I spent the first 24 hours of the retreat in an internal monologue of relentless derision against the smug self-satisfaction of people who wear linen pants and put "om" stickers on their cars and pay $50 a pop to have their auras photographed and float around in a haze of middle-class entitlement dressed up with New Age spiritual patchouli-scented loopiness. At the silent breakfast hour on Saturday morning I began to soften; no civilized society should allow an occasion so serious to be adulterated with chatter. Any institution that understands this cannot be all bad.
After breakfast, B. and I and our twenty or so fellow Concious Hiking program attendees got into a school bus and were shuttled out into the mountains and dumped out to consciously hike the seven miles back. We went single file, spaced a long way apart and enjoined to silence. It was cloudy and cold and I had thoughtlessly neglected to bring gloves or boots, but after the first ten minutes everything went comfortably numb. The ground underfoot squished and crunched in deeply satisfying ways. Late morning the sun came out and shortly afterwards it began to snow.
I grew up in woods like these, ginko, ash, turkey beard and hemlock. Even the smell was familiar, and the light through the last brown and yellow leaves; snow in the moss; tiny streams of water running over rocks with a sound like beads falling. I always loved fall.
Back at the house there was a monk's narrow, virginal bed for each of us and a sauna in the basement where you could sweat in cedar-scented darkness. Three days of this, until I was shaken and pummeled and smushed and boiled clean like the chickpea in the Rumi poem, naked of my stripperisms. And then it was time to go back to work.