Hard to believe it’s all over.
There were times I had no idea what day it was, even when I kept counting them off on my fingers, like some crazed prisoner. A nine-day silent retreat is its own sort of marathon, intellectually, spiritually, physically — and if you’re not a vegetarian, culinarily. (If that’s a word.)
We broke Noble Silence Saturday at 4:00 p.m., finally able to talk to the many people who most intrigued us all week, and vice versa. Our group included teachers, a lawyer, software engineer, an artist. They had come to the Hudson Valley from California, New Mexico, France, Colombia and Canada.
Oh, the chatter!
Within a few hours (sigh) we’ll soon be back in the heart of all of it:
the partisan insanity running the country; finishing up my book proposal; finalizing my keynote speech to retail executives on August 10 in Minneapolis; making social plans; trying to plan a fund-raiser for the writers’ grant-making group on whose board I sit; the usual aaaaaaarrrrrgggggghhhhhhh…..
What do I carry home?
A renewed appreciation for silence.
A reminder of how much I love and appreciate ritual: the bells, the gong, candles, the prayer wheel, the gesture of namaste.
Some cool new friendships.
A bracelet of wooden skulls strung end to end, a gift from Lama Surya.
Story ideas! Maybe even a new book idea.
The knowledge of how a week without any animal proteins except butter, eggs, yogurt and cheese affects my body.
Discovering I really don’t want to eat kale or quinoa again. Ever.
That, despite my hatred of most things institutional, routine, managed, scrutinized and communal, I actually had a great time.
That Buddhism is the spiritual equivalent of freelancing. You may have a whole network of fellow path-followers, striving at their own skill level, but you’re on your own, baby.
That elegant and sensual austerity — fresh flowers, pretty bedspreads, gorgeous/simple bathrooms — is not only possible but very pleasant.
That I crave brie, hummus, nuts and beer.
The absolute thrill of meeting and hearing from a brilliant woman I’d never heard of before, Mirabai Bush. Hearing teachings from a woman who is deeply spiritual and smart as hell and able to work in the real world is soooo cool!
A small folding fan, pressed into my hand at breakfast by Alice, an artist here who noticed me fanning myself in meditation with a folded prayer sheet.
A fervent hug, offered in the dining hall by a young woman we had dubbed Pretty Girl, after I revealed in a Q & A that I was trying to find ways to comfort a friend whose Mom is newly diagnosed with cancer.
Realizing that everyone is here for their own reasons, moving at their own speed; PG fled Friday, never to return.
Wonderful photos: of the lama and Tulku Dorje (another teacher, a reincarnated lama) sitting on a bench beneath the bamboo, laughing; of the sweetie and the lama, laughing; of the bad bunny I found in the garden; of the flowers there.
A glimpse of a possible way to blend the spiritual and practical, the intellectual and emotional, the bodhisattva and the blogger. I’ve always seen the two in opposition, and maybe they’re not.
How much I enjoy being a room with people excited about the same ideas.
How hungry I am to find a way to live and work that’s both ethical and fun, earns me the sort of living I want but doesn’t poison me with material obsession.
That time flies when you’re totally absorbed in what someone is saying. I normally want to jump out a window if someone tells me to sit still and listen for two hours to dense stuff. Here, I can’t get enough of it.
Realizing how spiritually parched I often feel.
Finally — ka-ching! — a much clearer understanding of the duality I struggle with more and more: between my cerebral/intellectual/competitive/money-making/I want to write a bloody best-seller dammit self and my softer/emotional/striving for social justice self.
And my new refuge name….Urgyen Gyalmo…Dharma Queen.