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Jessica Eve Watkins

2nd September, 2014


Dechen Choling. Dharma Place of Great Bliss. I’m leaving here in three days. A month has just escaped me. So fast, and yet so much has happened it feels like forever. The best moments of my life always have this dual quality of fast-slow laced into them. My best, best new friend Maria left early this morning. She rustled into my tent to clutch my hand before the sun rose, and handed me a letter to read when I awoke. I told her through my sleep thank you, for all our talks and walks and screams and thoughts about men and meditation, self-love, and our lives. Thank you for listening to me, and for opening up to me. How different my time would’ve been without you. Many other folks leave imminently, too. The summer season for volunteers is ending, and my heart drops to think about it. I breathe in early morning September mist, reminding us all of autumn’s arrival. Coldness is not so far away now. I sleep with blankets wrapped tightly around me.

Dechen Choling, the biggest land centre for Shambhala Buddhism in Europe, has become my home. I have meditated here every morning and evening with others. I’ve prepared food and beds for hundreds, weeded the gardens, filed papers in the office, babysat French, Dutch, and German children. I’ve witnessed an innocence that hasn’t left me. I’ve lusted after kind men, and spent most evenings in a throng of strong women, stretched out on the Marpa Room sofas, our conversations woven together in three or four languages. I have chanted everyday, and lived as a Buddhist, inhaled Japanese incense with my morning tea, and practiced loving kindness by the lake. I’ve met people who are so, so gracious, who understand what I’m doing with my life. I’ve discovered humanness.

I’m relaxing into my own vulnerabilities, and letting the perfectionism slide – the relief is overwhelming. I’ve let myself sing and play guitar in public. This is a huge challenge for me, and the pride I have felt has opened up chasms of power that still ring several days later.

This place is not monastic. I wasn’t sure how serious it would be here, after spending time in a Vipassana Retreat Centre last summer. It’s a world away, and full of surprises. A few evenings have spiralled into free-for-all Dance Parties, egos left at the door in favour of leaping and shaking out all our wound-up human energy to samba and Euro-pop. Stranger moves I have never seen, especially as we’re all half sober and integral, laughing at ourselves like maniacs. The dancing becomes an extension of our meditation practice. So does everything – the walks, the barbecues, the concerts. Always we are returning to our breath and self in the present moment.

My connection to the world has deepened. I have discovered I’m physically able to sit still for an hour at a time and only fidget slightly. Feel my weight on the earth. My mind traces stories all over the place, talks silently to others, and I label it thinking and return to now. It’s painful to watch some of the thought-patterns I fill myself up with – sometimes they are so harmful – but the only way to dispel them seems to start with awareness.

I feel for the first time the undoubtable helpfulness of meditation. It’s not something I’ve been sceptical of, but I haven’t given it the importance I will from now on.

It’s been a sad time, too. When I’ve fallen short of speaking my truth I have really felt the repercussions. A couple of situations I should have handled differently – but the word ‘should’ doesn’t really exist, as many people have mentioned to me this month. Thinking how things should be helps nothing. I think that everything has played out as divine intervention has wished. I believe this is always the case. And so I leave DCL feeling absolutely brimming with gratitude and love. I leave behind a space I would recommend to anyone who is looking to touch their heart and feel human. I cannot WAIT to return, I know I won’t let it be too long.

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