Stinson with Sierra and a Story from Retreat


Let me tell you a story from the meditation retreat last week.

One bright afternoon, lunch had ended and I was in the zone. Aware of each step, feeling the weight of the swinging doors and the giddy lightness in my legs after sitting on the floor so long, I glided out of the dining hall and turned to where the sky meets the hills.

I decided I wanted to sit at one of the old wooden picnic tables and watch the breeze ripple the sunnygolden grasses. This would put me even further in the zone. Deeper and deeper (that’s the root of the word “profound”: toward the fundus — bottom, or foundation).

To unlock the mysteries of my fundus, not just any old grass-gazing spot would do. Even in noble silence, I needed some extra solitude. A yogi VIP position. So I passed by the picnic tables occupied by one or two meditators, and chose the very last one in the row: empty, simple, and inviting.

Except for one slight problem.


If I were to sit on the bench of this lovely old rustic picnic table, the best, most poetic view of the hills would be slightly obscured by a leafy bush.

Undeterred, I came up with a solution. Instead of sitting on the bench, I would sit on the table top itself. Perfect! Ingenious! Mildly rebellious! At the very thought, I could feel my fundus draw nearer.


Eyes locked on that poetic spot in the hills, I felt my way around to the head of the table.

And as I gave a graceful hop up and back, pushing myself into the perfect perch, I noticed a sudden, unexpected sensation.


The Pacific Ocean is extremely cold in these parts.

Not stuck directly into the back of my legs, fortunately, but dozens of splinters, of various sizes, poking through my long skirt and sticking my skin.

And so, rather than grass-gazing meditation, the next forty-five minutes became a splinter-removing meditation.

Which, honestly, gave me as good and frank a look at my fundus as would anything.


Now, Sierra and I, our spontaneous trip to Stinson Beach went the same, in a way. After a string of gray mornings, we awoke on a Saturday to a brilliant blue North Oakland sky. We had to get to some kind of water, we determined. So we packed a picnic and set out, across the Richmond bridge to Marin. Delicious drive. Not a whisper of a cloud anywhere.

Until the coast came into view.

Each of us felt the other’s heart sink as we saw it. A layer of fog thick as buttercream, like some cosmic cake decorator had piped icing right along the shore.

But that’s what’s amazing about traveling with a dhamma buddy. You are learning how to laugh at your own expectations. You remember the teachings: most of the time, we humans live our lives only through the angle of Gratification. We seek pleasure: the perfect view, sunshine at the beach. We remain oblivious to the second angle of reality — Danger (splinters, fog) — until it smacks us directly upside the head. Even then, we forget the next time, and the next. We always keep a fresh supply of disappointment.


But the third angle of reality — Freedom — releases us from the disappointment. We learn how to loosen our grip on our own expectations.


After debating turning around, Sierra and I decided to stay, eat our lunch, and see what happened next.

Liberated from the craving for immediate sunshine, we were free to notice other things. And we found that despite the fog, the sand was warm. And the chill was fading. And eventually, the clouds rolled out to sea completely.


One thought on “Stinson with Sierra and a Story from Retreat

  1. equayona July 8, 2012 / 4:15 pm

    Fine post, good reminders about expectations. And thank you for sharing your beautiful day at the beach.

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