My First Yoga Retreat.

*** Author’s Note:  I began writing this post on July 1, two days after I came back from Mexico. But then I realized I had to do a few other things and here it sat. Until now. But hey, who doesn’t love a good flashback?

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As we rode towards the center (we thought) of Cancun, SP and I clearly felt confused. This in and of itself was confusing because we are both well travelled and SP is a native Mexican and so a simple bus ride into to town should not leave us nonplussed. As we rolled by an Outback Steakhouse I said, “Shoot me now.” This comment caught the attention of a young gringa in front of us who told us we “just had to go to the Montero Steak House because it was so authentic” with such earnestness I almost felt like she needed a hug (the restaurant appears to be German owned, for what it’s worth).

When we finally stepped off the city bus in the part of Cancun that everyone apparently thought we were trying to find we looked at each other and looked around, and had no idea what the heck was happening. Eventually we got a map and saw – to some degree – what had gone wrong. Simply wanting an easy night out, maybe a margarita, on our last night in Mexico after thirteen amazing days in Xcalak & Tulum, we had asked every wrong person where to go and thus stumbled into a Samuel Beckett-like evening of absurdity.

Walking along a weird avenue that backed up to gigantic mega-hotels with water on either side of us and not a bar or restaurant in sight, our confusion increased. Eventually we reached the part of the “Riviera” where we were told the bars and restaurants were. It was a full frontal assault of awful that nearly had us breaking into a full sprint to escape.

By the time we reached The Fiesta Americana we were just like, “Get us to an air-conditioned hotel bar away from this hideousness.” And so we found one and sat down.

But they had no food.

So we went to another restaurant in the hotel someone recommended. We sat down in a lovely little spot and ordered drinks. And then were told that the only meal option was a buffet.

Are you kidding me?

So off we went to another restaurant in the same hotel. It was Mexican. How bizarre. It was a totally odd place with super high ceilings and even more super loud mariachis. But they had food and a/c.

By the time we left we were ready to spend every last peso on a taxi home just to get out of Cancun and back to our airport hotel. I can’t really say if Cancun itself was so bad, but the Zona Hoteleria was vile, and our sensibilities were not ready for it after two weeks of bliss.

Which brings to light the point of this post: The Bliss. Our yoga retreat and entry into to said retreat were amazing. So amazing in fact, that the weirdest night I have ever had in Mexico (and I have had some doozies) could not even dispel the amazingness.

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I cannot remember my original motivation to do a yoga retreat – I have never done one before – but I do remember making the decision to do this retreat. And the decision brought up interesting (unfamiliar) feelings around my yoga life. If I were to describe my yoga practice I would use words like: disciplined, traditional, focused, quiet, solitary, consistent, serious, quiet. It is not that I am antisocial, although Veer did tell me long ago, I needed to work harder to be a part of the group – the kula. I didn’t know why it mattered at the time, like really and truly, I couldn’t understand why it mattered that I get socially involved with the group of Hong Kong Chinese women I practiced with. Everyday. For three to four hours.

When I say it like that it feels pretty ridiculous to think I needed someone to tell me I had to intentionally and meaningfully engage with a group of people I was in close contact with every single day.

But, I did.

And then years later as I continued to grow my practice and get to know new teachers, I was maintaining my practice in a very similar way. There were some people I got to know by virtue of frequent proximity, and I would go so far as to say I even had a few yoga friends. So to suddenly join a yoga retreat in Mexico with a group of people – who I may or may not really know – would definitely be categorized in the “out-of-character” file.

But I did.

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Before joining (I can hear S.P. right now saying: “Look at you, you joiner!”) the retreat (with my friend in and out of yoga, S.P.) we went to Xcalak to visit my former building managers. These are two of the more amazing people I have met in my life. I met them in the way that you meet the people who run your apartment building, but a little bit more than that. And then when they told me they were totally changing their lives and moving off the grid to a (rad) rural part of the Mayan Riviera they had a going away party, which I attended, and at which they said “Come visit! Really!”

Now people say this kind of thing a lot. And I often wonder if they really mean it, not like it is disingenuous, but more like the likelihood of future visits being, well, not that likely make it easier to say? I took a chance that they meant it. The type of people R & C are are not the type of people who would ever tell someone to come visit if they didn’t mean it. I know that now for sure if I did not before.

This meant we had five gorgeous days in a really special place that I am not really super interested in telling people about because: too special. There were great talks, perfect silences, friendly ducks, grumpy geese, clever chickens, snorkeling, Sargassum, stand up paddle boarding, cold beers, delicious food, and immeasurable generosity.

One week after finishing the school year, I could not have asked for more.

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Next we were off to Tulum for a week-long yoga retreat with a teacher I admire and know well and have grown to really trust. This, I imagine, is why I found my self there, at a yoga retreat.

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The retreat basically kicked off on the Summer Solstice, which is cool. (This also happens to be the date that the Indian government pushed the UN to adopt as International Yoga Day… a notion that if one does any amount of research upon will leave one quite… fraught.) But waking up on the Mayan Riviera for a Summer Solstice sunrise is pretty awesome regardless of any other circumstances…

And so here I was. With some people I knew. And some I did not. Joining.

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The retreat itself was very special, and as with my previous week, I am not super interested in spelling out all the more intimate ways that it was special, because it seems like something that feels more comfortable taking up residence in my own conscience. I am not sure how it would compare to other yoga retreats because I have never done a yoga retreat. I can assure you it was very (VERY) different from living in the ashram… as it should be.

We did yoga. We ate good food. There was a lot of time to relax or contemplate, or tan, or get spa treatments (I mentioned it was not like my ashram, right?)

It was gentle.

And the thing is, I think I need more gentle in my life. I do not default to gentle. I get after it. I work hard. I do lots (and lots and lots) of things. I push myself (and yeah, others too, sorry.) That is all fine, but gentle might be too. It gives you time to do different things.

I made a bunch of new friends. Real friends, who live in my neighborhood and have priorities in line with my own in lots of ways. I joined things. We rode bikes to ruins, we floated down crystal clear canals through ancient mangroves, we had warm white wine and rolled up Velveeta cheese. We laughed a lot. One of our group who attends yoga retreats regularly said that this retreat was totally unlike any she had done before because everyone at this retreat had come because of their connection to this particular teacher. She said it was a completely different feeling of community. Like I said, I cannot compare, but I can certainly agree.

This experience both changed my entire reality at home – in the yoga studio and around my neighborhood – and set the tone for my entire summer. My kula has grown and I am really glad. It is not always easy to develop community in a bustling urban situation, but, here we are. Better for it.

Namaste.

 

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Maybe it is good that it is the shortest day of the year…

xmasshows2I am a big fan of the solstice. Actually, of most things astronomical, astrological, and generally sparkly, not to mention the inherent symmetry of the solstices, it is sort of a magical time. Having said that, this year I am sort of glad to know that this day will be very short, very cold, possibly rainy, and that I will be so painfully busy I won’t have time to take in too much. Because I have to say, right about now, I feel pretty full up.

I can’t think of a better way to articulate it than to say that: Full.Up.

It could be me, I don’t know, but maybe it is not just me. Maybe all this stupid fucking ridiculous misinterpreted, misinformed, ignorant, end of the world crap that people are swilling like bad beer at a frat party is really about a huge collective sadness.

Here is a sampling of things that have made me sad:

  • Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree… I always cried when I watched that Christmas special – always about that tree. I can still recall the sadness just from the image (not mine) above. But you know what is sadder than that? You can now buy a replica of Chuck’s sad little tree at Walgreen’s. The one thing that little tree had was it’s identity and now even that is for sale for anywhere between US$10.48 and 31.89.
  • This excerpt from journalist Jeff Stoecker, of NBC Connecticut, assigned to cover Dawn Hochsprung’s memorial:

    We were standing in front of the funeral home and groups of people, dressed in black, showed up. Then more came. And more. And more. By my count, it was close to nearly 250-300 people not going into the funeral home, but walking right past it… on their way to the legally designated 300 feet away where protesters would have to stay from the site of the calling hours (CT law). They were a human shield for the family and mourners. They would make sure that those hurting would never have to see the hurtful signs, hear the hurtful words from these people who aren’t from here and, sometimes it seems, aren’t capable of humanity. I met two guys from Upstate New York. They were burly guys. When I asked one of them – his name is Dave – why they came, he was overwhelmed with emotion. He told me this was his way of paying his respects to Dawn Hochsprung. He didn’t know her, but he knew what she stood for and why we all lost something special when we lost her, lost six dedicated and loving educators, and 20 beautiful smiling children with lives to be lived and dreams to be fulfilled. He even brought wood, a staple gun, and sheets (in one of the school’s colors – green. Yeah – he thought that through too) to use as shields to hide the protesters’ “God Hates _____” signs. He had a can of spray paint ready to paint “God loves Dawn” and “God Loves Sandy Hook” on those sheets to counter the hateful with the truth. He was joined by teens that didn’t look old enough to drive, men and women who looked like accountants, and those who rode their noisy Harleys thought the center of town. Never has the rumble of motorcycles felt more reassuring than today. The protesters didn’t show. It didn’t matter. If they had, few of us would have known about it. There were a few hundred people making sure of that.

  • Watching the temperatures fall in the City and seeing so many people without a place to stay as I hurried into Bart at Civic Center yesterday. With their pets, their collected belongings, their unique personas. And so many of them, near the holiday season with no home to hurry to. Gone was the urgency I am so often faced with as requests for help are called out – now it seems a more humble, perhaps just sad, entreaty.
  • This photo.
  • Finding out that someone I used to work with and inspired no end of drama has in a month’s time been moved to a terminal cancer ward and unexpectedly lost his first-born son halfway around the world.
  • Realizing that since I have come home, I have lost some one in each year.
  • Seeing the most heartbreaking photo of a friend as she bid a sudden farewell far too soon to a very special cow kitty.
  • This song. Completely serious. And I made you look.

This is just in the last few days. And clearly circumvents some of the most obvious sadnesses.

So maybe it is good that this day shall be short and bring on the longer days in the next bit. I have on e more day of work that promises to be hectic – not necessarily in the delightful way – and then I will travel to be with some very special people in my life. I will try to remember that it is okay to be sad (or maybe even be the crazy crying lady on Bart who people move away from…) and in spite of the sadness there are other things to remember:

  • An email like this that arrived out of the blue:

    just wanted to stop by and thank you for making that home stretch of high school bearable. Without you and Matt, who knows where I would have ended up. Not gonna get too sappy here but you guys did change my life and I appreciate you both for that. I hope all is well with you.

  • Sweetly awkward visits from last year’s students as they flock home with tales to tell of their first collegiate semesters.
  • A cheerful holiday toast with a compadre who can really feel the pain of trying to make it to break rather than just break.
  • Furry, bossy, incorrigible pets.
  • Christmas cards from forever friends.
  • Finding the perfect gift.

I suppose it is true that you cannot have happiness without some element of sadness, if for no other reason than comparative value. Maybe being sad isn’t so bad. I am interested to see how people behave surrounding their long-awaited apocalypse, which has, at this point, moved through two time zones in the US with nary a peep. I just hope it will be funny and not plain sad.

Happy Merry Everything. Be kind. See you on the other side.

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