Even as I mounted my bike and rode up the switchbacks through towering redwoods, I couldn’t relax. It was too close to shabbos to relax, sure I was happy to finally be away from people, the city and any distractions besides for my sweaty brow and labored breath. The ground was soft and I rode real hard, but I still couldn’t ride everything I wanted to. I did get to ride my favorite downhill trail in all the land, jumping logs, small table tops and dirt jumps as I screamed through the woods at record time using every inch of suspension my bike had. Yet I didn’t feel relaxed until I sat down on a lawn chair overlooking my friends vineyard tucked away on a nice hill above Santa Cruz overlooking the quickly fading sun, this is where I was to begin shabbos and this was where I could finally let my mind roam free.
I have been working quite a bit lately, it’s been great, I love what I do and it’s pretty cool that I get paid to do it, but sometimes you just burn out and need some time away. Like most people, the winter is typically not as relaxing as the summer. Even though it hasn’t rained much yet and I’ve been able to roam around the countryside, until today it got dark early to truly enjoy the moment without feeling the rush of darkness. With the clock change last night, I’ve already begun to think about backpacking season. It seems the only time I don’t feel rushed, the only time I feel almost like it’s shabbos is when I’m perched above some alpine lake looking off into the distance and knowing I will be spending the night far from any cell phone tower or traffic jam.
Naturally, when I’m feeling rushed it effects my entire psyche. It affects how I spend my time, how I socialize and how I feel about my Judaism. Rushing doesn’t make for good kavannah and rushing is just bad all around. Up here in the mountains for shabbos there is no clock, there are no distractions and it’s just me and God here to converse in peace.
As the sun sets and turns into all these crazy colors I’m doing mincha and it feels darned good to just be pouring out my heart amidst all this beauty. I daven in the woods often, but shabbos davening in the woods is really key for me and I wonder why I’m not here more often.
I sing the entire kabalas shabbos, even the parts most people don’t sing and there’s no rushing to some meal. My stomach is empty, but there is truly no rush, The light is low, the cold night begins to settle, but off in the distance the orange and pink is settling over the Pacific and it’s lovely. It’s lovely to be appreciating something so awesome and to be able to daven while this is going on is not a common thing. Shul davening doesn’t do it for me, it does things if I need something, or one of my friends is sick so I can pray for them, but seldom does any shul inspire me to give a full our appreciation to the Lord.
Ironically I started becoming a bit inspired on my bike ride, I hadn’t ridden the trails much since I moved from San Jose to San Francisco and I have this intimate connection with these coastal redwood trails, especially as the sun goes down and the shadows grow long. Then I rode that downhill like a nut, I mean I tore that shit up and just sitting in my car listening to the Dead and having this grand appreciation for life, the gift of health and vision and hearing just all made my davening that much better.
Lately, I’ve been thinking about mortality, I guess you think you’re gonna live forever and then your confronted with the fact that you’re gonna die some day and that sucks. So of course, it brings up all those existential wonderings that you really wish would lay dormant. What’s the point of life and all that jazz. Of course those thoughts start making you have this great appreciation for the good in life.
In my adult life I’ve always tried to have appreciation, but naturally things get taken for granted. How often do we think about the simple things in life which many people don’t have and how can we try to remember to think of those things. My thoughts of thanks and appreciation are usually brought on by hearing, seeing or experiencing some sort of amazing thing that not everyone could be so fortunate to experience. Tasting an amazing flavor, seeing an amazing vista or listening to a beautiful concert. So usually I end up screaming my allegeince to the Lord when I figure out that I’m having some awesome miracle of an experience and my davening this past shabbos was much like that.
I’m sure there are practices in which you start to meditate on the beauty or feelings you are experiencing. For me it was the amazing silence, disturbed only by a random bird rustling the leaves. The fading light making all these tall redwood and eucalyptus trees look black against the night sky, the feel of the soft earth beneath my feet, the cool wind in my hair and the stars coming out above.
The ramblings of a madman you may say, but I’m just madly in love with life and all of the amazing stuff I experience every day. There’s always been part of me that wonders how I can transfer these experiences to others, or at least a sort of appreciation for those experiences being had anyway.