Friday, May 2, 2014

The Front Stoop


It’s that rare San Francisco heat wave and how I love it! The other day, got an iced coffee and wanted to be outside, so with no benches available, just sat on the sidewalk and sipped. Watched the world pass by. Wondered if people would throw a quarter into my hat if  I turned it upside down. But I needed it on my head— the sun was out and I don’t have much protection there!

Sitting like that reminded me of my childhood hanging out on the front stoop in the summer. Just used to sit on my steps, my cat Zorro on my lap and watched and listened and thought my thoughts and talked to the neighbors passing by (long before the invention of those distracting hand-held devices). That delicious sense of doing nothing in particular, just sitting.

Years later, I took up the formal practice of sitting, the Zen meditation called zazen. In Soto Zen, they call it “Shikantaza” which literally means “just sitting.” A tighter, more concentrated version of my front stoop childhood practice with attention to posture and breath and stillness, a formal practice derived from the ancient casual one.

And throughout my life, I traveled to those lovely places like India, Bali, Ghana, where hanging out was a national pastime. They were each distinct, but all had some things in common— and perhaps most significant of them all— hot weather!

There is something about hot weather that kills ambition. We dismount from the horse of accomplishment and let it wander freely in the field while we lie down in the grass and look up at the clouds. Or, if we’re lucky to have one nearby, go jump in the lake. We’re losing that skill, seduced away from the pleasures of hanging out by the constant allure of electronic connection. Perhaps it's no accident that it's hard to see that computer screen outside in the blazing sun. It's an indoor activity. Great for long winter nights when we can pull up images of Hawaii on the screen. 

But today, Hawaii has come to San Francisco. And so, I leave the computer and go out to lie down in the back yard. Or maybe I’ll sit on the front stoop. 

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