I drive my rental car towards Chico, California and look to the East. Thin, almost translucent gray clouds also travel, moving along the mountain’s ridge and dissolving inside dawn’s coming light.
Soon, I will head North, then eventually West to new territories, so I may continue to recognize that internal place where I am already. Yet, the challenges of an extended journey, I know, may bring fresh perspective and growth. It has been a complicated trip to plan with many moving parts. However, I am beginning to feel the uplift of an adventure finally underway.
I journey through the Central Valley that is sinking, the sign says, 3 inches every month and eventually pass signs that say “NO WATER=DUSTBOWL.” A sudden impulse tells me, close windows, don’t inhale deeply. I am near the cow holding camp where thousands of cramped and confused creatures tread dirt, awaiting what they do not yet understand. Sadness permeates as if the smell of death has already begun.
After 8 1/2 hours, I arrive at my first destination. Two boys call, “Omi!” I collect my hugs like precious jewels. Screams of 6 year and 4 year old joy catapult the new hot wheel cars Grandma bought. Days go by too quickly. Parting words by my son-in-law, “We love you. Come back any time,” move me into that place where grateful tears secretly collect.
May 27, and….
My daughter and I fly to Seattle, Washington. I am comforted through rough air bumps by the presence of someone I have adored since her birth. We land. Quickly, she finds the exit to meet our shuttle. We greet our fellow travelers and ride to the ferry.
We are on the way to Vashon Island. There is moisture in the air. Water surrounds us. The ferry barely seems to move. Soon we arrive to continue through the island’s small town charm–a step back in time, surrounded by water views, trees, more trees and grass; all of it exudes an easy and rich variety of green.
At the retreat center, my first impression smiles at the confidence with which deer nibble on lawns around buildings in the presence of whoever passes by. A small fountain gurgles near the building where we are staying. Between very tall trees, on the way to the to our dining hall, we glimpse the ocean which surrounds us. Locations for our various activities are spread throughout natural surroundings just far enough to give me the experience of a good walk-about.
My traditional sense of the meaning of retreat is tested in a loving way. There are times of silence and reflection throughout, of course, as well as my retreat habit of waking up early and sitting before a lush view. What’s added here is a renewed appreciation for the art of conversation–respectful conversations that encourage listening, becoming models for words used with sensitivity towards the needs and capacities of others. Old friendships are renewed and new ones made. Interactions all around give off waves of friendly connection.
On a day when the sun appears, sitting outside, fawns with their sporty dots scramble in view with such abandon, all discussion ends, and we are uplifted into surprised delight. And, oh, I see robins! How long has it been?
I experience a quiet expansion, an unfolding, a sense of something experienced many times before, yet a subtle new door also opens. Transitions seem easier, moments of isolation, standing apart, behind, or alone become apparitions from the past and no longer take precedence.
The next part of the journey begins with sad partings from my daughter and others. I am off to Gig Harbor, riding with a long-time meditation and yoga student towards the home he shares with his wife, a recently certified hatha yoga instructor, 6 dogs, 2 cats and a parrot on over 4 acres.
We drive along the shoreline; the idyllic landscape and buildings pass by more quickly, perhaps, because of that verbal exchange which happens when old friends, who have not seen each other for an extended time, reconnect.
The journey towards Ashland, Oregon begins with the kind of goodbye tears that signify a subtle movement towards transformation. The beauty of the heart’s capacity to reach out feels like this morning’s sun shimmering over moist greenery. As we drive by mountain volcanoes at the horizon, covered with snow, Mt. Helena, Rainer, Hood, my Gig Harbor companion asks, are they feminine, or masculine? Being the passenger, I look with greater concentration. Words come without forethought, but who can really convey eons of the slowly, evolving consciousness of rock?
The highway climbs, drops downhill, curves this way and that. We enter a landscape still green inside passes and valleys; but, gradually, I see higher meadows beginning to go dry.
In Ashland, we greet another former student, now a yoga and meditation teacher, at her home next to a creek that also embraces us with soothing hospitality and background music. We are sheltered by trees, and the heat that has been prevalent, does not seem to penetrate.
At a water-side restaurant called the Green Leaf, we meet another friend and yoga teacher, who will be driving the next stage of this road trip. The subtle expansion of energy that has been rising within me is causing my body to shake in a way not visible to the casual eye. I need to sit.
Stories roll out, and the punch line for one is, “Mashed potatoes!” No one is eating mashed potatoes. This is a metaphor in a tale about audacity. We get it. Laughter releases, and the conversation, which includes an Ashland High School student involved in the theatre life of that place, pitches into unhampered ease. More importantly, preconceptions disappear.
Discussions the next day touch areas where shadow meets light. Shifts happen. In an atmosphere of caring hospitality a pause between motion is very welcome. There is that moment of realization that the “The say yes to life card” is the opposite side of the coin to “Don’t believe your thoughts.” Which one comes first? It is up to us.
Heading south, my new driving companion, who lives near me, points out views of Mount Shasta. I remember this mountain from a previous journey, when coming to the foot of the summit trail, I saw a climber return with the glittering eyes of someone who has had an intense experience of transcendence.
In some ways, I compare Mount Shasta to Kailash–a sacred Himalayan Mountain, about which my teacher, Swami Satchidanandaji, wrote in his book, Kailash Journal. There, he nearly lost his life. There, he had powerful experiences of enlightenment. My travel friend and I both agree that Mount Shasta looks as if it has created a perfect unity of male/female formation.
Siva/Shakti comes to mind–the male and female energy forces that eradicate ignorance and raise the latent Kundalini energy. Soon, we arrive at the green, green water of Lake Shasta, pass the signs, Fawndale, Wonderland and turn towards the Northeast Bay.
On the Highway 37 Bridge, we pass over the estuary’s thick green marshland, where I spot egrets, ducks and coots surrounded by grassy islands. We follow sand colored hills and traffic to Healdsburg near the Russian River.
We arrive at a hillside home and see a couple waving at their front door, former students with the open hearts of a long-time connection that has not faded. The love that has been accumulating, slowly and steadily throughout my journey has become a strong current surging through my entire body.
I am delighted by the simplicity and elegance of a newly renovated, spacious great room opening gracefully to broad views. We sit at a round table overlooking sky and foothills curving 180 degrees around us. Again, conversations continue, and that gathering of love, once more, blossoms like a bouquet of fragrant flowers.