I had a wonderful time in Sanibel Island, visiting my sister Becky and her husband John. They were renting a nice house right next to the community pool, which is maintained at a nice warm temperature for the somewhat cool and breezy days we had during my stay.
I rented a single speed bike for the week, so I could get down to Bowman’s beach in 10 minutes and take longer trips to explore the island. John had fractured his arm a couple of days before I arrived, so was unable to go rollerblading, which is their usual form of exercise which I would have done with them on the bike. So I mainly explored and practiced mindfulness on my own most days, walking the beach, taking short dips into the chilly ocean and enjoying the many species of birds.
My sleep witnessing meditation practice continues to be a once-a-day routine, done for an hour or so after I’ve gotten some exercise in the early morning. This routine was beautifully supported at Sanibel. I either went for a short bike ride and beach walk or I took a dip in the pool. Then I would go back to “my end” of their house, which has its own bathroom, for a quick shower before I went back to bed for practice. Very plush, by my modest standards!
The only group meditation practice that I found on the island was a class offered by the Samudrabadra Kadampa Buddhist Center out of Fort Myers. So I went even though I don’t need a class designed for beginners. It was a very well attended one hour session held in the island’s small movie theater. The two monastics present, one of which was leading the class, said they had never taught in a movie theater before and hoped that we would be able to stay awake in the very comfortable recliners!
The young monk named Gen Chodor did a wonderful job introducing the most important points for beginners, including:
- the dual motivations of finding inner happiness and contributing to the well being of others through your own more peaceful presence,
- the basic current moment meditation technique of following the breath, while giving no energy to any thoughts that arise,
- and the importance of daily practice even if it is only 10-15 minutes each morning.
Beyond these basics, the main subject of that week’s class was “patient acceptance.” I loved the way he put these two words together and plan to make use of the phrase myself in future teaching opportunities. The emphasis was really on acceptance, even though he introduced the teaching as being on patience. By the end he had illustrated how they support each other: It is easier to be patient with adversity when we intend to accept “what is,” and we also need to be patient with ourselves when practicing acceptance, while our judgmental tendencies still reign!
I love the ocean so my week in Sanibel was a real treat, since I live in land-locked Vermont. So I spent lots of time on the beach, including one morning when I woke early and arrived before sunrise. With this blog post in mind, I took a series of photos as the light rose and played on the shifting clouds. I had trouble choosing which ones to include here. You can see all of them in the publicly shared Google photo album in which I’m putting all the photos from my trip.
I also loved getting out onto the water, in a kayak made available by the owners of the house. I dragged it down to the launch ramp on a hand cart. As I launched I recalled some locals pointing out an alligator floating on the surface about 100 yards away from my launch site. Five minutes later, I gave myself a good laugh when I flinched a bit because a fish jumped right next to me. I guess I was a bit on edge at first as this was the first time I’d ever been out on alligator infested waters! I didn’t actually see one that day, but I did see the native birds at a closer range than I had from the beach. Since it was threatening to rain, I didn’t take my cell phone with which I might have taken some nice photos.
My longest bike outing was to the light house at the far south east end of the island. I had some fun walking the beach and watching kite boarders, which I caught some of on video.
On my last day on the island I finally made it to the “Ding Darling” wildlife drive preserve, which has 4 miles of road and 2 miles of walking and bike riding paths through the mangroves. Most of the wildlife I saw were the same bird species I’d been enjoying at the beach and kayaking, but I did get to see a modest sized alligator, around 5’ long. Most of the experience felt pretty sterile, by virtue of being on a paved road and improved path, but there was one spot called Colon’s Point where visitors could walk on the actual soil between the plants of the mangrove, right up to the edge of one of the inlets.
Sanibel Island to Koinonia Farm
The time came for me to start my next travel adventure. John had an appointment to have an MRI for his shoulder injury at 8am in Fort Myers, so they didn’t have to make a special a trip to take me to the mainland to attempt to hitchhike north. It turns out, attempt was the right word.
We dropped off John for his appointment and Becky took me to the closest interchange of Interstate 75. I decided to put Tampa on my sign, as it is the next major city north; I could always tell my ride the whole story once they’d picked me up. After buying some snacks for the road and walking to the highway, I waited from 9am to 1:30pm, taking a break to switch entrance ramps (there were 2 going north) and go to the bathroom in the middle. The only person that stopped wanted me to pay him $50 to go to Tampa. By the time that happened I had already been researching bus prices and knew I could do better, so I declined.
After my difficulty getting a ride in Fort Lauderdale, I had made a whole fall back plan for this leg, which included staying at a new couchsurfing.org friend and taking a bus the next morning, if needed. This plan didn’t work out, because the fellow who had agreed to host me became unreachable; he didn’t return my voicemails or couchsurfing.org messages. In a way that was good, because when looking at the bus schedules again I realized the route I had previously found was really long, going back to Fort Lauderdale before heading north, and included a 5 hour layover between busses in the wee hours of the morning. It was not a route I really wanted, anyway! So given that I had no place to stay and I wanted to make my own better bus route, I made a new plan.
I headed to the Greyhound bus station with just enough time to make a 3:10pm bus to Tampa. While on the bus I got back onto my phone and sent messages to 3-4 potential couchsurfing.org hosts in the city for that same night. According to the bus website, their terminal closed at midnight and reopened at 5am, and the bus I wanted to take to continue north was at 6:10am the next morning.
I arrived at Tampa at 7pm and made myself comfortable in the bus terminal. At least as comfortable as I could, given the challenge that they had CNN tuned in on two televisions, with the volume loud enough to be heard anywhere in the terminal. The ear plugs I always keep handy went in, but it was still possible to pick up bits of the audio none-the-less. I was still hoping one of my requests would be answered before I had to head back out onto the street. At 8:45pm, I went to a local pizza place for dinner. I wanted to get out of the terminal before the state of the Union address started! I took my time over dinner. On my way back to the terminal I checked to see if I could find anywhere I might sleep undiscovered outside. The only possibility in the area that I thought might work, was a large cluster of bushes in a nicely landscaped, large park-like area that was really nothing more than a glorified traffic island. The bushes were tall enough that I would be hidden if I laid between them without putting up my tent!
None of my couchsurfing request messages were ever answered. I arrived back at the bus terminal at 10:20pm and the state of the Union address was still going! I had over an hour before the terminal would close, but I figured if I had to try my first experience of “being homeless,” it might has well start early enough to get a bit more sleep. So I reorganized myself to prepare for my plan: I got my sleeping bag and pad out of my suitcase and into my backpack, where they could be pulled out quickly.
Before I headed outside, I noticed that the ticket window was already closed. A man that by all appearances was homeless (I’d seen him checking inside a cup in the trash earlier, hoping in vain that there was something worth drinking) had stretched out in his sleeping bag across the metal wire mesh chairs. It suddenly dawned on me that the hours I saw on the Greyhound website might have been for ticket sales, not the waiting area! A security guard had appeared, so a quick inquiry informed me that the terminal was indeed available for ticketed customers to stay in overnight, and she was even happy to have me stretch out my pad and sleeping bag in a corner. Evidently the man in the sleeping bag must have had a ticket, after all. So my first experience of being homeless on a city street would wait.
A long delay leads to some new friends
In the morning the security guard told me at 5:30am that I needed to pack up because she was going to unlock the doors to begin the day. I was about to anyway, as I only had 40 minutes until my bus left, or so I thought. 10 minutes after our scheduled departure time, we were informed that our bus driver failed to report to work that morning and they were not yet sure when a replacement would be found. That status did not change until 8:30am, when we were informed that a replacement bus and driver had been found and would arrive at 11am. Everyone that had hoped to catch connecting buses in Tallahassee, the final destination of that route, was called up to the ticket window so they could go over our options for rescheduling or rerouting. I was informed that I could board a bus later that afternoon going to Fort Lauderdale and go from there (on the route I was already working to avoid), or wait until 6:10am the next day and try again on the route through Tallahassee. I said I’d wait until tomorrow.
I sat back down in the waiting area, to collect my thoughts and do some more research on my phone. I found that the local mindfulness practice group in the Plum Village tradition had their weekly practice that night, so I put that onto my calendar and continued to look for other things to do. It was a beautiful day, so I could always do some meditation practice outdoors.
I struck up a conversation with a woman I’d seen earlier, who I’d gathered was also waiting for the same delayed bus. Her name is Nina, and she wore a filter mask, which she sometimes pulled up over her nose and at other times was pulled down around her neck. I thought she might be protecting us from the flu or some other contagious disease she carried, but it turned out she is sensitive to chemical smells such as the fragrances often added to laundry detergent or fabric softener. I asked her if she was also missing a connecting bus, but it turned out that she was going to her home near Tallahassee and just needed to wait until the delayed bus left at 11am. Our conversations were interesting enough that we decided to go find something to eat together while she waited. By the time we got back to the bus terminal, she had invited me to come stay with her and her partner at their house whenever I’d like. It did not occur to me that she was actually inviting me to come that night, so I could spend the night at their place instead of in the bus terminal again. The third time she invited me again it became clear, just minutes before the bus was to depart. I was delighted to take her up on the offer. I enjoyed her company, and I would also avoid another night of hearing snippets of CNN sneaking through my earplugs!
Nina had already told me enough about her house mate’s mutual interest in theosophy that I was looking forward to meeting him too. He and I did indeed have some interesting conversations about beliefs and spiritual practices. He even challenged my use of the word “faith,” as he preferred the term “model,” because faith for him indicated a belief that people tended to hold for life. We agreed to disagree on that one! They were both very hospitable. Nina even gave me my first healing touch treatment, using her own fingers to do “off the body” muscle testing, aka kinesiology, to determine what I needed. By the time it was time to take me back to the bus station the next day, I’d promised to give her a series of distance reiki treatments over the next few days. I had given them a copy of my book, but that was a small thing compared to all they had done for me in that 24 hour period together.
I arrived in Albany, GA right on time at 3:15pm. I made my new hitchhiking sign, had a snack and started walking down the road towards the nearest major intersection along the best route to Koionia. I realized a few blocks later that I’d walked in the wrong direction, so I turned around and walked back. When I got back to the bus terminal, I man pulled over and picked me up. It turned out he had seen me earlier, but in a location where he could not get out of traffic to stop, so he had come back to find me. He was going to a town on the other side of Americus, so I knew he would at least get me close to make it easy for someone at the farm to come take me the rest of the way. That was not needed however, because he went 10-15 minutes out of his way to take me right to the farm!
As I finish this post I’ve already been at Koinonia Farm for almost a week, but I’ll leave that part of my story to the next installation. The big news I will mention now, is that my application to the monastic guest program that I mentioned in a previous post has been denied. I was not given any specific reason. They just said that from what I shared with them (my motivations and history) they could tell that program was not for me. I trust they are correct, which leaves me again open to anything and uncertain of almost everything!