I came home early from the retreat. It was a three-day thing, and I was there for about twenty-four hours. It just didn't make sense to stay.
I met David and heard him speak about his waking up, heard Bruce speak about trying to get spiritual films made in Hollywood. I had conversations with both of them, got a sense of who they were. I also got to meet and hang a bit with Chuck, who lives in NC too, who reads this blog, who I've exchanged two and three line emails with for the past few months, and who is in a very similar period of withdrawing from the world.
It was an amazing retreat. 65 people in a lodge in the woods. Plenty of delicious food, available all thru the day, including gluten-free (which touched my heart more than you can possibly imagine - that these folks I'd never met took such good care of we four or five gluten-intolerant individuals). The whole vibe of the thing was so elevated, and I don't mean plush and catered and high-end. It was very rustic, very scaled down. The cost for the entire weekend, Friday 4pm to Monday 9:30am, meals and lodging included, was $52. Bunkbeds dorm style in rooms. 2 bathrooms shared by all 65 (though probably half the folks stayed in area hotels to sleep). The food was good, and simple. Lots of fresh veg and fruit, cold cuts, chili, snack foods, such an incredible abundance of nourishing foods, lots of interesting things that people brought to add to the stockpile - Ethiopian coffee, clementines, almond milk - I even brought a coop-baked gluten-free cake with the words "Open Your Eyes" written in icing as a little semi-private joke for Chuck and I. Signs for everything from bathrooms to food labels to which doors to use were written with a sharpie on torn out notebook paper, fastened with scotch tape. The lodge was well-used and smelled faintly of many adolescent campers come and gone. The bunks were thin mattresses on wooden boards. It was perfect.
All of the speakers flew in on their own dime, and for no speaking fee. There were at least four fully awake beings present, and a half dozen or more people who appeared really really close to it. There was no "teaching", no selling of method or tool or viewpoint. Folks stood up in front of the group for an hour and a half and offered something up. They talked about how they had woken up, what led to it, the flavor of it, what they believed contributed to it. They spoke about other enlightened people, people they'd lived and worked closely with for many years. They were all hilarious and warm and intelligent and present.
The people in attendance were all grown ups. Cheerfully waiting their turn for the bathroom, being incredibly respectful and quiet in the co-ed bunkrooms. These were the sort of folks who regularly turned to people they didn't know and smiled and said Hi, my name is - - - and shook your hand gently. At no time did I see trash left behind either outside, in the bathrooms, or in the meeting rooms. The dishes were always done, trash emptied, spills cleaned up. Everyone had a styrofoam cup that they wrote their name on with a sharpie and then reused. Everyone also reused their water bottles, filling them up with from the Brita filter. No one hogged the Q & A portions of the talks, or took the floor to tell stories about themselves. There were no big emotional scenes or catharting.
And the folks who headed up the weekend, who facilitated the food and organization of things, were utterly, completely chilled, relaxed, and cheerful. There was no anxious running around, no pushing for time, no resistance to anything, just a smiling, gentle, laughing flow from one thing to the next.
So why in the world did I leave? Why, after years spent in a companionship desert would I walk away early from such a gathering of fine fellows?
Several things occurred to show me what the my deal was. And what I needed to do.
The first was meeting David. A few years ago, back when I was in my last semester of grad school up in New York, he invited me to come down with a dozen other people to spend the weekend with him, hear about what it was like for him to live life fully awakened. At that very time, I was going thru an intense portion of waking up, or shedding, or realization, or whatever you want to call it. In hindsight, it was most likely what is called The Dark Night of the Senses, but the label doesn't matter. What counts is that after several years of slow, methodical sloughing, the remaining bulk of "spiritual" stuff still present inside of me was being jettisoned in a stark, harsh relentless manner. There was anxiety and depression, despair, hopelessness, and suicidal darkness, but there was also rage. An incredible amount of rage.
I now understand that the rage was a kind of emotional rocket fuel, what was needed in order to finally break free of the bullshit and waste and delusion that was my spiritual search. (You know how guys wake up with morning wood? I woke up for four years with morning rage, which wasn't nearly as fun as wood appears to be, but is a lot more productive, kinda :)
And so David's invitation came as I was deep in the midst of raging she-devil rejection of any and all spiritual teachers trying to get me to learn their method, adopt their perspective, give them guru props via my energy, time, and cash. The trajectory I was on was driving me deep inside, to a level where the only council sought was Life, the only teaching, thru the living. So I essentially told David to stick it up his God hole, and I went back to burning my house down. He emailed me hundreds of pages of his writing, and I didn't even bother to read it, just dumped it in the trash. He sent a few polite, straightforward emails. I blew it off.
Until about a year ago, when I became weirdly obsessed with him. Not in any real way, stalking his website or sending him emails or such, but in my mind. Over and over I'd see a mental image of him. It went on for a week or two, til it finally hit me that gmail saved all emails, and I went and retrieved the documents he sent. And read them. And reread them. Then sent him an email. And he responded. Then another. And another. Nothing lengthy, nothing intricate, but what they opened up in me was the sad, sad story, that emotionally charged save-me dynamic that I'd always had with my teachers. But instead of buying in, he leveled one last email at me, then essentially disappeared.
The email wasn't such a big deal, by all outward appearances, but in it was one line, and that line leaped off the screen, and bore a hole right through my head, where for the last year, the ego has been draining out of. It was the line in bold that did it:
You are simply trying to control things WAY too much - c'mon. That's the first lesson out of all of this. Finally, for chrissakes, will you just give up your illusion of control once and for all? Anything can and will happen. That is what is scaring the shit out of you and keeping you from proceeding. Anything. At all. Especially THE thing - whatever it may be - that frightens you the most and got this whole ball of personality building/dismantleing seeking started in the first place. You can't control anything. You still are acting as if you can. Let the possibility of the 'worst' coming about out of your grip and sit with the fact that YOU HAVE NO SAY IN ANY OF THIS AT ALL, and never have, and never will.
So the f*ck what.
I haven't really had contact with him since, except for a brief exchange of emails where I was in horrible pain and begged him on several occasions to speak with me on the phone. But he said he was going out of town, or was too tired after teaching an evening class, or wanted to watch American Idol. After the last one, getting that on his food chain, my "problems" were less immediate than the latest episode of AI, I began laughing hysterically, laughing and laughing until I too was more interested in directing my attention and energy toward tv than to my "problems" after which all of my "problems" disappeared as I finally realized that there are no such things as problems, only the changing of the angle in which issues of a living are looked at. (Please take a moment to let this sink in. You have no problems. There doesn't exist such a thing. There is only an issue arising that must be dealt with in some manner, and how to deal with it, Life shows you very clearly.)
And so back to the retreat - meeting David was the reason I signed up for it, why I went. I haven't been to a spiritual meeting in almost four years, and the idea of hanging out with spiritual seekers gave me a head cramp, but I felt strongly driven to meet this guy, the guy who helpfully shot off part of my head, and then ignored the bleeding, all of which assisted in me seeing there was no head, and therefor no blood either.
And so I met him. I sat down beside him, introduced myself, said hi, and we chatted for about ten minutes. Ten long, uncomfortable, weird minutes. He barely made eye contact, and the conversation consisted of a sort of small talk - surface chat about kitties and his retreat I hadn't attended, even about the diagnosis I received a couple of weeks ago, no depth to the talking, just sentences skittering by. The couple of times he did make eye contact, his eyes were luminous, full of humor and love. I wanted to spend more time with him, but it just didn't click, and so other than "hi" a few times when our paths crossed in the small lodge, we didn't speak again.
I hung out with Chuck, and it too was a sort of brief truncated connection. There really wasn't anything to talk about so we just sat next to each other a few times, spoke a few sentences here or there. I was simply grateful for his presence. My brother. The look in his eyes alternating between crazy joy and clawing desperation. That look I know so well, but usually from the inside looking out. When we parted ways - he was leaving early too - we hugged one another, two drowning people in the middle of the ocean, surrendered to what is coming, scared here and there, the fear coming and receding in waves, but no longer panicked, and often deep inside tunnels of gorgeous wonder, awe, pointless joy.
Mid-Saturday, one of Richard Rose's intimate students stood to speak about his time with Rose, and to read some of Rose's poetry. I cried during his whole talk. Partly because the poetry carved at my heart with it's images of the horrible luscious truth and beauty of the world. But mostly because as I listened to this gorgeous wreck of a man, in his late fifties, and in so much obvious pain in his living, I got how much he loved Rose, with all of his heart, and how much Rose loved him too, how dedicated Rose was to meeting him where he stood, how he never shut him out, or turned him away. And I got: Rose was as Awake as a person can get, and this broken man tried as hard as anyone possibly could, and if these two things didn't produce enlightenment, then what hope do I have with any of these teachers, these awake beings that roam this earth?
You're on your own, is what I heard. And I felt it too. I got that there was nothing any of these teachers could offer me, not really, not anything that I can't get on my own.
And then the final nail in the coffin of the retreat for me: a conversation with Bruce Rubin, this amazing dude who wrote and continues to write deep, insightful movies, and whose eyes were so kind and bright and intelligent and gentle. We talked about his different movies, themes of love and waking up, death and opening your eyes. I didn't mention that I wrote, but did say that for a few years I'd been an actress, but that I was too sensitive for the business end of it, that even the art of it wasn't worth what the business of it cost, and that I'd made spirituality the main focus of my living. And he looked at me and said: I made a decision early on that I wanted all of it - the money, the career, the art, the wife, and the spirituality - mostly people use the search for spirituality as a way to avoid having a full life - but until you have an absolutely full life, when you get that none of it really satisfies you, you don't face that moment that is unlike anything else - and there's a huge difference between having it all and setting it down, and letting go of something you've never really had in the first place. And with that he drifted off, and I stood there with a weird feeling in my heart, a feeling that grew into a realization when he mentioned it again during his talk: it's a cop out not to live the achievement-filled, successful, full life.
And then I remembered another deep reason why I've pulled so intensely away from the world of spiritual seekers. Why I don't get the whole Enlightenment scene anymore. The popular belief is that enlightenment is a sort of cherry on the top of a successful life. Wealthy, married, surrounded by all the Yes objects of modern living, yet still not happy, and so finally, enlightenment is turned toward. All of which is absolutely radiant. And yet it isn't the only way.
For this life, this living that "I" sit in, the turning was away from success in the world, the belief that any of it would make me happy, the letting go of the pursuit of soulmate and cash and career and even the concept of happiness. I have failed at every single thing I've attempted in this life. There has been nothing but the most brief of successes, of flows of money, of connections with soulmates, of seeing hard work and faith and inspiration and drive pay off. For this life, the turning was about giving up hope, about refusing to spend one more hour believing that a full, ripe fruit falling from a tree was any better than a dried, shriveled fruit slowly blowing away on the wind. But popular culture, especially the hardcore spiritual seeker set don't agree.
And at this retreat, where every single speaker was male, where the audience was comprised of not more than 15 women in a crowd of 65, I, as a 43 year old fat chick, single, working a 31K social work job, surrounded by kitties, no longer interested in pursuing a Big Life as determined by modern ideas of success, understood: you will not find what you need here. And I looked around at all of the beautiful, gorgeous folks around me, their keen awareness and intelligence and depth, the group of them the likes of which I'll most likely never again encounter in this lifetime. And I went to my bunk, packed my things, walked to my car, and began the two and a half hour drive home.
Because my ashram is now whatever is around me. I don't need to go anywhere. My teachers are everyone. I don't need to find a special one, even an enlightened one, as if some of their Awake would rub itself into my skin. I don't need to seek out the company of fine fellows. The felines I find myself with are so very, very fine. There is nothing that I need that I don't have. The enlightenment will be found inside the living, where it always has been, and always will, no matter who comes for it, no matter who it chooses.
I'm so grateful to have met so very many tall, tall folks this weekend, so very many highly evolved beings, perched on the very edge of what it means to be human and to know you are One. And I'm grateful for the folks I'll be with again come Tuesday morning, the humans who live on the sharpest edge of survival, whose energy and motivation and lifeforce is spent daily on finding food, shelter, meaning. I'm grateful for the kitties, Emmaline and Malcolm and Jacinta and Wallace who keep me simple and pure and light and awake to each moment as they play and lick and eat and poop and stretch and purrrrp and race about the house on flying paws. I'm glad for the people still taking care of me, in the small ways I can take in, who accept with open hearts the tiny crumbs of companionship I have to offer anyone anymore - my sister, Kelly, my coworker in HiveWorld, Sean, Chuck, my landlords, you lovely readers.
There is so very much ego left to burn in this living I'm in. And I may or may not become fully awakened in this life. But it doesn't matter to me anymore. Whatever slivers of wanting it that were still embedded in my brain have been pushed out. All that's left is the living, the waking up each morning and doing the next thing to be done, whether it's writing or getting a PhD or having sex or eating cake or having my cervix removed.
Enlightenment never was and never will be up to me, in my control, or even something I can fail at. There is only the continuing surrender into life, into the Yes that removes all of the hard edges of a living, turns even cancer into the sweetest, most precious, loving act of kindness.
And it's that way for everyone. God doesn't care if you have an Oscar, or have found your soulmate, or are admired by your peers, unless these are stones that you absolutely feel to turn over, and peer under. All Life cares about is you coming home, realizing that you and Life are one and the same, and that you are already home.
Because it's all precious. Every grain of rice. Every bent nail. Every cherry blossom. Every piece of fruit. It's all perfect. All of it . . .