Snow Day in Riverside Park

Sometimes words simply will not do. So I will show you some pics of today in Riverside Park and Riverside Drive. My Upper West Side was blanketed in snow.

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Caldwell House

Cornwall House
Caldwell House
Is there anything prettier? A field of corn near the Cornwall House.
Is there anything prettier? A field of corn .

I stayed at Caldwell House in Salisbury Mills, NY. It was a perfect get-away. I love the city, but only because, occasionally, I get away to the country too.

See, it was the night before I was about to host a writing weekend at Kirkwood House in Cornwall-on-Hudson (and there will be another —  in June — check it out at boot camp for writers upcoming stuff), and I was nervous.

But spending one night in this charming B&B made me feel like everything was going to be all right. (Yes, cue the Bob Marley music — “Don’t worry ’bout a thing.”)

Every cozy bedroom room was stocked with a comfy robe and an iPad! What!

On the Thursday night, at the suggestion of the innkeepers’ daughter, I walked through the backyard of Caldwell House, rounded a corner and there I was at an Irish pub, Loughran’s. I sang Irish songs along with the locals. And the songs made me laugh and brought a tear to me eye. And so I needed the beer to chase it all down — to make me forget me troubles. Or, me ole anxiety about how me weekend would go.

One patron at the bar noticed me eyeing her IPA (I’d never tried one) — and so this older gal pushed her frothy mug over to me and told me, “Try it!” Thank you!

What! People are like that when you leave NYC. Strangers tell you to try their drinks and they don’t want anything from you but a bit of conversation and a laugh. (Kids, don’t do that. Only adults can drink from strangers’ mugs.)

The hosts of Caldwell House, John and Dena Finneran, are super nice and smart. John totally encouraged me to have confidence about my venture of writing weekends. He’s a corporate marketing dude from California who, with his lovely partner, moved back east to run this family biz. He gave me some needed advice on how to use social media — like use it regularly and use Google+.

The breakfast was lovely and abundant and my room was pretty and comfy. I felt refreshed to offer my own hospitality at Kirkwood House in Cornwall-on-Hudson, the next town over.

Part of the reason I want to host another writing weekend at Kirkwood House is so that I can stay again at Caldwell House on the Thursday night and sing along with the locals and snuggle into a big comfy bed and go for a walk in the country.

A walk in the countryside in Salisbury Mills.
A walk in the countryside in Salisbury Mills.

You know, when I see tourists dragging a suitcase from a Manhattan hotel to an airport bus, I say – to whomever I’m with – or inside my head, if I’m not with anyone, “Those poor people have to leave New York City. And I get to stay.” Maybe I shouldn’t be smug about NYC. Because one reason I love NYC so well is because I get to leave it. Regularly. And there are so many beautiful places and people to visit nearby. And Caldwell House is one such place.

Sure, there's no place prettier than Central Park in NYC, but you have to leave to remember this.
Sure, there’s no place prettier than Central Park in NYC, but you have to leave to remember this.

Blue Cliff Monastery

On the mindfulness walk, I took out my phone to snap this picture. The Buddhist sisters were ahead of me on the walk. I looked at my phone and realized that I had email. And so at a Buddhist monastery on a sunny daylong retreat I found myself checking my email.  (I had to resist posting my status on Facebook and Twitter. “On a walk in the woods with my Buddhist sisters.”)

I like to be inundated. I like to be overwhelmed. I like MORE. I came to Blue Cliff Monastery for less. For a few hours one day to let go of the swirling storm of my life.

In the morning, I sat cross-legged in this beautiful, big, bright, meditation hall. I love rules for life. And while I noticed I could not sit as still as the monastic brothers and sisters on the mats near me, I got so much out of the message. 

This was the dharma talk from the teacher and founder of the monastery, Thich Nhat Hahn. It was a message videotaped a few days earlier from his talk while traveling in Thailand (I think):

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1. Be aware of breath
2. Follow breath
3. Be aware of body
4. Release tension
5. Generate joy
6. Generate happiness
7. Be aware of pain
8. Release pain

The first four focus on the body; the next four on feelings. If pain is great, practice five and six. How to create happiness and joy? Let go. It is possible right here and right now.

Happiness can come when you 1) let go and 2) are mindful. 

Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha. You can be mindful of your eyes. With your eyes you can see the paradise before you (all of the colors). You can be mindful of your heart, beating all the time. With awareness of your heart, you can be grateful for it.

But they do not sell mindfulness at the market, you must generate it.

Joy and happiness can always be possible.

Pain is like the baby, crying. We do not hit, suppress, fight with baby. We embrace, we hold the baby with tenderness. It will lessen the suffering, the pain.

There is no reason to be afraid of strong emotion. Strong emotion is like a storm. It will come. It will pass. Young people need to know this. We are more than one emotion. Bring attention to the “in breath” and the “out breath.” Give attention to the abdomen. Touch the rise and fall of your breath. Go down there. Breathe in and out. In a storm, the tops of trees sway, but the trunk (the belly, below the naval) stays strong.

Practice five minutes of deep breathing every day for two weeks. It will then become a habit.

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This was the guidance from Thich Nhat Hahn’s talk. The 30 of us then stood in a circle outside and sang a few songs with hand motions. We took the mindfulness walk. We ate a warm vegan meal in silence. Then the bells tolled (I thought of visiting the Taize monastery and the tyrrany of the bells! https://mbcoudal.wordpress.com/2009/10/28/taize-service-my-guys/).  

After the bells, we could talk a little with those sitting near us. Then I sat alone in the sunshine. And yes, I checked my email again!

Then we, the group from the United Methodist Church, sat in a circle and shared the meaning of the day so far. How Jesus was like Buddha. How to practice compassion and Christianity. How to live in community. How to and of what to let go.

The sharing was deep, powerful, honest. It was a wonderful day. The brothers and sisters invited everyone to come again for the weekend or for a day of mindfulness or for a holiday. I would like to go again. But next time, I will leave my phone in the car.  

This retreat was organized by the wonderful Mandy Iahn, a United Methodist pastor who has found peace visiting the monastery. She is a part of the Commission on Christian Unity and Interfaith Concerns, CCUIC.

I saw this retreat listed in the New York Annual Conference newsletter, which promised, “This opportunity is being offered to promote peace and understanding between ourselves and our Buddhist brothers and sisters.  You will learn about Buddhist traditions and practices, have a silent meal with the monks and nuns of Bluecliff, and connect with God and yourself as you spend the day at this peaceful place.” 

http://bluecliffmonastery.org/