This is my current list...
I drove away from my home in Portland, Oregon last night. Anthony and I finished painting the trim, watered the new fruit trees, drank our last cup of coffee from Extracto with Leanne, dropped off the keys to the new tenant, and were on the road in time for rush hour. We watched the beautiful sunset over long fields before the major climbing hills into the night. We slept at a rest stop, hitting the road by 5:15 this morning. Before 8am we were both working at our regular Shasta coffee shop, Wassayaks.
People keep saying that Shasta is "The Root Chakra" of the world. I have no idea how or why this is. I'm open to be educated on this one you guys.
It's Friday and we both work remote. We wake up at 5am PT and get a huge start on our day, getting as much done as we can before everyone else wakes up. This is harder for me because my team is in Israel, 10 hours ahead of Pacific time.
When we drove away from Portland last night, it's not for a vacation, it's for another year of travel and education. I'm immediately reminded how it feels to live on the road. How it feels to have no idea where you're sleeping tonight. To have no idea where you're driving tomorrow. To sleep in the woods. To stay up late playing cards until you can't see them anymore and go to bed. To wake up in the dark and watch the sunrise from the windows of our moving home. To meet strangers living the same way. To realize that you all know the same people digitally. To find them in person. To visit family and friends you may never otherwise "have the time" to.
I feel at home again.
Surrounded by scared looking women, I kept to myself. Nervous chatter filled the idle space between strangers. I knew no one and we weren’t here to make friends.
Seasoned meditators and first-timers turned in their phones and their car keys to the volunteers at registration. We made a commitment to the staff and to ourselves that we’d stay for the full ten day session. We agreed to follow the strict time table provided, to take the five precepts, and to observe what they called, “Noble Silence” (silence of the body, speech, and mind). We agreed to 18 hour days, 10.5 of which we’d spend meditating, silently propped up across colorful cushions, and cozied deep beneath meditation shawls.
This was my introduction to Vipassana meditation.
For me, this Vipassana held the transitional space between a 9-month road trip and the rest of my life.
Vipassana meditation, as I explained to my skeptical east coast father over the phone, is the type of meditation taught by Gotama the Buddha. It teaches us to see and accept things as they are instead of how we want them to be. This means that no matter how magical or miserable a situation may seem, we confront it honestly, accept it as it is, and observe its impermanence. We don’t cling onto it, hoping things will never change, nor do we long for a rushed demise.
We don’t attach to the emotions and thoughts that arise in us, mistaking them for our identity or for things we need in order to feel whole. We don’t ignore and mask painful, hard, unpleasant situations with distractions and distance for temporary relief. Unlike other forms of meditation that help us identify and stop certain thought patterns, or calm the mind using mantras and visuals, Vipassana trains her practitioners to focus the mind on feeling the most subtle physical sensations. It’s believed, after all, that these sensations are the root and the trigger of our thoughts and emotional reactions. By recognizing these sensations at their conception instead of letting them develop and take us over, we can change our thought patterns to minimize misery and live a more joyful life.
We all had our reasons for arriving in Onalaska, WA that Wednesday afternoon. Some meditators sought the relief of pain or illness. Others found themselves at a crossroads and craved a stronger sense of direction. Old students sat to deepen their practice and to serve newcomers. For me, this Vipassana held the transitional space between a 9-month road trip and the rest of my life. I had worked hard to keep the end of this trip open by refusing all plans and commitments that snuck into my life, asking me to schedule away my September and winter days before they had arrived. I said no. I refused everything. I would not make plans today.
Booking this meditation was the exception, and I did so months in advance knowing I’d be feeling uprooted, directionless, and unsure of my next steps. After all, this year was full of towering changes for me. To start, I quit my job and moved out of the infamously overpriced San Francisco and into a Ford E-350 to travel around the country. While on the road, I ended a seriously loving and important relationship with my partner of three years. Now, approaching the potential “end” of this trip, I froze with the same sticky uncertainty around lifestyle and career decisions that I’ve become quite familiar with.
I promised myself I'd stay the entire 10 days, knowing full well I'd struggle.
I had so many questions when I parked my van on the lawn of the Northwest Vipassana center and walked in with nothing but a bag of loose-fitting clothes, my dirty white stuffed dog, and a red, round meditation cushion that had never been used. I promised myself I would not use this time to try and “figure it all out”, even though I craved that. I promised myself I’d stay the entire 10 days, knowing full well it was not going to be fun, easy, or comfortable. Anxiety lingered around the meal schedule (no dinner?!) and I wondered how I could possible wake up at 4:00 am every morning. No exercise. No dinner. No masturbation. No reading. No writing. No eye contact. No phones. No talking. No yoga. No music. And definitely no pointing your toes towards the teachers (I’m still not sure why).
The Dharma hall welcomed us with a sign reading, “Day 0”, ouch. The door opened into a spacious room with deep blue mats that organized the floor into grids; home for the next 10 days. The women sat together on the right side of the room in front of our assistant teacher, Rosa. The men sat on the left side facing Grisham. Unlike most educational institutions, our teachers practiced with us for the entirety of the course as students themselves and as examples of where we were going.
Grisham and Roa sat tall as the lights dimmed and the audio recording of an Indian man’s voice settled us into our first meditation. We were off.
This wasn't my first time meditating. In highschool I used to drive myself twenty minutes out of town to join a happy man dressed in an orange robe for an occasional lesson. I grew fond of insight meditation because it was productive. I’d use the time to learn about my thought patterns, explore my emotional triggers, investigate my demons, my weaknesses. It was work. I love work. What I hadn’t done before was care at all about the sensations within the framework of my body beyond the annoying discomforts that reliably arose.
We began the Vipassana by focusing all our attention on the sensation of respiration across our top lip. We would search for sensation on this limited space under and around our nostril and upon finding a sensation there, we’d search for an even more subtle sensation. We went on like this, literally for days.
On day three—or was it day four?—we began moving this focus across our skin throughout our entire bodies. From head to toes, then again, starting from head and moving slowly down to the toes. Where sensation refused to show itself, we’d linger patiently before continuing down the body. Head to toes, moving the attention from head slowly down to the toes. Trying to feel but not attached to finding feeling. Sharpening the mind to feel subtler and subtler sensations.
Through this practice, I became blindingly aware of just how detached my thoughts had grown from the physical sensations of my body. As I practiced, scanning with a focused attention slowly from head to toes, I’d occasionally (okay, that’s optimistic, I’d often) start thinking. As soon as my thoughts began, all awareness of sensation stopped. They could not coexist. It felt as though my thoughts happened outside of my body, and had no relation to what was going on inside this accumulated mass of organs, bones, and tissue.
This, of course, is part of the practice—accepting your reality “as it is” instead of how you want it to be.
Every day I sat. I slept. I ate. I sat. I walked. I watched the ants work endlessly across the path I touched with barefeet. I noticed these ants work significantly faster midday compared to the early morning. Like humans, maybe. I watched the sunrise, the stars appear and disappear. I watched three baby deer play, chasing each other and feasting in the shade of an apple tree. I sat. I felt sensation. I focused on respiration. I wondered what time it was. I sometimes fell asleep during the 4 am meditations. I initially felt guilty about this and then I accepted it, “as it were”. I encouraged myself with compassionate thoughts. I thought about the conversations I’d have after the tenth day. I tried to stop counting down to the tenth day. I planned all the presents I’d make my friends and family this December. No dreams catchers this year, I don’t think they liked those. I sat. I adjusted. I slept. I sat.
Day six—or was it day seven?—was hard. 18 waking hours made for long days and I unhappily discovered my thoughts and awareness of sensation could now exist peacefully together. How confusing! Suddenly, I had spent two hours feeling sensations across my body while questioning my opinions on monogamy and nonmonogamy. Suddenly, I’d been feeling sensation as my attention moved from head to toes, toes to head, while I thought through the future of my career. Certain sittings felt great, by which I mean easy, fast, and comfortable. The mind was beautifully focused without distraction and the body felt no pain at all, it felt like buzzing energy. This, however, was always a red flag, for I quickly began to crave these sittings and hate the harder ones. This, of course, is part of the practice—accepting your reality “as it is” instead of how you want it to be.
On the ninth day, we broke the Noble Silence and everyone could use language for the first time since we began. I wasn’t ready. I took myself walking on the path while I heard female laughter in the distance. I spent time with the familiar ants and the intricate spider webs stretched between the tall grasses. I watched scattered groups of women move together and I couldn’t join them. I had so many thoughts to be with before exposing them to air let alone to other creatures.
Going into the Vipassana, I had very strong opinions about relationships, about routine and contentedness, about personal freedoms and morality. Driving away on day 10, I felt completely detached from so many of these perspectives I’d built my identity upon but it didn’t feel like a loss. It felt like the beginning of a new education. It felt like a redirection towards a more true self.
I had uncovered some deep patterns that begged for my breaking. I wanted, for the first time ever, to confront my aversion with routine and address my insatiable craving for newness and amplification of experience. I had clarity and perspective to challenge my opinions on modern relationships. And I felt inspired by the subtleties that live within that same cup of coffee we taste every morning, the familiarity and comfort of the touch that connects us to those we care about, the frigid winter air we dread stepping into, the smile we share from neighboring porches, the frustrations and grudges we nurture, and the range of experiences, however mundane they may feel, that make us human.
Learning to see newness and magic in what can appear to be a mundane daily routine, is in fact, the art of living.
To everyone who cared at all about this project even just a tiny bit, you’re amazing. A gigantic thank you & hug… this is nowhere close to all the thanks I have to give but this is where I'll start:
Thanks for helping us make a bare-foot friendly floor and a cozy, warm interior. For suggesting puzzle piece rubber underneath our memory foam bed and for hacking us the gift of solar power. For your empowerment to quit an unfulfilling job and for letting us live in your home while you were out of town. For nudging me a long since before this became a “reasonable” idea, and for living like a crazy person yourself. For being so interesting I couldn't leave our conversation for hours and hours and hours. For getting me a copy of Another Roadside Attraction, which I LOVED. For your contagious laughter and unforgettable, consuming smile.
For the amazing ukulele and for meeting up on the road no matter how inconvenient it made your plans. For putting water on the fire in the freezing mornings before I could even commit to waking. For teaching me "Ripple" so we could jam together at sunset and for sharing your cashew cheese on a sunny hike. For not taking advantage of us and for making Walmart way more fun. For chicken shit bingo and for filling your living room with waltz. For your wide eyes and warm showers. For believing in magic and earthquakes and the reincarnation of bears.
For celebrating together in early January and for letting us store “just a few things” at your house. For picking up the phone to ask how we were doing and for dancing together under stars and rooftops and rain. Thanks for making sure we had AAA and health insurance and for helping us keep the van free of leaks and free of thieves. Thanks for referencing Nietzsche on the phone and for double-making sure the fire was out before we said goodnight. Thanks for preparing extremely local food together and for parking better than I do. Thanks for battling our exhaustion with your enthusiasm and meeting us with excitement when defeat felt heavy.
Thanks for helping us sleep peacefully in your flat driveways and for drinking together at your favorite dive bars. Thanks for inviting us to use your kitchen while you went to work and for making us the most delicious cup of coffee in your aeropress-prius setup. Thanks for taking us to soul night and for the special Turkish meal in Philly. Thanks for celebrating on your roof with Ardent-gifted beer and for the personal brewery tour. Thanks for wanting to go on long road trips to places you’d already been because you thought I might like them, and for waking me up with Roos Roast, unparalleled spunk, and “breakfast” cookies. Thanks for making me red clover tea when I was too sick to move off the couch and for reading aloud together. Thanks for hiking up Camel Back together and for letting us play with your dogs...and your goats.
Thanks for teaching me to take better photos and for your consistent attempts to help me be more patient, a seemingly impossible task. Thanks for wanting to set up a hammock over the frigid river water and for letting me paint all of your faces. Thanks for stitching up our broken clothes and for dying my hair in your sink. Thanks for the thoughtful care package stuffed with clothes and bedtime stories in a whisper. Thanks for playing acro together and for feeling totally cool about peeing in a jar. Thanks for fighting with me about things you care about and for drawing pictures together in a park. Thanks for stealing Nahko’s set list and for telling us how cold brew coffee signaled the start of gentrification in your home. Thanks for bringing us into your workspace and spending hours telling us about your life, your mission, your challenges. Thanks for accepting and celebrating us, knowing we’ve picked very different lives and it's likely that neither of us will ever change our minds.
Thanks for having no plans last minute on Sunday, and spending the entire day together in Florida. Thanks for rehashing old family wounds and re-connecting on the water and in your vibrant home. Thanks for supporting the kickstarter and supporting us for canceling it. Thanks for sending me pictures of all the tolls they sent to the house and for being the “location-keeper” on sketchy nights. Thanks for your wild imagination when we were kids and for the book of campfire stories you wrote, illustrated, and gifted me. Thanks for telling me how you handle fear and for inviting us into your lives no matter how chaotic, busy, and stressed you were.
Thanks for hand-cranking coffee in the ridiculously early morning and for kicking my ass at cards all night. Thanks for sharing your own questions and curiosities about the world, about happiness and “success". Thank you for your courage in exploring other ways to live and inspiring the rest of us to do the same. This wasn’t a “trip” nor is it over, though its form evolves. I hope you'll keep designing and shaping your own life with your own rules and keep talking honestly about what you're going through. Keep asking hard questions and stretching out of your comfort, your routine. I hope you'll stay critical about your intentions, your impulses, your cravings, your secrets, welcoming whatever you might find. You don’t have to know what it’s going to look like or what you want to do with the rest of your life. Instead, find home in uncertainty and peace in presence. Choose to be happy and commit to balance, instead of hoping to find these things along the way.
It’s silly to pretend we don’t feel an aching for our past, isn’t it?
Yet, we do it all the time. I do.
Not because of regret. Not because I’d prefer it over the present. Not even for a freedom that “growing up” seems to trade in without permit. With no presence of reason at all, I feel this way today.
My immediate response - seek reason. I’m grounded when I feel rational. Which is ironic. "Maybe the seasons and Thanksgiving have made me nostalgic for the magic of my own childhood", I think to myself, buried in blankets by a fire I built with real wood (once potential-rich christmas trees?). But what’s reason have to do with it anyways?
The craving seeps out of a quiet, lonely realization that things will never unfold and feel as they have. No matter what. No matter how many years the tradition lives, the second, the third, fiftieth time will be created anew. We can mourn the loss or invite the unknowing, though I’ve always found it easier to relate with what I've known. It's not specific to the holidays but it arises with reflection of loved ones who have delivered me here. Ones who are less obviously with me - through distance or death.
My second response to this feeling is to qualify it. “I’m really very happy”, “things are great!”. These statements are both true and irrelevant.
Maybe it's nothing more than a slippery habit. Dwelling on the beauty of the past quietly removes us from the present, and what a comfortable place for our lingering. The past, a story we create and tell ourselves. How beautiful that time was. How in love we were. How magical that Christmas morning felt. How loved we once were. How brave. How clever. How spontaneous. How free.
Another way to avoid the present. Another craving to feed. Another doubt to fuel.
The new blog. You're here!
As the "A Place and all its Creatures" blog comes to a close, I'll be continuing to share writing, art, photography, and "the works" right HERE. There's lots of art still coming from "A Place and all its Creatures" and from future explorations, so stay tuned, and in touch.
What an awesome year it's been, visiting 27 states in my 27th year and driving 19,661 miles in doing so. Donnie and I met such amazing creatures on the road and visited so many of the ones we already know and love. I attempted to recap some of these moments in a tiny thank you note you can find here.
I sold the van last month on the 1 year anniversary of her purchase, and it was a happy farewell to a tall college sophomore and Eastern Religions and Communications major, Cooper. He met us with his father who pulled the Kelly Blue Book print off from his old jean pocket to review. Respectable. We went to the mechanic together and things checked out just fine although the man under the van self identified as "not a Diesel guy". Cooper's excitement settled my "I now have no escape" nerves and the title changed hands as I boarded a plane to Alaska (photos to come!).
Letting go of things we think define and create us, what a great practice. This giant white van and project has been such a part of my identity this last year, how will I successfully express myself without them? Funny thought really, but it sneaks up softly before you know it. Unless you know it.
And NOW, I've been puddle jumping around Portland and feeling cold. It's true, the coffee here is good and the people, better, yet, the truth is simple, "the sun has run out" - Dill.
I'm going to find it and love it while I wait for a new home and VW bus to arrive from Uruguay. Fingers crossed on this one.