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Upaya Day 7: Kendall in Love

Voila! I finally sorted out the visitors from the residents. The rich people’s retreat left, and with it all the people whose toilets I hadn’t wanted to clean. I’m sure I’m being horribly unfair and critical, so here’s a blanket apology–but let me say that my honest observation is that all the mindless ass-wipers are gone now. Today we actually had a “service” in the morning, and the place transformed from a summer camp for New Agers to a spiritual center of palpable power. I sat opposite the row of robed (and serious, highly trained, deeply committed) practitioners, and I felt a tsunami of love for them.

It’s the people, not the place. The place is beautiful, but the people are WAH! I want to sing their names, but their names don’t carry the weight of their presence. You have to be here to feel that. I saw not one but a whole row (ten, twelve maybe) of people who have their shit together in such a way that I would be thrilled and honored to move in with them and throw my life into the mix. There is a constellation of extraordinary spirits here, and for the first six days I couldn’t see them for the cleaning rags. I am so glad for today.

Part of what helped is that I got a good night’s sleep. When I’m tired, I’m more hypercritical of myself than usual (which is saying a mouthful)–and when I’ve had some sleep, I look back on myself and think what the hell was I on about? That lesson in Temple Etiquette was daunting, it’s true; but the gracious woman who taught it emphasized over and over that there’s no rush; nobody expects anyone to get it quickly; part of the power of the practice is learning that it’s OK to make mistakes, yadayadayada, and did I take that in? Not yesterday. But today, I get it. I feel it in my bones.

This is a place where a person can do good work, do no harm, and have grace and joy, and although I don’t find the work of providing retreat space for those who can pay $900 per course thrilling, I think there will be opportunities to reach out to people whose stories inspire me more if I decide to come here. Several people for whom I feel great respect and admiration came to me today and said, with genuine feeling, “I hope you choose to come live with us.” I think of each of them as I would think of a lover, minus the lust. I yearn to see them again. There is that burning in the pit of my stomach, that catch-breath wonder that I feel when I fall in love. I have been accepted as a potential resident. I am open to that possibility. Roshi–or Joan Halifax–I haven’t yet asked her to be my teacher, as I don’t yet know her: is clear, honest, straight-talking. She spoke today at a meeting of the community of concerns about the “commodification of the dharma.” (The dharma is the body of teachings, and also it’s a way of life that embodies many principles listed or counted in different ways in different traditions.) I was so glad to hear her use that term. She said, “Someone has to pay the light bill.” It’s that simple. A community of people who share the intention, as she said, “to build a more conscious society” has to support itself somehow. Upaya supports itself by renting out its space for “retreats” or “workshops” led by a variety of people from many different paths.

I had the great pleasure of cleaning the windows of the room where the poet Wendell Berry will stay, starting tomorrow. My life has been much enhanced by his writing; I would happily clean his toilet and leave flower petals on it. There is a Lindisfarne retreat coming in as I go out. I would be happy to clean some of these teacher’s toilets–although you never know who is going to show up with the bucks to pay for the event, and maybe some of them leave their loogies in the sink (for those of you who are less colloquial, I’m speaking of wads of mucus, very unpleasant to find on the bottom of sink drain one is cleaning).

So I am preparing to leave Upaya with a full heart and an open mind. This could be a good option for me, despite all I have said in the last couple of days. This could be a great place to do, as Saro said, whatever work I need to do. Tonight Joan Halifax will give the dharma talk, and I will finally have an opportunity to get a sense of who she is. I already know that she has assembled around herself a luminous group of human beings. That says plenty. I’m honored to have been accepted, and in the end, I find it was a great joy to spend a week here. I still have half a day tomorrow. I’m glad of that.

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