The Story of An Arkansas Atheist: Retreat Edition Ep. 1

Peena Pano 11When I decided to take a writing and meditation retreat at Peenemunde, there were things I knew I wanted to do. I knew no matter what I thought the trip would be like, I kept a confidence that it would be it’s own thing, which is to say powerful. I also knew that it would a separate type of amazing because of my solitude, so if things went like I wanted them to or if they deviated, the entire trip would be worth every second. Thus far this place has never let me down; this experience would keep without exception. It took me a whole day to really get into the writing of this journal, as I didn’t enter with a plan of how to write, only that I would write.

I ended up dictating a lot which is different for me, and I talk about it frequently in the journal itself. I haven’t been back to review any of the sound clips just yet, and will likely add to them before I do. “It’s all about the process,” and for once, I agree with this statement. As long as I fuel my writing exploits, everything will be right in my life. Daughter, Music and Writing, my three harmonies.

This piece will be carved up into small chapters within the larger sections of days I spent out there. The first day being the exception, as it is its own chapter. The only other internal drama about composing this would be its title.

I thought about making it its own series, but that seemed disingenuous. This is memoir style prose and would make a great addition to my memoirs. So, without further adieu—.

Day 1
retreat 3I arrived at Peenemunde during the deepest point of dusk, teetering on the edge of straight dark. The first thing noticed had to be the shortness of the driveway grass compared to the last time I visited. I had been trying to maintain the cabin yard and the yard around the pump house the best I could. All I had was an electric weed eater, and had run out of weedy line with the last effort, several trips back. Which had been the conclusion of a very deflating day out here. The pleasing feel of a smooth, newly shaved driveway felt extra satisfying. After climbing out of the car, I did the normal thing when I do when arriving at the cabin this late in the day:

1. Open the door

2. Start a fire

3. Open the garage

4. Make a drink

Everything went perfectly on this list, and before 19:30, I found myself sitting around a roaring fire with a rum and Dr. Pepper in hand considering the experience laying before me—a writing and meditation retreat over the next four days.

I’ve had this illuminating trip planned for over six weeks and by Friday morning I had already checked out mentally. Not that I failed to get my business knocked out or anything like that, just sorta unaware of my personal life, or even my home for that matter. In other words one hundred percent focused on what I would be doing out there in the woods. What did I hope to accomplish on this retreat? Glad you’ve asked.

Inspiration for this trip came to me by way of Dr. Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living and the UMass Stress Reduction Clinic. All of my regular readers will be very aware of these factors, as the blog mentions them frequently. The feature event is a six hour meditation, and although I did not follow the UMass clinic’s all day meditation methods exactly, they do have a room full of participants rather than one man all alone in the foothills of the Ozarks, but I will use many of the techniques used at the clinic. There will be some incorporating my own methods and techniques, and I also have big plans of trying some new things not well practiced. More discussions of those events later.

As per usual, this first night had an emotional moment, which came while I stood on the cabin’s porch, leaning against the post to my right, remembering the times Hilary and I sat out in the yard with Brady cooking sausages and eating Cuties around this very fire pit. We would stare up at the brilliant winter’s starscapes, captivated by the occasional shooting star, being very much in love and knowing that our future would likely be strong. Normally, I love being wrong, but about this incorrect assessment of my potential future, very little but pain seems to come. The tears flowed easily, but without too much emotional trauma, and once they had passed, it became immediately obvious that this trip would be different from all which had come before.

Something had been changing about my cabin visits for a while now. I figured it derived from the feeling of coming into my own in regard to Peenemunde, or more accurately, the sense of confidence and belonging has increased to the point where I no longer feel that the memories of Hilary and I being here are driving my desire to be here. My solo flag now waves just as proudly as the couples flag (metaphorical flags) that used to be the mark of my role here. This milestone is one of happy discovery.

Wolf has thanked me several times for the dutiful work put into his beautiful property. It has cost him approximately a fifth of cheap vodka and, as I have mentioned before, the very opportunity to bring my children here is quite the payoff. Bones, my father, has even mentioned the type of investment doing things like that with your kids ends up being, which is to say priceless. In some ways, Wolf has paid me more with than money could ever come close to having an equivalency.

This all runs through my mind, as I sit, trying to balance the difference in exposure between the fire pit and the starlight. This would also become the setting for my first official meditation of the retreat.

Instead of my normal position of sitting in a lotus, or a broken lotus, the name I give the position of at least making sure that both knees touch the surface of whatever I am sitting on, or lying down, I sat upright on the tallest sitting log, feet soles to the ground. I closed my eyes and found my breath.

retreat 5To be honest, no memory of what flitted through my mind during moments of distraction remains. Not that it is a big deal, meditation lets us release these thoughts at high rate. Not surprisingly, very little survived this first meditative process except a single impression. One of calmness which washed over me at some point. To my surprise, when I opened my eyes after an unknown period of time, the fire had nearly died out. I laughed out loud and quickly piled wood on top of the mound of glowing embers, leaning over and used my lungs as bellows when necessary. Once the fire roared again, I snacked on some of the remaining beef jerky. This would prove too small.

Knowing that I would be here for days, I thought, Fuck it, and broke out the sharp cheddar and fired up the stove to fry up some bacon. As the pan warmed, the unloading the car officially began. Once the books were lined up on the bookshelf and the smell of bacon had started to permeate the cabin’s atmosphere, the feeling of being at home warmed at the fringes of my perception. Without risk of overstatement, Peenemunde feels like a home to me now. Maybe that is what I was really carrying on about earlier when rambling about the “flag,” a feeling of belonging in this place even though it hadn’t been designed with me in mind, or even designed with a knowledge of my existence. Of course, in a way, it was.

After cooking and slicing, I munched on cheese, bread, and bacon. Another Day in the Frontal Lobe would be the book I read, and the rum and Dr. retreat 1Peppers kept flowing. Before very long at all, sleepiness crept into my mind. I had decided a little earlier to park the car across the bridge, so that the feeling of isolation would be brought home with enhanced voraciousness, knocked that out with the aid of my flashlight for the return trip. Car parked, I took a last look around, doused most of the lights except the lamp, produced the ladder from its space, climbed up for situating the loft.

A little chill remained present, as I hadn’t started the wood stove yet, so it remained necessary that I cover up fully clothed except for shoes. I will say that I didn’t fall asleep without a few more tears of loneliness. This has been the major discomfort of falling asleep at the cabin.

Still hadn’t gotten the hang of falling asleep without Hilz’s form next to me out here, and even then, I used to get minor panic attacks during the night. Dunno why I had them, but they hadn’t happened since I began coming by myself. The sadness of not sleeping next to her here, on the other hand, had very much persisted. This night would be no different. Yet, for the first time I had a weapon against this sadness, a single word, a name. A name that I repeated several times as a sleep mantra over the retreat, which, like so many other names in my life, is no longer relevant.


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