Who's In?

For the past eight years, I have traveled to and from Taos, New Mexico, to study with Natalie Goldberg. I have attended 18 silent retreats, serving as assistant for seven of them, including one in France and another in Italy. I intended to return to France this summer as Natalie’s assistant. We were going to fly to Paris together and spend time on the farm before the students arrived. We had our own retreat planned afterwards, in the Dordogne, writing in the mornings and hiking in the afternoons. But in January it became clear my daughter was struggling and needed me at home. For a month I went back and forth. I wanted to go to France, to walk down country roads past old stone houses with flower gardens and chickens in the yard, to see the fields strewn with bails of hay. I wanted to sit in a quiet zendo with my teacher and write. But there was my daughter and my responsibility to her. When I told Natalie I might not make it to France, she was not happy.

 In February, a group of us gathered at the Mable Dodge Luhan House to celebrate the launch of The True Secret of Writing, Nat’s recent book. On the last night, she and I stayed in the dining room after dinner to talk. She needed an answer from me soon, in time to find another assistant. I wanted more time to think. I was afraid to let go, afraid to give up my privileged position by her side. While we were talking, Shira called twice. She was suffering and wanted me to come home. The answer was becoming clear.

“I want you in France with me,” said Natalie, taking my hand. “But Shira needs you now.” Of course she was right. It was not a good time to be on the other side of the world.

Flying home to Austin, it hit me. Natalie was taking most of the year off. She had the retreat in France and another in December, but that was it. For the first time in eight years, I would not be getting on a plane every two or three months for a retreat. There would be no scheduled periods to renew my practice, no teacher sitting at the front of classroom to carry me. December would come soon enough, but I understood the meaning of the moment, that it was time to take responsibility for my own practice, to quiet my own mind. I had to take off the training wheels.

I wasn’t ready to go completely solo, however, and found some other sources of support. I started seeing a therapist who is a lifetime practitioner and teaches mindfulness to trauma victims and their counselors. In addition to her good guidance, she shared some of the neuroscience around meditation and mindfulness. She showed me how a quiet mind reverberates and is felt and absorbed by the people around you. I also attended the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Clinic, featuring the practices developed by Jon Kabat-Zin. This work deepened my meditation practice and well as my writing and gave me other ways to quiet the mind. Still, I missed Natalie. One night we were meditating in the hospital classroom where the clinic was held, the air conditioning blowing cold on my bare arms, and I started to cry. Where was my teacher? She felt so far away. It occurred to me she was in France that week, leading the retreat. I doubled down on practice.

Several weeks into the summer, I was returning my shopping cart at Central Market, when I looked up and noticed the tall cumulous clouds climbing on top of one another in the big Texas sky. I stopped and felt the heat of the summer sun seep into my skin. It was hideously hot and I wasn’t fighting it. I was happy and uncharacteristically calm. Here were the crepe myrtle trees, blasting their bright colors in the heat. Here were my hands holding the cart, the wheels turning on the pavement. Something had shifted. I felt like I did after a silent retreat—settled and awake. It occurred to me that I was bringing my practice home now, for good.

This fall I’m teaching a longer session than usual and incorporating a one-day silent retreat. I want my students to get a taste of deep practice and the sensation of a still mind. I want them to see how meditation, mindfulness, and writing practice inform one another, how they inform your whole life. I’m ready to bring this work home to Austin, to let Sit/Walk/Write take root here. I’m looking for 10-15 people to join me, to create a community of support here in our hometown. I’m offering a payment plan to anyone who needs it and a single scholarship for the most needy. Participants in my coaching group, Commit to Create, receive a 10% discount.

Who’s in?


(C) 2011 Saundra Goldman