I don’t know who said it first or if it’s just a common analogy that you hear when you start meditating and going to groups or retreats but it came to my mind when I was making new signs to keep people from approaching the retreat cabins during the summer. The journey toward enlightenment is a road without exits. There are definitely stop offs, like those big truck stops where you can take a shower, and there are 3 different restaurants and a tchotchke shop, maybe an arcade. The ones you stop off at when it’s 3am and you need more coffee and food to make you sick enough to stay awake but not too sick so that you can’t drive. You peek behind the buildings and see the trailers where the people who run it live and you think ‘huh, I wonder what it would be like to live here?’ and you fantasize about meeting the person of your dreams and living in the trailer behind some outrageous tourist trap with billboards announcing it for a hundred miles in every direction.
And you can completely envision how it would be a wholly satisfying life, how in your old age you would sit on the porch of that trailer in a plastic chair, wearing a house coat, with a scroungy looking dog and a blind cat. My! What love you have for this imaginary life you do not lead! No amount of bright artificial light or generic music will change the fact that you must get back in your car and get back on the road.
I have less than one hundred hours left as a resident of Gampo Abbey. Just typing those words fills me with a mix of joy and sadness, excitement and weariness, guilt and self loathing. I had originally signed up to stay for 2 years and although I quickly realized that I would be leaving much sooner, there is no one yet to take over my work. It was a hard year of growing pains and learning through mistakes and internet searches and pleading phone calls to professionals and it feels like that experience, while helpful for me, will not be of benefit to anyone else. Gampo Abbey work-wise that is, the nitty gritty everyday ‘this is what broke, what will break, what may break, and what you need to watch for’ transmission will be written down and get less and less relevant as the days go by.
This is how it goes. A lot of people who were here when I got here or arrived shortly after me are no longer here. My buddies Yanchen, Megan, Marcel, Stacey and Dan have all left recently. Along with me goes Tsultrim, the kitchen manager and nun who has been here for almost 7 years. In the fall, there will be a new director and next spring, two wonderful, young, life monastics will move to Halifax to explore ways that monastics can play a more integrated role within Shambhala. More have come and will stay after I leave and one day, someone will show up, look around and say ‘Wow, there’s a lot of things to fix. What did the previous facilities manager DO all day?’.
Summer is back, finally. The bird songs
I remember from my arrival have all returned. The garden is turned over and already producing radishes and the lupins are crazy with blooming. This endless sky and sea, with it’s amazing sunrises, sunsets, cloudy days and wind. I’m not sad to leave as much as I know that I will miss this crazy place when I’m gone. For all the complaints and negativity that have come out my mouth here, I know it will be like how mothers describe childbirth. Painful but miraculously they don’t remember how much.
Soon, so soon, Tsultrim (Edith) and I will be getting in the Pontiac Vibe and driving to Halifax. Shortly thereafter, I will be leaving to visit Chicago for July before I come back to work at Dorje Denma Ling near Tatamagouche NS. I cannot wait to go home. I hope it is muggy and sticky and hot or unseasonably cold or a tornado or snowpocalypse. Whatever, as long as it’s Chicago and it has my friends, family and Kitten.
I took a nice long walk the other day with a group of new residents (new-ish, 4 will be temporarily ordained soon) down to Cathedral rock hoping to see some seals. No seals but it was a beautiful night with great company. They will have this whole wonderful summer season to fall in love with the place and months of their own struggles and joys. It will soon be like a different abbey and fewer and fewer people will remember I was even here. But the No Exit signs, those are gonna last because I painted them with thick coats of boat paint. A good reminder to get back in the car and get on with it.