On my last morning in Carmel, I stood on the balcony outside my room, watching the moon set over the Pacific.
The air was thick with jasmine and pine. I pulled it deep into my lungs, trying to taste scent, to store the sensuality of this place in my mouth like a squirrel hoarding nuts for winter.
I kept thinking of a scene from Elizabeth Gilbert’s The Signature of All Things (which for the herby amongst us is what we call The Doctrine of Signatures). In the book there is a cave, high in the mountains on an island somewhere in the Pacific. In this cave the characters have a moment that I see in my mind as a jewel.
For those that haven’t read it, it’s a pivotal scene that I don’t want to divulge, but I’ll say it’s one of those moments where two unlikely characters end up together in a sensual, lush paradise and… go read the book.
But it’s a moment of transcendence and even as I read those paragraphs strung like lights in the darkness, I was holding my breath, wondering how these fictional people would recover, would hike down the mountain, and become mere mortals again.
As I stare at the Pacific, my mind roams ahead: 3 flights home, my half-built kitchen, the dog hair balling under the couch.
On a pad next to my computer, I keep a list of possible blog topics. A year and a half ago, when I read that passage and imagined Liz Gilbert having to write herself down from the cave, I jotted recovery from transcendence. I knew deep in my core that the success of her book hinged, not on the cave scene but on everything that came after.
The challenge is in returning from a rarified experience of grace and not getting mired in the distractions of daily life.
Home at my desk, I know that my book’s success will hinge on everything that comes after. The Carmel writing retreat was a moment of transcendence that I now need to recover from, and fast.
This process is one we all go through after every retreat, vacation, and weekend at the ashram. We have to figure out how to take what we discovered and bring it home. This bit of the journey is just as important as the more exciting moments when, for just a second, we see the spark of our own divinity.
I root through my essential oils: night-blooming jasmine and pinion pine. I breathe the scents, opening my mouth, tasting the magic.
Then I crack open Liz Gilbert’s latest book:
The fun part is when you’re actually creating something wonderful, and everything’s going great, and everyone loves it, and you’re flying high. But such instances are rare. You don’t just get to leap from bright moment to bright moment. How you manage yourself between those bright moments… is a measure of how devoted you are to your vocation, and how equipped you are for the weird demands of creative living. Holding yourself together through all the phases of creation is where the real work lies.
— Elizabeth Gilbert, Big Magic
It’s time for the real work, and I have jasmine and pine to remind me of transcendence.
Your turn. How do you recover from transcendence? Share with me!
P.S. If you are a writer and this Carmel thing is singing to you, you can follow that thread here. Be prepared for magic!