In the last few years I’ve had a new yearning to travel alone. Specifically, I’ve been daydreaming (for years) about taking a yoga / meditation / writing retreat up at Doe Bay Resort on Orcas Island. Every time they host a retreat or a conference that would be right up my alley, I eye it, and decide not to indulge myself; balking sometimes at the price, sometimes for no reason whatsoever. Until very recently, I’ve hesitated to schedule solo travel because of the hope or expectation of a partner; sitting here, writing that today, I don’t actually even really recognize the me who has thought that way since somehow she seems to have exited stage right in the last couple of years. Now, I have the opposite: a hard time scheduling dates because I have so many solo commitments to myself that I’m not willing to negotiate away.
The most recent of which I’m freshly back from… a little long weekend up at Orcas. There was no organized retreat, and my time was far too short: a day of travel, one day of retreat, one day of travel and suddenly I’m back in the city which seems, again, too noisy and fast-paced. But man. That one day of retreat. So good. So worth it. So when can I do that again please?
I didn’t really have to plan anything, since Orcas is so familiar. My first trip there (I think) was riding my bike there when I was in high school for a camping trip, so in some ways that island is more familiar to me than places I’ve lived much longer. I usually stay at Doe Bay but they were booked up so I found a funky little Airbnb and mailed in a check for the deposit. I figured I’d take Gibson for a good long hike (so I wouldn’t feel guilty abandoning her to) soak in the tubs at Doe Bay, do a yoga class then treat myself to a decadent dinner at the Doe Bay Cafe. In between, I had plenty of reading and dharma talks to listen to, my meditation cushion, my paper journal, a bag of film and my analog cameras. Since there’s little cell signal on the island, it was also a chance to unplug, which was glorious.
The last few weeks I’ve been really enjoying a mindfulness class at Seattle Insight Meditation Society and as I moved through the weekend the attention I’ve been paying to … well … attention … were noticeable. On my hike with Gibson I noticed my busy brain. Sometimes planning. Sometimes judging. Sometimes ruminating on the recent past. At other times, though, I found myself stopping to take in the forest floor, nearly covered with thick, quilt-batting-like spider webs. Stopping to gaze at the sun streaming through the trees and mist, since the morning’s marine layer hadn’t yet lifted. Enjoying watching Gibson sniff at new smells, since the hike we chose made its way through about four different microclimates and ecosystems. Feeling the heat of my body making my way uphill, and feeling the cool of the island air on the way back down. And the hike did its job, tiring Gibson out enough that I didn’t feel guilty tucking her in while I spent a little time on myself the rest of the day.
After a little nap with her (the second time this weekend I fell asleep listening to one of the carefully-chosen dharma talks I’d packed), followed by a splendid yoga class (my intention: renewal), a soak in the pre-evening-rush hot tubs and an incredible dinner at the cafe, I stepped outside into the cold, fresh night air.
The sparkle of the night sky above literally took my breath. The stars were SO bright in a moon-less sky — it was like that one time I walked by a pet store in Portland and saw kittens in the window and was shocked that I had actually forgotten about the fact of kittens. It has been so long since I took in the night sky without the city’s contribution to ambient light that I’d forgotten about the fact of the night sky, covered in pinpricks of light, limitless, in perfect contrast.
I found the moon later, on my drive home, orange and huge and waxing crescent — it had been tucked behind the trees from Doe Bay. And it too stopped me in my tracks.
After a second solid night’s sleep, this morning was one of the highlights of the trip. Gibson curled up on the bed after our morning walk, facing the windows. She didn’t go back to sleep like she usually does. She just gazed out the window toward the water watching, apparently, nothing in particular. Her eyes were relaxed, her ears alert, and she looked completely content. She’s one of my favorite teachers. I took a break from the busy-ness of packing, and sat down on the bed with her and shared the view for a few minutes. It had just started to rain. The muffled sound of the water lapping on the rocky beach wafted through the walls of the cabin. And it was a perfect start to the day.
I headed back to the Doe Bay Cafe for breakfast and it was perfection. Sitting at the heavy wood table, watching the rain come down outside the windows, the mist of the marine layer heavy over the water, the coffee strong and the food fresh-picked and lovingly prepared, my journal entry for the day only just started, it seemed inconceivable that I’d be back in the city by dinnertime. In less than a day I’d gotten so comfortable with being unplugged that I not only didn’t know where my phone was: I couldn’t have cared less. Not having my phone on my person, it turns out, may become a new normal.
And that’s life. Only part of meditation practice takes place sitting on a cushion, the rest happens while we’re grocery shopping or answering emails from work or stuck in traffic. And only part of my self-care and renewal takes place on retreat; the rest is bringing my attention and awareness to the city part of my life as well.
So tonight I’m craving risotto and an untimed sitting and a sleepy puppy (which is hard to achieve since her dislike of the rain is indirectly proportional to my love of the rain) so two out of three isn’t bad. And then this week I’ll navigate more change as I near the end of one job and gear up and set my intentions to start the next one and, as my meditation teacher would ask: “Is that okay?” Yes. It’s okay. It’s all okay.