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CicLAvia Westisde 2015

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CicLAvia “started as a grassroots initiative in 2008 as the outgrowth of discussions held by a number of individuals who recognized that open streets events could address active transportation, urban land use and public health needs in Los Angeles.” They also describe themselves as a group that “catalyzes vibrant public spaces, active transportation and good health through car-free streets.” What this translates into is periodically CicLAvia closes off car access to certain key neighborhoods throughout LA: Downtown, Pasadena, the Valley, and most recently, the “Westside”. CicLAvia closed down a substantial stretch of Venice Blvd, from downtown Culver City all the way to the beach, ending in Windward Circle in Venice.

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Unfortunately, transportation by bicycle isn’t very practical in LA: the distances are far, theres no rail system (yet), the weather is extremely hot, and the traffic particularly intense. In light of these facts, it is good to see an organization that aims to counter this hindrances to the bicycle lifestyle.

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What other organization you know of aims to reduce carbon emissions, improve and promote health, and stimulate the local economy? Im sure there’s quite a few that do this actually, but the cool thing about CicLAvia is that it accomplishes these noble and lofty goals simply by getting people to ride their bicycles.

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My particular trip started in Mar Vista, which is my neighborhood. Sunday just happens to be when Mar Vista has its famous Farmers Market, and the CicLAvia course ran right though it. With CicLAvia happening, the normally sleepy open air market turned into a carnival. It was a pedestrian only zone, slowing the pace down a bit and making it a good place to get off your bike, find some shade and get something to eat and drink.

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I hadn’t ridden my mountain bike in months, and the tire in back was extremely low. Thankfully the local Mar Vista Bike Co-op bikerowave had their tent up and running, repairing bikes for free! All I needed was a bicycle pump, but people were getting brake jobs, spokes repaired, tires aligned, you name it. This place was very impressive, and right on Venice Blvd.

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After the Farmers Market I joined the masses careening down Venice Blvd. on our bicycles. I’ve done numerous “critical mass” or “bike gatherings” before, but this by far was the largest. By the time I got to Lincoln and Venice, the surreal nature of the event kicked in. One of the busiest intersections, if not the busiest, intersection in LA was being completely taken over by bicyclists. This was a moment that I felt was more than worthy of capturing.

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In a city that famously let it’s rail car system be bought by Firestone tires and shutdown, it is pleasingly ironic to see the City taking an active role in public transportation. In fact the old rail lines are being reinstalled as I type this, and soon it may be practical to use a bicycle to traverse the city because there will be a public transportation system that supports it.

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CicLAvia drew an incredible number of cyclists out on the streets. In fact I noted several times how it felt just like LA traffic, with the sheer number of people involved. The irony that there is still traffic even when people ride their bikes is easily countered by the fact that there are this many people who are interested in getting outdoors and living a more active lifestyle. Hopefully with continued popularity we will see more and more of this cool events, whether there is traffic or not!

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Next up on the event schedule for CiclAvia is going to be on October 18th, in downtown LA, or “the Heart of LA. Heart of LA will have six miles for participants to explore by bike, foot, skateboard, wheelchair and other non-motorized traffic. The route will take people through Boyle Heights, the Arts District, Little Tokyo, Civic Center, Chinatown, Historic Core and as far west as Macarthur Park.” This marks the 5th year anniversary of this program, and I look forward to participating with the masses and getting out and exploring this historic city at the pace of a cruisey bike ride.

Lifestyle: Exploring Santa Cruz for the Holidays

This Holiday Season I made an extended stay, or Sojourn, in Santa Cruz, CA. Although Huntington Beach won the battle to be called “Surf City USA” in the court room, Sanata Cruz holds this title in spirit. Everyone surfs in Santa Cruz. EVERYONE. Young and old, boys and girls, experts to barneys and everything in between, Santa Cruz has every type of surfer imaginable.

It makes sense for surfing to be such an integral part of the culture in this California Beach Town, seeing as how the city itself overlooks a handful of some of the coasts best point breaks. Surfing is in your face constantly while in Santa Cruz, and few can resist the call that the wavs make to each passerby as they walk along iconic West Cliff Drive. Here are a few moments frozen in time from my trip there. Thank you Santa Cruz, until we meet again!

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The crossroads

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“Surfer” was here

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“Waves are toys from God.”

-Clay Marzo

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Surfer’s Lament

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Job well done

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Even the building have waves in SC

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Past-time paradise

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God bless Santa Cruz

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Fast track

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“The Lane”

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Law of the Land

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Coastal Access at it’s best

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A Dad is coaching his 12 year-old daughter as she is about to paddle out at The Lane

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Front row seats, how many of them are dreaming of surfing??

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Doesn’t get much better than this

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Tai Chi with Liping at Tassajara Zen Center

After such a wonderful initial trip, I decided to return to Tassajara Zen Mountain Center the first chance I got, which was the beginning of the Guest Season in May. I signed up for a week long retreat, studying Tai Chi with lay monk and Tai Chi Master Liping. A week at Tassajara is an ambitious feat: no electricity, no cell service, no contact with the outside world at all. When you are at Tassajara, your are AT Tassajara. But, after all, that is the point…

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Although I was eager to get back in touch with the world by the end of the week, I throughly enjoyed my week long stay there, and made many personal discoveries. It truly is a wonderful place for contemplation and self exploration. As far as I can tell, that’s what Zen Buddhism is about. Abbot Myogen told me once, “Just sit, and see what happens. See where your mind takes you…”. So even though I was there to learn Tai Chi and study Zen, ultimately I was there to “inquire within”.

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Tucked away throughout the grounds are numerous alcoves and nooks for people to sit down, relax, contemplate, read or just simply observe.

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I had numerous spots that I frequented while I was here, but my favorite was a flat stone down by the creek that meanders it’s way along the Monastery’s grounds.

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Many of the guest quarters are built along the creek as well, which has been a home for humans since prehistory.

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These hollowed out holes in the stone were used by Native Americans to grind acorns into mush that they would eat as their main staple.

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The love and care that has been put into making Tassajara what it is today is palpable. This handmade walk way leading to the Zendo from the Monks quarters is a piece of art in itself. Observe how each piece of wood was independently measured and cut to make a smooth a sinuous path that leads to the Zendo.

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All over the grounds there are small pieces of art that act as functional pieces of the Monastery: A dead Sycamore tree turned into bench seating, tiny shrines tucked away in obscure places, everywhere are small details some Zen monk took the time to create with care.

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The entrance to the Monastery.

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One of the several gardens on the Monastery grounds.

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Another great reading nook to take a book, or to just sit and observe.

The Tai Chi retreat was an amazing experience. Liping is a Chinese national who immigrated to the US almost 20 years ago. She lived at the San Francisco Zen Center, studying Buddhism, for over ten years. During her time in the US, she has been a practicing Zen Monk, as well as a practitioner of holistic Chinese medicine. Liping is a very unique individual indeed: a native practitioner of Chinese medicine and arts, but also a devotee of Japanese Buddhism.

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Liping demonstrates a Tai Chi sword form.

She has taught numerous Tai Chi retreats at Tassajara. The style of Tai Chi that she teaches is very rare, dating back all the way to the last royal family of China. Her style is known as Swimming Dragon Tai Chi, and it is known for it’s fluidity, grace, and athleticism.

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Liping, mid form, with students looking on.

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Liping performs while Phillip, her husband and also a Tai Chi Master, watches on and names the techniques Liping is demonstrating.

Tai Chi was a challenge for me because of how slow we were required to move. Tai Chi is very much an Internal art, but I saw numerous correlations to self defense, or “External Arts”. Swimming Dragon Tai Chi was developed by an Imperial General while he was held prisoner during the cultural revolution. It was designed to enhance and maintain physical attributes such as grace, strength, flexibility, and stamina. From some of the photos posted, you can easily see that this is the case.

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Liping getting grounded with Swimming Dragon Tai Chi.

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Effortless grace.

By the end of the week I became close friends with many of the participants at the Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Retreat. Everyone at the retreat, and at the Monastery in general, are extremely warm and inviting people. It is easy to make friends, but I was surprised at how many GOOD friends I made.

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The Swimming Dragon Tai Chi Class, Spring 2014.

As if learning the ancient art of Swimming Dragon Tai Chi with amazing people in an inspiring environment wasn’t enough, Master Liping asked me to teach a small workshop the last day of her retreat. I was, and still am, extremely honored to be asked to share my knowledge by such an esteemed master as Liping. It truly is an honor beyond words. I demonstrated various southeastern martial arts: Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai. All of these arts have a history of music, dance, meditation and ritual connected to them, similar to Tai Chi and it’s relationship to Kung Fu. So instead of showing the lethal our fanciful techniques of these arts, I decided to do a “Tai Chi Speed” demonstration of Kali, Silat, and Muay Thai.

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Urban Warrior_1 giving a short lecture on the Southeast Asian Martial Arts and their various elements, which includes meditation and restoration.

In the Indonesian art of Silat, they have what is called the Bua and the Bunga, or the fruit and the flower. The Bua, or the fruit, is the actual application of a technique, but the Bunga is the flowery presentation of the art. Just like the fruit and the flower can’t exist without each other, the external application and the internal practice of the art cannot be separated from each other. The Bunga will often be performed very slow and gracefully, with music accompaniment. This concept is very akin to Tai Chi and how it relates to the External Martial Arts of China.

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Yours truly, Urban Warrior_1, demonstrating a Hari Mau Silat technique.

In the Filipino art of Kali, there is something called Karenza, or “Dancing with the Wind.” In this practice, the Kali practitioner will often ask a question or seek guidance from God. Than the practitioner will practice Kali in the air, visualizing opponents and attacks, but also entering a meditative state through motion. Often they will dance with their shadow from candlelight or the moon. After a certain amount of time of moving meditation, the practitioner will find a solution to the problem that they face. This practice, although Filipino, bares striking resemblance to Tai Chi and the other Internal Arts of Asia.

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Karenza at Tassajara, an honor beyond words.

In Thailand, Muay Thai has been the warrior art for centuries, if not millennia. All warrior arts have an internal element, a time for the warrior to turn inwards, refelct and be introspective, heal and recuperate, and Muay Thai is no different. In Thailand they have what is call “Wai Kru”. It is a ritualistic dance that today is practiced by combatants before a Muay Thai fight. It symbolizes what camp you are from, part of your history, your connection with God, and your confidence and ability as a Warrior. Essentially it is a war dance. Again, it is practiced very slowly, much like Karenza or the Bua.

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Demonstrating “Wai Kru”

Wanderlust Yoga Festival on the North Shore of Oahu

At the beginning of the year, I attended the 2014 Wanderlust Yoga Festival on the North Shore of Oahu. I had casually heard about the event and looked into it with tepid interest, Yoga “festivals” aren’t necessarily my way of practicing yoga. But after looking more closely, I saw that there were a lot of options for classes and courses outside of the world of yoga.

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There were numerous classes on Hawaiian culture, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, paddle boarding, even slack line and hula hooping. It was a very eclectic selection of classes to choose from.

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My interest grew; than I noticed the festival was being held minutes away from the fabled North Shore of Oahu, and we were allowed to camp on the beach! Being an avid surfer, this pretty much sealed the deal for me, but than I saw Gerry Lopez would be teaching a yoga class everyday. I HAD to go at this point.

For those of you who don’t know, Gerry Lopez is like the Joe Montana of surfing, to use an analogy. He is a champion surfer, he is humble, polite, and just and all around nice guy that everyone loves. He is famous for mastering Pipeline, a surf break on the north shore known for it’s deadly waves that can create the most amazing rides in the world.

The first thing I would like to mention about my trip to hawaii is not the surf, the sun, or the yoga, but the food. The food in Hawaii is amazing. You’ve never had fruit this good, or vegetables this fresh, or raw ahi this delicious. I haven’t been back to Hawaii in awhile, so I had forgotten the difference in quality between the Islands and “the Mainland”.

Here are pictures of the best ahi poke I have ever tested or even dreamed of. The fish is so rare it almost melts in your mouth.

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Is it from a famous Japanese restaurant you ask? Does it have a Zagat rating? Nope, you’re in Hawaii, where an old supermarket called “Kahuku Superette” serves the most delicious sushi grade ahi you’ve ever tasted.

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There were numerous vendors selling food throughout the day at the Yoga festival as well. Delicious vegan options, macrobiotic, and local fare were all present. I enjoyed this particular meal very much: wild elk skewers from Molokai, with Taro root hash, and sea vegetable salad. This was my go to meal after a big surf session.

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I tried to maintain a paleo diet while I was in Hawaii. Being “paleo” is relatively easy in Hawaii because there are so many options to choose from to support this diet. In it’s basic sense, ‘paleo diet’ means no grains or flour, no dairy and refined products such as sugar. Only foods that a hunter-gatherer would eat in the paleolithic age is allowable. Impractical? Yes. Effective? Yes. Being in Hawai’i makes this diet not only easy, but enjoyable. The one thing I had that was not paleo was rice. I have to admit it, I love rice.

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Here are some local provision that I picked up:a papaya and bananas from a roadside fruit stand, fresh made poi from a local superette, and local smoked ahi and marlin from the same superette.

Okay, enough about food, now more about the Wanderlust Festival. There were a wide range of classes offered for the yoga novice to the yoga nazi. I was more interested in restorative yoga since my trip was already extremely active due to my important surf schedule, which was a major part of the equation for me. But there were numerous alternative activity classes that involved history, hiking, mountain biking, surfing, kayaking, even hula and music.

One of the classes that I enjoyed the most at Wanderlust was the Slack Key Guitar class. The teacher was extremely knowledge about the music but also the history and culture of Hawaii. It was a very rare opportunity to get some hands on experience with Hawaiian culture.

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There was also live music every night at Wanderlust. Moby of all people played Friday night, and Donovan Frankenfurter, a famous surfer, played with his band Saturday night.

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Donovan Frankenfurter

One of the many highlights at the festival was getting to work with the non-profit organization Sustainable Coastlines. They are dedicated to the health and sustainability of our coastlines, specifically through cleaning up and reducing the use of single use plastics.

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Loading up the bus at Turtle Bay Resort to take a trek a do a beach clean up in a remote beach that has a lot of plastic washed up on shore.

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A few hundred people from wanderlust participated in the beach clean up. It was very uplifting to see so many people demonstrate their support for the environment, especially while they are on vacation.

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After the beach cleanup I finally got to take my Yoga class with Gerry Lopez. I took two classes with Gerry, and I was very surprised to hear that he has been a Yogi since the 70′s. I’ve been to a lot of yoga classes, and I have to say that I was very impressed by Gerry’s knowledge and approach to yoga.

On the first day, I settled in and found my place on the floor, I looked up and saw another famous pro surfer, Dan Malloy, sitting right in front of me. Dan is well known for his alternative approach to surfing lifestyle, and his support of conservation efforts for natural resources. Fittingly, he is a surf ambassador for Patagonia. Dan is one of my favorite “free surfers”, and I was very excited to get to meet him.

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Here is a picture of me with Gerry Lopez. He said something interesting which I found very relevant to yoga practice today. He said that when he started Yoga back in the 70′s, it was taught as a complete lifestyle within itself, but nowadays Yoga has been broken up into “specialty yoga”: yin yoga, flow yoga, hot yoga, etc. I think it’s important to remember what Yoga was originally created for, finding calm and balance within yourself, not getting tone and lean.

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Gerry’s Yoga class, over 200 people strong.

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My humble abode, after getting drenched in an afternoon storm.

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I would say the trip was a raging success for me. I surfed in Hawaii, did Yoga with Gerry Lopez and Dan Malloy, met so many wonderful people, ate amazing food, and had a one of a kind experience. Wanderlust has Yoga festivals all over the US and they’re starting to go International as well. Although I have reservations about the commercialization of Yoga, I thoroughly enjoyed myself at Wanderlust North Shore 2014, and I will almost definitely be heading back there again.

A Winter’s Sojourn

A Sojourn is a temporary stay in a foreign local. Typically they involve an immersion in the local culture and environment, offering a respite and a fresh perspective. I like to make seasonal sojourn’s, taking small trips every three months or so to a different locale to refresh and rejuvenate.

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South facing view from the New Camaldoli Hermitage.

Winter in California is probably my favorite time of the year. On the coast the weather is usually better than it is in the summer; there is no fog, no marine layer, and no wind. The surf is usually excellent this time of year as well, so it is not unusual for me to take an extended trip, and sojourn somewhere along the PCH to enjoy the weather and catch some waves. This year I decided to not only hunt for surf, but to also visit a pair of monasteries that I had been meaning to visit for a long time: the New Camaldoli Hermitage in Big Sur, and the San Francisco Zen Center. I traveled up the PCH from LA to SF, surfing along the way in Ventura, San Luis Obispo, Monterey, Santa Cruz, and San Francisco.

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An onlooker watches a surfer making a top turn at C street in Ventura, CA.

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An epic winter’s sunset at C St. with the Channel Island in the background.

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A local pulling into firing beach break at Pebble Beach in Monterey, CA.

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Dawn Patrol at “The Lane” in Santa Cruz, CA.

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Perfect conditions and “A” frame waves at Ocean Beach in San Francisco.

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Ocean Beach, SF.

This year, however, I decided to make this trip a a bit more spiritual, and I spent some time at two monasteries I’ve been meaning to visit for awhile: the New Camaldoli Hermitage located in Big Sur, and the San Francisco Zen Center.

The New Camaldoli Hermitage is a Catholic Monastery, operated by Monks who have dedicated their life to spiritual practice. They have numerous rooms, guesthouses, and cottages for visitors to stay in.

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Entrace to the New Camaldoli Hermitage.

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Chapel at the Hermitage.

The surroundings are quiet and tranquil, sitting on the foothills of the Los Padres Mountains in Big Sur. Overlooking the Pacific Ocean, New Camaldoli is about 2 hours South of Monterey, and 2 hours north of San Luis Obispo. In one of the most remote and undeveloped stretches of the Pacific Coast Highway, the Hermitage is a great place to get some space, quiet, and solitude. Visit their website at http://www.contemplation.com/

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Western lookout from the hermitage.

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The Hermitage grounds.

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Smoky sunset due to unusually late wildfires because of severe drought.

They offer simple meals that are vegetarian three times a day that you can pick up yourself in the guest kitchen and bring back to your room to eat. I supplemented their light fare with some locally smoked salmon that I bought in Morro Bay.

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After staying at Camaldoli Hermitage for a few nights, I moved on north to San Francisco, and checked into the Zen Center. The San Francisco Zen Center is the first Zen Buddhist Monastery in the Western World. It was founded by Zen Monk Suzuki Roshi in the 60′s, and has continued to be an epicenter for Buddhism in the west ever since.

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The Zendo at the San Francisco Zen Center.

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A room with a view, third floor of the SFZC.

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View from my room at the SFZC.

The Monastery is located right in the heart of San Francisco. They offer vegetarian meals three times a day, and you are free to join in the meditation and services that they hold throughout the day. The building is very old and beautiful, the architecture is stunning. It is well worth the trip is you are ever in SF, whether to stay or just a visit.

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Central Abbot Myogen, who tragically passed away recently, was interviewed by Urban Warrior Academy in the fall of 2013. Abbot Myogen talked a bit about the rich and important history of the SFZC and about Zen Buddhism in general.

Lifestyle: The Intangibles of Life

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(photo of pro surfer Dane Reynolds, enjoying the intangibles of life.)

As I was out in the water surfing the other day, I reflected on how much more enjoyable a surf session is to spending time at my home gym. Whereas time in the gym is all about quantifying things, (minutes, reps, sets, pounds, etc.) surfing has no quantifiable outcomes attached to it. Surfing, like any adventurous outdoor activity, is a lifestyle more than a sport. It is a lifestyle that revolves not around a goal or a particular outcome, but a constant search for an ever elusive, ever changing, and always fleeting phenomenon: the wave.

Try to focus on your health and wellness “lifestyle”, not just focusing on your weight or your waistline or any singular and specific goal. Lifestyle encapsulates all the intangibles in life. Pay more attention to the little things, and less attention to specific goals, such as “loosing 5 pounds.” Enjoy activities that are social, that are outdoors, that bring you enjoyment beyond simple exercise or being fit.

The website for “Marine Layer Productions”, written and maintained by world renowned professional surfer Dane Reynolds, is a great example of the recreational lifestyle of surfing. Dane is considered one of the best surfers to ever ride a wave, but his focus has steered further and further away from the monetized, corporate, professional contests that can dominate the surfing industry. In recent years he has put more and more attention towards promoting a lifestyle; his production company, Marine Layer Productions, is the home for his thoughts and imaginings. The site is worth a perusal, to say the least.

Check out Dane Reynolds’ vlog site

www.marinelayerproductions.com/

And here is a clip of Dane Reynolds movie, Slow Dance, featuring Craig “Ando” Anderson. Both of these amazing athletes have turned their backs on the competitive nature of professional surfing, and have instead decided to be ambassadors of surfing culture

Also, check out this movie starring Dane and Ando, Dinner for Deux.

Recreation: Greens eggs and waves…

Today started off with farm fresh eggs, as in straight from an 11-acre-ranch-that-has-25-chickens kind of eggs. Each egg had a different color and size, they even had different shapes. Some shells were tougher to crack than others, and they obviously came from different breeds of chickens as well.

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I fried them on the skillet at a medium temp with non-soy Earth Balance. Now the flavor, texture, and color of these can’t be over exaggerated. The health benefits of free range eggs aside, they make a fine tasty breakfast! There are however documented studies that prove farm eggs are more nutritious than store bought eggs. So if you have the ability, find a rancher or farmer in your area and ask them if you can buy some eggs. Usually $5 a dozen is a fair price. And don’t forget you don’t need to refrigerate them.

After the amazing breakfast I got to paddle out into the ocean and catch some of the North-West Swell that came through California this MLK Jr. Weekend. The waves were very big for LA standards, a foot or two overhead at times, but they weren’t breaking too well and were mostly big close-outs. It was great fun and exercise getting out into the ocean though, and the cold water is invigorating. Being in cold conditions is good for your circulatory system.