October 18, 2019
Mileage: 6.0 miles round trip
Beverage: ginger tea
Destination: Berkeley Zen Center, 1931 Russell St Berkeley CA/berkeleyzencenter.org
Whenever I explain randonneuring to people who have never heard of it, there’s always someone who comments that it must be very meditative. Sometimes people ask what I think about over so many hours on the (mostly) open road. I always cringe a little when people suggest that something (other than meditating) is meditative, because meditating can be really hard at times. It’s only as peaceful as the inside of your mind, and we all know just about how peaceful that can be. I also cringe since there are so many ways people seem to misuse the term Zen, especially to sell things such as their social media marketing schemes or even just boiling it all down to Zen in a Jar!
There was a moment on the fleche from 2 years ago when Dan and I rode past the driveway to a Zen monastery up in the mountains on Skyline, and Dan commented that he’d love to just sit around all day, it must be easier than riding our bikes for 24 hours straight. I expressed my doubts at this conjecture, though I’ve never tried sitting zazen for a full day (so far). At least while riding, one has the road to distract one from the thoughts that occur to one’s oft-befuddled mind.
That said, I do think there are a few parallels between meditation and randonneuring, though they may not be ones you’d expect. The first thing that comes to mind is in both activities, you spend a lot of time with most or all of your weight on your sit bones. Having to tolerate muscle soreness, possible joint pain, and tenderness in the sit bone area are all things you might experience. I’m not sure if you can get saddle sores from a zafu, but you need to develop a tolerance for small amounts of physical pain or distraction in order to sit zazen. Quite often in randonneuring, things like this will come up, too: a pain in my knee that randomly appears, then an hour later, disappears, also for no reason. I’ve learned that it’s not worth giving too much attention to these sensations, and this is something meditators also know. My randonneuring and zazen habits tend to support each other: it helps to have solid core strength to sit zazen, and it certainly helps to develop patience to be a randonneur. Another unexpected similarity between the two activities is the feeling of freedom I experience in both, although both activities carry with them the possibility of Type 2 fun.
Regardless of whether it’s good for you or enjoyable in the way most people seem to think, I’ve been meditating every so often on my own since I was a teenager. I have almost no memory of how it occurred to me to do this, but as soon as I started, I never stopped. One thing I haven’t done this whole time, though, is visit a zendo or try to meditate with others. I finally realized about two months ago that the Bay Area is home to several world class Zen centers, so maybe I should go see what they are like.
I settled on Berkeley Zen Center because it’s very small, and very close to my apartment. I went first for the weekly meditation instruction they offer on Saturday mornings, and then started going for Monday morning zazen (sitting meditation) which begins at 5:40 am. Already I felt comfortable getting up that early because I do that so often for brevets and perms, and I learned that everything good starts early when no one else is out.
However, there had to be a beverage involved to qualify as a coffeeneuring ride, so this visit was for their Friday afternoon tea, discussion, and zazen. At the discussion, there was a Presbyterian scholar of religion who was dropping in to chat. He didn’t want to stay for meditation, although he professed to want to “improve his thinking.” This confused the rest of us, and though no one pressured him to stay, one person commented that meditation is a good way to “defrag your brain,” which I though was an apt analogy. Another parallel between rando and Zen is the emphasis on the role of the community in one’s development. If you want to go far in Rando or in Zen, go with others. It was a lively discussion we all had over tea and cookies, and then we crossed the garden for a short period of zazen followed by bowing and chanting the heart sutra. Since I have only visited Berkeley Zen Center four or five times, I am still lost when it comes to the choreography of the ceremony, but others have been helping out and, like randonneuring’s structure and rules, I’m sure it will become natural to me soon. I wonder if there is a coffeeneuring equivalent in Zen? Hmmm.