prose

Piece of Mind

You know things are bad when you find yourself resorting to the divine powers for help — or at least you know it’s bad when your sister is. My older sister has been getting more spiritual as of late and I honestly wish I didn’t know the reason why. In fact, because of her newfound sense of spirituality, last weekend I found myself being dragged to a Wake Up retreat down in rural Los Angeles. And for reasons beyond me, I actually didn’t put up much of a fight. Maybe the damage from last year was too taxing — maybe my body and mind couldn’t handle it anymore.

So there I was traipsing with my sister to a place up in the mountains where there would be no internet or cell phone reception. Quite frankly I couldn’t have cared less if there was reception because the only reason I would bring my phone would be to lose myself in my music. But obviously I couldn’t do that during this retreat since it was supposed to be a place of meditation and mindfulness.

Despite having printed out a legitimate set of directions which I had retrieved the night before our trip from the retreat’s confirmation email itself, we became lost more often than I would like to say. Ironically, when we phoned the retreat in order to receive better instructions, the man my sister was talking to eventually told us to use the GPS — an instruction the direction printout had specifically told us not to do at all costs. I think I may have snapped at the man, either because of his absurd questions or because I was just cranky from driving up and down unfamiliar roads and highways. My sister had covered the mouthpiece with her hand so the man wouldn’t hear my own suggestive remarks and I could have sworn I heard her snickering at me. She finds my fiery temperament amusing nowadays and I can’t blame her because I can be a little absurd in my reasoning.

When we finally arrived at the retreat about three or so hours after the time we had originally planned on coming, it was absolutely silent and still. Aside from the man who greeted us at the gate — and an incredulous, bigoted comment by yours truly, “Is that guy white?” to which my sister scolded me — there wasn’t any sign of activity. When we got out of the car, we were met with brisk cold mountain air and I knew from the second I stepped outside that I was not prepared for this. I mean I literally had not been prepared since I only brought a few change of clothes which consisted of long sleeves and sweaters that were clearly not meant for the snow that was slowly melting on the ground. My sister however fared worst than me: as we walked across the muddied road to the makeshift table with a sign that read “Sign In Registration Here,” she had whispered hurriedly to me that the only piece of clothing that was fit for this weather was the sweatshirt she was currently wearing and that she had a bin full of summer clothes in the trunk. It was now my turn to bask in amusement.

I would continue to describe every part of the retreat in great detail but I think that would run on too long so I’ll attempt to describe it briefly. We eventually found out from the monk who was heading the registration table that all of the people who had arrived for the retreat were currently doing a walking meditation. For the next two days, we woke up “joyfully” before six as we all had to congregate in the compassion yurt for sitting meditations — I had originally thought the sign on the structure had said confession yurt which only caused my sister to snicker even more so than before — and went on walking meditations on a trail that I thought was very far from giving me a peace of mind seeing as it was steep and heavily blanketed in slippery leaves and snow. Despite this, I found myself being extremely entertained: I would purposefully walk over to snow patches to stomp around on the snow which had started to soften into a fine powder and crackle underneath my shoes. A few of the monks and nuns actually initiated a snowball fight during our walking meditation on the second day and it was absolutely hilarious. I sledded for the first time on a small plastic sled down a gentle hill and my whole backside was completely drenched after five more runs.

I made new friends through a dharma sharing session, in which I found myself sobbing uncontrollably about my past emotional year. I was actually able to know what it was like to have clear mind while I meditated and was able to sit through the long dharma talks; thankfully the monks and nuns were quite contemporary in their teachings, blending both everyday life with the teachings of mindfulness and harmony — and it was primarily in English, which is always a good thing because many of us were not  fluent in Vietnamese. I was able to attain deep relaxation in the yurt on the second day and apparently many of the others did as well since the snoring started sounding off in a surprisingly consistent succession.

At one point, what had started out as an eager and wistful trek up to the dining hall for a snack for my sister and I turned into an reluctant recruitment to perform a dance with fans for the last day festivities. I was horrified at first because I lacked any kind of hand-eye coordination that would make me look the slightest bit graceful, but eventually even though the other girls — all “victims” who were randomly picked out in the crowd — and I had only a day to practice flourishes and twirls, we were able to pull it off in the end…well, somewhat. The monks and nuns had all thought our dance was beautiful even though we had a moment of confusion a third of the way through and we pretty much just twirled around, following each other in a frantic succession while blindly waving our fans around to portray that we were in fact still dancing. We didn’t even try to hold back in our laughter in the midst of our confusion and bafflement. Despite this I had felt graceful and I had been the happiest I had ever been in the past few months.

Well, my “brief” details didn’t really work out as planned but then again I’m not one to be brief about anything, especially when it comes to writing. All I can say is that I truly enjoyed the experiences I had at the retreat and I am definitely looking forward to going to more!

If you’re interested in it as well, please visit Wake Up to find a retreat near you — young Buddhists and non-Buddhists alike are all welcome!

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