In the morning, I begin a month-long yoga retreat and I'm not sure if this is a huge mistake and here's why...
Have you ever seen Parks and Rec?
I feel like what Ron Swanson from Parks and Rec would be like at a yoga retreat.
Ron Swanson is my spirit animal.
The thing is, I’m calling it a yoga/meditation retreat because that’s basically what it is, but I found it one night in the pits of despair while I was still living in Portland.
The real title is so much more embarrassing.
It’s called a month of “Healing and Awakening”.
Ron would definately roll his eyes at this.
It sounds so…. Pretentious?
But at the same time, I recognize that I'm in need of some healing and am spiritually-meyered in mud.
I'm 30, have left my stable, well-paid job, relationships, apartment, and recently dealt with losing my sister in a car accident and well, I'm kinda in need of a reboot.
When I tell people what I’m doing, I instantly blush and get exceedingly embarrassed.
Yet, here I am writing about it, because sometimes when I can’t talk about things, I write about them. It’s like I’m whispering them to the world and that makes it all okay.
Kind of like how Gollum whispers to himself about the precious.
But as Ron says:
So yeah, I'm whole-assing this yoga-retreat-awakening-healing experience.
Tomorrow, I’m going to a meditation and yoga retreat where I’ll spend four weeks in the same location, the same room, and the same bed.
A room all to myself. I think I even get my own bathroom.
This retreat should be a really good thing for me. And I’m saying should because I honestly don't know.
What do people even do at these things?
I'm guessing say new-agey stuff and hug one-another?
Do I have to be hugged?
And why, do I need a yoga meditation retreat?
But then, there’s that dark shadowy part of me that feels like if I were to let myself cry for more than just a few tears, I would cry for a week and not be able to stop.
That's the part of me that can’t deal with the hurt and loss that pile up over the years that never get sorted.
The part that has recollections of giving more eulogies than toasts.
That part tells me to go because I’m holding myself and my life back if I don’t.
The world does not need more sad, broken, people.
Of course, I realize none of these experiences are unique to me.
What is unique to me is that I’m really good at joking my way through things and not feeling the feelings.
In addition to Ron Swanson, I compare myself to Chris Farley at times.
He was great at making situations into jokes, but not great at dealing with his own demons.
I knew I was coming to this place as far back as August and yet, I couldn’t commit to booking it online. In fact, I booked my ticket to Thailand back in October, not knowing if there would be space for me.
I traveled 38 hours from Montana to Bangkok and then took trains, ferries, and more flights all the way to the island of Koh Phangan with the intention of staying for a month without making a reservation.
I just showed up.
Koh Phangan is the Thai island that is known for the crazy full moon parties on the beach. It attracts 20-something backpackers who typically burn themselves jumping the flaming jump rope and risk alcohol poisoning.
Sounds fun, right? It is.
It seemed like a legitimate place to go looking for things like peace and serenity.
A scooter ride to the northern part of the island and it feels like a totally different environment. There are dozens of yoga retreats, vegan restaurants and a lot of people in dreadlocks wearing natural fabrics.
I like hippie villages. There is usually a laid-back atmosphere where you can get good food and see lots of art. But I felt like a fish out of water.
I felt like I was too rough around the edges for all these soft-spoken people. My sense of humor was too dirty.
My sarcasm was too pronounced.
My deep sense of disdain and need to rebel against everything popular was too real.
I was reminded of walking down the street in a very affluent community in Portland one morning. A woman exited a nearby yoga studio wearing pastels and called to her children from the door, “Ascher, Beckett, please get in the car, we need to get to swim practice.”
My immediate thought in that moment was the quote from Happy Gilmore when Adam Sandler looks at a guy dressed in plaid pants and a polo for golf and he turns to Chubbs and says, “If I was dressed like that, I’d have to kick my own ass.”
Only I thought, “If those were my kids’s names I’d have to kick my own ass.”
Fuck. Why do I have to be like this?!
My dad has a saying, “You can’t beat out with a stick, that which is bred directly into the bone.”
Perhaps it is bred directly into my bones.
The point is, the same girl who once criticized those poor bougie children’s names was now at the central hub of where names like that are created.
I didn’t feel like I’d fit in with these people.
I brought cowboy boots with me for Christ’s sake!
Why isn’t there a month-long meditation and yoga retreat that one can do whilst completing a construction project?
Do logging camps ever offer such activities? Perhaps not.
I continued my brief walk around the campus feeling absolutely out-of-place. But at the same time, I positively knew I was going to do this.
It’s an odd conflict when you get to a place that you realize is extremely uncomfortable and yet you fully commit to spending a month with the discomfort without knowing why.
At the front desk the woman told me that since it was high season there was no longer availability for the retreat but possibly I could call that afternoon and see if anything had opened up.
I left and didn’t call that afternoon.
I figured it would all work out.
That night, I got an email the next day that they’d have me stay next door for the month.
This seemed wise for both them and me.
I’d have my own little place to go back to every night and text my friends dirty jokes away from the watchful eyes of the enlightened.
Like Gollum talking to himself in the bottom of a mine, the soft-spoken hippies could relax away from my boisterous influence in the evening hours.
I could retire to my lair.
This could work.
Six months ago I decided to do this. Now I’m here and fully committed.
The yoga retreat begins at dawn.
Does anyone else remember that old Randy Travis song, "Digging Up Bones?"
Because for my first week at the yoga retreat, that's all I could think of, I couldn't get it out of my head.
I think it's because that's what you do at a yoga retreat, you dig up all the old junk.
Like a sorority girl after 4 wine spritzers, you purge up everything unholy that has been tripping you up and making you act like a disaster.
The yoga retreat like being turned inside out emotionally and thrown in a washing machine. At least for me. I came in with the attitude “go big or go home."
So I have.
I’ve been going to the classes and giving it my all every chance I have to the point of exhaustion. And the surprising thing is, the exhaustion doesn’t necessarily come from a two-hour yoga class.
Although those are pretty punishing, even the one led by the beautiful and tranquil South African girl who has such an interesting accent. She seems so zen and then her classes are like being led for two-hours of boot-camp by a dominatrix.
But more often, it comes from the classes that deal with emotional topics. We do courses and exercises on all kinds of stuff with extremely woo-woo names that I would blush to write here. But they are effective.
Those classes leave me so exhausted I sometimes skip yoga to go back to my bungalow to faceplant on my bed.
Because you just are digging deeper and deeper and deeper and getting all the skeletons out of the closet and some of them need to be dragged up to the surface kicking and screaming.
The thing about a yoga retreat, is you do get all sorts.
Some are maybe a bit too far out there for me, like a guy I met the second week who had changed his name to ProGress and was so into manifesting his ideal life and questioning his relationship with his mother I was concerned he would levitate off his cushion and float away into the sky like a helium-filled balloon.
Others are even more cynical than me.
But making friends is easy, and it's a different sort of friendship than you make in everyday life.
In meditation, yoga, and the other classes, a lot of the focus is on opening yourself up. Because of this, there really isn't much room for small talk. Everyone is just out in the open with everything.
The dirt is all out in the open.
It's funny because in the corporate world, I'm the free spirit of the group. But in the yoga community, I'm the straight-laced, corporate person. It's all relative.
I walked in, nervous, eager, and hopeful. But what I was projecting was what a man would later describe to me as "confidently skeptical".
This may be my whole approach to life, now that I think about it.
But as the mornings began with 6:00 AM OSHO meditations and 7:00 AM Vipassana meditations, I got to get a little more familiar with what was going on in my head.
It went a little something like this, South Park clips, movie quotes, internet cat videos, cynicism, and some sincere attempts at meditation.
In the midst of all this spiritual searching and physical exercise, I have felt like I’ve grown and matured. I feel more free and happy. I feel like I’m less judgmental and more accepting than I was when I arrived.
True, there are a lot of man buns on this part of the island. None of the girls wear bras. I think I’m there are only two of us without tattoos and I’m pretty sure my tinted chapstick is the most makeup that anyone on this stretch of sand sees most days.
There’s just one exception…. One thing that I can’t seem to get past and it haunts me when a pair enters the room.
It’s men wearing leggings.
Now, to be fair, only a select few wear them. But the chosen ones that do have left marks on my psyche that will never be washed clean.
In the words of John Greene, “The marks humans leave are too often scars.”
My very first yoga class here two weeks ago, I quietly unrolled my mat in the back of the class. I like to be in the back. I can move freely without worrying my abnormally long legs are going to kick the person behind me, which they have done before in previous classes.
In this class, there happened to be a gentleman who walked in moments after me. He was hard not to notice since he was wearing exuberant tie-died leggings in a neon shade of green but with yellow and purple spirals to keep things interesting. I guessed him to be in his mid-sixties. He walked in with confidence and happily and positioned his mat directly in front of mine.
Now, for those of you who are not acquainted with tye-die leggings, let me tell you, they do not fit like traditional yoga pants. In order to tie-die a material, it must be a porous base material, such as cotton. Because of that, they do not have the stretch or elasticity of traditional yoga pants. In fact, getting the correct size becomes much more important or else you run the risk of the garment clinging in all the wrong places and sagging in all the wrong places.
It can be very graphic.
So, as I prepared for my first yoga class, I couldn’t ignore the bright green tie-died train wreck taking place before my eyes. The class started with cow and cat pose. In cow pose, you are down on all fours and arch your butt and high towards the ceiling as possible. It was during this pose that I first realized the man in front of me had no supportive layer between himself and his tie-dyed leggings. The beast was not tamed, so to speak.
Trying not to look, we then moved into cat pose which is, again, on all fours, only this time the back is arched like a hissing cat. We continued moving between cow and cat for an eternity, alternating with our breath. Back and forth, back and forth. I closed my eyes to keep from looking at the awkward, un-missible swinging motions taking place feet in front of me.
Gravity is, in fact, much crueler to men than women, particularly on the left.
“Look away!” I told myself. But my mind did not obey.
As the class continued, each downward dog became a grenade assault upon my eyes. I told myself not to look up. I looked to the side instead. But I didn’t know some of the moves and I needed to see the instructor. As the man in front of me raised one leg to come to three-legged dog, I said goodbye my innocence forever.
I still see him around… but I can’t look him in the eye.
I’ve seen too much.
So yes, I’ve grown and learned over the two weeks I have been here. But this tells me there is still much, much more work to do.
Maybe I’ll eventually find maturity. I may even one day stop calling weiners, weiners. I’ll look the real name in a medical dictionary and sound very serious when referring to men’s junk.
Maybe, but probably not.
Throughout all this, I’ve learned to watch my thoughts and feelings so much more closely. And by thoughts, I mean those thoughts that are buried just a little deeper beneath the “I’m so hungry I could eat a butterfly” thoughts and feelings.
Those types of thoughts are the surface of the ocean. But if I dive beneath the surface, there is so much going on! I’ve learned volumes the past week about what has been holding me back and why I do the things I do.
As an example, I was mercilessly bullied for a few years (I mean, weren't we all?).
There was a group of girls who were my friends that turned on me in middle school. I went from having a fun group of friends to feeling absolutely alone.
Now, I’m sure I wasn’t without fault either, but I can tell you I was the one singled out and ostracized for three, miserable years.
If there are any of you out there who haven’t suppressed all your middle school memories, you will recall that girls that age can be savage and relentless.
“Your art project looks like a retard did it.”
“Your new jeans make you look like a cow.”
“Is that coat from the thrift store?”
“Hey guys, I think Rachel is going bald.”
Now, if you would have asked me two weeks ago if this had any effect on me, I’d say, “Hell no, that was a long, long time ago. I have good friends now and besides, everyone is a little crazy in middle school.”
The crazy thing is, what I wouldn’t have realized two weeks ago is that I’ve allowed that experience to change how I talk to girls my own age. In fact, I avoid girls overall.
If I go to a class, I’ll sit by the boys. It’s safer there. If I hear a group of girls laughing, I still tense up because somewhere, deep down, I still feel like they are laughing at me. If there’s a girl alone, I’m 10x more comfortable talking to her than if she’s with a friend. Because if a friend is there I’m outnumbered.
I’m 30! This is crazy!
Let's get over this and move on.
There are literally hundreds of weird thoughts like that making me do things even much weirder.
I go under the waves for a little bit. Weighed down by the bad feelings of the situation and memories. I leave them behind.
Then I realize, some of the girls here actually want to be my friend. In fact, they have been trying to get me to hang out with them between classes and I just brush it off and do my own thing.
Now that’s just middle school, three years of my life. Imagine the thoughts and beliefs I’ve gained from the other 27 years.
It’s lucky any of us are functional.
So yesterday, I was out in the waves (literally, out in the ocean) and I realized, I have let some ideas that really suck shape my thoughts about myself. And it happened without me even knowing it. Those people in my life who have been hurtful and unknind have no place influencing my thoughts and feelings. In fact, they probably wouldn’t want that responsibility either.
Some of these people were probably even well-intentioned and I just interpreted the situation wrong.
And those people who have been flat-out unkind? They were probably doing things out of their own crazy ideas and past memories of being in dog fights or something.
Sometimes people are crazy. It doesn’t alter reality.
So, I’m changing the way I think on a level deep beneath the surface. Because holding on to these ideas is a dumb way to live.
I left a world of data, concrete and hard hats to land in a universe of feelings, nature and man buns. The only thing to do was to sit down Indian-style and take it all in.
Double down. Go big or go home. Whole-ass the whole thing.
And man, I whole-assed it.
And craziest of all? I expressed my feelings. And not just like, “my stomach hurts.” I expressed pain and sadness. I laughed and I cried. Sometimes both at the same time. Sometimes alone, sometimes in groups.
I danced to music with no beat.
During one of those classes where my yoga comrades and I were dancing to beatless music, we were all instructed to close our eyes.
So there we were, just dancing to flowy music with our eyes closed in the dark, like a bunch of weirdos, when my hand met someone else's hand and we started dancing together.
The touch was electric and at the same time felt like the most cool and calming person I had ever met.
When the music ended, I opened my eyes and met Karl.
It would take him until the next day to ask me to get a coffee with him.
And after coffee, we talked for the rest of the day.
A year-and-a-half later, we are still together, and he's still my most favorite person.
Although I entered feeling like the Ron Swanson of the yoga retreat, I left just feeling myself.
It was weird and it was wonderful.
Was it "awakening and healing"?
Yes. 100%. Absolutely.
I think it was truly healing and reminded me that life is about a lot more than I was giving it credit for.
I hope to do it all again sometime.