It’s hard not to feel grateful for a place like the Hazy Moon when you see what happens here. You show up for a retreat, full of turmoil. You spend a few days going through the ancient motions, sitting when it’s time to sit, eating in formal ritual, trying to sleep at nine every night. You get exhausted, frustrated, bored.
Then one summer night in the garden, you sit on the grass with a cup of tea, still counting your breath. You look around, taking in the trees and the house and the unnamed flowers. Robed figures from various continents, who are (miracle!) your friends, pass by in silence. Your heart rejoices because for a moment you’re not busy. You’re not planning. You’re just here.
A few years ago, when I was living back East, I impulse-bought a 50-year-old aluminum camper and a truck to haul it, then spent a couple of summers fixing it up. When it was ready, I drove it west along I-10. The shiny spaceship I was driving projected far more confidence than the lonely, frightened person hunched behind the wheel. I was a rich kid looking for an escape, and when I hit the Pacific, felt the sun and breeze of Los Angeles and met a few good people, I decided to stay. Without knowing it, I bought a house within walking distance of the Hazy Moon. After a year or so, right when I needed to, I wandered over.
The I-10 cuts a deep ravine between my house and the center. Crossing above it, you see the cars hurtling endlessly along their course, each controlled by a small and fallible human. Nyogen Roshi pointed this out once in a talk. What would happen if each of those tired, distracted drivers had to consciously think and control every move in order to produce the act of driving? It would be carnage on the road. Instead, something takes care of us, getting us to where we need to go even when the mind wanders. “That’s prajna,” he said—great wisdom.
After that retreat, I loaded up the old camper and took off toward Colorado for a few weeks. At first I was tense as usual, but this time my constant mission was to relax. To maintain what I’d found in the garden. Let breathing happen, keep my eyes on the road and hands on the wheel. It worked.
In the space that opened, a new plan was growing: an idea of never leaving the road. Of being able to wander, drop in on friends and family, find a campsite one night at a time. Sometimes we start on a great project without realizing it, while our thoughts and anxieties are still busy dwelling on some unrelated, useless thing. Yet the moment I let thoughts go, I can see where I am.
I’m typing on a computer in my living room in Los Angeles. Somebody’s mowing a lawn. The old truck and camper are long gone. Out the window, I can see a 2014 Ram ProMaster van that (miracle!) belongs to me. I spent the first half of this year converting it into a tiny home for life on the road. I have a bed and a sink and solar power and a little kitchen. My realtor is texting me. Day by day, I’m getting rid of my house and my things.
This summer I took a month-long trip in the van, up to Montana and Wyoming. Between passing anxieties, life was simple: a person in a place, weather changing. Days behind the steering wheel, my life and my dog tucked in around me, going where I go and stopping where I stop.
I came back to the Hazy Moon in time to take my vows in a jukai ceremony and get my dharma name: Munen. To my utter relief, Roshi read the name’s implication: no thought. Downstairs, my van sat gleaming white in the driveway, challenging me to see what that really means.