Jessica Eve Watkins.
3rd November, 2015.
A year ago we were all over this coast like ants, these mountains our frenetic backbone. I’ve made memories in every eastern state, collected in my pocket like precious, shiny vertebrae. It’s good to be back, hair lopped off and nut brown this time, lips dark; curled up in another American mountain cafe, as I so often like to be. A mug of earl grey. It feels different. We are in serious headspace, our willing chatter about life still evident, but a little more poignant and thoughtful. Harps has been talking a lot about the change in mindset that our late twenties bring.
In October I drove up to Vermont for a Half Dathun retreat at Karme Choling. Dathun means moon cycle in Tibetan, so Half Dathun is half a moon cycle – basically two weeks of intense meditation. Physically, mentally and psychologically it floored me. Rising at 6 am to chant everyday, and then tread silently through the northern dawn. I watched the backs of fellow meditators crying with the natural world, the crystallised snow, the hazy sunlight reflected on the river, and the coats of shy deer revealed in the forest from time to time. We sat for 10+ hours a day, working though samsaric behavioural patterns. Watching our wrapped-up ideas of jealousy or sexual fantasy or doubt unfold. Learning to rest with it all, breathe, and not react with habitual quickness. Learning most of all how to love ourselves.
My Buddhist world is the place that feels increasingly like home. Everything there is more complicated and more simple. ‘Simple but not easy,’ as they say. I let myself meet me, finally at 28. I like who I am. It complicates things to follow this path, and reminds me all too often that I’m a free-falling dot of impermanent consciousness. I don’t exist and this is a dream. It’s the scariest place, and my closest friend.
So I sit still for fourteen days. Eat in silence from black Oryoki bowls like Japanese monks do; walk, listen, stretch, dream. Die from boredom. One day I cry from morning to night. By the end I am wrung out. Days of unrecognisable anger, where I worry that I don’t know what I am at all, what it means to be alive. Hours of loneliness, fear, illness, humour, joy. I write to Helsie in England. ‘The kindest people are here. Showing me love in silent gestures. Hugging me for no reason, or winking, or slipping me a piece of chocolate before breakfast. It’s funny because despite the sometimes-torturous journey, there hasn’t been a moment when I’d choose to be elsewhere. With Shambhala it always feels like I’m coming home. It’s where I need to be.’
Returning to the bigger world, Harper meets me in a Starbucks in Albany, conscious of what a vulnerable baby bird I am. She is very kind and patient. We take life slow. Move into a cabin for a few weeks, on a mountain backroad with squirrels, chipmunks and coyotes for neighbours. I collect firewood on my walks. We pretend it’s 1972 and keep the Neil Young records flipping. Find a favourite local cafe to work in, visit Buddhist monasteries and Quaker meetings at weekends. I feel life pummelling me from every side with the message to just keep my head down. I used to wish for big romance and successes, but right now I’ve made a pact with myself to stop hunting for things. To just get on with what I’m doing. It feels like enough to put one foot in front of the other. I didn’t realise I was so utterly exhausted by being alive.
I appreciate this precious time to regroup. I’m so lucky I have a cabin and a best friend to hang out with me in it. We’re quiet but we’re doing ok!