I was practicing intensively in preparation for my trip to China. 10 days before i’m set to leave, the phone rings. I hear in extremely broken English:
“Hi Matt, It’s —— from the Temple of ——, I just wanted to let you know that things have changed.
We need you to pay tuition in addition to your work exchange here. It will be about $1000 a month. Also, we don’t have a room for you at this time so you will have to sleep outdoors for the first month or 6 weeks.”
Me: “Ok, interesting. What will the weather be like this time of year?”
Him: “It will likely be snowy, but no worries! The master will teach you Dragon Breathing which will keep you warm at night.”
Me: “Um, ok I’m gonna go ahead and cancel now. Both of those things don’t really work for me.”
My kung-fu dream was gone just like that! When I think back on that, these questions come to mind:
1. Were they scamming me in my idealistic western naiveté?
2. Was that a test to see how committed I was? If so, theres no two ways about it; I failed completely.
Regardless, I needed a new plan. As fate would have it, that same day a young woman that I knew dropped a flyer on my desk. She told me that she was going to spend 3 months at this retreat center in the mountains of….Massachusettes. They had beds to sleep in with a roof overhead, and get this, they would pay me to work there while I received instruction in yoga, eastern philosophy, and other related practices. I immediately applied and was accepted. I was to show up there in 6 weeks.
In the time being I decided to work on a cruise ship for the travel experiences. Being paid to travel would become a way of life for me for several years after this time. Famed canadian jazz pianist, Paul Bley, who was my teacher at the time aptly described the experience that I would have on the cruise ship with the quip “Hell is a paradise that you can’t leave.” I’ve never forgotten that.
After finishing my run on the cruise ship which completely lived up to Mr. Bleys words, I got in the car and drove up to Lenox, Massachusettes where unbeknownst to me, would become my home for much of the next 4 years.
As I drove up the drive to the large retreat center I saw a woman on the side of the road practicing a Chi Gong exercise. When I saw that, I instantly knew that I was in the right place. The woman who gave me the flyer never showed up. It’s as if that flyer was meant to go directly past her to get to me.
Stay tuned for PART 3 - Welcome to a new world. Prepare to be uncomfortable.