When you are stressed or scared you are often advised to go to your “happy place.” Until recently this advice was useless for me, a habitual panicker, because until just a few years ago I didn’t have a happy place.
We don’t have a lot of money and we don’t get a lot of time off. Matt works two jobs and neither are terribly lucrative. So we just get one week off a year and if we want to go somewhere we’ve got to save up for it. So it had better be worth it.
We take this vacation annually on the week of our wedding anniversary. It falls on the week after Labor Day, when the weather is still good but the crowds are thinning and in many places fall rates have kicked in. Originally the plan was to stay somewhere or do something new every year. We went hike-in camping, we went on epic road trips, we stayed in some extremely nice hotels on islands and lakes. But in 2013, at the recommendation of an old Sunset Magazine write-up (the source of inspiration for many of our trips) I booked us a lakeshore cabin at Crescent Lake owned by the National Parks Department. By the time we’d been there just a few hours we were so besotted we declared that we could very happily come back to this place every year. So that was the new plan. But last year I booked in April instead of February and there wasn’t a single room to be had! Clearly, the secret was out! We opted for the next best thing, Crescent Lake’s sister establishment on Lake Quinault. It was pretty goddamn nice, too, but . . . just not Crescent Lake. I don’t regret going to Lake Quinault by any means – we had a fabulous time – but I do wish I had made our booking earlier so that we could have stayed at Lake Crescent again. Lesson learned, I booked in February again this year, the very day that our tax return money was deposited. And we got a cabin at Crescent Lake.
Just 20 days left until our anniversary trip I booked in February, which means I'm in "daily revision of packing list" mode.—
Amanda Sterling Fink (@SterlingFink) August 18, 2015
Enough self-congratulation. The point of this diatribe is that the first time we went to Lake Crescent was the first time I achieved true empty mind meditation. It was also the second time in my life I can remember being really, truly inside a moment of time, living without doing anything else – not narrating in my head, not making a mental note to do something later, not comparing this moment with any one of the almost 17 billion moments I had already experienced – in short, not running any background programs.
Prior to this moment the closest I had come to real mindfulness was a brilliant stretch of minutes I will likely recall on my deathbed, in which Matt and I were winding around Chuckanut Drive on a beautiful day with all the windows down and the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” blaring on the stereo. We had just been to my favorite junk store and we were on our way to Village Books, no doubt. But I don’t remember. Probably we had overdue bills and a sick cat and a moldering house at home. Probably we would come home to the darkness of returning to jobs we hated. It might be we were spending money we should have put towards those bills. I know we didn’t have current insurance on the car. I’m sure the car was knee-deep in trash (I only cleaned Gertie once a year). But all I really remember is the flickering light coming through the madrones, Mick Jagger’s voice in our ears and the smell of the tide at the base of the cliffs. I can replay it infinitely in my mind’s eye like a perfectly looped gif. And every time I do I get to replay the feeling, too. The weightlessness of being truly carefree with my favorite person in one of my favorite places. Reliving it sometimes makes me giddy (especially if I overindulge) but at the time I did not feel silly or heady or rushed or overwhelmed. I simply was.
Amazingly, my moment at Crescent Lake two years ago was even better. It was about 8:00 am on our checkout day. It was already late morning for us, but most vacationers were still asleep. We had had the breakfast room almost entirely to ourselves. On our way out of the lodge we hit the bar, which at this point in the day was just warming up the espresso machine. We armed ourselves with thick mochas, wrapped ourselves in sweaters, and commandeered two Adirondack chairs just feet from the lake on the pebbled shore. The chairs were grey from sun but smooth from wear, like driftwood. Our coffee was fragrant and hot but not as fragrant as the clean, wet smell of the lake as the mist burned off to reveal the nearly vertical, densely forested wall of mountain directly opposite the lodge. Ducks – female mallards – waddled around our feet and in and out of the quietly lapping, razor-thin edge of the dark water.
We sat there a very long time. I don’t know how long. I didn’t have my phone on me. We finished our coffees (and I am a very slow drinker), and the sun heaved itself up over a peak behind us, and the ducks swam off to the other side of the dock where other people were starting to stumble about, and the mist was just a memory.
But while we were there, before the coffee ran out and the people broke the long note of near silence and the ducks gave up on us, I managed to truly, completely, (and without intending to) utterly clear my mind. I wasn’t thinking “this is so fucking awesome,” or “shame we’ve got to leave all this in a few hours,” or “damn, that was one hell of an omelet,” or “I should go get the camera.” Unlike on Chuckanut I did not even think “I will remember this forever.” I didn’t think. No thinking at all. Nothing went through my mind. Nothing. I simply sat and experienced. I was my five senses and my autonomic functions and nothing else. No worries, no coherent thoughts, no judgments, nothing. And it was incredible.
So now when I’m at the dentist’s and I’m tipped back in the chair with four hands and a rubber dam in my mouth and I suddenly forget how to swallow and I want to flail and gurgle, and I feel the carbonation of hyperventilation starting to boil in my blood, I shut it all down and sit my ass back in that Adirondack chair at Lake Crescent. By the time my doctor can ask me if I’m OK I’m already peering through the mist, and I can feel the warmth of my mocha in my right hand and the ridged grain of the chair in my left and the cool, damp morning air through my jeans. And I just give her a thumbs up.
We check in again in 14 days.