Tassajara Magic

Tassajara Zen CenterLast weekend, I went away with my friend Phil for a long weekend to Tassajara, a Zen monastery and hot springs four hours south of here, in the mountains outside of Carmel Valley. This was our second Tassajara trip and I am hopeful we’re going to make this an annual tradition. It’s hard to describe the calming magic of Tassajara. Tassajara is the oldest Soto Zen monastery in the United States. The hot springs are the main physical attraction, though Tassajara is about so much more than the hot springs. The hot springs were originally discovered by the Esselen native people and even then the springs were known for their restorative properties. Later in the 1900s , the hot springs were part of a mountain resort, where Californians would come to “take the cure” for the supposed healing powers waters. By the 50s and early 60s, the resort had fallen in disrepair and then was rediscovered by Shunryu Roshi who founded the San Francisco Zen Center and brought new life to Tassajara, as a center for the study of Zen Buddhism. Tassajara today remains an active Zen monastery, where for most of the year, students come here for the monastic life, to meditate and study Buddhism. During the spring and summer, Tassajara is open for the “guest season” and “guests” from the lay world can come for retreats and workshops, or just to get away. The hot springs themselves are beautiful and relaxing, with the baths having a very Japan architecture, adding to the relaxing zen feel. A babbling creek runs through the center of Tassajara and its melody. along with the chirping birds, is constantly in the background. At regularly intervals in the day, its gurgling is interrupted with the gentle gongs and bells from the Zendo, calling the students to Zazen (meditation). Part of the magic of Tassajara is the journey. Tassajara itself is that end of the long 14 mile rugged, narrow, steep and winding one-lane dirt road, one that some are brave enough to drive but we got a ride from the nearby town via the Tassajara “stage” (aka a SUV with 4 wheel drive and good brakes!). My first ever trip to Tassajara was one where I drove alone and made the mistake of arriving close to dusk. I’ll never forget that drive down that bumpy, narrow, dirt road, wondering whether I would ever get out of there alive. I was smart enough for that trip (having been warned!) to have rented a 4 wheel drive (there’s no way my little car would have made it!) but even so, it was by far the scariest drive of my life. It’s common for cars to burn out their breaks or pop tires coming down this road. Our driver told us that at least four times per season someone’s car completely breaks down. The funniest story of this season was the person who drove their Tessla in not realizing that they would not be able to charge it once there (talk about clueless and entitled!). When you are driving down that road,  one wonders why people even bother, but then, you get to the bottom, and there you are, in this truly magical place. The stress of the drive just melts away. You really feel like you are a million miles away from the real world when you’re there. There is no internet or phone reception and in  fact, you’re discouraged from even having your phone visible.  Electricity is also limited. Even a few years ago, none of the cabins had electricity. The only lights there were old-fashioned gas lanterns, but now they’ve exchanged these with solar lights. The food is all vegetarian and super-delicious, especially the home baked Tassajara bread that they are so famous for. Whenever I arrive at Tassajara, I just notice my body and mind getting lighter. My steps slow down and I can feel my mind recentering. I had first come to Tassajara a few years ago for a workshop, not quite knowing what to expect. I initially took up meditation in the period after my Mom died. That was a difficult time for me and meditation helped me refind myself and start to come to terms with the grief and trauma of her illness and death. I had heard about Tassajara from various people over the years but never made the trip myself. It’s one of those places where people come year after year. Phil and I met people who have been making the annual pilgrimage for 30 plus years. As a result, it’s not so easy to get a reservation. On my first visit, I actually got lucky and signing up for this workshop was a rather spur of the moment decision and lucky break that there was a last minute opening. That workshop, which was about making life changes, really transformed me in many ways, and I got my first taste of the magic of Tassajara. It seemed fated somehow. This past weekend was no less perfect. We spent the weekend hiking, lounging in the hot springs, swimming in the creek’s swimming pool, reading and just catching up and slowing down. The special moments are many—sitting in the hot springs at night staring up at a sky overflowing with stars; escaping the incessant pull of my iphone and not thinking about emails for three whole days;  watching the blue jays chatter up a storm from our porch overlooking the creek; swimming in the swimming hole at the Narrows; naps by the pool and sleeping late; watching my mind slow down and catching up with myself. Bliss. Throughout this adoption journey and especially as I wait, it’s been really helpful for me to find time, like this weekend, to get away. With the adoption wait, you are always “on” somehow, waiting for the phone to ring or an email to arrive. Most of the time, it’s just crickets, seemingly nothing happening and the phone silent and yet, I am in constant fear being out of contact and missing THE call. It’s hard to be constantly on call and waiting, so I made a decision early on not to put my life on hold while I waited. Sure, that does mean special arrangements sometimes—like this weekend, making sure my counselors had the main phone number at Tassajara if something came up or buying trip insurance for my vacations, just in case they need to be cancelled. It’s not that I wouldn’t drop everything to be ready when the time comes—in fact, I probably would even have hiked out that 14 mile dirt road from Tassajara if that were necessary. But, making sure that I still enjoy my life for what it is, as it is now, keeps me grounded and optimistic, even when the wait seems unbearable.

 

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