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A Spiritual Retreat

A Spiritual Retreat


The heart surrenders everything to the moment. The mind judges and holds back.
 Ram Dass

The cab picked me up thirty minutes early, at 4am. I didn’t even have a chance to pack a book to read for the plane; with Him waiting down there. The headlights filled my room like a rehearsal stage and fired up the blood of this unprepared actor. I offered some words for the driver’s impatience and in silence we drove on. He was Russian, about thirty. I might have agitated him, gotten on his bad side. Who did he know in the San Francisco Bay Area Russian crime world? Most likely all the players. It was clear to me that immediately after this ride to the Oakland airport he would call them up to go rob and vandalize my house. What could I say to him to ease the tension? I was a conversational architect aiming to win him over with a foundation of common ground. I could steer it so my house didn’t get robbed. I spoke with him about Russia. Moscow is beautiful, the women are beautiful. What brought you to San Francisco? Halfway into the ride I imagined he decided to call off the midmorning raid, I was alright by him.
The flight number to Maui was pretty good, some eights in there, which means good fortune in Chinese. Eight can also mean infinity. Did this mean the plane would crash and I would dissolve into infinity? This was likely. Three jubilant stewards hovered around my first class seat. Hawaiian flights always come with some aloha pageantry. One of them made conversation before we took off and it became apparent that he was too nice to exist. The flight was doomed, with this guy laughing in his hibiscus shirt as we attempted a water landing. A midair collision was another possibility. One of the stewardesses had an incredible ass, large and blue-skirted. The kind of early-forties planetary ass that has a gravitational pull to it. It drew my eyes a few times as we prepared for takeoff. When she sat down and crossed her legs, she might have caught me staring. She’ll tell the pilot about this, or at least her fellow attendants. I’ll be arrested when we land, but they’ll keep quiet about it till then and offer me scowls reserved for a deviant. The fear of being labeled a problem passenger was brief, as I remembered that one or more parts of this old plane’s engine would fail mid-flight. Once we got going they brought me a small device to view movies. I looked at the list of films and took a while to decide which one to watch. The Descendants, staring George Clooney, had the word accident right there in the description, that was out. The Watch tackled in a comedic way the possibility of an alien invasion and it brought up the possibility that the midair collision of our flight could be with a UFO. I skipped that one too. One of the films, a Harry Potter, advertised with big block letters: THE END OF IT ALL. This was to explicit even to entertain. I settled on a nice picture called The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, after I attempted to watch another film but starting that one brought on turbulence. T.B.E.M.H was a film for smooth skies, a forgetaboutyourspacehurdling kind of picture. It dealt with human themes, love and death and old age. One of the characters died suddenly one morning. What condition did he have? How old was he? He looked in his sixties. Surely people don’t just die suddenly? I nearly rang the call button to have my answers but then the narrator explained that he had a heart condition that the character was aware of. This meant he did have the proper checkups and was diagnosed by a doctor who found the condition. It wasn’t waiting dormant to kill him when he got to India. Do heart attacks occur on planes? Sustained stress is bad for the heart so they are probably even more frequent than on land. The stewards needed to cut this island bullshit and brush up on their life savings skills. Even so, it would take an hour to divert the plane back to land and reach a hospital in the event of an on board heart attack, so we might as well forget it. The stewardess with the ass began to make friendly conversation with me. Either she hadn’t seen me earlier her or she was into it.
The plane landed in beautiful Maui and I started my search for a rent-a-car. I tried Hertz, then Dollar, then Budget, then Avis (Budget’s sister company). Nothing was available and the process was taxing my already tired body. I hadn’t eaten for hours and I scanned the rental agencies’ floors for good places to faint. I bought a sandwich at Starbucks to tie me over. The sandwich was sliced turkey on wheat. I couldn’t decide which posed the more present danger. Sure the processed meat would turn into cancer eventually, but what is this gluten thing people are talking about? Aren’t they putting sugars in wheat breads now? I read it in the Times. If I already have cancer the sugar will speed up the process. I read in the Times that cancers feed on sugar. This was a poisonous snack, but I took a little comfort in the cooling properties of the cucumber. Fed, I walked up to a Speedi-Shuttle booth near the baggage claim. It turns out there was a free shuttle directly to the hotel for members of the retreat. All of the other passengers had boarded the shuttle and were now waiting for me. I climbed inside and said hi two women who seemed impatient. Good first impression. I didn’t even look like I was spiritual. I had on a white t-shirt and some jeans, like some kind of irreverent James Dean, hitching a ride to where I didn’t belong, ashing my cigarette in the incense holder. I sat upfront with the driver as we navigated the twisty coastal roads of Maui. I wondered how long it would be before I had to tell the driver to stop so I could throw up. If I vomited all over the bus word would really get around fast.

I had a day before the retreat began to poke around the resort. The grounds were great. My room was a short distance from a large hot tub, and beyond that a private cove. Two purposeful waters. By a magnetic force that trumped what was tired in me, I began to swim. The ocean instantly aligned my back and cleansed my sinuses. Salt for your wounds. Salt for your wounds. Back in my room, I unpacked my clothes. No, I dumped them on the floor. In the new mess was a book that must have been deep in my bag. It was The Art and Craft of Playwriting. Nothing spiritual, nothing healing here, just a book I had picked up a few weeks ago in preparation for writing a play. The guy who wrote this thing was a pain in my side. He made the case on each page for drama, for story arch, for character development, for stripping away the unessential. In order for plays to be successful, they had to have successful beginnings, successful middles, successful endings. DRAMA. He supplied charts and half circles and full circles. Outlines, French Scenes, exercises, all in this book that had floated into my hurriedly packed morning bag like some mainland joke. Nothing spiritual here. Of all the books! I would have settled for a pocket sized book of zen quotations. What’s more, I wanted nothing to do with character development. My play had no strong antagonist, no real conflict. My play was more about mood, philosophy, the movement and transition of ideas, something like an Antonioni film on stage. I had been resisting this guy from the beginning, with his classical directions. The goon used Aristotle’s poetics as the structure for any ideal play. I sat outside on my balcony and tried to read the thing again. Give Him a chance.
While I was reading and picking my nose, my room mate showed up on the balcony. He saw me wipe the snot from my finger on my clothes. I turned red and thought quick and extended my left hand to greet him. I heard somewhere that shaking with your left hand is bad luck but I couldn’t remember if it was the shaker or the shakee that would die on the island as a result. We talked superficially about the retreat and then made our way down to dinner. About one hundred people were in the restaurant. I looked around for the pretty girls and there were a few. Hey there, this bar is fantastic. Look at this view! What a great place for a retreat. Let’s skip the meditation part of it. Everybody knows hotel rooms are for fucking. As I scanned the room I saw a familiar face. Years ago I lived in an apartment in Hollywood that was next to a law office. Here was the lawyer. His nametag was not the name I knew him by, but his Hindi name. I waited for my chance to introduce myself, knowing that he wouldn’t remember me. I worried that he thought I was an implanted agent into the retreat, trying to get in good with the spiritual elites to write an expose, or worse bust everyone for pot. That night after dinner he would go to the superiors and tell them that he was unsure about me, this guy who knew his name, who he didn’t remember. Lets keep an eye on him. Also one of the pretty girls was sure to corroborate the story. They would have me off the island by sunup. Hopefully they would refund my deposit out of pity.
Back in my room, The Art and Craft of Playwriting started to grow on me . I wasn’t that successful at proper storytelling anyhow. I meander and philosophize and forsake the dramatic beats. I fetishize language and try to write musically. One time I had an idea to write a novella in which there would actually be no real words at all, just new made up ones that sounded like music and the reader would begin to imagine something through the made up words, like the inference of a story. I abandoned the idea after a writer told me it had already been done in some esoteric poetry movement. Then I remembered something in music where you need to learn the rules in order to break them. Painting too, I was sure Pollock could at least draw a nice grandmother approving landscape. So from desperation I gave into the ideas of a structure a little. Maybe this had to be worked through? My drama dharma, my character development karma. OK so a good play has three parts. He suggested that you leave the audience hanging after the first act.

The next morning the retreat officially started. We gathered into a pavilion and the teachers were introduced. This was home. My colors, my teachers, my ancient wisdom. Our ancient wisdom. I began to ease up a little and some of the mind bullshit started to ebb. It was just a glimpse of possibility. A small opening in the curtain. Insecurity still functioned as I met some of popular kids later that day in the hottub. Once they found out that I worked in retail, they might kick me out of the tub. Everyone was a humanitarian, a not for profit community activist massage organizer. This materialist is going to spoil the waters, even chlorine can’t kill capitalism. I could explain that I am doing my best and try to steer things into something relatable. That the job pays my bills and I am trying to be a writer and that I do get to have great conversations with people and practice acts of service. They let me stay in the tub. All this shit was just exhausting. Am I really like this? Too much work. It is too much work to keep up with some idea of perfection, especially when you’ve played in the gutter. I brought pain and guilt and fear to the retreat and now the retreat had a purpose. Awareness always comes first. The curtain rose and there was more possibility. Wonderfully interesting people came into view as the thing went on. Conversations sprung from deep wells. We talked about our travel, our philosophy, our music, our guru. We were all here for a reason, this was important enough for all of us to make the trip out to Hawaii and practice. Confidence and connection came in like small waves, softening up my summer-camp ideas.
My room mate really enjoyed the bar that overlooked the ocean. He drank Mai Tai’s whenever there weren’t activities and I thought about joining him. I do love bars, and you could charge things to your room here so I wouldn’t have to keep cash on hand while swimming. As bars go, this was a motherfucker. So here was the work, to go beyond the easy habits and see what comes. I hadn’t had any luck at bars for a couple years anyhow. The girls were tired, the booze was tired, millions of wasted nights. Instead I woke up at sunrise and did Qi-Gong on the beach.
I felt a feeling of transition. I moved slightly out of my body as if work was being done and I had to get out of the way. My mind went kicking and screaming, flaming up at being laughed at, and the work continued. I kept reading my new spiritual guidebook, The Art and Craft of Playwriting and I tried to get the dramatic structures in my bones. I remembered the Hindu concept of Lila, a play of the gods. Scenes and challenges are orchestrated, illuminating truth for the main character. Soon the retreat began to take on the feeling of a performance. I was the protagonist and the antagonist in one, a Heart vs. mind, one needing to heal the other and merge into something new. Alchemy. This would require me to let go of fear and judgement, relieving them with love. I had decisions to make that would flow into the next scene as if scripted. Every moment became a practice of authenticity and openness. Letting go. Instead of aversion, there was a moving toward. The mind began to give in and allow. It was all love, even the mean mind stuff, the nasty stuff. Letting go. I love myself. I forgive myself. The hottub of anxiety became the hottub of non-judgement. I love others. I forgive others. The ocean expanded. Salt for the wounds. Now I was really in a state. I loved these people, they loved me. Letting go. We chanted together, sat in meditation together. Letting go. May I be happy, healthy, and live at ease. I began to see the good things in me that I had forgotten. May all beings be healthy, happy and live at ease. Letting go.  It was grace from the beginning. I fell into love on the retreat, my natural state. This is who I am, how did I get to forgetting it? How do I constantly remain here, in love? Remember. Letting go. The work I thought would last months or years was being done in a few days. Like good theater, it left out the boring bits.

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