The Awakening Forest

The morning sun glinted off the rolling waves of the Pacific Ocean and the round lenses of the Bikkhuni’s glasses. The meandering asphalt of California Highway 1 snaked over the hills to the north, and passed below the small group as they said their goodbyes.  In the distance, between the shore and the blue horizon, a rugged line of green islands reared from the crashing waves, seagulls wheeling and calling their needful cries.

“Thank you for taking care of me,” the man said to the smiling South African and the softly aging monk, “and for putting up with me. I know it isn’t easy to have a man walking around unattended.”

“We knew you were harmless,” Tess said with a lilt and a toothy grin.

“Thank you for…hmmm…opening yourself to our practice,” said Ayya Sobhana, “and taking the time for yourself to learn more about meditation. And for the painting”

“Come here, Shawn.” Tess spread her arms for a hug with a chuckle.

As they embraced, the man reflected on the past four days.  True, it had been low-key, and to be honest, he thought, at times almost unbearably boring. But it was also a time of portentous dreams, long moments of peaceful silence, and constant learning. He’d helped paint, sure, but he’d also been involved in the planning of the next evolution of the hermitage in the Sonoma redwoods and sat for the long dusk hours alone and battling his urges to smoke and distract himself from his thoughts. He’d walked and talked with monks and architects, sharing in their vision of a beautifully managed, yet still amazingly wild, paradise amongst the twice devastated forest hillsides the female monks of the Sangha called home.

He stepped back from the warm hug, the only one of the last 96 hours, held up his touching palms to his heart and bowed slightly to Ayya. Then he turned to leave. It occurred to him briefly, with a smile, that this was like a scene from a movie. He told himself, “Don’t look back,” with an inward grin, marking the moment.

Before him lay an open gate, an empty highway, and a bus South.

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