I never found refuge. I owned a giant house for six years and never found it. Then I lived in a Buddhist monastery. I didn’t find it there either.
It’s not just any place you stay. It’s the place where you feel totally at peace, totally safe and protected and provided for.
My friend built a farm from a ruined pioneer cabin using her own hands. She was a hippie back when that meant something and she searched the whole country for this one ruined cabin. I’ve sacrificed pigs there. I went on a one-man meditation retreat there. Walked in on a broken ankle, terrified I was a failure. I was only 28 and I thought I had failed. I began the heroic life there.
That was refuge.
On my journey I found it in Dubuque, Vicksburg, Natchez and other places. Those were the great moments, alongside disaster. Spend some time in refuge and disaster you will become a pretty effective person. One or the other will just leave you damaged, but take both in a cocktail and you won’t need religion.
A month ago I couldn’t sleep. I was afraid. Getting out of bed was worse. I had no money and I was going to disappoint everyone. 1800 miles to get here and all I could think of was running away. It was my fantasy.
Business was bad then, but business picked up. Not rags to riches but rags to new secondhand jeans. I even got a real bed. Beds don’t fit on bikes so when I got here I didn’t have one. My first night in the Chateau I slept on the couch. The couch is so big it doesn’t fit through the double French doors and the previous guy left it. Then for a while I was on a mattress on the floor.
But this month I bought a futon so I’m a real boy now.
My roommate also improved things. He moved here from California with only his car. You can’t fit much in a single car but when he packed he chose well. We have curtains. I can make coffee without using a frying pan. There’s a rug in the bathroom. Little things, but they matter.
Then there was refuge.
I fell asleep in my futon, incense burning in the dark, six gods over the fireplace, good vegetables in my tummy, a wool blanket to my chin, The Antichrist with crooked notes on the floor, a to-do list done, new work for tomorrow, and the budget for eggs and coffee in the morning.
I felt totally at peace, totally at home, refuged. What does the mind think in a moment like this?
My eyes blinked open:
I have to get out of here.
I have to get back on the road, keep moving, seek the next challenge. This is my psychosis, and this is my zen.
I told my ex girlfriend (better than therapy). “Maybe this is the difference between people who want to travel and people who like staying settled,” she said.
Maybe. “I’m not sure if it’s part of my nature, or if it’s a learned response. The last time I let myself get settled down I lost sight of my dream. Maybe it’s once burned, twice shy.”
Refuge is momentary, it’s borrowed. Almost by definition it’s a shelter along a difficult path, not a destination in itself. And while we’re all wired to seek it, I’m wired to flee again into the sun, into the wind, into the struggle.
What did I do that night? I blinked my eyes back shut, I sighed in the dark. “Give it time, Drew.”
In less than five months I will leave my favorite city, and embrace the blistering road once more. That day will be a fine day, then comes the swamp. “The joy is in the struggle.” Yes, yes it is.