Friday, January 8, 2010

Leon Sun: Bicycling with Mindfulness

Photo: Anonymous Contributor. Leon and Nikki on Bobcat Trail

Leon Sun bought his first bike, a ten speed English model, when he was 16 and living in Hong Kong. “I rode through the crazy streets of Hong Kong and fell in love with bicycling,” he recalls. His first bike led to a lifetime of cycling, and he now spins the streets of San Francisco and the roads of Northern California. He has biked dozens of century rides, the Markleeville Death Ride four times, and has trained others for similar excursions.

Leon relocated to the United States at 18 and settled in San Francisco. He received a master’s degree in East Asian Studies and hoped to teach, but California’s Prop 13 kicked in at the time and teaching jobs were axed. Instead, Leon worked as a graphic designer from the late 1970s until his retirement in 2003. He and his wife, Karen Wing, found a house on Turk Street in NOPA “just before the big spike in prices” in 1989, and they’ve lived there ever since.

Leon describes his early years as not particularly religious; his parents, he says, were “nominally Christian.” But once on his own, he developed an appreciation for the spirit and practice of mindfulness, a prime element of Buddhist meditation. And he found that bicycling contributes to his practice. “Being mindful while biking helps me get into personal, inner change as it pertains to living in the city," he explains. "Cycling lends itself to being in the moment.”

For a bicyclist how does mindfulness compare to being vigilant and biking defensively on busy streets with motorists who are sometimes distracted, careless, or aggressive? Leon stays alert to traffic conditions, of course, but he deals with circumstances differently. When he rides in city traffic, his practice of mindfulness keeps him from getting angry or aggressive. “It helps me see the large picture of everyone using the road. I get more aware of others and aware of the pressures they may face in traffic also.”

Leon avoids circumstances that he expects would make him angry. “I can almost anticipate it," he says. “There’s a feeling in the air when people are aggressive.” He knows cyclists often confront negative reactions from drivers, but he tries to not contribute to the bad vibe on the streets. “Sometimes you can almost look for confrontation if you’re generally angry with the situations on the road," he explains. "But as a Buddhist, I don’t want to engage in that kind of relationship.” He also refrains from talking to other cyclists about confrontations or aggressiveness by drivers. “That would just intensify the angry feelings for me that I want to let pass, and I don’t want to expose others to those feelings." He adds, "I try to keep in mind my own behavior and contribute to a calmer environment. When I drive I try to be especially courteous to other drivers and also to cyclists. I hope that a compassionate approach toward others might calm them down enough to pass it on to the next person."

Leon admits that he used to get angry all the time and not just in traffic. But now he finds that meditation helps him watch his thoughts and emotions. “It takes practice to let things go. The point is to recognize the anger but not let it seize you.”

Leon is mostly a recreational bicyclist, but North Panhandle neighbors might find him biking any day on local streets with Nikki, his Siberian Husky, also known as "Dharma Dog."

Readers' Note: Look for more of the interview with Leon Sun next week where he will describe his experiences as an organizer of the annual Buddhist Bicycle Pilgrimage and his adventures with Dharma Dog.

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