While I was in South America I experienced a fantastic realization. Besides the interesting people and cultures that I came into contact with along the three month expedition, I reached a state of deep internal contentment. The search for this state was a large part of what had driven me to take the trip – and so its discovery made me hugely happy. But ultimately I knew the trip had to end, and that inevitably I would have to head home.
Upon my return to LA, I hid out for a few days and took the time to really pin point how this feeling had come to be, and even more importantly, how I could bring the feeling back with me. The worst thing I could now do was to return to the exact same path I’d been on before. Sure, much of it was very positive, and I was looking forward to returning to – but I needed to trim that which had aggravated me and drawn me so thin.
What I discovered upon reflection is that there was no perfect place – but by being very aware of how places, people and activities made me feel, I was able to use them, almost like a drug, to achieve the mind state that I desired. Throughout the South America trip I saw my existence as a series of iterative cycles. Social times with new friends in new cities, then the escape to solitude to reconnect with nature and my internal being. I had also experienced a middle ground, where I was present in towns or cities but actively choosing to not engage in social or distracting activities, instead I used the time to reflect on the previous week or two and write. This dynamic structure had allowed me to feel fulfilled socially, spiritually and creatively – and now that I not only knew this, but had explicitly defined it, I would be a fool to not continue on this path – that is, as much as regular life could let me.
Luckily, much of my work could be done remotely, and the life I had set up in LA rally only required me to be there for a portion of the month, so soon after a wild couple of weeks back, I decided to head on a road trip. I left LA and after descending the Grapevine I split off from the 5, heading north east to Lake Isabella. I had noted down some for sale properties – and while buying a house wasn’t on my immediate to do list, I just wanted to scope things out. After heading up and down some dusty roads and hopping a few fences, I continued to make my way north, through little towns and over winding mountain roads, making notes and taking pictures. I found a variety quaint and rustic places that I would feel comfortable in. I had no plan, but I didn’t need one to feel excited.
Eventually that evening I came to North Fork, the last stop of my little tour and “Exact Center of California” as the proud sign displays as you enter the town, which is little more than a bend in the road with a few shops and conveniences. I passed through and soon afterward I ended up at the Vipassana Center, where I had planned to serve part of a 10 maintenance period. It was a wonderful opportunity to silence the mind and be around truly good people – and the gift of service (in this case, trimming the grass, cleaning bathrooms, and generally fixing things around the place) was the least I could do for a place that had served me so well over the last couple of years.
Some days later it was time to leave and as I packed my bags, an old Thai man had poked his head in my room:
“I’m heading up to see the farm that provides much of the produce to this center. Apparently volunteers can apply to work there, and live and eat for free, in exchange for some hours every day as farm hands. Would you like to come with me?” Satya asked.
“That sounds amazing – I’m in!”
The Vipassana center handyman, Bruce, gave us a ride some miles up the winding road as I questioned him about the surrounding area. Eventually we pulled off the road and an unsigned turnoff and met Becky, the daughter of the farm owner. She took us to the farm and there we met Hansel, the owner and our tour guide. He patiently showed us around the farm, taking us across the acres of functional farm fields and terraces, through WWOOFville (where the volunteers, also known as WWOOFers live) and eventually down to a little cliff side studio. It was like a hobbit house, carved out of the hill side, with great natural light, pretty rock work and a sunken fireplace. As for amenities, there was a simple kitchen, solar electricity for appliances and a functional bathroom with gas heated water.There was some cell phone reception and even internet available up the hill. At the time, no one was living there and I asked if he ever might like to rent it out part time.
“You’ll have to speak to my wife, she’s in charge of that sort of stuff!” Hansel said, and laughed in a jolly, almost Santa Claus like way. I took down their information and promised to be in touch. We left the farm and headed down the hill.
As I drove away from the Vipassana center, I was giddy with excitement. I had left LA on a hunt for a possible get away spot. I had found a few good leads before reaching the Vipassana center, but nothing that had offered an immediate respite from the city. And in one blatant stroke of serendipity, the cosmos delivered me a giant gift, right onto my lap. As I passed through North Fork, a town where the fire station is also the library, I knew I’d be back sooner than I had expected.