My last morning on the retreat began with a mix of both excitement and exhaustion. That last night proved to be the worst night of sleep for me of the entire ten day experience. I was so excited for post-retreat life – to see Shawn again; to bring my hands to an instrument; to write; to metabolize and share this whole experience.
I began the day as I did all of the others: I went to the bathroom. I drank my water. I went downstairs and did my yoga and movement practice. I went upstairs and sat in the middle chair in the Bodhi sitting room (pictured above) and watched the light slowly return to the world until just before the breakfast bell. I went and got my tray from my room. I got in line for breakfast. I brought the oatmeal and tea back to my room and ate it. I washed and returned my dishes. I performed my morning service – sanitizing all handrails, doorknobs, and common touch points in all three dorms.
Then, finally in the departure phase, I cleaned my dorm room, packed my suitcase, and returned my key. I rang the bell for the final sitting at 9:15 a.m.
As I did each one of these tasks, I was aware that I was doing them for the last time – on retreat, and possibly ever. I noticed that I was taking even greater care in my attention to each step, each bite, each silhouetted tree branch, each shirt folded, each swipe of the washcloth, each sounding of the bell.
Alan Watts said it this way: Are you here now? Are you really here? You see, most people aren’t. They’re bothering about yesterday and wondering what they’re going to do tomorrow. [You need to be] completely alert, and available for the present—because that’s the only place you’re ever going to be.
The retreat ended at 11:30 a.m., and conversations began to bubble up around the center. I checked my phone for the first time in ten days, feeling overwhelmed and unnerved by the weight of it in my hands, and by the flurry of messages that were lighting up the screen.
At moments, my heart was racing. Worry about Shawn’s safety had kept me awake for part of that last night. There had been an announcement from the teachers the night before about a forecast for a snowstorm – the same one that Shawn was now driving through that morning to come get me. He had not yet arrived, and so I quietly walked with my worry through the entire campus – alone, silent still – and took all of the photos that have accompanied all these weeks of blog posts. I stood in many doorways and at many windows. I breathed and walked and greeted fellow retreatants with smiles and a few quiet words. I took photos of several favorite recipes from the cookbooks that the kitchen staff always set out on the dining room tables at the end of every retreat.
Finally, I was near the main entrance, my belongings waiting in the foyer, in conversation with the husband of one of the retreat teachers. My phone rang. The sound of Shawn’s voice after ten days was music to my ears.
Another retreatant near the main entrance, an older woman, had been watching me closely when I answered the call. She must’ve seen my unabashed excitement, and she followed me outside and sat on a bench, watching from the main porch as I made my way towards the car. I spotted Shawn as he got out of the car, his smile beaming. My pace quickened. I forgot everything – the bells, the teachings, the snow, the worry, my suitcase and backpack – and as a volunteer picked up what I had dropped and brought it towards the back of the car, I ran to Shawn and laughed as we hugged and murmured to each other.
The woman who had been watching laughed and shouted, ‘Ah, love! What a beautiful thing to see!’ We both turned towards her and smiled, still in each other’s arms. She asked how long we’d been together. I shouted back, ‘Twelve years this summer!’ She smiled and said, ‘That is wonderful!’
On the long drive home, we talked and listened. We experienced a beautiful sunset. We stopped at a music store and bought a new keyboard!
The next morning, I went to the bathroom. I drank my water. I did my yoga and movement practice.
Change – and no change at all.
The next day, I wrote:
I did it. Ten days at IMS. Where to begin.
To write about this seems to cheapen it, and also to undermine the intention of and, if there is one, the goal of the experience. It was one of the most rewarding experiences of my entire life. Moments of deep clarity and peace and then others of deep sorrow and despair. It might take me the rest of my life to unpack it all. And yet, it all boils down to the fact that there is just this.
There is just this.
That is all.
I fell in love with Shawn all over again when he picked me up on Friday. The love and the joy that shined from his eyes and his smile took my breath away. I fell in love with me as well, with my precious flaws, and turned to this body and this mind and this sphere of aliveness with more compassion and care and love than I remember ever having done before in my life. I feel lighter and freer, renewed.
And hey, it’s just a thought.