Dathün Chapter 1

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In October I travelled to Karme Choling in Vermont, to spend two weeks meditating on a Half Dathün retreat. It was hard. I wrote like a maniac. Here is the first instalment from my journal.


It’s 5 am and my whole body is sick with sleep. Yanked out of bed, dehydrated. ‘You’re so brave for doing this,’ she tells me on the train platform. We both have our leggings tucked into our socks, but the October dawn is warmer than we expected, warmer than its been lately.

I contemplate the small-town mess, dithering under street-lamps on the other side of the train tracks, while Harper navigates the ticket machine for me. Industrial chains, telephone wires, abandoned crane. Metal storage bunkers full of people’s crap. The breaking horizon of America. Breaking heart. Romantic sort of, like a wild western.

An artificial light engulfs us from the left.

‘I love you so much.’ She hugs me over the low whistle of the train. I smile for my friend who recognises my need to meditate, who gives me space, who drives me to the station so early in the morning without a simmer of resistance. ‘I love you too.’

Her leopard-print coat disappears into the parking lot, and I’m left wearing a hiking backpack with a cheap sleeping bag clipped over the top, my guitar, and a long woollen coat. Alone in a foreign land before sunrise. ‘You know you could come with me,’ I’d suggested a couple of times, when insecurity took grip.

‘I know… But… this is what you do.’

I’m like a hobo in a carriage of early-rising business men. Most ignore me, sip their coffees; some glance at my rucksack with jealous eyes nibbling at the edges of my freedom. I plug into Elliot Smith. Everybody knows, everybody knows, you only live a day, but it’s brilliant anyway. My head nods against glass all the way down to New York City, where I buy terrible breakfast from Dunkin’ Donuts and catch a dreamy-ride greyhound to Boston.

Hours later, outside the downtown station, slumped amongst backpack and pavement grime, a stranger calls my name and I clamber into his big black car. The kind where the doors shut luxuriously softly. He recognises me from a photo. He’s Jack, fellow meditator and my ride to Vermont. Together we’re spending the next two weeks sitting still at Karme Choling. There’s an Australian girl in the front seat too, and hours of American highway unfurling before us.

My brother whatsapp’s me. ‘I’m so proud of you Jesso. Nothing makes me happier than hearing about the practice you’re about to embark on. Trust your mind! You’re inherently good and I love you.’ His words, words travelling over wires and oceans and cities, warm my backseat reverie.

All that meditation, my three years of reluctant practice, my vivacious summers at Dechen Choling, the Shambhala levels, my love affairs with Buddhist boys scattered across Europe, it’s all been for this moment, here with my leggings tucked into my socks riding north, here with two new stranger-friends who chose me my favourite vegetarian sushi from Wholefoods without asking. Here, deciding to do this, even though I had to argue the price of the course down to a quarter of what everyone else paid, even though it scares me to death.

And despite all the obstacles, the crazy distance, the finance, the fear, the fact I own none of the recommended reading, can’t afford to buy any of the books, or pay for a bed in a dorm room, despite the fact I know nothing about how to eat Oryoki style, I’m doing this. ‘All the obstacles are a good sign,’ says my meditation instructor, over in Finland. I have to trust him on this one.


Between sign-painting, singing, and staying Shambhalian in the 21st century, Jessica Eve Watkins travels the globe as a writer and artist. She is the co-creator of www.animarising.net, a space dedicated to consciousness-raising art.


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