Some thoughts on my return from Tassajara Zen Mountain Retreat. I was only at Tassajara for 3 days, but I stayed off Facebook from May 29th through today – June 24, a record for me who has posted daily updates since 2008.’
Without Facebook I felt the portals of my mind close. Remember Being John Malkovich? I was no longer leaping into other people’s heads, and even better, no one was leaping in to mine. It felt peaceful. Stable. Secure
My second day at Tassajara, hiking up to the Wind Caves, which are just that, caves sculpted by wind, through the richly scented chaparral and explosions of wildflowers, cresting the peak and looking west towards a hidden Pacific, I felt that melty feeling in the chest when the heart opens. All the anger, heat and constriction that I’ve been carrying for over a year, since the last election cycle, left, as did the pain of months of disciplined work, and the growing pile of interpersonal frustrations, regretted words and mistakes. All the disasters of birth, biology, society and history, for a brief moment, let up. What did the butterfly care? The wings in my chest spread. I breathed in the bright sky, the heat and the cool purple shadows of caves. I didn’t want to return – ever.
What happened on this Zen retreat? Nothing. I ate a lot. I wouldn’t ordinarily pair gastronomical excess with Buddhism, but Tassajara, which runs Greens Restaurant, has a long tradition of baking bread and gourmet vegetarian food. I ate everything with the desperation of lack. I thought, “When will I ever eat this well again? Yes! Please! I’ll have seconds.” My single-person cooking is limited to a routine of farmer’s market salads, steamed vegetables, lemon juice, tempeh, sweet potatoes and the like. But Tassajara is old-school vegetarian fare – their famous fresh baked breads, with no stinting on cheese, herbs or olive oil.
I hiked. I soaked forever in the hot springs. I took advantage of their complimentary supply of EO Lavender and Citrus Honey body lotions and shampoos. I jumped into the river. I cooled my head in the waterfall. I utilized the yoga room. While hiking, I ran into a well-known local author and tango dancer, and was invited back to a life of teetering heels and the mystique of suffering, desire and connection. I still haven’t managed to shake off the deep stillness of Tassajara, I can’t yet emerge from summer hibernation.
Three weeks of introvert recovery after 9 months of intensely peopled work. Pulling myself out of the cave hurts. Light is too bright. My still cool apartment, with its endless list of tiny and fascinating projects – pounding pesto with a mortar and pestle! – envelopes.
During these weeks, I read Elena Ferrante’s Neapolitan Quartet – My Brilliant Friend, The Story of the New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay, The Lost Child. I read with fury, and annoyance. Without social media, there was no one but the reviewers from the New Yorker to compare opinions about this cast of beautifully rendered but unlikable characters. I made pasta and cooked with olive oil. I pretended I was Italian.
This time off Facebook has returned concentration. But without Facebook, I discovered that I have less motivation to write. Ideas remain locked inside my head, such as, the fascinating elbow injury that points out years of misconception, or the familiar pain of error, countered by the willful enthusiasm of my fool self. There’s no way of steering clear of trouble. Skillful action always seems like someone else’s good idea.
I jotted down a few notes from Tassajara:
Since the Self is multifaceted, how can we know ourselves? How can we judge others when we can never fully understand our own motivations?
(and yet, back in San Francisco, plugged back in to the news cycle, things are not so Zen. I no longer understand what it means to not judge)
Facebook is Selfing. Zen is No Self.
(but now that I am back in my life, I also see the benefits of Facebook – input, connection, community, albeit ethereal).
So much energy is expended trying to control what is uncontrollable. There’s relaxation when we accept that which we can’t control.
(but now that I am home, I wonder how this relaxation is paired with action for change)