Currently at the halfway mark of week two in Mt. Shasta. Lots of first timers this week, which makes it really fun for me—introducing people to the hikes for the first time, initiating people into their first sweat lodge experience, and taking great pleasure at people’s reactions when they first dive into the icy waters of the McCloud River and try to swim across before hypothermia sets in. I was very excited to learn that there are a couple of professional musicians in the group—a cellist and an oboist—in addition to a couple of talented vocalists. Today’s Hanuman Chalisa was a vast improvement over last week. Three people in the group had never practiced Ashtanga yoga until this past Sunday, when they were subjected to a guided first series class. I’m not sure if I should applaud them for their bravery or chastise them for their cluelessness. They are all working hard to get themselves up to speed.
Today’s hike was Heart Lake, a heart shaped pond at about 7,000 feet with magnificent views of Mt. Shasta and Castle Lake. After the frigid waters of the past two days in Squaw Creek and the McCloud River, swimming in the nearly 70 degree water of Heart Lake and Castle Lake was a luxurious experience for all of us. It seems that people are having a good time and bonding well with one another. The afternoon “mat in the middle” sessions are much livelier than last week, with people more willing to face their personal demons in the form of their most hated asanas. My dear friend, Fred Lewis, who was my original connection to Mt. Shasta 25 years ago, has been in class with us this week—still going strong at 75! Fred is the one who introduced me to all of the hikes we do during the retreat. Last week he was out of commission with an infection in his leg, but was back on the trail with us today. Shasta is just not quite the same without Fred with us.
One of the traditions I adhere to every year at Mt. Shasta is no shaving. My beard is now almost two weeks old and my daughter, Leela, tells me that I almost look like a mountain man. My wife tells me that kissing me is like kissing a porcupine. Soon she will begin to refer to me as “Ernie”, a reference to Ernest Hemingway. Like Ernie, my beard is also white. I’m beginning to feel like more of a mountain man—a little more connected to Nature and more and more removed from the asphalt and concrete jungle of so-called civilization. For me there is nothing quite like immersion in Nature to restore a sense of wholeness to my soul. The beauty and peace of this place are remarkable. It is impossible to spend time here and not be changed for the better from the experience. I told the group the other day that I’ve been leading this retreat for 21 years and hope to keep doing it for 21 more. My sincere hope is that all the people who come up here and participate in the retreat enjoy and appreciate the experience as much as I do.