Category Archives: Writing

Retreat. Renewal. Risotto.

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.

doe bay cafe breakfastI 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.

Make my smartphone a dumbphone, please.

A few days ago I did my semi-annual search for the words “make my smartphone a dumb phone” and found the same few  links as the last time I did that search.

A friend of mine discovered AppCertain, an “app nanny” that allows parents to turn off app access for their children (or, if you’re like me, allows my outer grown-up to turn off app access for my inner child).  It lets me put my phone into “curfew mode,” disabling access to all of the phone’s apps, leaving only the SMS text capability and the actual phone itself intact. Upside: unplugged. Downside: no camera and Google Maps. So after a little poking around and thinking about the behavior of mine that I was trying to get a better handle on, I took a pared down approach.

Goodbye, Facebook. Sayonara email. See you later, Twitter. After awhile, web browser.

I still have access to my camera and Instagram, and to Google Maps and my diary app and such, and I still have Flipboard and Feedly. So technically I might see some Facebook and Twitter content when flipping through my news readers.  But there’s still a big difference between flipping through Facebook and flipping through Flipboard:  because of the design of Flipboard, the Internet, at some not too distant point in my flipping, comes to an end.  When that happens, I stow my phone back in my pocket and look out the bus window instead of scrolling through Facebook mindlessly, ad infinitum, my entire way to work.

This little change has freed up enough time for me to notice that I’m neither writing nor exercising anymore. And once you notice a thing like that, and you don’t have a magical infinitely time-sucking device in your pocket anymore, that leads to thinking about the thing you’ve noticed, and then your thoughts turn to wonderings about what your favorite yoga teacher’s schedule is, and you make a mental note to check later on during a quick bit of computer time at home.

Yup.  Still shooting film.  Still loving it.
Yup. Still shooting film. Still loving it.

And then, instead of looking right then and there at the yoga schedule and getting sucked into your deviceworld habits, you think about how little time there is for writing. Alarm clock. Dog walk. Shower. Breakfast. Work. Dinner. Exhaustion. Sleep. A few of those things are mildly negotiable, but somehow it never feels like enough time. So you think about your friend Brendan who just published a book based on scribbled notes on scraps of paper that he scrawled out WHILE DRIVING his car (or van) up and down and around the western United States. And the book made you laugh, and made your eyes well over with tears, and not just because it was written by one of your people.

So this morning, inspired by a writer whose blog was shared with me this week by another writing friend, I packed my off-the-grid iPad so that I could sit on the bus and write a journal entry. Why not? I might not write the next great American novel this way, but I will exercise my writing muscles, at the very least. And this is more words than I would have written scrolling evermore downward through the Facebook app.

So I’ll miss a few baby pictures and cat memes. I’ll still catch most of what’s really important (at least the parts delivered via Facebook) through a daily peek at my “Close Friends” list and during the times I have to get on there for work. I do, after all, still work in social media. But what I gain is more time–that precious resource that, when working a 9 to 5, I never seem to have enough of. Somewhere along the line, I seem to have traded mindless hours in front of the television for only slightly more mindful hours in front of other types of screens, so like many years ago when I left my TV behind, the white space that’s come with being less connected has felt really nice.

How do you keep yourself mindful of your device time?

Perhaps I’m just craving goodness, today.

Such a complicated unfolding… Having eavesdropped on the as-it-happens information (note, my intentional avoidance of the word “news”) since last night’s events started crossing my Twitter stream.  I unplugged to try to fall asleep and then saw a note online from a dear friend on Twitter.  She lives in Vermont and is getting ready to move to Boston, and she was awake late with her baby, her husband and the baby’s little big brother asleep, her eyes on the updates coming across her cell phone screen.  I sent her love, via text message, and warm thoughts, and that’s what we do, in this world where the people we care about may be in bed next to us; seven blocks down the street; or 3,006.4 driving miles across the country, and then turned off my phone and nestled in to sleep.

Today, there are meetings to have, a puppy to walk in the rain, Beach Boys songs to listen to (thanks, Dan), and errands run, an ear still tuned to the radio while I’m in the car.  A voice on the radio earlier today said something about how they’re hearing a high volume of complaints from listeners for saying anything “nice” about the suspects who were identified in the last day.  I guess I can see that, as a reaction people might have.  But there’s a part of me that finds a strange comfort in hearing about what a charming, friendly, “normal” person at least one of the suspects is (or was, it remains to be seen).  Somehow, those descriptions make me think that it’ll be a little harder to marginalize the suspect as wholly other (although there’s already plenty of that going on, as well).

The other night, after the initial mayhem began in Boston, Ryan and I were talking over dinner and the topic of how difficult it would be to talk about a day like that with kids would be.  I honestly don’t know what I’d say.  I do think I’d be strongly tempted to avoid speaking in terms of “bad guys,” even though that’s the obvious and most easy to spit out explanation: that there are some bad people in the world, who do bad things sometimes, and …… what next?  What would be the stock explanation, after that?  I don’t know.  It’s a gross simplification, and perhaps it’s true, but I’m not comfortable with the phrase “bad guys,” or “bad man,” or “bad people.”  Having the benefit of not actually being in the position, since there are no kids around to actually ask me about a day like that, I think I’d say something more along the lines of “sometimes bad things happen…” but then, what next?

Springtime in Seattle means fallen cherry blossoms floating on puddles.  This has nothing to do with today's post, but I craved a little beauty, as I typed.
Springtime in Seattle means fallen cherry blossoms floating on puddles. This has nothing to do with today’s post, but I craved a little beauty, as I typed.

How do you reassure a kid, when bad things happen?  I heard a blip on the radio about an upcoming program that would address that exact question, and the first tip in the teaser was turn off the television.  The expert said that to a little kid, watching scary things on the television news, they don’t get that it’s not happening over and over — that it happened once, and is being replayed.  I think that might not just apply to kids.  It might apply to some of us grown-ups, too, in a way, to keep the trauma we’ve witnessed thanks to various forms of media fresher, longer.  I’m still sheltering myself from visual media about the week’s events in Boston (and Texas) and have no plans to change that.  I can avoid televisions, with their endless replays and voiceovers.  I can read short text-based messages on Twitter and avoid photographs.  I can click through carefully to news sites and close browser windows if I suspect there may be an image I don’t want to have burned into my memory.  And to the people who say that it’s important to be informed — the way I see it, we won’t even have information until a preliminary investigation is complete.  Right now, we have stories.  Witness accounts.  Speculation.  Conjecture.  And by tuning out the outside messages and focusing on what’s more closely held, I can know that my peeps are accounted for, and my thoughts turn to sorrow for the lives lost — all of them — and then to how can live in a way that promotes peace and avoids harm.  To what I can do to love as wholly as possible and live as fully as possible, without regret.

Take care, all.  Have a love-filled weekend, please.  I plan to do the same.  How are you living well, today?  I’d love to hear from you in the comments.