2019 was incredible and also awful, it went by at record breaking pace and also at times the clock barely moved as I begged for it to hurry up already. It was full of struggle and longing but also opportunity and excitement. Every once in awhile I slipped into the belief that things are not connected, that everything is just chaos and completely unpredictable and unrelated. Maybe its less of an active belief and just a subtle forgetfulness of all the times I witnessed the sacred weaving that is silently taking place just under our radar. 2019 started out big and then the rest was almost like falling asleep to myself. Thankfully, this week I was shaken awake and reminded of the lessons I learned early this year on a trip to the other side of the world to practice yoga.
I remember telling people I wanted to go study in India, their faces would look puzzled, “India?!”, they’d say almost concerned about my sanity. There was a deep pull within me to travel across the world to yoga’s birth place. It was almost magnetic. A laundry list of reasons it wouldn’t work was always on my mind and I kept pushing the dream away and shaking off the idea that it would happen anytime soon. I didn’t have enough money, I couldn’t possibly take the time off work, and I surely shouldn’t leave my husband here alone. Then suddenly the doors started opening, the money showed up, my job was willing to give me the time off, and my husband was beyond supportive. I was already accompanied by a dear friend and her daughter but then my "yoga mama", Beth, took the leap and decided to come with me as well. The tickets were bought, our spots in the yoga school secured and my dad even showed up for Christmas with a sturdy travel backpack that someone had given to him for free. I’m learning that it is better to just listen when the Universe more or less shoves you down a path.
I remember after 30 hours of traveling, 4 layovers, and 1 two hour taxi ride later, we arrived. Tired, dirty and a bit delirious we wobbled out of the car onto a dirt road and then a small stone step path along a row of huts by the beach which held our beds for the night. I settled up with the hotel owner, put our belongings into our room and then wandered farther along the path to the beach. The sky was hazy and the shore stretched far into the distance, the sand golden like a desert. A cow groaned and slowly walked past me as I watched it shift its weight laboriously from one side to the other. This was a place that I could have never imagined and an adventure I certainly didn’t know at the time would change me forever.
Maybe it was the relief of finally arriving, maybe it was the sound of the water, or the warmth of the sun but a sense of peace washed over me that day. It was like I had allowed myself to line up with my purpose, to listen to what my soul was desperately begging me to do and I followed the bread crumbs all the way to India.
Everyday I woke before the sun, climbed up 160 stone steps to the shala where I sat in silent meditation and listened to the roosters and the ocean waves while the sun rose over the smog. It was uncomfortable at first, my legs would go numb, my hips ache, and then within days almost without even noticing, I was sitting longer and dropping into meditation with more ease. I didn’t realize it then, but that sacred silence was slowly healing me from the inside out. Maybe it was a much needed break from the constant hustle of western life, maybe it was just interesting and completely different from my normal day to day, or maybe it gave my mind and body enough dedicated space to truly wade through my emotions after spending the last 4.5 years healing trauma.
All I know is that I desperately needed it. I needed the hazy sunshine, the red dirt under my feet, the simplicity of life and the goodness of strangers who became fast friends. I needed the food, hot soup on hot days after a daily sweaty practice, the cold bottles of bubbly water from the shop outside the school walls for only 35 cents, the salt from the Indian Ocean stuck to my skin, and the footprints of stray dogs on my mat. I needed to remember how to play, to trust my hands enough to stand on them, to trust my heart enough to let it float above my head in a backbend, and to choose laughter first when I fell. I needed every single moment. Perhaps my soul had been secretly praying for each of them and then like little miracles they arrived, delivered to me as gifts from the divine. Joy, welling up and streaming down my cheeks.
So how is it that over the rest of 2019 I managed to fall asleep and forget the complete connectedness of all things? How did I get so wrapped up and stressed and push myself to the end of the year like it was a finish line? There were so many times when I lost hope in the divine goodness I saw so clearly months before. When my friend was diagnosed with bi-polar 2 after being treated for chronic depression for nearly 10 years with no success, he confided in me and wondered if he was better off dead. I felt the fear of loss rise up like I was wading into a deep cold water. I watched my husband work so hard month after month to prove himself in the culinary world that his chronic stress caused him to lose so much weight I could see all his ribs. I worked harder to take care of him. I wrapped my arms around a friend while she weathered through a panic attack the week after her brother committed suicide and I felt my own grief burn deep in my chest again as I watched her navigate the darkness of traumatic loss. My heart broke for the people I love over and over again and I put my ideas about the universe and the divine on mute… at least while I figured out how to carry it all.
Time passed and before I knew it I was planning my goals for 2020. I wrote down all my accomplishments from the past 12 months and what I wanted to conquer over the next, naturally setting the bar high. Then suddenly, I was reminded of the lessons I learned way back in January. Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat Pray Love and Big Magic, is in India right now for a women’s festival known as Utsava Maa. She arrived earlier this week and with a big smile, she posted a dimly lit video to Instagram from the darkness of her room in the ashram she is living in and she unknowingly shook me from my sleep.
“Hey everyone, it’s the middle of the night in India and I can’t sleep because I have massive jet lag so I just thought this would be a really good moment to tell you something important. You don’t have to have a new year’s resolution. And this new year doesn’t have to have even more pressure and anxiety than normal because it’s a new decade. You don’t have to have a new decade resolution. You are not required to justify your existence on Earth through constant improvement. You are not a Fortune 500 company, you don’t have to show increasing profits. You don’t have to earn your right to be here by putting yourself to higher and higher standards. You just get to be here. You belong here. You are loved on Earth and January 1st can be a day like any other where you can just sleep in and maybe do a little bit more of nothing.”
Do a little bit more of nothing… her voice echoed in my head and my heart.
Do nothing, I felt the flakes of yellow paint on the concrete floors of the hilltop shala beneath me.
Do nothing, I heard the roosters crow in tandem tracing a line along the coast.
Do nothing, I heard Sudhir chanting, Om Namah Shivaya.
Do nothing, the ocean waves crashed in the distance.
Do nothing, Do nothing, Do nothing....
You belong here. You are loved. You don’t need to do anything to prove your place. You don’t need to solve or fix the problems in this world, you only need to sit quietly with them. You don’t need to become more, because you have always been enough.
You never notice yourself forgetting… but remembering can feel like a bolt of lighting. Just like that, exactly one year since my journey to India, I am reminded of the deep sense of peace and simple happiness I found there within the simple act of "doing a little bit more of nothing". As I write this the clocks in America are turning over a new year. Here is my wish for you....
May you encounter joy, not found around you, but remembered within you.
May you make time to do nothing and let silence quietly mend your heart.
May you choose to play often, explore nature and seek states of wonder.
May you always remember that you belong, and if you must work...
work toward loving yourself, exactly as you are.
Happy New Year!
Love love love,