The Ocean has always been such a lifeline for me. Whenever I’m upset, an hour of listening to the yawn of the waves and inhaling the smell of sun-baked seaweed is all I need to feel rejuvenated; healed. It’s like the foamy waves are the white-gloved fingertips of a nurse washing away my hurt; tucking my old wounds into the pockets of her blue-green dress.
In six days, I’ll say goodbye to ocean. In six days I’ll be packing up my mom’s PT Cruiser convertible and driving to a place where oceans don’t exist. And surprisingly, I’m not afraid.
That wasn’t the case last week. Last week I had one of those familiar, painful “OMG I’m 26 and I don’t know what I’m doing with my life” freak outs. The symptoms (in case you were wondering), involved the “excessive consumption of Tollhouse chocolate chip cookie dough” as well as “obsessive marathon viewings of the hospital drama House.” It wasn’t pretty.
When my mom found me curled up in fetal position on her bed, three hours into a 12 hour House marathon, she told me that I needed help. So I did what anyone would have done under those circumstances.
I went to a meditation retreat at a hippie commune.
Although ‘Hippie commune’ isn’t how it’s residents refer to it (they prefer ‘Cooperative Living Community’), that’s essentially what it is: 250 aging hippies living in the forest. The commune is located in the mountains, about four and half hours north of San Francisco and has a market, a school, a yoga center and a “church” of sorts (temple? meditation center?). In order to move into the commune (there’s a long waiting list), you have to be schooled in yoga and meditation and subscribe to their principles of healthy living (no meat, no alcohol and no drugs).
I’ve always been fascinated by people who abandon all social norms and chose to live life on the fridge of society. They’re permanent outsiders and oddballs, but somehow that makes them the most healthy people in the world. Maybe it’s because they don’t try to hide or run from their weirdness; they embrace it.
They were all so open and so content with being themselves. It was almost unsettling how many conversations I fell into where within moments after introducing ourselves, we were discussing personal subject matter, like so-and-so’s pain over their father’s abandonment or another’s experience of giving birth in a log cabin by flashlight.
Even the ‘wild’ animals that made that commune their home, were so friendly they were like characters straight out of the Disney movie Bambi. Birds flew close overhead and deer walked within a few feet of me, making eye-contact nonchalantly and nodding as they passed. While I was hiking I came across a squirrel lying faced down, spread-eagle in the middle of the path. He looked like he’d been flattened by the tires of a giant automobile and it wasn’t until I was about to nudge him with my sneakered toe, that he jumped up and scrambled away.
On Sunday morning, I attended a ‘purification ceremony’ to cleanse my aura and rid myself of negative energy. The elders of the village knelt before the congregation, wearing white robes with orange sashes. Lit candles were arranged in front of an alter of black and white photos of various holy, spiritual leaders of past and present: Hindu gods sitting in lotus position and Jesus Christ with a sad, half-smile.
We were handed slips of paper and told to write down an emotion that we wanted freedom from. I wrote, in large block letters, the word FEAR. When it was my turn, I knelt in front of one of the elders, nervous and uncertain of what to do. The elder’s eyes were closed and her face was a mask of concentration. She placed her a closed fist on my chest and I tried my best to send all of my mental energy towards the frontal lobe of my brain (“the third eye”).
And then I waited for something to happen.
Minutes ticked by and I grew uncomfortable. What was taking so long? When I’d observed the others being purified, the whole process had taken a minute, max. Was my negative energy so dense that it was uncleansible? I could still feel her fist pressing against me, when I hears her whisper: “You can go now.”
I opened my eyes and was surprised to my find that both of her hands were at her sides. How long had I been sitting there like an idiot, hallucinating the feel of her hand on my chest?
I walked over to the candles. I felt embarrassed and selfconscious, but I lit the slip of paper on fire and watched as the word FEAR dissolved into ashes.
It’s been two days since that happened…and I know that I’m risking sounding crazy by writing this…but I really, truly feel well, cleansed. I’m about to embark on a life-changing journey…and I’m completely unworried. Maybe it was just the experience of multiple serenely ‘shiny happy people’ telling me that I have nothing to worry about and that “there are no wrong choices” or maybe it was just a placebo effect, I have no idea.
Today I went to the beach and sat on a piece of driftwood and wrote in my journal. I was wearing my dad’s big floppy hat that he bought in Peru, a pair of over-sized sunglasses and this giant, moronic smile. The dog-walkers, surfers and fishermen probably all thought I was a man woman. And who knows, maybe they were right.
But I feel hopeful about the future…which is something that I haven’t felt for a very long time. And I guess I have the hippies to thank for that.