Here I am, on the other side…
It’s 2:21, in the Philadelphia Airport. My flight leaves at 6pm for Boise, Idaho, where I’ll spend the next 6 days with my parents.
The better part of 2 weeks ago, I sat in a different airport, a different man. I’ve now experienced things that have changed how I view the world, and my relationship to it, and it’s all good.
Part 1: The way there.
Blue Man played our last show before the break in Savannah, Georgia. The meditation retreat was in Chestertown, MD, a place I’ve never heard of, let alone been to before. The nearest big cities were Baltimore, MD, and Philadelphia, PA. I chose Philly, because I was there with Blue Man for a week on tour, and really enjoyed the city. The more time I spend there, the more I see why it’s called “The City of Brotherly Love”. When I arrived in Philly, I knew that I would be staying at my friend, Jackie’s house that night, but she was working till 7, and I arrived around noon. I knew there was a train into the city, and just thought I’d go to the area I already knew, and walk around a bit, perhaps eat at some of the killer restaurants they have there… But the truth was, I had no idea how the train worked, which line to take, where to get tickets, or what I was going to do with my luggage when I got there. So I sat there for a while, and realized that I hadn’t even figured out exactly how I was going to get a ride from Philly to Chestertown. I had made some contact thru a ride-share board, but nothing was solid- so I wrote some emails to try and get a bit closer to figuring that out. Now, I have to say that at this point I was a bit freaked out. There were a lot of holes in my plans to make this thing work. I kind of knew that I would be able to make it happen one way or another, but there were a lot of loose ends, and the time was coming close. I had to get there by tomorrow at 3pm.
After some investigation, and I found the train, and there was no place to buy tickets, so I just got on. It seemed to be downtown bound… When I got on with all my luggage, the conductor told me not to block the isle with my luggage, and directed me to another seat. So I sat down next to an older guy, who smiled at me when I sat down. The conductor came around, and I just paid him $7 for a ticket. Cool. Easy. I started talking to my seat buddy. His name was Gary, and he was in town for his son’s graduation ceremony from medical school, but had some time to kill. He really didn’t know how the train or anything worked either, so I had a buddy who was lost with me. It turned out that we were going to about the same place, and he had an easy going, easy to get along with vibe, and seemed to need a little company, so I just went along with him. Which turned out to be a good decision, too. He was going to check into a hotel right about where I wanted to go, so he let me store my luggage in his room (and even gave me a key) so I wouldn’t have to carry it with me the whole time I was walking around Philly. “I’m sure glad I bumped into you, Gary.” — “Sometimes you just gotta trust the process,” he replied. Indeed, Gary. Those are some wise words.
So we set off together to see Philly for a while. I showed him around to some of the places I knew, and showed him some places he should go see later. We spent the afternoon walking around together, enjoying the sights of the city, and some good conversation. When it was about time for Jackie to come pick me up, we went back to the hotel room, and he even let me use the shower. All asking nothing in return, except a little companionship for a bit. We exchanged numbers, he wished me luck with the retreat, and parted ways.
Jackie came and picked me up, gave me a tour of her part of Philly- where she grew up, and where she lives now, bought me dinner (wouldn’t let me pay because I was her guest!), and we had a very nice time just relaxing, and talking. Mostly about the upcoming meditation retreat I was about to embark upon, and the path that had led me to the point where I would even consider doing something such as this. Out of the goodness of her heart, she loaned me a sleeping bag- which was invaluable for the retreat, and let me leave 2 of my bags of “not allowed” items for the retreat.
In spite of being pretty exhausted, I barely slept. I think I was pretty wound up about the course. Jackie works early, so at 7am she dropped me off at a near-by Panera, where I would hang out for the morning, and do some final iPhoning before Maher would come and pick me up. The next mysterious part of the puzzle. I didn’t know Maher, but had exchanged enough emails with him to pick a time and a place that he would come and get me. Trust the process.
Maher arrives, and I meet him and Sylvia, another meditator he’s giving a ride to. They’re both very young, which is surprising to me. I just expected to see mainly people my age and older. Maher is 21, and I would guess that Sylvia is about the same. Maher is Indian, and Sylvia seems hispanic, but with wavy dirty blond hair. We all sat together and had some pretty lively conversation about how crazy this whole thing was that we were about to embark upon. What was it going to be like? How hard would it get? How would we feel when we were done? Very mysterious indeed.
The drive there was close to 2 hours, and was also filled with lively conversation. For them, being so young, they had both felt rather alone being spiritual seekers, and didn’t really feel like they had people they could talk to, or even relate to in that way. I’ve certainly had those feelings as well, but am finding more and more friends and companions along the path, and have been on the path for much longer than either of them. I’m very impressed that they would be taking on something this big at this age however. As we got close, the car fell silent. A sign of what was to come for the next 10 days.
Before we knew it, we arrived at Camp Fairlee. A beautiful summer camp kind of place surrounded by plenty of lush green trees, and open green fields. This would be our home for the next 10 days. We all got checked in, and said good bye to Sylvia, as she went off to the women’s quarters. The sexes were to be segregated for the entire course. I brought my bags to my cabin, and was a bit surprised to see that there would be about 16 of us in our cabin alone, all on bunk beds. Very summer camp feeling, but there would be no trips to the lake, no games, no campfire songs, and certainly no panty raids. It was strange knowing that all of the people gathered there would fall silent at a certain point- so we talked as much as we could, before the “Noble Silence” began. There was an intro meeting, with basic information as to how things would go, and what the rules were. There are quite a lot of rules at these courses. Lots of rules. No talking or communicating with the other meditators. You may only communicate with staff when absolutely necessary, or the assistant teacher during the question times. You may only shower during certain hours. No meditating outside. No shoes in the meditation hall. No lying down or stretching in the hall. Only sit outside during break periods. Be on time. Etc., etc., etc. It’s a lot to take in, and we were there to work.
That night in the cabin, I tossed and turned for most of the night, listening to snoring that sounded like fighting bears, and tried to get used to my little stiff rock mattress. Jackie’s sleeping bag made all the difference.
…more to come…