Retreat Get-a-way on Cape May

January 16, 2021

I took the plunge and reserved 9 days at a cottage I found on AirBnB a few blocks from the Delaware Bay beach in North Cape May. I wanted to go there alone and do a self-meditation retreat for a week. Michael would come down for a few days at the end. It sounded like it would work, but I spent most of December planning what food and cleaning supplies I would bring with me to make it feel safe in the midst of COVID. Finally, the day of departure arrived and I went to the market first thing and grabbed a weeks-worth of simple meals, loaded up the car, and drove the easy two and a quarter hour trip to Cape May. The host had told me that the house would be cleaned on Monday and then sit empty for three days before I arrived on Friday. That seemed pretty safe. Even so, I wiped down all door handles and light switches with Lysol and washed my hands before I unpacked and settled in. The cottage was adorable, with surf and sand decorations including crabs and octopi. The kitchen was perfectly functional and the sun coming in the windows filled my heart with warmth and joy. The neighborhood was very quiet and peaceful and the beach, really only two blocks away, was magnificent.

I brought sitting cushions, yoga mat, shawls and wraps, computer, phone and charging cords – everything I needed for a week of self-care. Thanks to all the online meditation still going on, I did a retreat with Steve Armstrong and Kamala Masters all day Saturday – they were in Maui, the retreat was hosted in Vancouver and the 150 participants were calling in from all over the world; I took my phone down to the beach in the mornings to zoom into Mark Coleman’s sunrise sangha from Sausalito; Turtle Back Zendo in Lawrenceville was zooming into a sesshine coming from Mountain Gate Zen Center in New Mexico, and I called in to hear Mitra Roshi’s teisho in the afternoons. Filling in the busy schedule of online sittings and yoga classes, I found the sunny spots in the house and sat and walked on my own, made simple meals and kept the kitchen and house soothingly neat. It didn’t take long to really deeply relax and feel safe.

The weather was beautiful – blue skies and bright sun many days, moderately cold, with varying amounts of wind. The first morning on the beach was crazy windy with white-caps and choppy waves pounding the shore. Another morning it was amazingly still with calm and glassy water and hazy skies. One of the first mornings, I woke up early enough to hop in the car and drive 12 minutes across to the ocean beach to see the sun rise. At 7:18, a very civilized hour for January, the sky was sparkling clear with a sliver of waning moon and 33 degrees. Thankfully it was not windy. Over the course of the week I learned the secrets of the tides on my bay beach. When it was high, there was very little room to walk. Only an hour later a pristine surface of hard packed sand beckoned all the dogs and their owners, of which there were actually many. It didn’t take long for the expanse to be dotted with foot-prints. And, of course, everyone came down each day for the sunset show.

On many afternoons, the sun sank right into the water at the horizon, and I even saw the green flash. A few afternoons were graced by beautiful clouds that turned all manner of rich sunset hues as the light gradually faded.

One cloudy afternoon, I drove north a few miles to an old golf course that is now a reclaimed nature preserve. Armed with my good optics, I set off to walk the trails with ears and eyes open to whatever bird life might be there. I heard and saw quite a lot, but just as I was starting to get cold and a bit tired, I realized that I had no idea where I was and, checking my phone GPS, seemed to be getting farther away from the parking lot. Oh well, it wouldn’t be a retreat if I didn’t feel totally lost at some point. Even though there might have been a closer way to get back by continuing on, I turned around and retraced my steps, eventually getting back to my car no worse for wear. Another day some tree workers showed up across the street and started taking down two trees – chain saws, chipper truck, ok, ok, I’ve spent plenty of retreats like this as well. One evening, walking in the octopus room, I felt concentrated and calm, with a nice balance of energy and joy. I dropped in the question “how can we feel grounded in the body and the earth, as Mark often instructs, when everything is ultimately groundless, insubstantial, empty?” As I walked back and forth I felt completely held, but there was no thing holding and no one being held. Yeah, one of those Zen things, but quite ordinary and reasonable in that moment.

By Thursday the tree guys were gone and Michael was on his way. I relished my last quiet morning alone. It had gotten a bit warmer and meditation on the beach was delicious. The Prius pulled up in front of my cottage a bit after 1 and I was so happy to see Michael and Louie get out. But then Emily appeared and I screamed with delight. She decided to drive down for the day and then take the Prius back to Opossum Road to tend to her kitties. She and the boys have been staying with us since the beginning of December and everyone has been enjoying being together. The afternoon was sunny and mild and we all had a great time walking on the beautiful beach. Louie went crazy, chasing sea gulls and sand pipers and splashing in and out of the water. We kept him on a long leash and he was such a wet, salty, sandy mess when we came back that we hosed him off on the patio and let him run in the grassy fenced in yard. Emily left by 5 and Michael and I ordered take out from a local restaurant.

We had a wonderful two-day vacation together, walking on the beach with Louie, strolling through town in Cape May, watching Netflix on the huge amazing smart TV in the living room, and enjoying being somewhere other than the house where we have been sheltering for the past ten months. Michael wants to come back here again! I do too.

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