I lived and worked at the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, NY, for three months (August to November). It was a lovely community to weave into, and I am grateful to have stumbled upon it and stayed.
I heard about it first in Asheville and applied to be there for three weeks after Andover. When I finished the TA position, I found myself full of ambition and plans for going west and for graduate school and a career after that. Omega dissolved those urges (or some of them anyways, as I am driving west for some months now). The transition was abrupt but not unwelcome. When I arrived, although I felt introverted, I sensed that I should stay. Within days, I decided to stay on for the full third work period (7 weeks). I wanted to give myself space and time to ground myself in a community, to work in selfless service, to open myself up and throw off expectations.
Part-time seasonal staff work 30 hours per week in exchange for room (a camp space) and board (a dining hall). I lived in my lightweight hiking tent that cannot accommodate more than one person comfortably. I love living in a tent. I was not as excited about eating in a dining hall again (amazing how I miss having a kitchen despite limited cooking skill), but the food was good and I didn’t get sick of it until September.
I started as a Float, helping out in various departments as needed. Shortly after I decided to stay, I joined the Campus Support department. The work, the physical work, consists of welcoming participants and handling their luggage. It is not glamorous and it is not sexy. But the real work is tremendous and humbling: serving others and supporting their processes. I love the people I worked with, my Omega family. The schedule was unbeatable: I worked Fridays and Sundays and had most of the week off. We had a lot of fun. I found that was what I needed, what I lacked at Andover and in other parts of my life: fun, ha!
I ended up staying an additional three weeks as a full-time staff member after the part-time staff departed. Full-time seasonal staff work 40 hours per week and live indoors. The move indoors was timely; not only was the weather growing colder, but I was sick.
I had been feeling off for weeks, since mid-September. I thought it was a cold and then another cold the following week. I was tired all the time and slept a lot. I had headaches and muscles pains. I stopped running and my yoga practice lagged. I chalked it up to various factors (vegetarian diet, laziness, boredom) and let it go for a month. I didn’t go to a doctor until mid-October.
Lyme disease is prevalent in the area. Duchess County, NY, has the highest number of occurences in the U.S. I had been living in the woods for two months and not checking for ticks. I knew many people who had had to go to the clinic to get treatment for Lyme while at Omega. I resisted going because I was fearful of the disease and because I did not think I would get it. If I didn’t pick it up while hiking the A.T. for two months, would I get it working at a retreat center?
The doctor confirmed that I had Lyme. He put me on four weeks of antibiotics. I herxed badly for a week and slowly felt better the following week. I felt useless at work and being around people exhausted me. My boss and friends were very supportive and compassionate. I felt like I was letting them down for not pulling my weight and for not getting better quickly enough. I spent most of the rest of October taking naps and my social interactions were mostly one-on-one–no more large groups, no. I read a lot. I still had muscle aches and headaches, and the herx made my brain fog evident. When I drove to my cousin’s wedding, I kept putting the car in the wrong gear. I had trouble concentrating and remembering things. I felt dumb often. My best moment was putting half a glass of water in my backpack with my computer and not realizing I shouldn’t have until after I walked home. I didn’t trust myself with much.
I left Omega with two weeks of antibiotics, a car full of stuff, my boyfriend, and a disease. But I felt grateful. A lot of growth took place. I filled three journals with all my musing and reflections. I got better at practicing self-compassion. I let go of a lot of expectations. I felt a lot happier. A lot lighter.
And I headed westward…