Every few months I try to leave town and head to the mountains. It helps keep me grounded and sane. I haven’t had much time to do this in the past year or so as I’ve been busy with getting Lily the services she needs for her Rett Syndrome, moving homes and settling in, searching and finding the right preschool, fighting the DOE, fighting the bus company, oh, and working full time.
In the past, when I had a free weekend, I would head up to the Sivananda ashram in the Catskills. I have an affinity for Sivananda as I did my yoga teacher training at one of their ashrams near Trivandrum, India in 2008. But I never fully connected with their heavy emphasis on Hinduism, which is a beautiful, but highly complex religion. So many deities, so many rituals, so much Sanskrit!
Also I’m nursing an injured shoulder (or I should say re-injured shoulder) so I wouldn’t have been able to participate in the 4 hours of yoga asana which is part of the daily schedule at the ashram.
But I wanted, no – needed, to get out of town and go on a retreat. I knew there were other spiritual places in the Catskills I could visit. And I remember my friend Wagner (thanks Wags!) sending me a NYTimes article on ashrams and monasteries in the Catskills yeas ago… So I looked up that article and came across Blue Cliff, which is a Buddhist Monastery. It immediately resonated with me. So I booked it.
I’m not new to Buddhism – I’ve studied the religion and have gone many times to the Shambala meditation center in Chelsea. And though I’m not a practicing Buddhist (I’m no longer a vegetarian), I know that in my heart the simplicity of the Buddhist message – developing qualities of awareness, kindness and wisdom through meditation and mindful living – resonates strongly with me.
I found a new home. The drive was less than 2 hours from Brooklyn and when I arrived, I took a 3 hour nap. The Monastery was so peaceful, so tranquil. And the people were all lovely (well, at least for the most part – more soon on that). When I wasn’t sleeping, I spent my time in group meditation, listening to beautiful dharma talks by one of the head monks, did a semi-guided relaxation session as one of the brothers serenaded us (who was an accomplished musician with the voice of an angel) and celebrated the Buddha’s 2559th birthday.
How did we celebrate his birthday? Well – there were numerous activities; my favorite of which was sitting around a bonfire and singing songs (mostly led by the musician/brother), listening to stories and dancing. It was kind of like an open-mic night. And guess what? I recited/shared ‘Pete the Cat’ with this group of awesome people. It has a very dharmic storyline and it’s also participatory so it was perfect for a bonfire singalong with a bunch of Buddhists. The monks loved it!
And the food? Oh the food… I’d easily be able to follow the Buddhist diet (vegan) if just one of those monks cooked for me every day. Wow.
While there, I met people from all walks of life. Young and old, hippie and conformist, and everything in between. And I made friends with so many. Sharing our stories, sharing how we got to find this little oasis of a place; everyone was so welcoming. But I had conversations with two women while there (both were older, likely old enough to be my mother) which keep repeating on me, like a bad meal.
What it whittles down to is this: both of these women – both of them! – said the following after I shared a bit of my story (i.e., being a single parent raising a child with special needs and working full time):
I’m so glad that I don’t have your life.
It felt like a blow to the gut. What I wanted to say in return to them (but I was doing my best to stay open and accepting) was this:
I don’t want your life either.
Instead, I assured them that my life is happy and full of miracles and I choose to live focusing on the positive, on the possibilities. On all the things that Buddhism purports. These women were Buddhists after all, right?
I guess not fully…
And I guess I forgive them; but not fully.