When I arrived at Shoshoni, I immediately felt my blood pressure fall and my heart rate slow. I left my turned-off phone and all of my “valuables” in the car. Locked it. Walked away. It was the definition of tranquility. Perfectly quiet, cool, clean mountain air. Coming off a complicated few months of changing jobs, questioning my relationship and pretty much everything else in my life, I needed a reprieve. I needed to sit.in the shade. My shadow and the incessant pitter-patter of the footsteps of my mind needed to be quieted. They were driving me insane. I was driving me insane.
I am not someone who finds sitting in the throws of internal chaos easy. My natural reaction is to make a plan. To move. To take “control” of the situation.
Going to Shoshoni, an Ashram about an hour north of Boulder was part of this “plan.” Surely, after I practiced yoga and meditation twice a day for a week while camping in the blissful peace of the Rockies, I would have all of the answers I needed.
After setting up my tent in the beautiful pine forest, I noticed my heart rate already increasing, thinking “when was yoga?” “would I have enough time to set everything up and make class?” Not having my phone, I did have my watch. I noticed myself check-it obsessively. Then 4:00 rolled around. With yoga mat in hand, I walked out of the woods. Watch left in tent.
Our teacher opened up the class my sitting in silence for about five minutes. With only three other people there, it immediately shook me out of my stupid stupor of thoughts and time. She was not focused on starting the class at 4:00, she was focused on being there. When she spoke, she said frankly that she had started yoga a few years ago because she was focused “externally.” Focused on all the things she wanted to have and be. Surely then she would feel complete. She didn’t. Her transparency and honesty was as rejuvenating as the mountain air. I felt the same.
Over the course of the next few days, I dropped into the shade. No one had phones. Everyone came for different reasons, from different backgrounds. What little words were spoken were intentional, thoughtful, kind, honest. I did not speak for the first few days. I listened, observed and sat in the shade of my mind. There was no pretense or concern for who anyone was on the “outside.” Literally and metaphorically. Everyone breathed consistently, walked slowly and lived in the present.
A Tibetan leader, Kharma spoke to us before our evening meditation. He told us that when he meditates, he focuses on kindness and compassion. Kindness to one another and to ourselves. Compassion in our language and in our thoughts. To speak only words that make others feel good, that are productive and sincere. To cleanse our minds of the footsteps that haunt us. To rid ourselves of the ghosts that cling to our wounds and weaknesses. To profligate with love. To smile with our hearts and minds. To live like we knew that everything would be okay. He was humble, funny and the personification of enlightenment.
On day three, I woke up and my jaw wasn’t tight from clenching. Although my subconscious was stirring up some very creepy, stressful nightmares. I was purging ghosts in my sleep. Soaking in the present moment while awake. At 5:30 AM, I walked out of the woods again into the Fire Temple. Over the course of a few hours, I threw rice in the fire to physically cleanse myself of all the feelings and thoughts that did not serve me. Initially, I was skeptical of all of these morning rituals. This one proved me very wrong. I walked away on clouds. It all came up, out and away.
As I drove down the long dirt road away from Shoshoni on my last day, I couldn’t stop smiling. I was filled with pure gratitude and happiness that I hadn’t felt in a long time. I shed my skin. I knew that coming back to “normal” life and continuing to live lightly would take work. And it has. It is much easier to be super zen when you’re in the middle of the woods with other zen people and absolutely no.stress. The real test is applying it to everyday life. So far, it has not been perfect. I have regressed. I have had to catch myself not breathing. I have had to focus on going into the shade and quieting the footsteps of my mind. I have had to really focus on being present and taking note of things that now seem toxic. I still do not have the “answers” I thought I needed. Instead, I have the tools I didn’t know I needed for a plan that does not actually exist.