Where are your dreams taking you?
A lot of things had to happen before we hosted our first retreat. We had to research, find, and buy land, quit our jobs over the protestations of the silent but overbearing monoculture, find a yoga teacher willing to work on a “Maybe we can pay you?” basis, and learn about Buddhism from monks so we could give informed dharma talks to the attendees.
But those are different stories, the Medium-friendly pieces, the “this is what you need to do to live your best life” motivational feedbag for us, the stalled middle class youth. We crave this information as we move, despite our best efforts, steadily toward a middle age that we fear will look disturbingly unlike that of our parents’ time. And those ideas can, in fact, change lives for the better. My own life being a particularly starkly outlined example.
But this isn’t one of those pieces. I want to talk about what happens when you arrive. Hosting a yoga and mindfulness event on my own land in the Appalachian mountains was, indeed, a dream fulfilled. But its fulfillment showed me that I hadn’t arrived at all; I had just begun.
What did I find on the retreat? This:
This is a photo of Ruby giving her Dharma talk on how she has applied mindfulness and meditation to her own life to deal with her anxiety, to focus her mind in moments of stress, to go deep and experience her emotions. These are not theories we explored to satisfy our intellectual curiosity, we gave real examples of problems in our own lives that we struggled and continue to struggle with.
There, beside the brook, we all felt connected to and validated by Ruby. We could have all read the books, watched the videos, and maybe we would’ve come to implement those ideas in our lives. But when you sit on a hill and listen to someone’s story, it goes deeper.
Whether or not we converted some meditators, we got something even better. At our kombucha happy hour, we gave out tambourines that we just so happened to have on hand to accompany the didgeridoo and the djembe that two of our hippie friends had brought along. There, Ruby and I realized something about our dream. It was not the yoga retreat itself that we valued, it was the sharing of healing time with others in our community.
The building of that community is what Camp Gemstone is really about. Yes, we will continue to travel, to share our stories, to post our little Buddhist lessons on Instagram. But all of that is in service to expanding our and your community such that we promote healing, always having a home, and showing up with your real self.
We think about our dreams and goals like destinations to be reached. We will save and scrape, and then in four years we can put a down payment on that nice three bedroom. And then, finally, we can rest. What happens next is obvious, and yet we continue to pursue our goals as if they will somehow, this time, leave us fulfilled.
But our dreams are not a destination, they are a path we walk. For a long time, I walked the “big investments” path. First, I did the most responsible thing a college grad could do: I bought a fixer-upper in an up-and-coming neighborhood. When the glow of buying that first house wore off, I saved up and bought another in a few years. Then I bought a coffee shop.
I envisioned myself on a financial track that would ensure my security and well-being. Those assurances were, of course, illusions, but I had walked the track for so long, it was all that I knew. Save, invest, save, invest, watch my projected wealth (i.e. imaginary Excel life) grow more and more golden. Ah, pretty soon, I’d tell myself, I’ll have enough.
Maybe you’ve heard how that coffee shop turned out (not well, dear reader). It went so poorly that I was forced to question all of my decisions. A confluence of Shakespeare-worthy ironies came at the time the shop collapsed. My greatest fortune has been that, during that emotional typhoon, I met another person whose life was also inexplicably unsatisfying, illogically empty despite having all the things we are supposed to want. Together, we explored new paths. Eventually, I’d call her Ruby.
Leading a mindfulness retreat in the woods was wonderful and fulfilling, but the very nature of such an event is that it has no permanence. Less than a house, even, if you can believe it. So, in the days following the retreat, I started to look ahead. What was next?
This time, though, I was walking on a different path. Instead of the emptiness that comes after buying that expensive thing, there were new emotions. Safety, empathy, and community. Before, my next steps were to divert into a newly-labeled savings account, to scan Zillow for neighborhood property value trends. Now, I am on a path where the next step takes me to books about community building, articles on how to filter mountain stream water to be potable, and listening closely to my chosen family. How can I bring these feelings of peace to others?
In thirty years, I might not have the bevy of investment properties I once envisioned would cushion me in my retirement. But you know, I don’t think I’ll need them.