Wednesday, February 16, 2011

god bless e.l.o.

yogis in marin
i had a run in with a yoga cult last year. it wasn’t jim jones style, but it was icky. had i been a bit wiser and done an online search of this place including the additional term cult, i would have discovered that it was in fact regarded by some as cult-ish. cult-light. reduced calorie cult...thank goodness one black man and one white band helped me escape.

at lunch on the first day, as i stood in line for my lentils and brown rice, i could not help but smile. i mean, it was february. i was on a tropical island. it was 80 degrees and i was at an ashram which is basically yoga camp! it was going to be awesome. while my friends and family were toiling away in colder climates, i was reflecting on and deepening my practice. on white sandy beaches. for 30 days. so yeah, i was smiling. one of the yoga camp maintenance fellas, a tall handsome brother-man, stood behind me in line. he leaned over my shoulder and said in a beautiful melodic island patios, "dey gon' to wipe dat smile right off ya face gurl."
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whaaaat? no way, dude. this is yoga camp. on an island.
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"you'll see den," he said. "you'll see..."
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my new friend would sneak me yogi contraband: extra laundry tokens, chocolates to combat sleep deprivation, an extra piece of fruit in the afternoon, a kind word before silent meditation. my friend kept watch. and my friend was right. they were wiping the smile right off my face. yoga had always made me feel really good, but over the course of 8 days in this place, yoga was making me feel really. really. bad.

yoga tells us to live with loving detachment and compassion so when a legging-clad-yoga-bunny visiting from upstate new york cuts you off in line, you think for a minute that it’s your problem. your reaction to being cut off in line is a problem because you are being uncharitable. you are clearly too attached to your place in line. this yoga bunny has maybe even given you an opportunity to improve your karma. you should be grateful that she has cut you off in line.
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when it happens repeatedly, by multiple bunnies in the same line and multiple times in the same day, you think, "maybe i am an asshole." you think, "maybe the universe is really trying to teach me a lesson about lines and waiting and being detached and laughing at the absurdity of it all." and then you think, "maybe the people who need yoga vacations the most are basically full time professional poo heads who need to unwind, and that's why they need yoga. they are the kind of people who cut in line!" ...it’s a total head fuck.
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i did not leave yoga cult camp solely because i was cut off in line. routine requests to stay on after the 30 days for karma yoga (donating labor for room and board) with an organization that refers to itself as the true world order also gave me pause.
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i decided to leave shortly after i sat down to attend to nature's second call on the second night of a kirtan festival. just as i dropped trou, the gong rang.  it was time to assemble in the temple for an hour of silent meditation before the 2+ hours of chanting began. i started to cry. i was going to be penalized for being late and it just seemed so ridiculous. my kind of yoga doesn't make people cry when they need to go.
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my friend saw me preparing to leave the next day and offered to help transport me to a hotel. as he navigated his little yellow truck through the narrow island streets, he tried to chat and set me at ease. he said, "if white people want to come and get demselves brainwashed, den ok. but black people have to help black people...".
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i considered his sense of justice and sat quietly. i was confused by the chatter between my head and my heart. we continued on our drive to the hotel in silence. as i looked out the window, i saw stray dogs on every block, slinking between parked cars and traffic, rooting through the garbage and gutters. "there are so many stray dogs," i said softly.
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"people too," said my friend.
********
the next day, i floated around a tropical-circus-style destination resort in a daze. despite the screaming children from new jersey and the piped in musics, the chants from the ashram haunted me. i could not stop the chanting in my head. all the prayers repeated multiple times a day for 8 days had started to colonize my brain. i retreated to my room and took out my ipod. there was only one band that could slice through the kirtan. one band to fight against the hypnotic noise: electric light orchestra.

i hit repeat on "do ya" about 20 times and danced that kirtan right out of my head. i jumped on the bed. i did air kicks. i whirled, stomped, and boogied. i always believed in the kindness of strangers but now i know. 

i also believe in the power of e.l.o. 

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