Alan Ginsberg’s Ghost

Concentrate on what you want to say to yourself and your friends. Follow your inner moonlight; don’t hide the madness. You say what you want to say when you don’t care who’s listening.

― Allen Ginsberg,
from On Being a Writer,

I have now been here for 5 days… I can’t say it has been a cake walk – but it has certainly been worthwhile.  I have enjoyed meeting some truly lovely people.  I have continued to push the boundaries of my comfort level.  I have walked my ass off.  I have napped without guilt.

And I think I’m really starting to get this whole “my body is a temple” thing…especially given the fact that more often than not, I have treated my body like the homes of those hoarders you see on TV. I’ll just wallow in my shit, your shit, everybody’s shit – and then desperately cling to it when people try to help me clean it all up.

Honestly, the only thing I wish I had done differently, was to have found a similar spot but without the religious overtones.  No one has been pushy with it, but I continue to feel like a wolf in sheep’s clothing.  I actually envy people who are so certain – certain about the meaning of life, what happens to us when we die, who God is, what kind of food he wants us to consume and not consume, which words offend him, which political candidate he wants us to vote for.  I am not a true believer in anything – other than perhaps this statement:

All I Know Is That I Don’t Know Jack.

Could I start a religion around that?  Probably not. I would need at least ten commandments, but all I’ve got is Thou Shalt Not Profess To Know That Which Ye Does Not.

I’m just someone who needed some perspective and tranquility for a few days.  I can’t fake a persona any deeper than that.  No dramatic spiritual awakening for me – but better mental and physical health is not a bad thing to leave with considering what I could have left with after other vacations (i.e. – Vegas.)

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Wasn’t he on Arrested Development?

I have kept busy. I ‘ve had two massages.  I’ve done yoga.  I was instructed on meditation (fyi – there is no right way to do it but I learned some tips that helped me stay focused).   I went shopping.  (Yes – they have a boutique here.  Believe me – I can and will find them.  I am the Shopping Sensei.)  I went on a tour of the community which, from what I can gather, is primarily baby boomer hippies of independent means.  Alan Ginsberg was actually one of three people to purchase this property along with the community’s spiritual founder – I’m pretty sure I saw his ghost lurking in the woods outside my cabin last night…but then again, maybe it was a crazy mountain man stalker.

The food has been decent, just a little heavy on the Mung Beans for my taste.  Everything is vegetarian with vegan and gluten free options as well.  Although I have never been a huge meat eater, I still find myself, both physiologically and psychologically…waiting for the entrée.  There is nothing in this place that anyone could possibly construe as toxic or bad for you.  (Believe me – I’ve searched high and low – these folks have no vices other than going on an occasional Chia bender.)

However – and you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon yourself whilst shopping at your local natural foods co-op (see  http://www.mybeautifulwickedness.net/2014/04/my-co-op-flop/ ) – people who should be so healthy and symptom-free based on their pristine diets, are almost always intolerant – please insert appropriate description here – Gluten, Meat, Dairy, GMO, MSG, YAD (yummy and delicious) – whatever it may be.  Why are they such hot house flowers?

I just dined with a woman who had to break open and sprinkle the contents of her probiotic capsule over her cucumbers, tomatoes, and lettuce because otherwise she would – I’m trying to understand here – be what?  Constipated?  Gassy?  Have symptoms of Dysentery?  Yet I can consecutively order in two separate fast food drive-throughs, after consuming copious amounts of alcohol, and wake up to nothing more than a slight headache and a feeling of remorse.  (This is just a hypothetical situation, mind you.  I would never actually…uhmm…do something so pathetic.)

I guess I am like a highly trained athlete – dedicated to the daily practice of Eating Well.  Meaning:  WELL…someone put this plate of food in front of me, so of course I can’t be rude.  WELL…somebody left donuts in the breakroom, so I guess I better eat one before they get stale.  WELL…I could fix myself something healthy to eat, but opening this bag of chips would be quicker and not make such a mess.

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Me, looking all Zen and shit.

But before this turns into a gripe fest, which is definitely not my intention…here is is my favorite spot, just steps away from my cabin. Yep – that’s a reflection of the sky in the lake, motherfuckers!  As an added bonus – there is a temple for meditation next to said lake.  Inside there is a life-sized statue of some holy dude, placed here so he can inspire you during your meditations.  (Personally, I think it’s to discourage horny teenagers from defiling the place, but again – we already know I’m going to Hell.)

Just wait until I get back, y’all.  You have no idea how obnoxious I will be in my new-found spiritual and dietary superiority.

Pirate’s Booty

Introductions.

I had the best of intentions.  I was going to be dropped off with no car, no snack food, no wine, and with very limited phone and internet service.  Just my faith that – hey, I could survive anything for a week, right?  But the closer I got, the more frequently I found myself watching the passing In-And-Out Burgers, Starbucks, and Costco’s in my rear view mirror with mounting panic.  What if I found myself starving to death? (which is what we Americans call having a genuine hunger pang.)  Or what if my junk food detox left me holed up in my cabin – crazed, like some rabid beast?  Then what would I do?

After driving for 10 miles on a steep windy road and seeing nothing, knowing that my turn off to the retreat was just a couple of miles further ahead, I felt my stomach sink.  Too late!  Why didn’t I stop before?  You fool – now it’s too late!  Then – like a beacon of light in a stormy sea – there it was.  Mother Trucker’s Market.

Feeling like this was either a test of my faith or a Hail Mary Touchdown moment, I hastily parked and hurried into the tiny establishment, basket in hand.  What had I been thinking?  Like any mom with a big purse knows, you should always have a few snacks squirreled away, just in case.  By the same token, I was ashamed by my complete and utter lack of anything resembling courage or willpower…I didn’t want to wimp out completely.  So ultimately, here was my compromise:

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That, and a little dark chocolate.   I reassured myself that they were labeled fair trade, gluten and GMO free, and could both be purchased at Trader Joes – how bad could they be? And I immediately felt better tucking them both into the corner of my duffle bag…my secret stash, my preeecious.

20160403_141224The retreat’s setting is absolutely beautiful – ridges and valleys filled with green meadows, groves of oak and pine trees, colorful bursts of wild flowers and tulips, and small lakes and ponds where frogs croak and geese congregate.   You can walk quiet  streets with names like  “Brotherhood Way” or wooded pathways leading to tranquil spots with benches for meditation.  I’m not kidding.  This place is transplendorific (my word) – it’s no wonder people come from near and far to stay for a weekend, a month, or even longer.

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I arrived early in the evening, when it was still light.  The lady who checked me in at the reception desk was exactly who I was expecting to greet me…picture anyone in an Exploring Your Inner Goddess Through Astrology workshop.  Silver tinged wavy hair, sporting a J. Jill tunic, REI khakis and Tevas with socks.  She also had one of those voices reserved for yoga instructors and therapists – extremely calm and melodic.

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It’s name is “Calmness”.

As she showed me the common dining room, the temple where I could practice yoga and meditation twice a day, and the clusters of buildings housing the retreat’s guests, I felt a huge sense of relief.  Everything looked normal enough.  As a matter of fact, my little one room cabin is actually very sweet and cozy, with a little porch and windows looking out over the foothills below.

However, despite the idyllic setting, for the first 12 hours, being here did not prove relaxing for me at all.  Everyone I met seemed so…happy.  Not obnoxiously happy.  But annoyingly happy nonetheless – with their slightly upturned smiles, serene gazes, and knowing nods.  I had a flashback thought to the classic 1960 movie “The Time Machine”, based on the HG Wells

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I’ve been told I have an overactive imagination.

novel by the same name.  For those too young to remember, the time machine inventor finds himself transported to an Eloi commune, which as far as I could gather, at least from watching the movie, was basically a home for mentally challenged Swedish models.  So of course when the gong signaling meal time rang out in the morning air, I immediately thought it was trickery and we were actually being summoned by Morlocks.

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I’m pretty sure the light follows him around, even at night…

When I first entered the dining hall I spotted a young man who is staying here for a month-long yoga teacher training (I’ve since named him Hot Jesus…and btw – this will be theme because I’m horrible with names.  If I see you every day for a year there is only an 80/20 chance that I will remember your name, and that is only if I like you.)  He was sitting alone at one of the tables, just gazing out a large window that looks out onto a center courtyard.   << Here is a stealth picture I took of him later in the communal living room.

Literally, HJ was bathed in this halo of golden sunlight, his blue eyes lifted upwards toward the heavens, and apparently enlightened and peaceful as fuck.  So, of course, like any normal person, I was immediately on guard, watching my own back like a new prison inmate.

That first morning, for some reason, breakfast was supposed to be in silence.  Don’t get me wrong – I prefer breakfast in silence – if you try to talk to me before my second cup of coffee you’re lucky if you get a warning grunt in response.  But still – not a good first meal for me to have to figure out their dining room protocol.  Why is there a large bowl of plain yogurt sitting next to a bowl of prunes and a bowl of sunflower seeds?  Does anybody actually mix those three things together? 

The oatmeal looked edible, but I watched helplessly as the gal in front of me scraped the last gigantic gob of it into her bowl.  My mind was thinking Seriously Bitch?  But my face was trying to smile serenely …Yessss, Namaste.  I slunk over to the kitchen area and furtively whispered to the cook that the oatmeal was all gone.  Meaning – please refill the bowl.  He looked at me like I was a dullard.  “Yep.  That’d be the last of it,” he stated simply, and turned back to what he was doing.

Let us offer up thanks to the Divine for the blessing of Mother Trucker’s Pirate’s Booty

Thoughts Before Entering A Commune

Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my Zen to keep.

If I should somehow be led astray,

Just don’t ever let me wear hemp Aladdin pants in public.

That is all.

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Actually, let me assure you that I willingly signed up for this, with no coercion.  Promise.  But now that payment has been made and my bag is being packed, I find myself more than a little nervous.  I’ve never done anything quite like this before.  Honestly, the closest I’ve ever come to a spiritual retreat is smoking pot at a Grateful Dead Concert.  

The accommodations will be rustic, with no reliable wifi, or television, and only outdoor shared bathrooms and shower facilities.  The Four Seasons it ain’t.  But it looks like a beautiful setting and at least I was selfish enough to book my own cabin  Although I use the term “cabin” loosely and only because that’s what they’re calling them on the website.  In actuality, they resemble more what I would describe as “Unabomber Shack Chic.”

And what do I even bring to a spiritual retreat that promises yoga classes and guided meditations every day, a spiritual counseling session, and one evening of “devotional chanting”?  I have no idea what the dress code is for a devotional chanting other than perhaps something like this…

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…but unfortunately I don’t own anything like it.  Maybe a hooded bathrobe or a smoking jacket will suffice.  I like the idea of wearing yoga pants for physical activity, and a bathrobe or a smoking jacket with or without fuzzy slippers for any of the more formal events.

All meals are communal and described as delicious vegetarian meals which include organic produce from their own garden, as well as gluten free and non-dairy options.  I will definitely give it a go, but I’m probably smuggling in some summer sausage contraband, just in case my carnivorous cravings kick in – I don’t want to be stuck wrangling a wild turkey and trying to whittle a spit to furtively cook it over an open flame out in the woods.  

So why, might you ask, am I prepping for Karmageddon now?  Well, to begin with I turned 50 this year, and I think that’s a pretty good age to push your comfort level. You may call it a mid-life crisis, I prefer to call it a mid-life awakening…or at least a mid-life take-a-closer-look at-your-options.  

I am also in professional transition and feel the need to hit the reset button of my brain to begin my journey down a more creative path.  If someone can help teach me how to live calmly in an un-calm world,  how to occasionally still the constant chatter in my brain, and how to live more mindfully – heck – I’m all in.

Frankly things haven’t been so great lately.  I’ve experienced some trying times with family and friends.  I have struggled with my own sense of self and felt far less healthy both physically and spiritually than I desire to be.  And recently I’ve seen some pretty shitty things happen to some people I love that has shaken my admittedly already rickety sense of faith.

So it can’t hurt.  And who knows?  Maybe I will even learn how to do that blasted Crane pose.  Wish me luck and I will keep you posted.