Here in this corner of the world of Boston and Cape Cod, the leaves have started changing color and boots and jackets are in season. It is now a few weeks past the end of Summer. Fall came nipping at our heels while Jim and I were away at a Vipassana Meditation Course in Shelburne Falls, tucked in a beautiful corner of Western Massachusetts. Each morning when the Burmese bell tolled at 4 AM and I slipped on my shoes for the walk to the hall for meditation, I felt the air grow increasingly brisk as the week passed. The season was changing.
Prior to my arrival at the center, I was topsy-turvy, scattered, and on a hellish emotional rollercoaster ride. You know, the kind that throws you for a loop and suddenly you’re spiraling into the wild universe of your crazy monkey mind. Not the beautiful, ethereal universe but the crazy-eyed, ugly, and sweaty turmoil that you keep to yourself, just barely holding it together.
Where It Began
To be succinct, the summer was tough. To be lengthier, in mid-May I quit my corporate job and placed a hold on my Master’s program in Analytics to pursue a creative venture of a lifetime. I was embarking on a neo-Pilgrimage with my partner studying meditation and consciousness exploration in a myriad of ways. In June, I uprooted my life and moved to Cape Cod. On the surface, I was leaving my home, friends, and family, but more substantially, I was leaving behind familial expectations, societal norms, and deep-rooted conditioning on how one should live their life.
Our plans began in November 2018 when, in discussing our shared interests of spirituality, philosophy, science, and consciousness, the idea to create a lifestyle devoted to these topics took root. Where I had once resigned myself to working the Corporate Ladder and everything else that goes along with that life, I was beginning to see the possibility of living my life as I truly wanted. Early morning meditation, followed by yoga, breathing exercises, writing blog posts and making VLOGS, exploring and creating, and mixed media art – we would do it all and somehow it would all be financed! We had love and passion and would find a way!
In reality what occurred when I moved in was, we began fighting. A lot. It created an atmosphere of tension, eggshells, volatility, doubt, insecurity, and loneliness. We fought and then made up, reassuring ourselves this was all a part of the process. As two people familiar with shadow work, we were working on our egos individually and together. We made commitments to each other and broke them, and then fought with each other about breaking the commitments. The summer progressed and so did the downward spiral.
It was rare a day went by without a fight. I talked to anyone who would listen and found support in so many places, especially women, which was a blessed outcome of the tumult. I watched Teal Swan videos, learned about chakras, and dove further into shadow work, even creating a mind map of my shadows and egos. Like so many of us, I had traumas from my upbringing and thought maybe these were getting in the way of closeness. I traced my “issues” back to childhood, trying to get to the root cause. I tracked my triggers in a small notebook kept tucked in my back pocket, thinking I could go to what I know, which is to collect data, analyze and process the data, derive a solution, and synthesize stability, peace, and happiness.
The summer was a sweltering one and in August, calling it quits, I made the choice to head back home to Connecticut and packed all my belongings into my little red Honda.
All the arguments and our futile efforts to calm the turbulent waters of our relationship were taking a toll on our health and seeping into the lives of those around us. This was not what I had envisioned when I quit my job to live a more spiritual life.
The morning when my car was packed, goodbye letters written, and tears shed, everyone was away at work and I stood in that quiet house, soaking in the last minute of the essence I would no longer be in contact with. And I stalled. And stalled. Continuing to linger for no reason, I decided to make a video. I talked to my camera with no makeup on and a face that looked like it had been crying for years. I mused aloud, “Why am I leaving?” I didn’t want to leave. I called my friend, Jason, who had been offering me his nuggets of Zen-like wisdom and support throughout the summer. He said to me, “You don’t want to leave? So, don’t. Don’t leave.” He listened to me give grief over the relationship, languishing in all that should have been, or could have been, and we talked about acceptance and letting go. Accepting people as they are and letting them be was really difficult for me to practice. Instead, I placed expectations on people and situations. Jason kept saying, “Just dance. Dance with Jim.”
Dancing is the perfect synonym for life. Both dancing and life are dynamic, moving constantly to a push and pull, a rhythm, that you have to feel. Sometimes, you move to the right, sometimes to the left, sometimes your partner decides to throw you in the air and swing a bit, and if you feel the subtle intention, if you can read that movement, there you go! You’re grooving. Otherwise, caught off guard, you stumble, you fall, you trip. So, you have to feel it and move with it. It is fluid and never stagnant. You feel it. You don’t read a manual on dancing and follow a step by step process. Not that I haven’t tried.
I used to think there was a manual on living life. And we all know it, or at least have been told some variation of it. The version I knew was: study something smart, get a nice job, meet a well to do partner, start a family, and check all the boxes on the road to happiness. We’ve all heard that trope.
For my entire life, happiness or fulfillment was highly dependent on cultivating intelligence. So much of my spirit went to my head, my brain. “I have to be smart. I have to live smart.” Logical, rational, and analytical were some of my favorite adjectives for others to describe me as. This year was the first time I was living by my heart. It is strange territory for me. Unfamiliar.
Thinking With My Heart, Not My Brain
In 2019, I set the intention to awaken my intuition, to uncover and dust off that part of my soul left so long in the attics of my mind, unused and forgotten. And here I was, several months later in the heat of summer, hearing my intuition and it was telling me to stay on the Cape, with Jim, to continue with the relationship and diligently work on our brainchild, TantraBanter.
But, I still left.
I’m half-kidding. I ended up leaving, but stayed on the Cape. In an effort to work on our relationship while preserving our sanity and that of those around us, I moved into the home of a friend of Jim’s. She graciously and generously offered a spare room in her house to me without charging any rent, and more than just the literal space, she provided a safe haven for my mind – a place that was separate from Jim for when the proverbial turds hit the fan. It was the perfect respite.
As much as we wanted them to, things did not immediately iron themselves out, as they are wont to do. We continued to play like magnets, sometimes our positive and negative sides were facing the correct way to attract like the perfect pair, but by the quiver and quake of the earth, one end would eventually flip, and suddenly the two like ends would repel each other as oil and water. And off I would go to my room in South Dennis, grieving in my self-created tornado of misery and filled with doubt and insecurity, two regular companions at this point in the summer. Languishing in the turmoil and bitter dryness of this turbid season, I was crying out for a sense of home and completeness. Neither here nor there, I felt listless and directionless.
In June, I had uprooted my life and in August, I was still suspended, never taking root anywhere all summer. And the roots, they hung off my body, the taproot and its accompanying tiny tendrils drying in the sun, calling for the cool and damp earth. The state of our relationship was all I could focus on. I was becoming my own worst nightmare, an illness, and desperate for not an answer, but a solution, and if not a solution, then a conclusion. As the turgid season came to a close, I held my breath in anticipation for the Vipassana meditation around the corner. It was beginning to take on the form of a lifesaver that floated just ahead of my reach.
A Veritable Oasis
My preparation for the retreat was no preparation. What I knew of the meditation was ten days of silence and zero stimulation- no writing, reading, or exercise, just pure meditation punctuated by meals and sleep. I was familiar with the location, Shelburne Falls, and knew the atmosphere would lend itself well to the practice. Oh boy, do I love the crisp, clean air in that corner of the state.
It was a year ago that I became familiar with it. Western Massachusetts was where Jim and I picked up our relationship from when it began three summers ago through a chance encounter in Chiang Mai, Thailand that resulted in a week spent together riding a motorcycle, smoking banana leaf joints, and prowling night markets. Although I grew up only an hour away from Northampton/Amherst, I had never ventured to the area other than one hazy party weekend in my freshman year of college visiting friends at the University of Massachusetts. Here, the woods hold a sweet magic in their cascading hills. The water and air are cold and clean and when you take off into the winding roads, you are enveloped in a sweet perfume of grass, leaves, and wildflowers. Among the natural sprawl are these pockets of Town where industry saw its heyday peak and pass and yet a population of young people today keep arts, music, and culture alive and thriving. It is a place where one could realistically imagine stumbling across a population of sparkling fairies.
The location was one that held a magic for me already and it was one comfort I had amidst all the unknowns. I did not know, nor did I want to know the exact schedule, the details of the meditation technique, or what others’ experience had been like. I wanted my experience to be wholly and completely mine and so even my anticipation was warily regarded by the other half of my mind that did not want to be attached to any outcome. And yet two days before the retreat, I was crying in someone’s arms, praying that the retreat would bring me a sense of balance and calm. The turbulence of my monkey mind was throwing me for a loop daily and some derivation of peace was welcome.