I’m in Goa, India again. It’s early morning (before 9am), the sun is wide awake and I’ve come back from a long walk down the beach. Early mornings here pull the biggest crowd of spiritual seekers, roaming dogs and running bulls (seriously). Apart from the few exercise junkies, it mostly feels like the air is held afloat in contemplation and prayer in the mornings, mine included, as those who walk and meditate and headstand and chant and breath deep, sling our questions and attachments and bare asses (not mine ) into the quieter space that morning provides.
There are times when I’m certain the message gets heard.
And other times I think God is just having fun.
As I write this, I’m sitting on a rickety plastic chair. It’s one of those backyard barbeque chairs that is meant to mimic a large, wicker armchair. Ironically though, it feels as if it will topple right from under me if I get too comfortable, which, if I want to get metaphorical, is a perfect metaphor for this part of the world. You can’t get too comfortable in India, it demands your attention.
The plastic table that my laptop is resting on is part of this fragile plastic set but, unlike the faded chairs; anemic from a few months baking in a hot sun, it’s protected in a ubiquitous red checkered table cloth. I’m not sure of the last time it was laundered. The table isn’t any sturdier than the chair.
I’m sitting in the restaurant of my beach huts, aptly named The Laughing Buddha. There are indeed many images of Buddha laughing and the place has a casual and happy vibe. Except when it comes to their Wi-Fi policy; it’s very strict. It gets turned off every night when they close the restaurant and they change the password each day, sometimes multiple times a day. Anything to distract people lingering…and this is a place to linger. In fact I keep running into the same people who, only the day before, were supposed to be traveling to another part of the country but they can’t seem to leave this restaurant, they told me. I can see why.
The experience of time is different in India. Different to the ways I’ve been other parts of the world; for better or worse. After three seasons here in Goa, I’ve learnt to disregard all of the ways I’ve learnt to measure time, and experience. In the west if I want to meet up with someone, a friend, it’s very strategic and organized. Here, I just have to think of someone hard enough and they show up. Every. Time. It’s the same with wonderful experiences; I don’t have to push for them or arrange to be places, it all just happens.
So, I never push too hard for anything to happen on time but, I’ve been practicing for this kind of scheduling my whole life!
The yoga and writing retreat finished three days ago. It was a smaller group this year which, initially, felt disappointing. I won’t lie, coming from eleven people last year, I felt a pang of failure that I had to manage but then, like all events in life – it made sense. It really is amazing how well designed our lives are when we don’t put up a big, egoistic, emotional battle against it.
This year, the group was a lot more diverse; in age, experience and culture and, unlike last year, I didn’t have the foundation of deep friendships. Last year’s group had three of my dear friends and a student from my home studio (www.syjyoga.com). This year I had two students, who are familiar and are becoming good friends, but we don’t have a long history. So, I suppose, I felt more alone with this retreat. But, I had had the experience of last year so, just like I said – it was designed perfectly.
I liked the content of this year too – it felt more fleshed out and dense. It helped that I had enriched confidence going into this year’s retreat; I was clearer about what I wanted it to be. The first time is always the hardest so I was able to build on last year and the next one will grow even better.
It always feels a bit strange writing about my yoga and writing retreat as the organizer, rather than the participant. I have to be honest – in an ironic twist – that I have a hard time knowing what to write. I’m very focused on the participants and I keep a keen eye on their experience daily. It’s not difficult to know what kind of experience someone is having if you pay close attention but it’s not easy either. Even an overly expressive person will be having private thoughts and inner reflections. I design the retreat so that there is a good chunk of personal time, intended to use for individual and unique experiences, so we’re not together for a good chunk of the day.
I love our morning sessions but I admit that I enjoy the afternoon sessions the most because of this time everyone has had to gather story. Chance encounters, funny sightings, missed opportunities, surprise opportunities, private time to muse and reflect; it all shows up at the table in the afternoon. And I love it. The retreat that I offer is good, but it will be because of these experiences that the retreat will be rich. Good story comes from living your life, not following someone else’s.
I have a hard time getting any writing done during the retreat, and it’s not for lack of time. I just can’t seem to conjure up the words that I want. Before the retreat has even started I’ve already spent a great deal of time writing the curriculum, or doing my own work and testing the exercises. There is a 26 page booklet that I have written and have to revise and correct. Then the logistics of contracts and accommodations and communication about the things I want people to know about traveling to India.
So, I’m not hard on myself that I don’t have much to write during the week, I open up the space for everyone else’s work. And boy, did that space get filled with words and imagination that went deep and funny and absurd.
My gratitude for the people who show up on this retreat is solid. It’s unmoving. Even before I’ve met anyone, I’m thankful. I’m always amazed at people who show up for these kinds of experiences; an entire week with a teacher you don’t know, with people you don’t know, in a country you’ve never been to. I’m not brave in that way. I’m brave in other ways, but my courage has a more solitary quality to it. In fact, I’ve never attended a retreat – and that’s been on purpose.
When I decided to create this retreat I made a conscious choice not to go on anyone else’s, or spend too much time in other people’s work. I didn’t want to be influenced in a way that wasn’t going to feel inauthentic. But, that’s the way I tend to do things; I jump in without spending too much time thinking about it. Which isn’t to say I don’t plan or prepare. And, truth is, I use – and credit – all the teachers I have either had the pleasure of working with or whose work I follow.
But, to be honest, I’m not sitting here thinking a whole lot about my retreat. Like I said, my gratitude is solid. I sit in that.
I’m thinking about sitting here in Goa, India on an unstable outdoor setting on the beach. The sun is shining, the waves are ferocious in their race to the shore and free spirited people are talking travel stories, smoking joints or cigarettes and waiting on their morning coffee, or chai.
I’m in India for the third time. So much has changed since that first trip to India. I turned a new corner when I said yes to that invitation three years ago and that yes gave me the courage to say yes more often. This isn’t a new story; girl has existential crisis in her mid-thirties and goes to India to find herself and her life changes forever. Yeah, I’m a cliché – but a more than happy and satisfied one. I’m a cliché living a life designed by her cliché self. Some people called that first trip my ‘Eat, pray, love’ journey – I prefer to call it the Joseph Campbell journey: female hero’s journey. For me, it is best summed up by Joseph Campbell when he said “we must be willing to let go the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us.”
I’m sitting here thinking about everything that’s happened, and the decisions I’ve made to be here as part of my life and career now. Some people are quick to tell me I’m ‘living the dream’ – what dream? I want to ask…yes, this is exactly how I want to be living my life but I don’t want to give the illusion that this ‘dream’ life I am living is without challenges or sacrifices. It’s not all Instagram filters and soft focus happiness. I make decisions that some people aren’t prepared to make. I don’t have streams of income flowing my way, just yet. I stay in $8 night bamboo huts with no hot water and horrible florescent lighting. I travel by local buses and trains to get anywhere or zip around on a little scooter I’ve rented for $4 a day. This type of living, or traveling, isn’t for everyone but it feels good to me. And it’s a serious way of life for most people here.
When I am not traveling, and I’m at home, I live on the kindness of my friends and community; low rent temporary housing or spare bedrooms, friends beat up and unused 20 year old cars that are sitting idly. When my friends are doing a goodwill run, I run over to their wardrobes for first pickings. It’s not that I’m tight with money, it’s that I’m putting all my money into my business and my practical life; travel to find artisans, investment in inventory, no refund retreat deposits, materials, courses, market rents, transport, food, phone, gas etc.
Don’t fool yourself that someone else is living a stress free dream life, that’s just not happening unless that someone was born into bundles of easily accessed wealth but even then, their stress will just have a different quality. Either that or their not at all in touch with what’s happening in the world around them.
But, I’m not thinking about my stresses while sitting here.
No, I’m thinking about this journey I am on. The one we’re all on in our own unique way. This silly, funny, surprising and heartbreaking thing we call life and all the different and individual ways we live it. I keep returning to that quote Benjamin Smythe said in an interview I did with him a few years back. After years of standing on a street corner with a sign that says “you’re perfect” I asked him if there was anything specific he understood about life; had he had any revelations? And he said that the only thing he could say to be true was that we were all moving.
We’re moving. You’re moving. I’m moving. The people on my retreat are moving. The world is moving. After all the many years of meditation and watching the world go by and being a renegade against personal oppression, that’s the only thing he understood about life and I thought; that’s genius! Yes, we’re all moving and we’re all going in different directions but with the same goal; to find our happiness, to find our place and our people and our satisfaction when we wake in the morning and go to bed at night.
I don’t know where that place is for you but for me, it’s right here at the moment. Sitting on a plastic faded chair about to buckle from under me, with sand and dirt in my feet, a cold shower waiting for me (if I choose to have one), wafts of weed and tobacco filling the air along with incense, spicy Indian foods and an occasional foreign smell that I’ll choose to pretend doesn’t exist.
In an hour or so, I’ll hop on my scooter and drive 30 minutes to another town where I’ll meet a young guy next to the Ganesh temple and he’ll take me to his apartment where his sister, his wife and his father live and I will rummage through mountains of fabrics and pick ones that he will then make into the new summer collection for Love Nomadic. His sister, or wife, will lay a little cup of chai next to me as I sit on the floor and manage my indecision about which colors to choose.
In between choosing colors, he will ask questions about my family. He might show me another picture of his newly born nephew or I’ll ask more questions about his sister’s engagement. After an hour, I’ll jump on my bike to make the journey back.
On my ride home I’ll pass cows and overcrowded buses with arms and legs and happy, or sad faces, hanging out and I’ll marvel at women balancing product on their heads. I’ll zip past coconut stands and dodge cow dung and pot holes. My shawl will dance wildly in the wake of my moving scooter and I’ll have moments of feeling so free and alive that I’ll smile massively, which will cause the people on the side of the road to shout out and wave and smile back. I’ll think of my father warning me about the dangers of riding without a helmet and I’ll stay alert to the vulnerability of my freedom, and the responsibility I have to it. I’ll slow down.
The scene around me will unfold; all at once and moment by moment.
I’ll think of Sarah and Bettina and Anne and Elizabeth and Amber and Erin; the women on this year’s retreat, and I’ll hope that they are feeling alive and happy. I’ll think back to Jacqueline and Rob and their funny, wild ways of laughing and telling stories. I’ll think of Jean and Marianne and Aubrey and Shona and Leigh and Jessica (who is leading her first India retreat next month), and the group laughter around the dinner table. I’ll think of Jai and wish that he had been staying at the Mandala this year because his presence was such a grounding and easy energy. I’ll think of the beauty and the silliness we all shared on that first retreat and the fun on this most recent one and then I’ll think to next year, and how I want to create it all again and make it even more beautiful.
Or maybe I won’t think of any of that, maybe that’s just what I’m thinking of now.
But I’ll keep riding on this windy, sometimes straight and pot holed, road home.
And the only thing I’ll know to be true is that I’ll be moving.
Yes, I think I’ll just keep moving in this life. But for now, I think I’ll sit for a little while longer.