I’m delighted to be back from my week-long retreat to Deer Park Monastery in the great hidden chaparral mountains of Southern California. I flew into San Diego to meet my parents a few days before my trip, to celebrate my birthday with them. It was bliss. We spent time in Old Town eating Mexican food and sharing laughter. Another day we made our way to beautiful La Jolla, where we reminisced about vacationing there during my childhood as we lazed away at the beach. But the highlight for me was swimming and snorkeling with these magnificent spotted leopard sharks–a huge bucket list item. When I finally said my goodbyes, it was time to really sink into the feeling of turning 40 and reaching this new milestone in a different place in my life than I’d thought I’d be.
The next day I arrived at the Monastery. I drove up to the parking lot where there was a sign that read, I have arrived. I am home. And then there was a single nun, working in the welcome office, who greeted me. She wore long blue robes and had a shaved head. She looked up from her desk and smiled this radiant smile as though she had been waiting all day just for me. All around her were other nuns who also smiled knowingly, welcoming me into the fold. As the first nun ushered me to my modest room we passed another sign that read, This is it.
There, surrounded by the beautiful landscape and sheltered by giant oak trees all around, I turned 40. But I also turned a corner. I turned a corner to the path that led me home to myself.
I brought a ton of stuff with me given my visit to see my parents and the trip to the Monastery thereafter. My giant, weathered suitcase got its own bunk and came to be known as the walk-in closet in my dorm. There are many personal organizers who are minimalists when they travel–I am not one of them. I would say I’m more like a Mary Poppins meets a boy scout; always prepared for any situation, and ready to share my things with others who may be missing a button, or shoes, or a toothbrush. Every single thing I brought, I used or loaned to someone else.
For Whom the Bell Tolls
Every day we followed a routine led by beautiful bronze bells that filled the air with full, round song; 30 minutes of bells at 5 a.m. to wake us up, another to signal meditation, another at meal times and a final bell toll at the close of the day. There were 11 nuns and a cluster of about another dozen or so people at the retreat, all hailing from different parts of the world. We woke together, communed together and broke bread together. Each of us performed a different work detail to do our part in helping to run the Monastery during our stay. I was in charge of filling potholes in the parking lot. Anytime we heard the bell we were to stop where we were, close our eyes, breathe and let the bell wash over us. For me, it was as if each time the bell rang I was being invited to come home again and again, like ocean waves gently urging me forward.
The bells were an incredible expression of the intention I came to the retreat to satisfy: the ability to bring my meditation and peace practices into daily action. I want to move my inner peace to an actionable path in this world and share it with others–like a peace warrior who shares love, kindness and acceptance with everyone I meet. To do this, I needed to ignite my intention from within and bring it home to myself. This is what led me to the Monastery. Ultimately, we can only share with others the things that we possess within ourselves.
In those precious moments when the bells rang, I let everything fall away: stress, worry, fear. I was for want of nothing. As I closed my eyes I imagined myself walking down a corridor toward my heart center. My heart pulsed strong at my temples and in my ears, waking me up to the part of me that wanted desperately to get to the place in life where I could truly start living.
Inner Peace, Outward Joy
My aha moment came on the second day in, when I realized another poignant reason why I had come all this way to be at Deer Park Monastery. Here it is, my deep dark secret: I am single, 40 and have no children. For as long as I can remember, I wanted a big family and a strong, loving partnership. I thought I would be married at 19, so every year that passes where I am single has made me feel like a giant failure. Prior to the retreat I thought that if I could just find Mr. Right; that if I could just fall in love, get married and have the children I’d always dreamed of–then I could start my life. For so long there was this feeling inside me that would take over my thoughts. You will always be single. You will never have children. But during my time at the Monastery I finally realized that these thoughts sprung from fear, not truth.
Facing this reality meant that I had to sit in the pain, really hear it, honor it and love it. This is one of the biggest monsters in my closet. I sat with this for several hours that day before a new friend said to me, “What if you just accepted that this is your life?”
I told her that if I did that and didn’t try to make it mean something about the future, I would be very satisfied. I have a beautiful life. I love my career, I’m in touch with my purpose, and I have meaningful relationships with my family and friends. I am healthy, I love my home, my heart is full–and in spite of never having been married, I’ve known more love and partnership than some people have experienced in their entire lives. If this was it, I would be more than satisfied. I would be complete.
Something broke open in me that brought me home to myself. Suddenly the truth was this moment; it was this breath and not the future of potential loneliness. As long as I come home to this current moment, I am whole. I am on fire. I am lit up, and life is exactly what it is meant to be. This moment called me home right then, and continues to call me home. I realized that the Universe had been speaking to me all along. I don’t need to wait any longer. I just need to open up to this moment. My breath and my being is what brings me home, not my circumstances.
It was there at the Monastery that I could finally tap into the peace and joy I’d been searching for all my life. I cradled myself and my heart in a way I never have–until now. Up until now I’d been waiting for the right things and the right people to magically fall into place and into my life. I’d fooled myself that I was living in the moment. What I was really doing was holding my breath and waiting, waiting, waiting. You see, the things we want to happen are an attachment to the past and the future. True love has woven itself in and out of my life. There were times that I thought I had reached the place where life would begin, where I would get married and live the fairytale that I had dreamed of my whole life. And then somehow as fast as it appeared in my life, it was gone. I’d always felt drawn to walk away from the great loves of my life, as though I was being called in other directions despite the thing I wanted most having finally shown up.
The Great Love of My Life
Another friend at the retreat asked me what I wanted for my birthday if I could have anything in the world. Would it be my partner? And from this loving, authentic space I said no; it wouldn’t be my partner. It would be to feel happy and satisfied with wherever I was and whatever I had in life, and to feel love in my heart. If I find my life partner, one day he may die. If I have children, they will eventually move away and lead their own lives. I am the great love of my life. My happiness starts and ends with me. And it starts by being here now, in this present moment and connecting with my breath. I now overflow with this simple truth. This is it. I’m not waiting. I have arrived and I am home.
Walking away from the monastery my cup overflowed with self-acceptance. It’s possible that I will never meet and marry the man of my dreams, or have children. Or if I do, my life may look wildly different from what I’ve imagined all these years. I’m okay with this. In fact, I embrace every part of my life.
Now I can truly appreciate living in the moment. This moment is life–and I have everything I need.
Come back next week and follow me on Instagram for more insights about how I found hope and healing at the Buddhist Monastery.