100% Totality Eclipse 2017 @ Casper, WY

Here’s another spontaneous story that I’d like to share.  Also, so that I won’t forget any of the details and it will be stored safely here for posterities sake.

Deciding that it was time to visit my doctor back in Telluride even though I’d been in Texas for the entire year meant I needed to drive there.  I really wasn’t excited about the trip, but I was excited about seeing the mountains again.  All of my friends from Telluride, when I lived there at the end of last year were all gone since it was in between seasons, but it was perfect timing for me to actually use the health care I’d been paying for all year.

On Thursday morning, I had one last client before I’d decided to start packing since my doctor’s appointment was on Tuesday of the following week.  That’s more than enough time, I thought to myself.  Thursday afternoon, before I knew it, I was packed and heading out the door!  Giselle was riding shotgun with her doggy seat belt on and I had treats just within arm’s length.  We took off and didn’t stop driving for hours.  I like driving during the week rather than weekends and also I’d rather drive during the day than at night.  I was headed, in my mind, to Amarillo but when I got there, I didn’t feel like stopping so I kept going.  I couldn’t decide where I wanted to spend the night, or if I wanted to camp, so I just kept going.  It was getting dark and the roads just continued and soon there wasn’t anyone else out there but me.  At least that’s what it felt like.  Until it happened.

The car seemed to fly up and then down with a bang as the road conditions changed and that’s when I noticed that we had just crossed into New Mexico.  Even if you miss all the signs, you can feel the difference between the border of Texas and New Mexico.  It was actually kind of funny, now that I think about it.  Boom!  Welcome to New Mexico.

Giselle and I found a beautiful rest stop close to Ruidoso, NM and took a long nap in the car until the sun came up.  Then, we took a leisurely stroll through the little city and walked back in time to the doggy store I’d visited almost 14 years ago when I first moved from TExas to Evergreen, Colorado.  But today, it was still the same, including the doggy store appropriately named, No Bones About It.  Needing more water, I caught myself walking really slow so we headed out to find a nice camp ground.

The closest one was in Albuquerque and I set up the tent before Giselle and I crashed early.  When we woke up we had a neighbor and he had driven in straight from San Diego on his motorcycle and it was his first time to camp.  I introduced myself and he laughed about his tent, so I offered to check it out for him.  He couldn’t figure out what the extra strings were for on his new tent as we talked about how to use stakes.  I laughed as I told him that I hardly ever use them since once I put my bed in the tent, it ain’t going nowhere! He finally says he’s headed up to Casper, you know, for 100% totality.  I just could not comprehend what he was talking about and then it occurred to me that he was talking about Monday.  And today was just Friday.  I wasn’t amused or interested.  I just wanted to sleep some more so I told him that I’d think about it and let him the next day.  He had invited me to the camp he was headed up to on the mountain in Casper where he was going to meet other cyclists.  I took a fabulous hot shower, had a session via Skype for myself from an amazing healer in New Zealand and crashed hard.

The next morning, I woke up and figured, well, I have enough time to get to Casper and along the way I can stop by Boulder and visit my favorite store I call, Alfa Alfa aka Alfalfa Market and then drop off Zoe’s ashes in Sunshine Valley as promised.  I didn’t have a single reservation or plan or idea what to expect.  My friend even told me that he had to be there by Sunday morning just to avoid the craziness that would happen for the Total Eclipse on Monday.  I told him, no problem, as we switched cell numbers and he texted me the info about the camp he was headed to on the mountain.  However, I did not see the text he sent since I was continuing to pack up and head out.  He seemed a bit unsure about the drive on his bike but he was told to bring it rather than his jeep so he could split lanes since no one was sure just how much traffic would exist.  I told him to call me if he needed any help on the way or if he needed me to carry any thing.

Taking off, as I typically do, I ask Google to give me directions and he has almost never let me down.  All I remember that the radio stations got a lot better closer to the border of Colorado and I was funking out and thrilled to see the mountains as I crossed into Colorado.  Then, it happened, there was a slow down and I am averse to traffic.  Talking to Google there was no other way, so we just enjoyed the views for awhile.  Then, we were going through Denver when there was a standstill and seeing a toll lane, I took the exit and avoided a whole lotta traffic.  Whew!

Before I knew it, I was being welcomed to Boulder by all the signs for the students, which made me smile.  That’s me! Knowing that I wasn’t going to let anyone know that I was in town since I was on a quick trip, I drove straight to AlfaAlfa and that’s when I felt totally at home.  No one looked at my casual outfit with anything but love and as I hooked Giselle up to the outside area with her water bowl and treats, I saw all sorts of fun people who I’d love to know.  There were cyclists and professors and families and everyone wanted to pet Giselle.  I went inside knowing she was safe and that’s when I just stopped once I got inside to take in all the sensations of being there.

Listening to the music made me smile, so did all the beautiful organic fruits and veggies and it was as if I was a kid in a candy store, because I didn’t know what to look at first.  I flitted around like a butterfly touching and sniffing all kinds of fruits and then noticing that I forgot to get a bag or basket, my hands are already full.  I went to the back to check out the Ghee I had purchased last year before Burning Man that had saved my life while on the playa.  Then, I exclaimed, Wow! It went up from $13 to $16 but it’s totally worth it as I passed it up this time.  I actually took pictures of myself in the aisles because I was so excited to see Hanuman Ayurvedic Chai and all the beautiful treats and foods.  Seriously, I am silly!  I looked at my basket and it was full of random things, so then I had to focus, I said, Sandy you need a protein!  Now how about a veggie? What about a salad?  And chips? Until I had a complete picnic.  Then, I checked out and headed back to the table that Giselle was closest to.  While I nibbled on everything, cute guys asked me about Giselle and before I knew it the entire patio was in one conversation about dogs, and how I am not a Patriots fan even though Giselle and I are looking to adopt a male dog and name him Brady.  Not Tom, but Brady.  And maybe he can be a bit red like in Sex In the City where the little boy is named Brady and he is a red head.  Then, this guy seated at the table closest to me says, “What you need is a totally loyal dog like a lab or red healer.  Not any other dog that would say, Oh, I didn’t know I wasn’t supposed to cheat.”

I was eating when he said this and let’s just say that there wasn’t any talking or response after he said that.  (LOL)

You can read an earlier post about the ceremony for Little Zoe that happened after this stop, but then when I got back and took a nap, I felt invigorated and ready to go!  We headed up North when I stopped at three campgrounds that were all totally full and that’s when I knew I would be car camping again, which was fine.  The entire back seat was covered with my duvet while Giselle had the lookout seat in the front.  We slept like babies at a local rest stop that was completely full with others just like me.  Actually, every hotel was packed, all rest stops, you name it, it was full.  But we had food, ice, gas and we were set.  Sunday morning, I flew into Casper without anyone else on the road.

Sunday morning, I flew into Casper without anyone else on the road.  It was a breeze and I took out my phone and checked the text about the campground we were headed and found that it was just a set of coordinates.  I plugged them into the car’s GPS and continued ahead to the mountain in Casper, WY.  Knowing that it was probably full and I didn’t have time to stay long anyway, since my appointment was in Telluride on Tuesday morning, I figured I’d check out some other camp sites to find something quick and easy for a backup plan.  I stopped at two camp sites that had “a few” slots left open but they where pricey and included programs through Tuesday that I wasn’t interested in.  I even stopped at a Girl Scout camp that had been sold out since the beginning of the year.  I continued towards my destination and after passing a few homes, I was on a dirt road in the middle of no where, when my GPS said, “You are here!”

I looked around for bears and saw that I was on top of the mountain with the radio towers and tall antennae to my right.  Immediately I was mad but I got out and took photos of myself.  Yep, I am here all righty.  So, that’s when I sent a text to my friend letting him know that I was there but not quite there.  If he could just call me then we could meet up.  And that’s when I headed back down the hill and came to a magnificent overlook with a view of the entire state and my car just pulled right in and stopped at the guard rail.  WOW! this is the spot!  And that’s when my phone died.  It’s black and just won’t respond.  I’ve learned that this is a sign.  Sign for me to get off the phone.  So, I got out and just checked out the entire area full of others like me and campers and even an astronomer letting people look at sun spots from his telescope.  Then, I went back to my car and seeing that my phone was still dead, I was holding it when it rang.  It’s still black, when I pretend to answer it and say Hello.  Then, I heard my friends voice on the other end, Sandy?  How have you been?!  It was my very first CanCare match and I’ve known her for years.  She retired from Continental airlines and has been diagnosed with cancer three times.  She’s amazing.  I told her about my trip when she listens and then says, Well, the eclipse is in less than 24 hours…  so why don’t you just stay where you are?  Well, this was the best idea I’d heard all day.  So then, we talked about moving to Boulder and living on Mapleton when I was feeling really happy about my trip instead of wondering WTH and when I got off the phone, I was excited.  Even though I still couldn’t see what was happening with my phone.  It was still black.  But then, my friend is an angel so of course she go through.  And so is the guy that told me to come here!  He is just an angel.  He doesn’t need to call me.  I am fine.  I am supposed to be HERE.

I got out of the car and everyone just starts talking again and you know who is the ringleader.  The guy to the left of my car was sleeping in his car until he finally came out and I found out that he was from Arizona and he couldn’t get his wife or his daughter to come with him, so he came anyway.  Nodding in agreement, I said, That’s how I got here with Giselle!  Then, I met the guy to my right in the VW bus.  He was a cyclist from Santa Fe and he was just looking for a good cycling city to live and then decided to come out since no one else would come with him.  Yep, I agreed.  Then, I notice the guy with the best stories and he is talking to lots of people when I start listening and he is on a motorcycle from Ohio also by himself.  Before I know it, the sun is starting to go down when I hear someone asking someone else, Did you get a camping pass to park up here?  Smiling to myself, I know I am not moving and we’ve got the best spot on the mountain when I see a 1800CAMPER pull in a car length behind me and notice that there is an older German couple with the wife driving, and she looks a bit frustrated.  I walk up to her window which is a bit cracked and point to my car telling her sheepishly that I am not moving if she wants a place to park.  Her face dropped into calmness almost immediately.  She and her husband didn’t speak much English but I pointed and nodded yes and she got it.  Then, two young ladies in a rental car pulled up to the left of the Germans and they got out.  Everyone wanted to gather in front of the railing since there were drones humming around, and even paragliders and hangliders all around.  It was getting crazy! Then, I knew I wasn’t getting out for awhile when a film crew from NOVA pulled up behind the Germans.  It was a party.  It turned into a festival kind of community.  We were all helping each other quickly.  At one point I cut my finger when slicing a crooked apple to share with everyone and before I could stop, there was a band aid being handed to me.  It was like that.  And then I found out that one of the two girls spoke German so I took her to see the couple who were set up on the other side of the railing and they all conversed for awhile.  It was really fun!  I even found a big boulder and suggested that all the girls use it for the potty break since it was close but private.  People kept coming and going and before we knew it there were cars parked all along the highway going both ways from our overlook.  Cars were also three rows deep behind me.

That’s when I knew I should have bought more food and water, but then there was another couple that had plenty of water to share and they were from New Zealand.  The wife was a nurse who had just left her post to take some time off.  She was so sweet.  I suggested she go back into Oncology because that’s where the best nurses reside.  Then, a big wind gust came up as the sun set and took Giselle’s big blue bed over the cliff with it.  I asked DroneDude if he could see where it went and he found it in seconds and then off goes the nurse’s husband down the hill to get it.  Diane, the girl that knew German didn’t know what was happening.  I told her, the blue bed will be delivered to me any minute now.  She laughed! And it was perfectly fine.  I put the bed back in the car for G.

Later that night, when most people left and it got quiet, it was just a small group left of us talking about all kind of things from Burning Man to Cancer.  Plus, I met a set of twins who drove from, I think it was Wisconsin and they were so nice.  Another couple loved our view so much that they decided to stay up here even though they had a camp site down below and they swore they could see their tent from the overlook.  That night all I wanted was some ice cream when Russel says he’d take me down to the store on his bike.  I said, Do you have a second helmut?  No, he said.  Then, I shook my head.  Nope sorry, no can do.  I’m here for the after party.  I won’t take the risk.  Then, later the cyclist is cooking dinner of veggies and chicken when Diane says she wants to go down to get a Tshirt and pick up some ice cream for us all.  Then, I couldn’t beleive what I heard, but Russell says to Diane, since I don’t have a second helmut that I won’t wear mine so if you die, I’ll die with you.  I am just shaking my head as I watch Diane grab onto Russell as they leave on the bike going down the hill.

Some time later, they finally return and I am so excited about the perfect choice she made for ice cream that I seriously ate the entire pint.  Diane couldn’t beleive it!  She said her mother does the same thing and that’s when I figured out that I’m around the same age as her mother.  It was hilarious.  We had a great time together.  There was a camper full of kids and a family and they actually slept on the ground by the railing and snored while we were out there eating our ice cream. I finally got in the back seat and laid down and passed out myself from a sugar coma.  While Giselle took the front seat with her big blue bed.

The next day I wished I’d stopped by Santa Fe on the way and got another box of baked treats like I did on the way home from my last trip, but alas I had Love Crunch and Organic Kefir as my all time back up plan, which was perfect.  And then the circus started to intensify.  New people kept showing up and NOVA was back with a sign on their windshield that said if we didn’t want to be in their footage than we needed to let them know.  There were more telescopes appearing and then the drones and random flyers kept buzzing our outlook with a building crowd of onlookers.  I figured I’d peak my head out of the sunroof to get a good view when I decided that I wanted to go Live on FB for the 2+min eclipse since everyone would be able to find perfect photos.  But I wanted to share the experience of being there.  Of being in 100% totality.  I’d turned on the car so that I could charge my phone and there weren’t any calls from the motorcycle guy that sent me the coordinates.  My phone had come back from the dead just in time for the eclipse.  During this time, an old crumudgeon showed up in front of me, he was shorter than me with leathery skin and he was just looking around at the crowd when I commented that we had the best view.  He didn’t agree and said, his spot was down below and that he’d see more the mountain or something and besides, he added, when the two minute orgasm starts you all will be, as he mimics chattering with his hand, you all will be loud and I want it to be silent when it happens.  I am just staring at him when he finally glances at me and then disappears from where he came from.  That’s when I keep asking the audience, what’s the time?  They are all telling me the countdown has begun.  You’ve got a few minutes until it starts.  And I grab my phone and think I am filming live on FB and narrating what is happening, when I push the button to stop it and then I notice that it’s actually Live NOW!  And that’s why I’m so surprised! It all happened so fast that I thought I had plenty of time, but it was perfect timing after all.

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As soon as the eclipse was complete, the group that had stationed themselves in front of my car caught my attention when they popped a bottle of pink champagne and I was so excited when they handed me a glass to toast the eclipse with them!  The daughter was visibly shaking as I put my hand on her shoulder and asked if she was ok.  She said, it was the eclipse.  We

After all the commotion disappated, I was exhausted and took another nap. Then, when I got up the German guy is so happy to see me that he wants me to stay where I am as he runs to his RV and returns with a bunch of beautiful old German postcards that are handwirtrtten and dated from the 1920’s.  Diane has already left, so we are nodding and pointing a lot.  Then, the twins offer a ham sandiwch for Giselle and I before we say our good byes with big hugs and group photos.  We had the best time.

Fabulously Silly SideTrip to Sunshine Valley

I know it sounds crazy, but unless I could get pregnant or married, then I could not change my health care policy and as such I would have to travel back to Telluride to see a doctor.  I put it off for far too long until it was August and I knew I’d better just go and see my doctor once and for all.  So, I called and made an appointment explaining that I’d been paying for my healthcare all year because I’d officially moved there in the Fall of 2016 until the universe shared her own plans for me that meant returning, yet again, back to Houston for the fifteen thousandth time.

I was about to cancel the appointment since the A/C in my car wasn’t working thinking, I guess I’ll have to drive at night to get out of Texas?  Oh, No.  Until my mom offered her car for the trip and within 24 hours I was off like a jet plane to Paris.

After my last client on Thursday morning, I packed up the car and got carried away with the momentum, got in and just started driving.  I drove all night.  Giselle, my lovely canine companion kept giving me a funny look as she kept changing positions in the passenger seat.  With divine planning, I found myself at the most amazing French bakery in Santa Fe, NM that I had discovered on my way home last year.  It was perfection.

Leaving Giselle’s leash attached to the side walk, I soon turned to see that she had four waiters and waitresses around her with water and treats.  I said to myself, “That girl can’t go anywhere without making a scene.”  With a bag full of fresh baked items for myself, I am now waiting in line for the bathroom when a man is looking around for Giselle’s owner.  “That’s me! I’m here.  Her name is Giselle.  Yes, she’s from Bastrop and she’s named after the super model for obvious reasons.” You can hear laughter as the group continues to play with G-girl.  Lovingly eating my first chocolate croissant with my eyes closed, he comes up to me to share that he just needed to move Giselle out from the entry way and would it be ok if they fed her some water?

In my mind, I could hear my inner wisdom speaking out loud when the voice said, “I love field trips! And this is just the silliest reason to leave Houston and go back to Telluride just to see a doctor when there is nothing really wrong with me.”  Or was there?

After filling my tummy with fresh goodness, I just knew that I needed to continue to Ruidoso, NM since I’d also brought along with me the ashes of
Ms. Zoe my beloved canine who had recently passed.  I’d promised her that I’d scatter her ashes at the overlook in Sunshine Canyon outside of Boulder where we spent time camping off the grid last year.  It was simply stunning there overlooking the little Switzerland trail and it had the best views of the sunset.  Yes, I truly had both the girls with me for one last road trip.

Heading onto Ruidoso, NM Giselle and I take a long needed nap in the car while parked in a local hiking area.  I kept remembering a single photo of Zoe asleep in the car as we moved from Austin to Evergreen, Colorado when she was just a puppy almost fourteen years ago.  There was also a really cool store for dogs where I had purchased new collars for both her and another dog I had while I was married named Bella.

Walking into the first store in Ruidoso, NM I am reminiscing about the first time I was there almost fourteen years ago when the nice lady who owned the store says, “You must be talking about the store down the street, No Bones About It.”  To which I was excited to hear about since I’d figured it was gone by now.  And Yes, that was IT!

Excitedly, I headed out down the street a few blocks down to find the doggy store and walked in with Giselle.  This place has everything and Giselle isn’t sure what to sniff first because there is so much.  The sales lady at the front is oohing and aahing over Giselle’s eyes that are blue and brown like David Bowie when she asks me if she can have a treat.  “Of course she can,” I replied,  “That girl gets just about anything she wants.”   The lady squats down to hand feed Giselle a treat when I start sharing my story about seeing a white deaf dog on Facebook that was in Big Springs, TX, calling about it and finding out that it had already been adopted by another rescue group before noticing that I think I drove through Big Springs, TX.  Looking over at the lady, she is just mesmerized by Giselle as she continues to feed her treats.

Looking around, I share my story about visiting this place on my way to Colorado about fourteen years ago with little Zoe and now it seems that I’m here with her in spirit as we are headed back to Boulder to her final resting place. Walking and talking and noticing that I’m about to cry, the lady is now standing looking at me when she stares off into the distance and there is an awkward silence.  She breaks the silence with a big sigh and starts telling me that she too had to lose an older dog earlier this year and our stories have many similarities.  We are now talking face to face over the counter when she points to a photo of her beloved dog on the wall when I finally ask her, “Are you the original owner of this store?” and she replies, “Yes.”  We both stop talking and acknowledge each other’s loss in a moment of understanding.  Thinking to myself after leaving with a new bag of the special treats that she had been feeding Giselle, I am thankful that Zoe led me back to Ruidoso where I had the opportunity to meet the amazing lady that has owned that cool store for all those years.  I said to myself, “Thank you Zoe, I love you.”

While camping that night, I met my neighbor who was a guy on his bike camping for his first time as he was headed up to Casper, WY to see the Eclipse with 100% totality.  He invited me to head the same way even though reservations for just about everything was completely full.  I went to sleep wondering if I should head to Casper or not and knew I’d know in the morning once I’d gotten a full nights sleep.  The next morning, I woke up knowing that it was time to head up North and with enough time to stop by my favorite store, Alfalfa Market before heading up Sunshine Canyon to give Zoe a proper send off.

Giselle and I drove North through Colorado and soon found some traffic that we couldn’t figure out.  Finally, as we entered Boulder the signs were clear.  Welcome Students!  Ah, it was all the students returning to school.  Plus, this was the exact time I was driving through a year ago and I was excited to feel as if I were a student again.  Note to self:  Make sure to apply for grad school here.  Next year you could be officially coming up again to move to Boulder.  Thinking to myself, “Well that makes total sense.”

Stopping at the ultimate store on the planet where I met amazing people as soon as I get out of the car before even picking out the perfect food items to dine on for the next few days, I am beyond happy. Setting up a picnic for both myself and Giselle outside on the patio tables, I am surrounded by cyclists and students all about my age and for the first time since I left Texas, no one is looking at my car driving hippy lounge outfits as anything but normal.  Note to self – This is your new Mecca.  Dining on freshly roasted beets and cherries, High Country Kombucha, coconut chips, guacamole and salads, I have to test everything out at least once.  I’m literally in Heaven, even though I have a hard time opening an item and lose a few perfectly roasted cherries to the ground.

Now that we are happily satiated and the ice chest is full of great food and fresh ice, we head up Mapleton Street and into Sunshine Canyon.  A flood of memories ensues reminding me of all the great times we had last year camping out here for about a week.  Remember when you were cleaning out the ice chest and the baked chicken disappeared? completely by the girls?! OMG.  Or when you visited the Ashram one morning and got to use their bathroom? How about meeting all the Damanhurian’s from Italy and taking a tour of all the local spirals? Wow.  And I am still trying to digest that book on Spiritual Physics…  Talk about meaty.  Sandy, you’ve got some life.  Seriously.  And it’s so totally gorgeous up here.  As I continue driving, the road turns into a windy dirt road, before we fly through Gold Mine which is a spec on the map, before the road changes yet again back to dirt and then I had to slam on the brakes.  There is the little sign for the dispersed campground that weaves back towards the overlook you promised Zoe.

More memories come rushing in, when I slowly creep around the obviously trimmed bush or tree that left scratch marks all along the side of your car from last year.  Don’t want to do that again.  Passing the space that we called home last year, I can see a big group of young people checking us out as we pass and I wave.  They all smile.  Then, turning left in a little off roading path, the car goes a bit crazy and bounces all over when we come to the bottom of the dirt road to see a couple reading books and relaxing, probably wondering what I am doing here.  Then, I head up to the overlook and park by the tree to the left where so many others have parked and camped for years.  We get out and as soon as we do, I am conscious about surveying the area for bears.  I learned my lesson from last year when we were sniffed in the middle of the night by an injured mama bear out scavenging for food with her cub.  Note to self: THAT will never happen again.  No Way.  Little did I know that I had perched my camp directly in between the Rainbow people’s overflowing trash and the Bears!  Talk about bear medicine, when Spirit and I have an agreement that I am not to be in scary situations and as such, I was sleeping with my arms around both the girls and just checked out until morning when I heard about all the dogs barking while the bears visited.  No thank you.  I like my scalp exactly where it is.  Getting my head sniffed by the bear in the middle of the night is as close to the bears as I will ever need to get.

Seeing the sun reminded me of the images I took last year and it hadn’t changed one bit.  Turning back to the car, I found the hammer and screw driver I’d brought especially for this occasion.  I also found Zoe’s beautiful little box with her shiny nameplate and started walking up the trail to the overlook.  I started talking to Zoe because I knew she was there with me.  I said, “Zoe I know you are here!  Thank you for reminding me how much fun we always had together.  We went everywhere together.  From Texas to Colorado to Switzerland and France and then back to Houston and then back to Austin and then back to Houston and then back to Colorado.  I’m sorry that I couldn’t let you go sooner.  I know you were in pain.  But we are here now.  I know this is your place.  I’ve always sang the Sunshine song to you and now we are in your Valley.”  I came to the cliff and looking out over the incredible valley I knew I was exactly where I was supposed to be in this space and time.  I sat down and turned the box over to unscrew the four screws that opened the box.  Out came a bag with Zoe’s name on it again, but shaking it I could not hear any items that once held her knee together so I secretly wondered if it were really her.  Then, I took a video of the entire area and the tears started flowing.  Opening the bag, I started singing the Sunshine song as I apprehensively stuck my hand in the bag to grab handfuls of her ashes and scattered them in the air and over the cliff.  After a full hand fulls, I reached back into the bag and pulled out the metal connector with one little screw still in it and decided to keep them both.  But I took a big hand full and threw it up into the air that seemed to come and get it from me and also throw it back on me as I closed my eyes.  “Thank you, Zoe, I know I am blessed by you.  To have had all those years with you when I had given up trying to have kids and my first husband.  First I had knee surgery, then you had knee surgery.  Then, I had cancer and then you had cancer.  I’ve had to learn how to sleep alone for the first time in my life.  Since Giselle is a watch dog, she does not like sleeping in the same room with me and I’ve stopped tricking her into staying with me.  If she wants to go, then I let her go.  I’m fine.  Now. By the end of the ceremony, I was covered with ashes and the bag was empty, but I put it back in the box and screwed it back together.  I know I’ll be back.  That’s for sure.

While stopping to relax at the big fire pit and letting the sun shine on my face, Giselle came up to me to offer her paw.  She knows exactly what is happening, that dog is so smart and gorgeous.  I took some time to hug Giselle while trying to decide if I wanted to spend the night here and I got a resounding no.  Nope, we are leaving and continuing towards Casper Mountain.  I packed up the car and we headed back out of the campground when I could not make it past the steep incline with deep ruts and after backing up and trying a few times, I noticed that the couple reading were now walking towards me.  I pulled up the E brake and got out with Giselle still in the back seat and exclaimed, “I need help!  Feel free to take the car up and out.” As I threw up my hands and they both smiled.  I forget their names, but the boyfriend got in as Giselle sniffed him and then smiled at me and actually, I turned around and put my hands up to my ears saying to the girlfriend, “I can’t watch.”  She is facing the incline as I am looking back down towards the path when I see the car leave and then after not hearing any horrible noises, she looks a bit tense and then she turns to me and says, “He made it.”  “Alleluia,” I said as I gave her a hug.  I turned and we walked up the crazy path as he gets out of my car and I give him a bit hug also.  I thanked them both and got in to continue working my way out of the campground and back onto the dirt road.

Back in Boulder, we park by the river and take food and our towels out to chill in the cold water and finally nap on the plush grass with all the other people as the sun is starting to go down.  Maybe I could sleep here tonight?  No, I’ll keep going since the traffic is building for the Eclipse and it would be best to get there early.  However, the best part about this story is how I felt once I woke up again.  I found the PhD programs for CU Boulder and was totally inspired to continue my venture to return as an official student and that made me happy.  I hadn’t noticed how much I’d been grieving over the loss of my faithful friend and confidant, which was considerably much harder than mourning for my first husband.  Zoe had been there with me through so many of life’s up and downs and we had a beautiful time.  I just wished dogs could live longer.  I can see her prancing around and running and playing like we did every Friday in the Hiking group.  Being in nature is where I can breathe easily and the sky is where I call home.

 

Vipassana Ten Day Silent Retreat

Vipassana is a ten-day silent meditation retreat with the original teachings of the Buddha and has been around for more than 2500 years.  S.N. Goenka’s teachings are encapsulated in the video teachings shown each night during the retreat.  The teachings are experiential as you learn how to let the sensations in your body rise and fall with equanimity.  Goenka explains that Misery is Universal and that with Vipassana meditation, you can learn how to build a boat and ride out of the rocky waters of life that include greed, anger, hatred, and illusion.  It’s part of the Art of Living.

All I knew was that I wanted to go and this would be my third time to apply to attend.  I wanted to attend at the American Bodhi Center that is located in Hempstead and about thirty miles from my house and I didn’t want to be that far away from my dog Giselle.  The first two times I applied, I was accepted into the program but had to decline for some reason.  This year was different.  This time I was the one on the waiting list, but I knew that someone would cancel at the last minute, just like I had done two years in a row, leaving a space for me.  And of course, it happened.  I got in.

As the date to enter drew closer, my mind started dumping all sorts of random images and thoughts and as I woke up I kept wondering what was happening.  At the same time, I was getting a little nervous and anxious to go in, feeling as if it were like a jail.  I also could feel that it would be life changing, so I started doing or eating something I would not be getting in the center like donuts, ice cream, and hamburgers.  I knew it would be last time to even want such items. Plus, I’d been a vegetarian for years prior to being diagnosed with cancer in 2009 so the thought of going back just seemed like it made sense.  It was time.

On Saturday morning we were to arrive between 1 and 5 pm and even though I was half packed I ended up sitting in my kimono in front of my IMAC watching episode after episode of Sense 8.  Originally I wanted to be there by 1 pm, but then I decided there wasn’t any rush.  I left at 1 pm and still got there by 1:38 pm.  This is where I share with you that being on time is in my genes.  Even when I try to be late, I am still on time.  It’s just me.

We had been instructed to leave all devices, computers, journals, music, books and even pens behind and of course, I also followed the rules and did so.  The only contraband I brought was a left over bar of dark chocolate from making smore’s at a recent regional burning event.  For those of you who haven’t attended a Burning Man, these are local burns scheduled throughout the year. But I just have to say that leaving my favorite furry pens, sparkly journal and handfuls of jewelry behind seemed hard but only for a moment.  I grabbed my luggage full of casual lounging clothes, said good bye to my dog Giselle and left.

The first video by Goenka was about the fact that we had agreed to follow the five precepts during our stay and they were as follows:

  1.  We would abstain from killing.  This meant we would be eating vegetarian meals and even while laying in the grass I did not kill any ants or insects while we were there.  One of the girls even found a massive spider in the showers and she took him outside to set him free.
  2. We would abstain from stealing.  I figured this would also be easy until I caught myself pondering which rock from the little stream to take for my collection from all over the world when I was instantly struck with the notion that I would NOT be taking anything but my memories.
  3. We would abstain from telling lies.  And this came with Noble Silence that we practiced for the entire time we were there and this included eye contact and touching. Plus, the men and the women were segregated so their path to the dining hall was separated from our path and so on.  There were forty women and forty men and spending the retreat in silence and on a strict schedule from 4:30 am to 9:00 pm without any talking was a lesson in staying present and focused on ones-self.  The only time we could talk was during interviews with the teacher and we all had to sign up during breakfast for a five-minute session to talk to the female teacher starting at Noon, which was during one of our breaks.
  4. We would abstain from sexual misconduct.
  5. We would abstain from intoxicants. Being the purist that I am, I even abstained from Green Tea, Kava Kava and CBD oil the weeks prior to starting the retreat. But then was surprised to find coffee being served during the retreat along with green tea.

During registration, we received our bed assignment and the accommodations were in pristine condition.  I had a private room with a bunk bed all to myself. And soon was taken on a private tour of the property which was beautiful.  People were coming from all over the world and by 5 pm we were watching a welcoming video from Goenka.  We were seated in rows and separated from the men when a roll of blue painters masking tape comes around and we are to put our name on our table since that would be our permanent seat for meals.

Meeting later at the Dhamma Meditation Hall everyone had their socks, when I realized that I forgot mine and we had to have them to walk inside.  It was interesting to see all of us ladies had arrived independently and were seated casually around the steps talking and meeting each other, when across the area we could see all the men standing side by side silent, as we waited for the Hall to officially open.  I quickly announced that if anyone had an extra pair of socks that I would gladly share my chocolate!  One lovely lady said she had two extra pairs and went back to the dorm to get a pair for me right before the doors opened to the Hall and Noble Silence started.

Inside we were also assigned a seat cushion among the grid of seats to the right for the women in front of our own teacher and volunteer servers in front of us. While to the left, and across the carpet was the same matrix set up for the men.  I was seated at D4.  Everyone brought in their extra personal cushions, towels, blankets, and scarfs. Only our manager would whisper to us since she was in charge of taking care of us.  She made sure we had everything we needed.  And her sleeping room was next to mine. Some ladies needed a chair or an extra cushion and only then would she get it for you.  Because there was to be no stealing.

The schedule was as follows for 10 full days:

4:00 am Wake up Gong
4:20 am Ten-minute notice Gong
4:30 am to 6:30 am Meditation in the Dhamma Hall
6:30 am to 7:00 am Breakfast in the Dining Hall
7:00 am to 8:00 am Rest in the dorms
8:00 am to 9:00 am Sitting with Strong Determination in Dhamma Hall
9:00 am to 11:00 am Meditation in the Dhamma Hall
11:00 am to 11:30 am Lunch in the Dining Hall
11:30 am to 1:00 pm Interviews with the Teacher or Rest
1:00 pm to 2:30 pm Meditation in the Dhamma Hall or your Dorm
2:30 pm to 3:30 pm Sitting with Strong Determination in Dhamma Hall
3:30 pm to 5:00 pm Meditation in the Dhamma Hall or your Dorm
5:00 pm to 5:30 pm Tea and Fruit in the Dining Hall
5:30 pm to 7:00 pm Sitting with Strong Determination in Dhamma Hall
7:15 pm to 8:15 pm Pre-recorded Teachings via video by S.N. Goenka
8:30 pm to 9:00 pm Meditation
9:00 pm to 9:30 pm Impromptu Interviews with the Teacher

What I found interesting is how much I loved the schedule, the silence, and the meditation.  For the first three days we focused on one area of the body during our breath and that was it.  There weren’t any mudras, mantras or asanas or breathing regimens.  It was so easy anyone could do it.  The challenge was finding the best posture in which to hold still for an entire hour during the Sittings of Strong Determination.  During the first three days I tried sitting on my cushion backwards and ultimately got approved for a second cushion from the teacher which made a higher square cushion instead of sitting on a ledge and it was so nice.  Thank goodness I brought my own cushion because I used it for my legs to rest on.  Plus, the Hall was kept at a comfortable temperature but I enjoyed having my blanket around my body and scarf around my shoulders.  The only sounds we heard for ten days besides a few words with the teacher or the manager was Goenka’s voice before and after the meditation, his teachings on video and his chanting.  Even today I can hear him in my head! “Start Again…  Start Again…”

As soon as we started, my mind kept releasing old thoughts, new things I was worried about, and ultimately my mind was able to settle into meditation and it was so nice that time just flew by. You are instructed to just feel the sensations on, in and around your body without any attachment and with total equanimity.  They were just vibrations coming and going, up and down, up and down and as we continued breathing and meditating with our eyes closed the whole time, they all eventually went away.

The beginning of the week, I slept like I’ve never slept before.  I actually caught myself darting back to the dorm as soon as we were done at 9 pm, to brush my teeth, change into sleeping clothes, laying down, closing my eyes and going straight to sleep.  I’d hear the 4:20 am gong and get up from the same position that I went to sleep in and start another day.  They had a tri-fold cardboard sign in the Dining Hall with laminated information and a little number reminding us which day we were on.  This way we could read about what was happening, see the diagrams of the center, the schedule and anything else they wanted us to read.  And we all practiced our manners when opening the doors for each other without looking at each other, waiting in line for meals, drinks, and even washing our own dishes and returning them to our seats before leaving.

On day one, I remember going to bed with my legs vibrating so strongly.  And each time I closed my eyes it was a new journey. On day two, my entire divorce came to me in scenes like a movie but instead of being a drama it was a comedy and by the end of the day, I knew I had the best source material for an international divorce turned into a comedy-drama for a real screenplay ready to go.  But it was day three that I felt the tension from my left jaw permeate out, up and away from my body and the sensation was surprising. That night it all made sense since just this month I’d had to have two cavities refilled plus the retreatment of a root canal that both the dentist and specialist could not explain.  My dentist figured that I had been seriously grinding on my left side to the point that my cavities were coming apart and my front tooth that had the old root canal from a sinus surgery, in fact, had an infection at the root while the tooth was turning yellow so it had to be retreated.  I was happy to be able to put all the facts and clues together.  I was especially elated when I felt the tension escape from different parts of my left jawbone throughout the day.  This also reminded me to continue wearing what I call my non-grinder mouthpiece at night.  Especially this week just in case anything else was to come out in my sleep.  I wanted to keep my new cavities and front tooth safe.

The best part of starting the retreat was watching the neighbors in their plane every day after lunch flying in the air pulling a glider and hearing him detach and then watching the glider just ride throughout all the puffy clouds during our breaks when I had to go outside during our breaks to defrost and get some sun.  I could watch them for hours and they would be up in the air over and over.  One day I even saw a total of ten hawks come together and fly in tandem around in circles before they broke up and dispersed.  It happened so quickly I had to look around and notice no one else probably saw the same thing.  Day three was also when I tapped into my inner easy bake oven timer because I’d also intuitively know when the Sitting of Strong Determination was about to end and this was when we were asked to abstain from moving for an entire hour and at first this was not easy. I’d be off in my own meditation flight and it was like ATC telling me I had to land. Then, I’d open my eyes once we heard Goenka singing and take off for a break and to drink more water.  Meditation as a sport requires lots of hydration for me.

Day four is when Goenka says Vipassana begins and that’s when the fireworks got ramped up in my meditation.  This is the day I ended up with what Goenka calls, the surgery.  Little did I know what I was in for.  But it started with a scene from my past with Amber who is a friend of mine who passed of metastatic breast cancer.  Metastatic means it spread in her body and we shared a birth day and a passion for advocacy.  It was the time we went to Austin for her friends’ party and together we made a pinata cake together.  We colored the coconut and used snow cones, a sheet cake, and a freezer to create a pinata cake.  Amber has always been with me and visits often.  I should have known this would be my day to cry, but I didn’t.  Throughout the meditation, I also had a lot of heat leaving my body and I’d just sit in it until it subsided.  But today I was piping hot on and off throughout the day.  And by the time we got to the teaching, Goenka talked about how we create misery through cravings and aversions and he explained how they multiply and that only in Vipassana can we experience cutting directly to the root so that we can eradicate misery. Boy, howdy, was he right. At the end of the day, during our final break, I went back to the dorm to use the restroom and found my way to my room and laid down for what seemed like a moment until there was a knock on my door.  I was immediately frustrated to have been bothered during my silence, but it was the manager and she was very little.  She said that the teacher asked that I return to the meditation hall and if I had any questions, I could talk to her afterward.  I was feeling as if I was cold busted lying down in my room, but I obliged and went back to the meditation hall with the manager following me.  When we got to the walkway outside of the dorm, my footsteps startled a cute little green garden snake that continued with haste to the other side of the walkway and he made me smile.

We had less than thirty minutes to finish the day in meditation and that’s when it happened.  I closed my eyes and I broke down in tears.  Big fat alligator tears for Amber and cancer and my divorce and little Zoe who had recently passed after fourteen years, and who else knows what, but the tears kept coming and for no reason at all, it was if I hadn’t cried in years. When Goenka started chanting I kept bawling until the manager came to me and asked if I wanted to see the teacher and this time I said yes.  She sat elevated and at the front facing us, and even though it was the end of the day, there was a line to see her.  When it was my turn, I remember hearing my knees creak so loudly as I sat down close to talk to her.  But I couldn’t. I kept looking around losing my words while she just stared at me with a smile on her face.  I finally said something like, “It’s so SAD!” feeling a little embarrassed to be seen by everyone in the Hall as I broke out into tears while everyone else seemed perfectly fine.  When she said, “You’ve had a Surgery!” and it made sense and it didn’t make sense.  I was trying to listen when she kept talking about my surgery and then she catches my attention and looks me straight in the eyes and says, “This is a good thing.  You are bound to be successful. You should be proud.” All I know is that I creaked getting up and when I got to my bed I felt like the dead bug I had seen earlier in the day outside on the ground.  He was on his back flailing around I thought I might help him up, but then I said, he can do that himself.  Well, now I am on my back not sure how I am supposed to sleep.  I couldn’t decide if I should turn over or on my side or which way was up really.  I finally acknowledged that I was now the bug on my back before I passed out and soon heard the gong again.

Next day I got up a noticed that I was perfectly fine.  No remnants of yesterdays surgery.  Everyone marched to the meditation hall and to the dining hall and back and forth and the world was exactly as it had been before but different.  Actually, the grounds were starting to catch my attention because even they were looking prettier and prettier every single day.  And while sleeping during the morning break, I heard a set of lovely bells jingle a few times until I finally got up.  But when I left the dorm, the manager was just starting to use the gong.  I figured the bells were strictly for me and now I was ahead of schedule.

Day five is when I had a distinct image of a beach with a mountain and my dad standing on the sand while I was madly digging at the bottom of the water for something. It was as if he was watching over me while I tried to drown myself. By the end of the day, my head was above water and I was breathing. Then, my grandmother shows up to remind me that creaky knees are in our family. And that I needed to strengthen my knees.  Plus, she always told me that she needed both knees replaced but she was too scared to get the surgery.  At one point during the day I was feeling a bit overwhelmed by everything and finally asked for help in my head, just when I heard a helicopter over the building and I imagined all sorts of backups were sent in to help me.  Yes, there was an actual helicopter heard overhead.  Not sure if anyone else heard it but it was there. Later I asked the teacher about the helicopter and she just replied that I didn’t need anyone else to help me, that I needed to stick to the breathing and remember not to use any other technique I’d ever been taught.  She wanted me to forget everything and just breathe.  Kind of like being on the Autobahn.  The sign says, forget all the rules and just drive.  It was just like that. This was also the day ALFALFA MARKET popped into my head and all I could do was sigh in love and gratitude for being there last year because it is my all time favorite place on the planet to grocery shop. This place is in Boulder and it’s just exquisite with its music selection, particular attention to every detail and product they offer.  Plus, I was proud of myself for being so brave to take that journey with so much courage and faith in life.  Then, I smiled knowing that I needed a hashtag for my encounter with the mamma bear and her cub that one night while I was camping last year, because it really happened.  She sniffed my head through the thin tent while I was sleeping.  And this was the one night that both my dogs slept on the bed and with my arms around them.  We slept through that moment while the bears had a field day with the trash just feet from where we slept.

Day six there were more scenes for my international divorce comedy-drama that showed up with a new perspective I’d never thought about.  How the whole situation was planned far in advance.  All the little details that suddenly made sense.  From a trip to Japan to spending new years in Paris with my parents and staying in a loft. Of COURSE, now I get it.  Now it makes sense.  It’s time to contact Sandra Bullock.  And with every image or thought or sensation and bodily response, it was like watching the weather with complete equanimity.  It WAS a movie. Plus, the helicopter returned.

By this time the days were not making sense to me.  I could not figure out exactly what day it was.  I used my fingers to guess at the day but it didn’t make sense to me.  We were all seated facing out the windows during our meals and I noticed that most of us were just eating and staring outside.  I wasn’t so insistent on getting to bed so quickly.  And by now we were all using umbrella’s to walk in between sessions since the sun was so hot and I was feeling so sensitive to the heat and light. By now I had also washed out my socks after wearing them inside out for a few days. It was on day seven that my personal mission came flowing out of me from the depths of my soul.  It just resonated so highly that it all seemed like perfect sense for me and my gifts and skills. I actually found a pen that was meant for writing your name to volunteer and wrote it down on a napkin since I couldn’t resist writing down my personal manifesto.  I had it laminated today.  Plus, there was a song as you know I dream in music.  It is Gloria Estefan, Get On Your Feet!  Get up and make it happen!

  1. Basically, it’s about the fact that I desire to take my screenplays (3) and mold them into movies that inspire with my own production company.
  2. I also intend to launch a retreat in Amber’s honor and call it AHA, Ambers House of Awesomeness in Austin with programs run by and for cancer survivors.  Both of these projects would create jobs for all the survivors out there like me making our own way in life.
  3. And I aim to produce my own series of 7 Pathways to Wellness and Happyness via video segments for those affected by cancer to keep them away from dis-ease.
  4. And finally, I desire to create an online network for research advocates like me so that discussions with doctors are open and easily accessible and then we could seek clients and funding specifically for projects with community-wide support.  I literally heard Matthew McConaughey saying, “She’s a Powerhouse!”

What seemed like I was vibrating at the most increased level was when I totally missed a day and then couldn’t figure out how that happened.  I was at a perfect cruising altitude and got the message that it was time to start to descend.  I was almost surprised that I felt that way.  But then I had attended every single session and didn’t want to miss a thing.  I’d arrived coming to surrender and before I knew it the chip on my shoulder had blown clear off.  Or it had evaporated with so many other issues and feelings. All I knew was that I had made it.  But then, I knew I would. There was never really any doubt in my mind.

And then one night Goenka said that tomorrow morning after the teaching at 9 am that Noble Silence would be over and we all got so excited.  As soon as I left the meditation hall and caught my neighbors attention, we all stopped to comment on our retreat.  I’m not sure what my first words were but there was lots of laughter. And the girl that had offered her extra set of socks was there and I asked her about getting the surprise chocolate in her shoes, to which she replied happily, yes! The day went by quickly as we all laughed about so many little things that happened in complete silence.  Then, I learned that each dorm was different and that I was next to the Manager and only one other lady in a hall of single empty rooms, while the others were in bunk beds in small rooms or the one room with four bunk beds, which we figured was for the young adults.  As it turned out more than half of the female students were half my age.  And I don’t know if I would have ever made it to Vipassana at the age of 24. The old students had experienced the ten-day retreat before and they had their own rooms with their own bathrooms across the hall from us.  It didn’t matter.  We all had a great time even though we all noticed a few people disappeared throughout the retreat. Not everyone makes it to the end.  And from day one they had stressed that we needed to complete the retreat or it may endanger our progress. All I know was that I needed it and loved it completely.

It was our last day when the Organizer asked me if I was available to lead the cleanup of the dorms for the women or if I had to jet out early the next morning to catch a plane.  I said no, I live down the street.  Before I knew it, I was listed as the one responsible for organizing the cleanup on the final slideshow of exiting information and once it was over, someone asked for 5 volunteers to help me and more like 8 got on the list plus a few more that wanted to join the group.  I had an impromptu meeting, thanked everyone in advance, divided up the duties and at 4 pm everyone started cleaning.  It was a miracle!  By 5 pm we had more than twelve smiling faces working together and finishing in time for our final evening meal.  And this time they added rice cakes and peanut butter and we were thrilled.

The next morning, which was our very last morning, I was packing up when I heard a few chords of Sweet Caroline starting in my head.  It made me stop and I said, Oh, No.  But when I was walking in the dead of night to the meditation hall I caught up with a fellow meditator when I started telling her about the song and busted out into song, and then broke out into a chorus line, step-kicking up the three stairs singing, Good times NEVER Felt so Good! – so good, so good, so good!  The girls in front of us couldn’t believe it…   and after the final two hours of meditating, everyone just disappeared.  It was over and as I left all I wanted was chocolate and lo and behold not seven minutes in the car, I pull up to Buccees!  I walked in and bounced all around wondering exactly how to break my Vipassana and I decided on a red velvet cake ball.  Oh, M, G. I got home and figured out that the day Giselle came to me in my meditation was the same day she didn’t want to eat because she was sad that I was gone.  I remember telling her that I’d be home soon, that mommy didn’t leave her and I was just down the street.   Plus, later that day I had the fortunate opportunity to make it to the First Descents Rock Climbing Event with Genentech and it was perfect.  I was beaming with energy and excitement and before I knew it I was rock climbing the green wall and hanging with the coolest people who couldn’t believe that I had just gotten out of a ten-day silent retreat that morning.  Happyness is coming home with Mediterranean food and abstaining from killing anything.

S.N. Goenka is available on Youtube and I’ve continued to meditate in the mornings and throughout the day when needed.  Every person has their own experience and this has been an overview of my own journey. I also learned that there are Vipassana Centers all over the planet and they are free if you can get in.  I could continue to attend these retreats anytime I choose. Plus there are 20, 30 and 45-day retreats.  Goenka suggests that we attend a 10-day retreat once a year and continue to meditate daily.  All I know is that I reached increased heights in my own meditation and continue to feel enhanced levels of ease and peace even now that I’ve never known before.  I am thankful for the opportunity and grateful to inspire others to someday attend a retreat.

And finally, my seriously knees don’t creak anymore!

xoxoSparkles

Here is the link to the local Vipassana Center located in Kauffman, Texas and the site also has a link to Worldwide Locations. Apply and Go!