When Melissa Gilbert Kent ’96 graduated from Colorado College, she was torn between two options: an internship for a men’s fashion magazine in Los Angeles or a stay at Tassajara, a Zen monastery in California’s Ventana wilderness. She chose the monastery — and stayed for seven years.
At Tassajara, Kent followed the monastic schedule. Days typically started at 4 a.m. with hours spent in silent, cross-legged meditation, followed by time for walking meditation, working meditation, and formal meals eaten in a silent, meditative fashion.
“When I first arrived, I didn’t think I would stay very long,” she says. She remained because she “wanted to be a part of that community … the people there were so genuine and helpful.” In the course of her stay, she cleaned cabins, worked in the garden, coordinated ceremonies, helped run the meditation hall, and served as guest manager.
Kent and her husband, a monastery chef, stayed until 2004. “We were thinking about starting a family and seeing more of our friends and family. We also had a desire to reenter the world and give back,” Kent says.
Leaving Tassajara was an awakening: The presidential campaign was in full swing and technology had made quantum leaps. When Kent went to Tassajara, cell phones were the tools of the high-powered; when she emerged, they were ubiquitous.
After being withdrawn from the world for so long, Kent wanted to become part of the debate: “I wanted to reenter as a U.S. citizen and be not a silent dissenter, but a public one.” She e-mailed lengthy, heartfelt missives to friends and family; they sent them on to about 70 people.
Kent hopes to gather these “love letters” into a book someday. Currently, she and her husband live in Nevada, where they farm and work on a cookbook titled “Bringing Tassajara Home: Recipes for a Joyful Life,” which they hope to publish in May 2007.