Five years ago on this day, we begin our day of silence, the Noble Retreat. So far, nothing really seems different. Everyone’s too tired to talk in the morning, and breakfast is already silent. However, now that I’m sitting here at breakfast, although everything is the same and nothing has changed, I am more aware of the silence. Maybe it’s the sunlight trying to peak through the clouds. Maybe it’s because Grace just led a very silent-based awareness class, but everything feels illuminated right now. Colors are more vibrant, the small sounds of clinking spoons, water gurgling, clunking bowls, whispers, and the music playing softly from the stereo are extremely titillating, arousing. Especially the music. “Amazing Grace” was just playing; now it’s a beautiful chant. The few sounds around me buoy me, lift my heart. Trying to find the stillness, the silence among noise is a challenge, but a gentle one.
I’m not sure whether to look super-serious as I do this silent endeavor or be happy and smile. I feel like smiling could inadvertently engage conversation, but just because I’m silent doesn’t mean I can’t communicate. I speak through my body; perhaps that affirmation will be strengthened today.
Grace’s sadhana was delicious as she helped us explore the marriage of movement and breath, since our breath is our only speaking friend today. A fun experiment was asking the class to do either sun breaths or bhastrika–but once you started, you had to stay in your chosen breath, trying to tune out the quick or slow breaths around you. It was definitely a challenge doing the slow and deliberate sun breaths as others noisily did bhastrika. Even vice versa was hard. There was a certain softness in the room I wanted to capture during my loud bhastrika.
After class, we are asked to journal on the following question: What does yoga mean to me now?
Yoga is breaking the barriers between mind, body, and spirit, not treating them as separate entities but seeing and living them as One. Yoga is acknowledging the Oneness in the world around me–I am not separate from these beings around me; they are all part of me, as I am part of them. Yoga is touching your true Self, touching it, observing it, playing with it, doing all these things before you embrace the Self. Finding your essence, your core, finding out that you–no, I–speak through movement. That is me, finding grace. Finding the light and the shadow and embracing them–honoring them, working your way through the light and darkness, breathing through the unknown, tip-toeing, jumping, leaping, into the wave, riding, riding, riding the wave.
Our student-teacher mantra is whole and strong, our Oms filled with a deep-rooted urge to make sound. We are permitted to chant Ganesha Sharanam again, loud, with instruments. It goes on forever, 15 minutes? So vibrant and delicious. I whirl and twirl to the chanting and drumming, the harmonium, the maracas, the sticks. I bow to the remover of all obstacles, I dance to the remover of all obstacles. I lose control, I gain control, a delicate dance of will and surrender. As the music slows, I fall to the floor on my knees and relish the stillness in my body. For once, I appreciate non-movement, inquiry, breath.
That is when we go outside for a silent nature walk; the natural stillness of the Berkshires such a maddening polarity of the noise we had just created.
Each crunch of a single leaf sounds like a tree falling in the forest. Standing on rocks sounds like icy snow under my shoes. Birds, cars, airplanes are the music. Engines humming. People sighing. People praying. People walking. People crying. Stuffy noses. Twigs snapping. My pen clicking. The gong ringing. A small waterfall’s trickle, reminding me of Tibet, the mountains, the waterfalls. The non-stop trickling of water. Bright moss, florescent green, yellow leaves among brown and bare. J.’s blue-green jacket near yellow leaves.
Pinecones and red berries. Small, miniature pinecones on the ground of the woods–makes me think of the holidays, home, warmth, love, family. No gifts, just warmth. Music, warmth, love, pinecones, and red berries.
We come inside from the late fall’s chill and do a blood-pumping vinyasa practice with Roger, earthy, primal root music vibrating off the walls and floor. I feel the flow before we even start, Mother Earth aching to erupt from my root, my bones. Ooooh, I want to mooooove. I feel the prana before Roger leads, and the incredible heat within only gets more intense as he goes along. Sun salutation after sun salutation, uttansana, utkatasana, burning, flowing, fire and water. My monkey mind slowly starts to disappear as prana resides in my circuits. We go into a side plank with the top leg up (something that’s always challenged me), but it comes naturally today: no mind, no will, just prana. Everything is illuminated; I feel like I’m looking at a Magic Eye book, my eyes drawn into the minute squares on my blue yoga mat. The throbbing, pulsing music becomes ingrained in my body. And then, meditation in motion:
Downdog splits, so high and wide, a camel so deep I thought my head was going to drop to the floor. I allowed my heart to reach up, my head to drop, for will to let the f*** go. A lunging Warrior that danced, a backbend that I’ve never done before, my spine fluid, my spine prana. A snake with no inhibitions. Hanumasana, rolling over into upavistha konasana, all flow, so deep. Up into that leg-on-the-upper-arm balance, no holding back, no deep preparation, just down and up. So much warmth, but not a hot “Oh my god, I just ran a mile” hot, but a deep, internal flame hot, the sweat that emerged from my pores was energy, passion, not overheated sweat. Gold. I felt illuminated.
We then move into pranayama, a difficult transition. I still had prana shaking in my ribs. I sat on my mat, dazed and woozy with santosha, as Roger handed out cushions. Kapalabhati, nadi shodhana, dirgha. The heat subsided. The energy dispersed from my center all over my body. No more kundalini, no more shakti. Contentment. Peace. We sat in meditation and my third eye pulsed, shapes swam in my third eye until all the gold and black movement cleared and made way for an expanse of dark blue, like a curtain opening to a beautiful stage of a royal blue backdrop. The stage was empty, and it was time to watch the show. I felt like I had entered another dimension until Rudy awakened us.
Afterwards, we are allowed to make noise again. We Om in a chorus, so loud and present. We do a round of the Birthday Song for L., and I am taken aback at my own voice, how strong, confident, and melodic it is. I am there, man. I am speaking from my roots, I am present. Gradually I am letting go and returning to me. I am Jennifer. I am Jennifer.
The afternoon session with Devarshi stars off with, as always, music. We all enter and dance, this time it being more meaningful because we have been silent with our voices. It was a slow, mellow, soul-bearing melody, folksy, full of sways and spins. Devarshi danced along with us–he was definitely cool in my book. His talk about The Bhagavad Gita was profound and provocative, that life is a battle, the reason for fighting lies within ourselves, and that the only way to find god is just to look a little closer. Look! Look! Look! Experience everything fully, good or bad. See the world like a baby, like an alien. Be curious. Live in the inquiry.
In yoga, Devarshi says, the postures are just the chip (versus the dip, the deeper stuff). When something is fully experienced, no matter how bad/big, there is bliss. “‘Is that so (lofty)’ versus ‘Is.That.So’ (wow, here’s an experience).” Babies have no filters; they experience everything at the present, devour everything as it comes. What is happening now? Living in the inquiry, the mystery. Book. Bird. They fly with the bird, not just label it.
To emphasize that point, we are asked to go outside and explore our surroundings as if we are aliens landing on a new planet, to experience life as it is. So there we are, 65 of us crawling on the asphalt, picking at the grass, squinting curiously into the sun. I play with ivy and find a ladybug. I play with some pine needles as though I am a cat. Even feeling the movement of air around me becomes a different experience.
Jurian leads the afternoon sadhana, an intense class of emotional sweat and vigor. A bunch of hara pratapana and postures like Bird of Paradise, bakasana, and side crane– whew! I was totally into the class, loving the release. I found myself crying during a warrior/goddess kumbhaka pratapana, just because stuff needed to get out.
Tonight is our free night, but a lot of us end up back in Shadowbrook anyway for an open mic jam, starring S. and L. L. did back-up vocals, and random people popped in to listen or participate. L. sang “What a Night,” S. did “Black Horse and the Cherry Tree,” and then J. and I danced to “Building a Mystery.” A fun, spontaneous evening.
• G. does his own sh** during every sadhana, and that is annoying and disrespectful. I know Kripalu yoga is very open about exploring your body and listening to what movement you need, but he just goes off into LaLa Land all the time. I must stop setting up my mat next to his.
• My jaw doesn’t hurt so much anymore now that I’m talking again.