(In honor of the 5-year anniversary of my monthlong yoga teacher training at Kripalu, I am documenting the experience as it unfolded in my handwritten journal. Day 1 can be found here. Fun fact: I just realized today that somewhere along the way I must have messed up the dates, because the events below actually happened on November 16, and now everything is off by one day. HOWEVER! Now the actual days of the week match up, and my graduation will be on a Friday, as it was in real life.)
Five years (or so) ago on this day, it is the Final Full Day. I have no sentences, no complete phrases–just raw, intense emotion.
In Shadowbrook, we do a beautiful “dance” routine to a Cherokee version of “Amazing Grace,” a circular formation with gentle hand gestures and welcoming new partners. We cry, of course. Later, the recording crew comes into the room to record and film us again, this time chanting “Ganesha Sharanam.” The product is sweaty, exhilarating, exhausting, lively, energizing. There are more people standing than ever, instruments, twirls and whirls, stomping, clapping. E. and I hold hands and twirl each other around the dancing room, our faces standing still as the world unfurls madly behind us. It’s a perfect example of my practice teach, finding the stillness among the chaos. We are spinning wildly within a crowd of wild people, but I feel so still, frozen in time. At one point, H. grooves on a cowbell, and I tune into his rhythm, just me and the cowbell–no chanting, no clapping, no harmonium. I am able to look closely.
Someone finds a box of colorful silk scarves, and they erupt into the air like a theatrical volcano explosion. Everyone rushes to grab one, and we dance with our new toys. Mine is indigo, the crown chakra. I fan it around the space, leaping through the cushions, showering the seated chanters with my silken touch. I swirl around them, fanning A., who is off to the side playing a drum. When the music slows and eventually ends, I intuitively fold my indigo scarf into a little square and hold it tight in my hands, a single tear rolling down my cheek.
Megha cranks up “Bootylicious,” and we all rub out buttocks and form a “soul train” line, each taking turns in pairs, grooving among our friends. My brain goes on slo-mo, and I immerse myself in the activity, my eyes zeroing in on each person, each face, each smile, as it parades down the line. I look at each person singularly and feel a deep connection to everyone who wiggles, shakes, and glissades past me.
We start a chanting/sadhana/out-of-this-world experience, starting with “So Hum Shivo Hum,” my affirmation. The passion I hear at the front of the room, both Megha and Rudy chanting, is sweet and beautiful and enchanting. I literally roll in it, coming to my mat and spreading my limbs in sound. I sway, crawl, squirm on my mat, the tears and snot and pain and delight coming out everywhere. It is almost torturous, like someone is dying in front of me. I am dying in front of me. The chants change, Rudy and Megha singing almost a lullaby of sorts. A dirge, a prayer, a worship celebration, a funeral, a birthday…everything. My movement just rolls and stops and rolls and pauses. Why do I continue to move, in spite of the agony? BRFWA to its extent. Roger begins leading us through asana, and I try to follow him, but I end up first just sitting, then curling into a fetal position. Sobbing, breaking, dying. Someone comes up from behind me, brushes my hair back, and props a pillow under my head. To this day I have no idea who the witness was.
Savasana. What a wild ride that becomes. My eyes are filled with pools of tears, and I ever-so-slightly crack open my eyelids to have slits of light come through. The effect is something incredible, a swirling, glowing, lake of light–all in my head! It was so brilliant, so fluid and heavenly and golden that I thought maybe I had reached samadhi. I felt crazy. I felt like I was high on drugs. Glowing swirls of liquid light, in my eyes, in my brain. I saw several visions: a Buddha figure, then a vivid image of the Dalai Lama. A mental image of F. and L. standing by the ocean, looking out at the beach from the boardwalk. I got the sensation I was sinking into the ground as the ground rose under my heavy limbs. How many times have I lay in savasana, and this is the first time I get this wild sensation of simultaneous rising and falling, the soft earth greeting my back with a gentle nudge. I sink and the whole class sinks with me, my friends, all gently sliding into the ground, kind of like the wave vision I had weeks ago. At the end of meditation, we chant Om, and I envision our entire class in white clothing. As the sound swells, I so briefly and vividly feel like we’re back in the ashram, our gurus at the front. It’s very beautiful.
All of the above is labeled as “Completions” on our schedule. Before it had started, I asked Rudy what exactly “Completions” meant, to which he responded, “We’re going to be exploring some unearthly terrain.” Huh. Touché. I emerge from the experience in a complete daze, unable to make eye contact or speak.
We end with what Megha calls a stereophonic affirmation exercise, where one person sits in the “Hot Seat,” one person serves as the Witness, and the two other people whisper into the “chosen one’s” ears good things about them. It’s jarring and reassuring, so many words and concepts. My brain went on overload trying to process the affirmations I received from my third aditham group, C. and B., as K. watched. The one moment I recall from this exercise is when all I heard was mumblemumblemumble in each ear, and then the word “grace” came out of both C.’s and B.’s lips simultaneously. K. noticed it too, and B. got overly excited, exclaiming, “Oh wow!!! That’s your new name!! Grace! Jennifer Grace!!” [Author’s note: Coincidentally, my cousin’s first child, born only a few months ago, was named Jennifer Grace.]
During lunch I take a leisurely stroll outside, but it feels very lonely and sad. It’s extremely mild, but the effects of late fall are evident, with most vegetation browning or dead. The difference even in one week since our silent nature walk is huge. Almost no yellow anymore. Dead trees, fallen limbs, fallen trees scatter the road I walk along. It reminds me of the Elephant Graveyard from The Lion King, but with bare tree limbs instead of elephant bones.
But I witness it all–a fallen evergreen or spruce, maybe–looks like a rejected Christmas tree. I walk behind Kripalu, on the hillside visible from the dining hall. It’s my first time seeing the place from behind. There’s the Main Hall, Shadowbrook, Marketing and Development, the dining hall windows, so small-looking from here. I stand by the trickling waterfall and fall in love again with the soft sound of dripping water. I am thrilled to be outside, in Massachusetts, in November, hardly needing a coat and not wearing socks.
I come inside and make a deep tissue massage appointment for tomorrow morning.
Our Celebration party kicks off at 7:30 p.m.; everyone is dressed up (jeans, blouses, makeup, jewelry) or DRESSED UP (saris, flowing ensembles). There is awesome drumming, almost KDZ-like, that gets me energized (and keeps me dancing through the night, lured onto the floor by such earthy, deep sounds. I end up dancing till 11:15, even though I’m utterly exhausted).
There is a giant (real) chocolate cake, to which we sing the birthday song, replacing “our dear friend ____” with “our dear tribe Kickasana.”
Cookies from the Kripalu Cafe (like, the real cookies), dark chocolate Hershey’s Kisses, and hot cider. A talent show of music and poetry follows, some humorous, some serious.
A. leads a chant, L. sings the Awesome Song, G. reads poetry, a group sings together, D. belts out a stunning “Amazing Grace,” L. sings a teary song from Wicked–a cappella–that gets everyone crying, and M. shows a DVD from her Cirque du Soleil show, Quidam. M. and I perform our Stage 1-Stage 3 yoga dance, which we choreographed in about 15-20 minutes the night before.
It’s amazing how well it is received, with loud hoots and hollers. Megha pulls me aside and tells me that the performer persona in me needs to “play” some time. M. and I get so many compliments, so many people approach me and tell me that I am amazing, that my movement is beautiful–so many compliments that I feel awkward a bit. M. was just talking about this, how it’s nice to hear people praise what comes naturally to you. All I did was dance my heart out, do what I do when I hear music, and so many people were blown away. I had a difficult task of accepting praise with grace and not belittling my talents.
And now, without a doubt, I know I have to move more. Everything here has pointed me to dance, to movement, to standing on my own two feet and expressing myself through my body. Even Jurian comments about the wild movement, and I am flattered. I feel like I am being praised by a professional Rockette.
We present Om mandalas to our teachers, and so then we gather around all six of them and chant Om, a continuous loop.
Rudy looks intensely serious, and I wonder what goes on in his curious, quiet mind.
The event ends with us all in a circle, singing “We Are the World,” led by A. He sings his heart out in his thick Japanese accent, and we sway while holding candles.
Back in the dorm, people begin packing, except me. We are hyper from all the sugar at the party, we are all friends now. We talk like we’ve known each other for years. We compliment each other, ask each other if everything’s OK, joke about snoring, burping, pooping, and D.’s expanding closet of doom. Tomorrow night I will among a new set of strangers.
It is so late–so late–but after I shower, I head to the second floor and dance alone in the Main Chapel because the doors were open and the carpeted floor and vastness called my name. I am beyond tired, but I soak in the old carpet scent of the hall and find myself leaping and crying and anjali mudra-ing. I feel so at home, so peaceful, so hum Shivo hum. The wind is intensely wicked, and I swear a tornado is going to bust through this place. Being in the chapel during a whirlwind is pretty scary, and it’s probably been the scariest and most blessed moments of my time here. The lights are not on, but there is illumination from outside and I can see shadows from the trees dance like ghosts. The wind creeps in this silent chapel so intensely that it sounds like someone is snoring in the corner. I’m reminded of Egypt and the way people would sleep in the mosques. I roll around a bit on the floor, my eyes on that wood-paneled ceiling. I leap, I cry. I imagine myself with a headset on, leading a DansKinetics class. I wonder how many people have rolled around on this very floor in ecstatic movement. I stand in the chapel, awed at “Wow, here I am.” This “foreign” place with the giant Om symbol and vaulted ceiling, the place I only once knew from pictures in the catalog, here I am. I am here.
When my body says that I am done, I head to the second floor lobby to write. A security guard named Dave W. checks out my little nook across from the chapel, and suddenly we’re talking for 30 minutes about his dragon tattoos, the howling wind, the animals outside (bobcats, owls, deer, coyotes), campfires, tattoo bias, the safety of Kripalu, the nice people at Kripalu, the stars, the darkness, the silence, and how many people from the cities are frightened by Kripalu’s darkness and silence. He describes to me a thunderstorm that once passed over the grounds, the rolling, low clouds flickering with lightning. I am fascinated, hungry for more stories about this place, but so achingly tired. He comes back to tell me that I am welcome to write in the silent dining room because there are newer windows in there and it’s not so noisy.
But I am too tired to continue staying awake any longer, and I head back to the dorm around 2 a.m. for a nice 3.5 hours of sleep.