Friday, October 30, 2015

Get a life!

What are the odds, do you think, that three books that came into my hands quite randomly at the same time would feature a main character named Rachel? They came my way simply by having my name hit the #1 spot on the library waiting lists for each. The odds are slightly better that each would be spectacular, because they were chosen directly from the NYT bestseller lists on various Sundays. Each is markedly different, in setting and story line, but each is masterfully crafted, beautifully written, full of content. The Girl on the Train is filled with suspense, from beginning to end, hard to put down.

The Marriage of Opposites is the story of the famous French painter Camille Pissaro. More accurately, the story primarily of his mother, who was born on St. Thomas, which was then a Danish territory, although her heritage was French and Jewish. His father came from France, although of Spanish heritage.

The author is deeply talented, tailoring her prose to whichever character has the point of view, including that of the young Pissaro, who sees a world of color and light and shape and form in language that is fascinating.

 Unlike the others, who do you love is by an author whose work I know well. It's a love story, of course, but far from what might be called a 'romance book'. She's way too talented for the trite, trivial and predictable. It covers many years, some of which are actually set here in Eugene at the UO. Gotta love that!

One more book that came with the bunch awaits, and I suspect it's equally as wonderful as these three have been. It's the latest, and probably last, book by Ivan Doig, who passed away recently.

So beyond all that, I'm walking around groggy and bleary-eyed because of a late football game that I couldn't turn off. More action in the last 20 mins (including triple overtime) than the whole rest of the game put together. Awesome. Worth being groggy and bleary-eyed. What else do I have to do, after all?

I did make it to the gym this morning for my 45 minutes on the treadmill. I missed Wednesday because I awoke with an oddly pulled back muscle, and also hadn't slept well. Not likely to do much this weekend, as usual. I really do need to get a life!

But, at least I have good books to read.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The escape

Travel to Thailand wasn't the only thing I planned during the retreat. Seemed as if there was a new subject every day. But, for the last 4-5 days (when not planning Thailand) there was the subject of how to escape from the place at the earliest possible opportunity. And I mean escape, because for the first time ever at a retreat I felt as if I were in a prison camp, unable to leave at will.

I'd foolishly given them my cell phone to hold -- could have left it in the car, but didn't know that until I'd already parked the car at a distance. That was the big mistake. I tried to leave on Monday, which would have been day 5, but the teacher talked me out of it and of course, I couldn't escape on my own because of the captive cell phone.

Thus the escape plans. I wanted out, but didn't want to make another fuss. Cell phones wouldn't be available until 6:30am on Sunday morning, attendance at the morning event in the meditation hall was mandatory, and I needed to clean my room and some of the shared portions of the rest of the unit we were in. That was my dilemma -- how to escape at 6:30 and still get the place clean. Fortunately, late on Friday I decided I could do the cleaning on Saturday and talks with my roommate on Saturday morning showed that she was willing, also wanted to leave early. So, that's what we did, although she did her portion after I left, as her version of early was not the same as mine.

Still -- I wanted to leave at 6:30, not spend the necessary time getting my stuff to my car, or bringing my car to the residence to load it up. I wanted out. So I hatched another plan. Wake up was at 4am, the morning session was at 4:45. I would walk my things out the road to my car, in the dark. It didn't seem as if it could be far, although I couldn't see around the curve. I was awake before the wake-up bell Sunday morning, and it didn't take long to dress, roll up my sleeping bag and pack the remaining few items into a bag. It was still around 4:15. Plenty of time.

So -- armed with my big (34"x29"x6") meditation cushion, one duffle bag slung over a shoulder, and the rolled-up sleeping bag, I crept silently away down the road, past the 'course limit' signs into unknown territory. Didn't take long before the woods closed in and became pitch black and the only way I could tell I was still on the road was the hard gravel surface beneath my feet, rather than grassy spots I'd occasionally wander into. I did have a random thought about my flashlight at that point, but realized it was in the duffle that I'd  left behind. The cushion is awkward to carry, the sleeping bag not much less so. But I kept going because by then, I was committed. The road seemed awfully long -- much further than where I knew my car was parked. Finally, after a rather long time, I came to an intersection and a sign, which I recognized as being fairly early on the property, way before the parking area. So I hung a left on the main road and doubled back.

By then, the sleeping bag had managed to slip one of its elastic bands and was slowly becoming unrolled. Well, at least it wasn't raining. Just misty. After another long period (not as long as it seemed, I'm sure), I reached my car and got the goods stowed. By then, I had about 5 minutes to get to the meditation hall on time, so rather than retrace my steps I opted to continue on down the road to the center, which was not a very long walk. But, it meant that I'd have to cross the forbidden men's area. What could they do, throw me out? So I walked along in the dark and then wham, I felt something against my body and heard a noise. I'd walked smack dab into a sawhorse that was blocking the road off from the center itself, and knocked it over. Totally invisible in the darkness. Tried to put it back in place, but one of the legs had been dislodged so I quietly laid it back down on the ground. Couldn't have been very sturdy in the first place, she says. 

Straight ahead lay the men's walking area. With my hood up and trying to be invisible, I walked quickly across but not without being seen by at least two men. One looked at me curiously -- a spectre walking out of the darkness -- but I escaped back into the women's area safely. Just in time to walk down to the residence, grab the rest of my stuff and carry it up to the meditation hall so it would be ready for escape once I was free. I felt a little guilty -- especially about the sawhorse -- but not terribly.

At 6:30, cell phone in hand, I grabbed the other duffle and walked out, a free woman. Still walking in the dark, but by then a few lights had been turned on so at least I could see where I was going. You can see why I say it seems unlikely that I'll return for another try. Third time is supposed to be a charm, and it was more of a hex!

The place does a lot of good for a lot of people, as it did for me my first visit. But this was the first time I'd ever tried to leave early and the whole prison-camp feel didn't sit well with me. Trundling on down the highway I managed to get home by 10:30, rather than the 10am goal, only to find that the football game I wanted to watch wasn't being aired! So -- all for nothing, but at least I got a headstart towards hot coffee and a fast-food breakfast, which was strangely appealing to my normally nutrition-minded body.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Thailand travel dreams

I've been without internet for a couple of days, and it wasn't fun! It's amazing how much of my life is taken up this way. I use it for radio, for TV shows that I've missed, for news, and for the silliness of this blog and twitter. My roommate, bless her scattered little brain, had neglected to pay the bill so the account was blocked. And it took her 2 days to get around to fixing it.  Ah -- how much I look forward to having my own place where I can control such things. Interestingly enough (to me, anyway) is how quickly I lose interest in some of the things I consider so 'important'. At the library yesterday, and a coffee shop this morning, I learned quickly what my priorities were, and had little interest in the rest.

Speaking of having my own place -- it's getting closer, but still looks as if it'll be early next summer at the soonest before an apartment will come available. That brings me to some plans I made last week when I should have been meditating. Trust me, many plans get made during retreats when one should be meditating, and I'm far from the only one. I heard great stories after this one about other people's plans. For me, they generally fizzle after a day or so, and this one did too until the internet debacle (and some other things) made me question whether or not I want to continue living here for that long. So -- at least for the moment, it's back in the forefront.

It's no secret that I've longed to travel to Thailand and surrounding countries. Various things have held me back -- airfare, fear of things like potential illness coming up away from my health insurance area (at my age, this is not an unreasonable fear!). Staying 3-4 months would amortize the airfare, staying a few more months would let me save some money, which would be nice. So I'm back to thinking about heading out until an apartment is available. Oddly enough, even airfares to Thailand are much higher before the holidays than afterward, so it doesn't make much sense to think of leaving before the end of Dec or early Jan.  And then there's the passport thing -- mine is expired, and it takes time to get a new one. So I'm still a little ambivalent, but taking a good hard look at the idea. We'll see! This idea will probably fizzle, too. But I gotta do something.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Nature-inspired pleasures

A little over 24 hours after arriving back home, I'm almost back to whatever passes for normal in my world. Almost, but not quite. Nothing serious -- just wiped out and sleep deprived. And I've had errands and laundry to do today, including washing the messenger bag I carry daily, my wallet and my sitting cushion all together in a separate load. The first two items had been the victim of a leaky ink pen (got all over my hands in the market today), the latter just in general need.

I'm glad to be home. That may be an understatement, actually. I'm really, really, glad to be home. The 10-day torture test lived up to its billing, but the torture this time was mental, rather than physical. My body held up remarkably well. But boredom set in early, as did frustration with a teacher who was overly strict about her flock walking out in the sunshine when they were supposed to be meditating. Imagine that! Her assistant hit me one day, told me to go either into the meditation hall or my room and meditate. Afterwards, I found that I certainly wasn't the only one. I called her the meditation police, one other woman called her the kommandant. The latter seems more fitting.

So -- since I had to be cooped up in my room much of the day, outside the allowed hours of personal time and required hours in the meditation hall, frustration and boredom reigned supreme. But, the overriding teaching of this course is that we should 'remain equanimous' in all situations, whatever life brings us. So, the last few days gave me an excellent opportunity to practice the art of remaining equanimous regardless of frustration and boredom. That's never a bad thing, really.

Aside from all this, there was much to appreciate about my time there. The views of Mt. Rainier are always awesome, whether it's shining in the sun or playing peekaboo with clouds and mist. One of the best parts of the day was walking in the field after breakfast -- which fell around 6:30 just as the sky was lightening up for the day. From the field, we could watch the sun rise over the Cascades as we walked. Some mornings were clear, with spectacularly brilliant oranges and pinks reflecting on long strands and layers of tiny puffy clouds amidst the blue. Other mornings were misty and ethereal, the colors more muted, the other women in the field turned into fuzzy silhouettes against the pinking sky, the brightness of the sun as it crested the mountains. Most mornings I longed for a camera. Big spider webs dripping with rain or mist. Photographs waiting to happen.

There were also deer in the fields. Two families, from what we saw. Two does, 3 fawns. One day just as we sat down for lunch overlooking the field, the deer were up close to the developed part of the property and the fawns started playing, chasing one another around in circles, across the field and more circles, up the hill and onto the mowed area around the residence hall, all over the place. The smaller of the does was also in this play time. For people who dwelt in silence, with no outside entertainment, this was awesomely fun and sweet to watch. I've spent a lot of time out in nature, but this is the first time I've ever seen deer at play.

Another morning, a doe and two fawns were in the field where we were walking with the sunrise, grazing peacefully in the higher weeds as we walked in the mowed paths through the misty darkness. They saw us, but had no fear. Another morning, around 8am as we were headed to the meditation hall, these same deer were grazing up in our midst, right around the entrance to the hall. One of the women was inside looking out, while the rest of us watched from a discreet distance as a curious fawn walked over boards and concrete up the glass doors and peeked inside. Something -- perhaps his reflection -- startled him and he jumped away, slipping on the wet boards causing a loud clatter with his little hoofs. No harm done -- they eventually moved away and we moved on into the hall for morning meditation.

There was more -- mostly nature-inspired, but these are the things that come to mind at the moment. We had warm sunshine, misty fogs, a day of stormy rain and wind, but not particularly cold and never really unpleasant. Food was good -- although my body is already happy to be back with a familiar diet, and so is my mind. I don't know what it is about the food in these centers, but the last two times I've been, in wildly varying parts of the country, I've been plagued with uncomfortable bloating and gas and elimination systems that almost completely shut down. That's gone, now that my diet changed -- and it changed around 7:30 yesterday morning when I stopped at the first McDonalds down the southern pike of I-5 and had a large coffee and an egg mcmuffin. I inhaled both! Pizza and beer for lunch made the transformation complete. Today, back to healthy diet food.

So -- long story short. I'm still really tired and really sleepy, but those will pass soon enough.