Preparing to Breathe: Sixty Degrees & Sunny in San Francisco

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Riding Amtrak coach overnight means trying sleep in various poses – upright, sideways, squeezed into the double seat, in the observation car… but mostly I stayed up watching Contact on my laptop, and pondering the trip ahead. By trip, I meant not just journeying to California, but also the journey inward promised by the Holotropic Breathwork. Basically a guided, intentional deep state of relaxation, the process is supposed to help people access and process at a deeper “non-ordinary” level of consciousness. Some people report visions, seeing colors, past lives… Needless to say, my Skeptic has been running in circles around this since I first signed up for the workshop. Why am I attending such a far out workshop, you ask? I read an interview with Stan Grof in the Sun a few months ago, and he sounded like a very wise man, a teacher and visionary. When I saw Grof was leading this workshop, it just seemed like the right thing to do. My fear: nothing will happen. I will be too guarded to open myself to the unconscious. We will see…

I arrived in Oakland late morning yesterday, and hopped the BART over to San Francisco, where I would be staying at the Fisherman’s Wharf Hostel. Chilly, drizzly weather gave way to a beautiful, warm hostel, set in a barracks at Fort Mason. Friendly staff, cozy couches in the lounge, and many international tourists. I looked up my old high school friend Scott, and this time we actually did get together – I’ve missed him the last couple times I’ve been in SF. It was good catching up, talking about our current lives and where we are all going – personally and as a culture. Scott’s dad is Lloyd Crisp, head of the OSU Speech Department for many years. We go back to middle school actually. I realized that Scott is actually my longest-time friend, and one of those computer nerds I was writing about, the ones who Tron was made for.

This morning I awoke to find bright sunlight beaming through the windows, and temperatures outside reaching 60°F. I always thought the weather would be nice in San Francisco in the wintertime. Every time I’ve been here in the summer, it’s been cold due to the ocean inversion. I jumped on the bike and rode over the Golden Gate, something I’d missed on the trip in October.

What fun, crowds of tourists, tons of kids, and what a beautiful bridge, sky, bay, ocean. Why is the Golden Gate such an icon for me? Am I just a product of the cultural mystique? Come on, lets give the engineers some credit. It was an amazing feat, by any standards. Somehow painting the bridge in red tones adds a unique spirit of romance to the thin span, stretched over such a wide expanse of icy water. I rode up the headlands a bit to find a beautiful overlook, which also happened to be an old gun battery from WWII. Wasn’t that supposed to be the war to end all wars? Or is it really possible to end war through the process of war? Won’t there always be a losing side wanting vengeance?

I rode back across the Golden Gate, then stopped to ride through the newly renovated Palace of Fine Arts. Awe inspiring Greek columns, relief sculptures, new landscaping, reflecting pool. Time ran short as I hurried across the SF Waterfront and down to the hotel where the workshop introduction would be held, in South San Francisco near the airport. Still 20 more miles, tiring and frustrating to ride so far in a city – all the stops, starting, stops, starting – though the traffic was very light. Folks away for the 3 day weekend? I arrived at 5:55pm for a session beginning at 6. Some timing, no? Stanislav Grof seemed indeed the wise teacher I had expected. As he began to describe his work in overview, spanning nearly 50 years, I relaxed and listened. I had to admit, I liked the guy – even though some of the things he would be talking about were pretty out there. More tomorrow…

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