Five years ago on this day, I woke up on the bottom bunk inside a dormitory made for 20.

I had gone to bed around 11 the night before, after showering. There is a girl in the program, M, who’s a “star newbie” like me. She was so upset and broke down in the bathroom. Another girl, a volunteer at Kripalu, stood there on the tiles, barefoot, comforting M, explaining that this is a safe zone, that it’s OK to cry here. I tried to help M too, but in fact I am also petrified. One month.

Everyone’s personal alarm clocks broke the silence of the early morning, going off at 5:30, 5:32, 5:40. Morning sadhana starts in the pre-dawn dark, with hip openers, spinal twists. So easy and so refreshing. When we emerge from savasana the sun is dawning and filling Shadowbrook with a natural light. We Om three times, and that was exhilarating.

***

Breakfast is eaten in silence, just classical music playing softly, and cling-clang of the silverware and dishes. I eat millet cereal with walnuts, raisins, rice milk. Green tea, fake coffee, brown rice, a hard-boiled egg. No one to chit-chat with; just time to collect my thoughts. I’m not quite at home yet, but they’re making it easy.

***

After eating, I see the outside for the first time since arriving yesterday afternoon. Cold, clear, clouds swirling over the mountains. Falls colors everywhere. I smile.

The second I open that glass door and feel that air on my face, see those clouds, I smile. It’s OK to smile here. Smile, cry, hug…it’s all welcome.

Our first morning session. In my journal, (Author’s Note: after a now-forgotten prompt) I write:

Connection. Guidance. Wholeness. Clarity. Real self. No false self. Clear. Wisdom. Outreach. Compassion. For myself and others. No cobwebs of embarrassment, shame, guilt. Just clear me.

We dance to warm up. We do the Shiva dance, shake our butts. There is noise. Sound. Smiling!

***

Lunch is coconut milk and yam soup, stir fry, brown rice, sesame ginger tofu. So filling, hearty, made with love. I dunk my instant Folgers bag in a cup of hot water.

***

Outside, it is cold. Very cold. The rain that falls feels almost like sleet. But the colors! It’s a painting. The whole mountain to our right is a painting of orange and yellow. It’s so still. The wind makes the canopy above me flap. The little birds gather on the wrought-iron trellis.

Being comfortable is essential, encouraged here. Get a blanket. Or two. Sit on a blanket. Wrap a blanket around you. Wiggle. Squirm. Stretch. Shift your legs. Get up and shake it out.

***

(Author’s note. Intense post-meditation writing follows.) Afternoon sadhana. Each time we chant Om or bow to each other and say Jai Bhagwan, it’s more spiritual, deeper, profound. I am on the edge of bawling right now, the effect of a fiery, vigorous, Stage 3-infused sadhana followed by a lengthy, warm, deep savasana. I lay there with a cushion under my knees, a blanket draped over my entire body, and I felt take care of, like I was in a hospital. This is a hospital. Soul doctors. Doctors of soul.

I envision so many people during meditation, various poses and dances and faces and our entire group moving in and out of postures. I saw this group as One, this tribe they speak of. I didn’t see abilities or personalities, just a massive collection of power, all of us together as One. It was beautiful, a once-scrambled jigsaw puzzle finally complete and together, interlocked. Side by side. No longer individual pieces, just a beautiful creation–a flower, Big Ben, Mickey Mouse, whatever. We were finally One. No pieces missing.

***

Dinner is lentil soup, vegetarian lasagna, butternut squash, green beans, cauliflower, garlic bread. I sit with M and S. We talk about mountains and children’s and senior yoga.

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