I meant to bring my camera along for this trip. It was the one thing I forgot. There's always the last resort camera phone!
I'm 4 hours south of my destination, in a small bed and breakfast outside of Roanoke, Virginia. It's lovely here. I enjoyed a peaceful picnic on this patio, next to a little pond with a waterfall. There is a very old garden of boxwoods, planted in rows that form a maze. I've been meaning to walk through it, but may not get around to that this trip.
The decision to stay here was a spontaneous one. Something about it felt much better than staying in a cheap motel. The company I find myself in is interesting. I sat at the dining room table this morning with a set of identical twins -- ladies in their late 50's or so. There was a gentleman from the UK with wonderfully fluffy red hair and a splendid accent. The inn-keeper, Kathy, spoke this morning about death and how she feels she is fine to die as long as she's been "saved." Her cousin, Dawn, another small southern woman in her sixties, is the one person here with whom I've formed an affectionate bond. She's a sweet ole gal... sneaks off to smoke on the porch where I tuck myself to read Thich Nhat Hanh. I can tell that her and Kathy keep trying to get a beed on me -- why I'm there, a young woman, traveling alone... where I'm going and what I'm up to. Dawn asks me this morning, "how did you manage to get out without the husband?" to which I replied, "Oh, he didn't really want to come." She raised her eyebrow gloriously with a wicked smile. I just laugh. And, given Kathy's breakfast conversation on dying and being saved by Jesus, well, one could easily see why I've kept my travels to the buddhist monastery my little secret. It's really rather funny to me to be such an intriqueing figure for these little southern chics! haha
On a more serious note, I'm trying to shore up my concentration for the trip ahead. What will be the goal of my practice for the week? I stumbled upon this quote today by Hanh, and it has helped to situatate me on the path:
"In the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things, and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself. And you will be able to respond more helpfully to all around you."
The ironic thing is that Ayya Khema says a bit of the opposite in her book I'm reading. She says that people often get too comfortable with the peace and tranquility in retreat... that it's important to go deeper with our practice.
However, the biggest concern for me at this moment is how to open my heart. I am most aware right now of how closed I can often be to the world: feeling restricted, fearful, clam-like. I'd like to sit more mindfully with the awareness of interdependence, seeing always the interconnectivity I have with others. I think my goals should be to establish harmony and love within my self, to build a strong, peaceful foundation along with quiet and calm in the mind. Then, from there, apply concentration and insight to the concept of no-self so that I may penetrate the illusion of self boundaries.
Here I go! Ready or not. A foot and a half on the path....