouldn't have sounded so definitive. But I am sure about the cosmos...