“Is this what your home sounds like?” she asked.
“No,” I smiled looking up at the forest, breathing in the fresh air and thinking of my Parkdale neighbourhood in Toronto. “The sound of my home is sirens and traffic and seagulls.” How different my life was in that yurt in the woods in Northern California.
Two months prior, my dear Aussie friend Katie told me she was coming to America on a retreat and that she somehow wanted to see me on that trip. We had just been together in April in Australia, to celebrate her wedding while Josh and I were on our honeymoon. The possibility of seeing her twice within six months seemed incredible. I would go to her. I had to. The weekend that she would be available to spend with me happened to be the only weekend that I was free of photographing weddings and adorable babies. It was a sign. The stars had lined up to make it happen.
My biggest piece of advice right now lies in this: always say yes to a good opportunity. Always say yes to an adventure. Even if it scares you a little. Even if you are not entirely sure about what you just signed up for. When a good opportunity is offered, immediately accept and figure out the details later. Sometimes these opportunities will take you to places where you are left wondering what the heck you are doing there. Other times, you will be whisked away to a new place that changes you forever. Travel does that do you. People do that to you. This world is pretty magical.
A couple of months after accepting the adventure, I was on a plane to San Jose, California. There I would meet Katie and we would drive to our home for the next few days: a Yurt in the woods at The Land of Medicine Buddha. I was nervous. I had never stayed at a Buddhist Centre before and I was worried that I would inadvertently make some errors. That I would embarrass myself or Katie. That my laugh would be too loud – this was actually my greatest concern. When I laugh, I really laugh and the tears squirt out of my eyes. What if my laugh disturbed a mediation group or something of that sort?
After driving for about forty-five minutes, the last bit along a very windy road surrounded by some of the tallest trees I had seen in my life, we arrived. We checked in, were given a map, told where and when meals that we had pre-ordered would be served and we were free. Driving further up into the forest, we found our yurt, situated beside the Wish Fulfilling Temple but otherwise alone. All other yurts were in a different area so we would be alone in the woods. The man at the front must have sensed that together, Katie and I, we could be loud, there was a little trouble glistening in our eyes. Our yurt was perfect: two beds, two lights, a space heater and our own private bathroom.
We had some plans for how we would spend our days at the Land of Medicine Buddha. Katie had invited me along on this spiritual retreat of hers. I do not know if she sensed that it was something that I needed. I suspect that she did. On our last day she told me that I would be changed forever from those days spent in the woods and that that change may take a few months to occur. I listened to those words, stored them in my mind and now five months later, I am finally finding the way to express just how great that adventure was.
This area of California is a pretty spiritual one. Perhaps everywhere is if you are looking for it. When Katie began planning the trip, suddenly all of these great opportunities were popping out. We drove into Oakland to see Adyashanti do a talk. We stuck around afterwards so that Katie could meet this teacher of hers. We saw Elizabeth Gilbert speak about her then new book Big Magic. There were five hundred of us in a high school gymnasium. Liz spoke a little, read a little, got us all to sing and took a few questions. Katie was one of them. We traveled to San Jose for Katie to have a private session with Mukti. A woman who Katie Skypes with regularly for teachings but had yet to meet in person. We drove down California Route 1 and I took photos from the car window. We ate everyday at the Café Gratitude in Santa Cruz to a point where all of the staff seemed to know us. We walked the pier of that town and watched the sea lions. We saw migrating Monarchs in a roust having left Canada and working their way to my beloved Mexico. We watched the sunset, that sweet California light. We did a meditation with Mukti in Los Gatos in a church. When we emerged, it was dark and there was a wild energy in the air. The wind swept up and the branches on the palms felt like they were fighting to be released. We visited the Big Basin Redwoods State Park and we walked a trail marvelling at those majestic beasts of trees. We felt them and we listened to them and I felt sad when it was time to leave them.
While at Land of Medicine Buddha, we wrote and read. We had great conversations about important things. We spoke about honesty and being authentic. About listening to your heart. About helping others in ways that they need it. About listening. About asking questions. About learning. And we spoke through our silences as we sat in stillness in the forest, as we walked the 8 Verses Loop trail. We walked to the Enchanted Forest and something moved inside of me. I lay down on a tree stumped and looked up at the tall redwoods and I felt something. I do not know what, but there was something there. Katie took a photo and encircling me is light. She captured that moment.
I cannot describe to you how this trip changed me. But it did. And I know that this change is for the better. I feel lighter in my toes. Every morning we would hear a pair of eagles fly above, breaking the silence and opening up the day and I would soak it in. Cherishing that moment. Cherishing how beautiful this world can be. How incredible it is that two people from opposite sides of the world who met at a “misfits” guest table at a wedding in Vancouver ten years prior, would be forever joined together in life. Life is for living. It’s for saying yes to opportunities and adventures. It’s for opening up your heart and pushing aside the fear that it will ever being broken. It’s for embracing whatever comes your way and for savouring every moment of it.
Tips for Land of Medicine Buddha
• This is a beautiful retreat if you are needing a quiet place to get away. There is a pool and hot tub. Vegetarian meals are available but you need to order them in advanced. They have gluten-free options and tea and coffee and all of that. There is also a fridge available in the dining room should you buy your own food and want to use it.
• There is no internet and no cell service here which makes it all that much more of a retreat. Enjoy the quiet. They have a payphone available. Otherwise, wait until you get into town to connect with others. Everyday when we went to Café Gratitude for lunch or dinner, we would take advantage of the internet there.
• Towels are provided. Bring flipflops or sandals to wear in the shower as it is a concrete building so the floors are chilly.