Earlier in the year I gave Jim Mindfulness Harmonica lessons for his birthday gift. I wasn’t to sure how the the mindfulness part would go but I knew he would like the harmonica lessons. These lessons were happening at a retreat center in Western Massachusetts called Kripalu. It’s a beautiful facility that sits on a hill and is completely surrounded by woods and lovely walking paths. Benches and Buddha’s, streams and bridges. Perfect setting for some peace and quiet. When I told Jim of this gift, he was really happy to go. He would deal with the mindfulness and try to learn to like all the organic and healthy food that would be part of his five day retreat. He would also deal with the silence that is part of the Kripalu routine. Easier for him to do than for me, but I have done it many times. I love Kripalu. Great, we were good to go.
The plan was that each day he would go off to his lessons which were morning, afternoon and night sessions. We would stay at the Apple Tree Inn which abuts the centers property. While he was at his class I would stay at the Inn and catch up on all the things I had gotten behind on. My blogging, writing in general and lots of reading and resting time for me. Breakfast for me was included in the price of our room and Jim would have all of his meals at the center because they came with his package. So we would both do our work and meet up each day at lunch time for a walk around Kripalu and then we would go to lunch together at the center. After lunch I would go back to the Inn and work on my projects and later in the day, I would take my book, head down the hill to Kripalu and go to their 4th floor silent lounge. I would grab a chair facing the mountain, with the sun streaming in and read and then most days take a nap. Like most great plans though we cannot see how things will unfold until we are in the middle of them.
Walking the grounds of Kripalu every day before lunch. So quiet and woodsy. The dappled light and little bridge. Buddha’s and benches all along the way. We were also fortunate to have such good weather.
Day one…Jim is up and getting ready to leave when it dawned on me, that I would be alone all day in this cabin in the woods. Tiny bit of panic. I don’t like being alone in places that I’m not familiar with and that are in the woods. We were the only people registered for these units, which sits away from the main house. What to do, what to do. Most of you know by now that I had a problem with agoraphobia many years ago. I have worked hard to control it and I do really great except when I don’t. Like all other phycological conditions, they can be control but never completely cured. I had the car. So I could get up, drive him over and then come back. That could be a problem also. I stewed about that for awhile. Even went out to the hallway and checked that all the doors were locked and you couldn’t enter the building without a key. Everything was in order as it should be. O.K. I was going to give it a try. Be brave. Until he drove down the hill with my ESCAPE VEHICLE . Deep breath and go get tea. That was down the long hall. I knew I was locked in so I did it. Back in the room, doors secure. Feeling better. Get dressed. You needed to be dressed if anyone breaks in. Done. Open the curtains. Better. READ. And so it went that first morning. I did walk over to the Inn, had a lovely breakfast and walked back. Went right up to my room and wrote calmly for over two hours. Felt so proud of myself. No one to talk to, no one to sort it out with. Just me and my thoughts and my desire to be here and get things done. Fortunately, I have a lot of successful years behind me now. So the day continued. I walked and met Jim for lunch, we walked and talked together. We both enjoyed lunch and our successful morning. He gave me a ride back to the Inn and I was fine until he came back later in the day. There were moments when I would peek out the door, just doing my checking job and I did have several conversations with myself, all of these little bits were helpful. Surprisingly the afternoon went by fast.
Breakfast at the Apple Tree Inn. I had a lovely table by the window. Lovely morning light and birds to watch. The Inn itself is full of charm with lots of antiques and this wonderful piano….a delightful place. I came to love my mornings down there. I’m not the type that ever goes out to eat by myself so it was a bit awkward at first but hey, there was a warm body in the office so I felt quite safe.
And so the days passed. Each day Jim would leave, I would get my tea, read a bit and then head to the Inn for my breakfast. It was warm and fuzzy there each morning and I had my special table. I was feeling quite grown up. Then back to my room for some writing time.
Monday, Tuesday Wednesday…same routine. Lot of alone time and lots and lots of silence except for when Jim returned at night. We did find a room at Kripalu where we could eat and not be in silence so we went there for our lunches.. Round about Wednesday I was starting to get a bit antsy. I was caught up on what I wanted to get done.. I had read a book and was working on my second one. I had had all kinds of healthy food and lots of walks in the woods. Jim was just happy blowing away on his harmonica and I liked that he was enjoying his time with like minded people and a teacher he enjoyed. Now, I start wondering what the hell is wrong with me. This is what I wanted, time alone, space to get things caught up and move forward, reading and relaxing. On Wednesday afternoon when I went to the 4th floor silent lounge with my book, I didn’t open it right away. I sat and started thinking…about this trip, and how for the first time I was the one waiting for Jim to do his thing and usually he is always the one waiting for me to do my thing…then it dawned on me. How does he do it? By Wednesday we had been there four days and I was about to lose my mind. It occurred to me that sometimes what you think you want isn’t really what you want at all, or at least not all of it. So I sat with that for awhile.
In the two hours that I sat there, I never read a page of that book. I thought a great deal about what the problem was for me. I loved the first two days after I got over the fact that I would be alone in the woods, I was excited to be there, well maybe not that excited until I figured out I could do this. Come around day three though, and I start losing it a bit. The problem wasn’t Kripalu or Jim’s lessons. The problem was me. I am not meant to be in silence, by myself for five days. I had started talking to inanimate objects. Real conversations. Well, Mac what shall we write about today? Mac didn’t answer me. So I knew what I had to do starting that night. Jim, he is always fine with whatever going on but Jim also was not in silence for the entire week. He had CLASSMATES. I had me.
When he returned to the Inn for the dinner break, I told him to put that harmonica away. We were going out. I think he might have been a bit surprised but he said o.k. “ where are we going?” I told him we were going to The Red Jacket Inn in town for dinner, the pub, where there were people for me to talk to. So off we went.
I couldn’t believe how starved I was for a human voice. I missed people. I missed my connections. I actually missed my house and of course I missed Gracie most of all. She doesn’t talk but she sure fills a room with her presence. We had a lovely dinner, a great glass of wine. I talked to everyone that came in. I was back in my element. Soon, though, we had to leave. Jim had his class at 7 so we headed back to Kripalu. It was o.k. though, this time I would drop Jim off . I then parked the car and headed to the Kripalu book store. Real books, real people, not a silent zone. When Jim was done with his lesson, we drove back to the Inn together.
Day 5…Jim gets up, gets ready for his last day of class. I get up, I’m getting dressed and he says “where are you going so early”. I told him that I was driving him up the hill this morning and then after breakfast I was going to town. All by myself but I would find people and tea and books stores. I would go to the cheese and wine shop and talk to the guy in there. Then, I would go to the Yarn shop. A gift to myself. I’d feel the fibers and read the patterns and yes, I did buy myself the makings for a wonderful scarf. I had the best morning. I felt alive again. Last stop the tea shop, for a latte. Life is good when you sort it out.
Downtown Lenox. I had a wonderful day roaming the streets of Lenox. Book Store with a wine bar…great. Yarns and tea. Later in the afternoon, I even went to a Botanical garden that was being held indoor. And a final stop at Talbots…doesn’t get much better than that.
Sometimes we have to put ourselves out there. Into new and different situations. That is where we learn about our strengths and weaknesses. Where we can learn how to balance our life a bit. We also learn that sometimes it good to give to another even if it brings up painful memories for us. What I figured out was that I really enjoyed giving Jim this gift. Many years ago I would not have been able to do that. I also learned that as much as I sometimes crave the sound of silence in my busy life, it is not a sound that I am comfortable with for a long extended time. Some would say four days wasn’t a long time. Let me just tell you, for me, it was. I learned though, that my escape vehicle was out there waiting for me whenever I was ready to take it for a spin. I’m happy to have been to Kripalu. It is a peaceful and wonderful space, both inside and on those beautiful ground. I also learned even though a lot of it is in silence, I don’t have to be.