I have White Snake’s lovely 80s hit running through my head as I click, Open > New Document: “Here I go again on my own, goin’ down the only road I’ve ever known.”
I’m home. I back, on my couch in Oakland, with my space heater, sweater, sweatshirt, two throw blankets and a mug of hot tea. Back to my keyboard, back to you, to my friends.
It only took the full 10 days I was there, but I finally achieved serenity while in Hawaii. Yesterday. (Which, with my red-eye flight and layover, seems both farther and closer than one whole day ago.)
I was riding the ferry from the island of Lanai back to Maui after a day spent with my host, a housemate, and a couple, my host’s friends and natives of Lanai, exploring the island (the secluded ShipWreck beach, their home where a horned chameleon slowly trailed his way along their wooden fence, the spectacular view and lunch at the chi chi golf course). On the ferry back, it wasn’t the deep blue blue of the ocean, or the humpback whale tails we spotted as two dove for deeper water, or the sunshine that rendered the wind mild as a breeze – it was the simplicity, for me, of breathing without holding my breath. Without holding my belly. Breathing in fully the sea air, riding the grade and fall of the ship with loose knees and loose hands, closing my eyes, and finally, finally, not being anywhere else except for where I was; not wishing anything at all were different around or within me.
On the undulating deck of a tourist ferry, I found stillness.
The only thing that has made my reentry to this side of the Pacific palatable is that tomorrow morning, I head on my annual women’s retreat. With all the sturm und drang of, Retreat: yes or no; Hawaii: yes or no, I now feel it couldn’t have worked out more perfectly. The 10 days as prep for the retreat. Luckily, I don’t and didn’t feel a massive “I don’t want to go back” as I (yes, reluctantly) packed yesterday, because I knew and know that it means that I get to go on my retreat, and touch down even further. To be in a very different climate doing essentially the same thing – trying to get quiet, and find stillness.
And maybe even find guidance, but I suppose that’s just more of my expectations, and my relentless desire to feel different or better or know more or do more. I may get nothing; no guidance. I may simply get the opportunity to sit with a group of women in the hills of Napa and try to get some quiet between my ears and full breaths in my lungs, simply sit with them during our various modes of inner seeking and get repetition of things I’ve already heard.
Because, I did not, as was perhaps wanted/expected, get some stroke of brilliance for how to change my life, to turn around my “false start at life,” my “failure to launch” while I sat on a beach in a tropical locale. So, why should I get or expect one when sitting in a redwood circle around a bonfire? (Although, perhaps the brilliance is simply experiencing those moments themselves.)
I was talking with my host last night before she dropped me for my midnight flight near the north shore of Maui. We sat in a diner eating a combination of rueful snack objects not found on the mainland. And I told her how I’m trying to extricate my belief system from a Higher Power that I interpret as “You do good, you get good; you do bad, you get bad.” That I want to begin to associate a higher power more with the simple serenity I get when I touch into meditation, or like that moment on the ferry boat. Just calm. Just stillness.
But, I told her, this “it just is”ness isn’t necessarily comforting; that isn’t its point, as far as I can tell or “figure out” from my Buddhist-esque readings. The point, as I interpret it, is more to just be with what is; that’s the whole essence; that’s the end result. There isn’t a warm shawl of comfort to throw around your shoulders, telling you it’ll be alright.
As Pema put it, rather tongue-in-cheekily, we’d be better off with the catch phrase “Abandon Hope,” rather than, “It’ll be alright,” as the latter attempts to put us somewhere else, the future, the idea that in the future, the moment will be better. “Abandon Hope,” she says, means to encourage us to stop thinking that something in the future will come along to change how we feel or change the moment into something different – that hope takes us out of the current moment. And so, instead, abandon it, and abandon yourself to what is.
Well, this isn’t very comforting, is it?
Or, is it?
I don’t know yet.
But, my companion at the diner asked me, since my “higher power” is always and only of my own conception anyway, why not make it a comforting one? … *brain crack* Uhh. … Then aren’t I back to where I was before? Believing something will come along to make me “feel better?” when really I just need to be simply feeling?
Ack, said my brain. And, in full acknowledgement, my brain is not really the organ to be attempting to parse out spiritual matters. It is always bound to get wound in knots.
So, although I may not have firm expectations that I will be enlightened, or even mini-lightened, on this weekend’s retreat, I do expect that I will share some about my bardo, my transition, this liminal space, and I do hope (ha! am I allowed to use that word?!) that I can get some feedback or insight from other women whom I trust and love.
Most people dread coming back from vacation, because it means work on Monday. For me, it means Round 4 chemo on Monday. And I suppose, that “just is” too.
“Here I go again,” but perhaps not on my own.