Five years ago (or so) on this day, Friday dawns and I am exhausted after only 3.5 hours of sleep. It’s off to 6:30 a.m. yoga–another round robin sadhana–but I feel pretty crappy. I have no energy, and my body shuts down at 7:40; I steadily fall asleep in a fetal position. Sleep is a great way to make the last sadhana ever more bearable, with less tears.

***

The doors to Shadowbrook are closed at 9, and we congregate outside before the ceremony. It is beautiful, sunny, perfect. People are dressed up again, this time even more glitzier than last night. I have nothing fancy or flowy to wear, so I wear black yoga pants, a maroon shirt, a silk scarf in my hair, and jewelry–Om jewelry–the symbol that dances in my head every time I close my eyes.

After being very secretive, Rudy finally opens the doors to Shadowbrook:

and there lies an aisle of candles, 62 votives lining the floor, an airport runway extending from the entrance to the stage.

Jurian, Helga, Roger, and Lila are there to greet us, with Megha and Rudy at the front, ringing bells. We enter solemnly, pick a spot to stand, and let the crying begin.

Our names are called out individually, first names only, and we go to the start of the runway. Jurian blesses my forehead with water, Roger sprinkles me with rice, Lila places flower petals on my head, and Helga blows bubbles. Then…The Walk. The longest walk of my life, more difficult than walking down the wedding aisle, because there are the EYES, 61 people not just looking at me but SEEING me, the windows of the soul all gazing in my direction.

I try to look in everyone’s eyes, my hands in anjali mudra, my head bowed. Tears flow freely on all sides. Music plays. The YamaMamas give each other the “Nadi Shodhana” gesture we created as our “gang sign.” I tell myself to Remember. Remember the way I stepped on the crushed rice and petals as I began my walk, the way Roger embraced me in a way I never knew he was capable, the way Helga tried unsuccessfully to blow a bubble in my direction. F.’s eyes first. H. B. J. D. J. Feeling so loved, so appreciated. Rudy at the front, his slow, deliberate application of the red sandalwood to my forehead, so thick, so loving.

The hug, embrace. So slow, slow motion, remembering. Megha. Smile. Certificate. Hug. I squeeze her arm.

The ceremony is long but never dull. Each person brings a new set of eyes. D. is overly dramatic and God Blesses us all. R. does her energy-grabbing mudras down the aisle, S. dances, A. cries, A. looks into each of our souls, J. takes everyone’s hands, J. crawls. Until I look at my certificate, I forget what this ceremony is all about. I simply felt loved.

With our eyes and foreheads red, we gather outside to take in the warmth. We chant Om three times, the sun emerging from behind the clouds only during our chorus. Inside, we dance. We do the Shiva dance, the eye contact/giving-your-heart dance to Om Namah Shivaya. A. leads a Universal Peace dance. The Garden of Grace, to which we all moan. We know this will make us cry yet again, and it does. Where am I needed? How can I support? During my upward dog pose, three people come to my support. I break down.

We gather in a circle, a group huddle. Tight, swaying, warm, close, hand on hand, hand on shoulder.

What qualities did you learn here?, they ask us. We call out our answers: Surrender. Peace. Community. Freedom. Love. Release. Joy. Happiness. Consciousness. Respect. The chorus of words swells. You can only have that which you give away, we are reminded. Love. Compassion. Respect. Devotion. R. is next to me, and his deep voice calls out “Freedom” over and over again. We know this is the end. There’s no pep talk about the Real World, just a very deep understanding that what we learned this month needs to reach beyond these walls. We are yoga teachers; it is our responsibility to extend out and above and beyond. Our circle slowly breaks apart, first dropping arms, then taking small steps backward. Separating. Expanding. Going away to our own place, to spread that love all around.

***

I am utterly, completely, madly exhausted by the time the ceremony ends at 11:30, but I still muster up the energy to get upstairs to DansKinetics with Megha. I feel depleted on so many levels. I don’t even know if I’ll be able to move. My eyes are swollen.

Drained.

But then Megha enters, and I instantly feel a jolt of power. She is a conduit of energy and somehow gets me moving. A few times I have to just stand there in awe, looking at the people around me, looking at Megha, who’s probably more exhausted than me, vigorously leading all kinds of crazy dance steps. So f***ing tired but so wanting to move. (Later, I tell Megha that I had no energy, felt drained, to which she replied, “Well, if that was you dancing with no energy I can’t imagine what you’re like with full energy!”)

We end with a dance prayer to Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel.” I got so into my movement that I forgot where I was. I felt all alone, like I was in the Main Hall by myself. I cried afterward, of course, ending the class in tears. Now I was really drained, on so many levels.

***

I go up to Healing Arts for my deep tissue massage at 2, during which I cry extensively. It is the first time in a while that I was permitted space to just relax and get professionally pampered. My therapist, Elizabeth, puts on the “Mother Divine” CD that is played in all our classes, and that just opens the dam. I just lie there and cry, tears rolling down my cheeks as she massages my scalp and rubs my neck. I feel like she is releasing all the memories I’ve stored from the past month, because all sorts of visions dance through my mind: everyone’s faces, those snapshot images I had earlier this month but now so vivid, REAL faces of the real people I met and fell in love with. I hear Megha’s voice, Rudy’s voice, the harmonium, chanting. I cry, I drift into yoga nidra, I fall into a different kind of Stage 3. Physically, I’ve had better deep tissue massages, but emotionally, this was the best I’ve ever had. Elizabeth knew I was fragile and not to get too deep. It could have gotten a lot worse!

I am so dazed and confused after those 90 minutes that I get lost on the way back to my room–lost!–after a full month of living here. Dorm 129. New people. New women surrounding me, strangers. The safe place that gave me such comfort now feels violated. Reverse culture shock. After a month of such a strict schedule and routine, I have no clue what to do or where to go. Where am I? I have a new nametag now, I’m Jennifer, here at Kripalu for an R+R. The badge doesn’t even say KYTA. I feel unspecial suddenly. I am just an average woman here for rest and relaxation. My last month of being an overworked, drained, spiritually fulfilled YTT student is now gone and forgotten. I walk outside, call Bryan, sob.

I head to to whirlpool next, which is desperately needed. I am alone, no “Roman bath” this time. The minute my naked body sinks into that nurturing, warm water, I break down again. I feel safe in the bubbly water, my womb, but terrified to step out again. It feels so very good, but I cry. Someone steps in briefly and turns off all the lights, and so I chant the student-teacher mantra in the dark, the yoga sutras chants. I swear I hear other voices with me. The water is so loud, but I feel like I can hear the harmonies, 61 other voices joining my one lonesome voice. I smile.

***

I see J. in the hall, nearly smiling my head off. Seeing a familiar face is so refreshing. We share sob stories. K. is still in 129, and I smile again. The last remaining sisters, the final crew of Kickasana geese. Their presence here alone is gratifying.

I overeat at dinner, because I am empty otherwise. I keep hearing voices in the dining hall that sound like my classmates’. At one point, I swear D. is sitting somewhere. But I look around and see only strangers.

Writing, gift shop, bed. I make a fort out of my bunk bed like K. did when she first arrived,

What a Kripalu dorm fort looks like.

cry a little, plug earplugs into my ears, and fall asleep very, very easily, 10 p.m. to 7 a.m.

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