Raw, adjective: 7. brutally or grossly frank: a raw portrayal of human passions.
Wednesday morning here.
I don't really have words. Is that weird?
My life has been all words these last few days, well, written words separated by vast silences, and yet, as I sit to write, I got nothin'.
I'm not interested in sharing some bland, clichéd travelogue, or some idyllic, peachy-keen version of this life that I have been living for these few days on the opposite side of the world. It's 8am and I'm perched on my balcony in black pajamas and there's the water and there's the frangipani and there's the lemongrass and that is the status, really, here at this "wellness sanctuary" on the southeast corner of the island of Koh Samui.
I almost left. Thought I couldn't hack it. Was convinced I was in the wrong place.
It's paradise, you know? Languid, tropical, sunset-over-the-beach-tinted paradise.
But I wanted to run away.
I've got a little Marla Singer in me, you know? I mean, she even came along on the trip. And this dark, serious, urbanite me; well, she felt a little out of place, in the same way that when I cross the bay to uber-progressive, uber-green, uber-politically correct Berkeley, I feel an urgent need to shoot some tequila and wear big sunglasses and a black leather jacket.
So, I arrived Sunday afternoon, well, moving into dusk, and Kamalaya was so beautiful, yes, and easy and lovely and green and perfect and all of those things you'd expect a place like this to be. A sweet young Thai woman in yellow showed me around, took me to my room, and it was light and summery and clean and fresh and earthily pristine. Naturally the first thing my eyeballs googled was the coffee pot. No such thing. A hot water heater, yes, and elegant herbal elixirs and green-friendly glass-bottled water and lemongrass oil and organic insect repellent, you name it: but no coffee.
I about flipped my lid.
Well, internally, that is. Didn't wanna freak the nice Thai lady out.
Ohmigod what have I done, I'm stuck here in hippie yoga teacher heaven on a hill overlooking the ocean but there's NO COFFEE because these people are all weird detox slaves and now it's almost dark and how will I get up in the morning and how will I ever get any writing done and how DARE these people tell me I can't drink COFFEE and and I am so sick of the oppressive yoga/wellness industry telling me what is OK and what is NOT and this is BULLSHIT and fuck this shit and I'm packing up my shit and leaving and moving to Le Meridien down the street which is chi-chi and has a sweet-ass bar and lots of vodka and most definitely, most DEFINITELY has coffee so that I won't be denied like some oppressive FASCIST REGIME.
The mind. The mind is so much the arbiter of our experience.
Lesson #1: attachment.
(What are you attached to, Rachie? What do you NEED? What do you refuse to let go of?)
Ok. Detach, Rach. So I breathed and nodded thank you and goodbye to the lady and put my head below my heart and tried to chill out and told myself, it's not about the coffee, it's ok, it's all good, Rach, you can just go for a nice sunny walk tomorrow and pick up some Nescafe and then I googled "mini-mart" and sure enough, sweet jesus yes, Google Maps picked up a mini-mart 7.92m away, so I knew I could hook it up in the morning and be just fine after all.
The world would not crumble into pieces as I sat trapped in a detox sanctuary on an utopic hillside overlooking the Gulf of Thailand.
Meanwhile, on checking in, the soft-spoken lady at reception had told me I was booked for a 4:35 appointment at the Wellness Sanctuary (yes, that's what it's called) for a wellness consultation of sorts; you know, the kind where they weigh you and ask about your health history and what do you want out of this time here and how do you feel about acupuncture or an Indian head massage, that kind of thing.
I had cringed on the inside at the thought, not wanting to deal. This lush, tranquil, marble-strewn retreat is really quite stunning, and I ended up here because it offers that reclusive stillness merged with natural beauty, the kind of literal "retreat" that would allow me space and time to write, unbothered, alone. But it's also the kind of resort that offers a "detox programme" of the sort that many Brits and Euros are fond of, moreso than I've seen yet in the States, and so sure enough, the place is full of folks detoxing and trying to lose weight and change their lives and create new habits by sloughing off their old.
That's cool; I can be down with that. Shift old samskaras, create new ones, in a space that's oh-so-willing to facilitate that kind of hard life work. Go team.
But the good ol' mind ran rampant again, sitting there in this airy treehouse sanctuary awaiting my appointment. I was furious, I was irritable (maybe it was the lack of coffee?), I didn't want to have to sit and wait for an appointment with the nice Aussie lady, I wanted to hightail it out of there and run down the street and buy me some vodka, already!
(If you'd have seen a thought-bubble over my head in those moments, ostensibly simple and relaxed, placidly sipping an iced mulberry tea overlooking the ocean, you'd have thought I was the Unabomber.)
It was not pretty.
I started writing frantically, scrawling deep heavy lashes into my unsuspecting notebook, about how this detox shit is bullshit and I'm not here to lose weight and I just want to write and drink coffee and do some asana and read by the beach, ok?, and fuck this oppressive detox shit and the wellness industry that has co-opted people's insecurities and turned them into yet one more opportunity to make a buck and prioritize vanity and emphasize the gaze of the Other and endorse the cult of the body that channels so many people's life energies into trying to cling to a former bodily state that is meant to be constantly changing because impermanence is the nature of all things and change is the only constant!! To hell with the body fascists!! I will not sanction their navel-gazing myths of salvation via bodily transformation!! That is a false soteriology and one that is increasingly commodified by pop culture, and I will not be one more cog in the machine of redemptive faux-religious body mythologies!!
Ohhhhhh, watching the mind.
Naturally, the sweet Aussie wellness consultant lady was lovely, and so kind, and I told her I wasn't really interested in any of this "detox programme" stuff, that I just wanted to read and write and eat greens and drink carrot juice and be quiet, and she was beautiful, and hooked me up with some delish menus and advice on colonics (yes, another story) and softly sent me on my way.
Looking back these few days later, of course, I can't help but chuckle and see how that afternoon was such a teacher. Even in the midst of it, I knew, watching-the-thoughts, meditation-style, that it would be a guru, that I was not those chattering thoughts, not this racing angry dark urbanite craving caffeine and feeling oppressed by the lack thereof.
But boy, in that moment, did it feel stuck.
The thing is, they're all teachers. The lack of coffee and the awkward obligatory wellness consultation and the quiet dark nights and the crescent moon in the sky as I looked up during dinner last night; they're all teachers. We chant the Guru Brahma chant at the beginning and end of practice to remind ourselves of this: to find the teacher ("guru," literally "that which brings us from darkness to light") in all we do and are.
Have you felt this stuckness before?
This sense of being so very much in the wrong place, at the wrong time, and just wanting to flee?
I've felt it. In double pigeon. At dinner parties. In certain conversations. In moments that felt so very wrong, and my heart wanted me to flee, and my mind spun, and my breath caught in my throat, and yet, whether it was my choice or another's, I was forced to stay, to sit with it, to be there in it, and to know, even though it felt oh-so-permanent, this discomfort, that it would pass.
And then, so often, looking back I've realized that even in that heart-racing, breathless moment, I was exactly where I needed to be.
That's yoga, too.
I remember feeling it that first evening, years ago now, that I ever trained with my remarkable, loving, oh-so-wise teacher Rusty. I'd joined a group of strangers there in North Beach for a Bhakti Flow teacher training, and I didn't know anyone, and they all hugged a lot, and I felt quiet and weak and naive, and hung out along the back wall, and I thought to myself, my god, I am so in the wrong place; I am dark and serious and I suck at Vasisthasana and I don't know any of these chants and I am an academic not a lovey yoga teacher and what the hell have I gotten myself into and that's it, I'm leaving now, forget it.
And then a few minutes later we sat in a circle and said one word each about how we were feeling — I remember saying "wondering," and that was a very nice, very edited version of what I was really feeling — and then Rusty looked around the circle at us, all 45 or so of us, in the eyes, and said:
So I tried. And I exhaled there, then, for the first time maybe all day.
Trust that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
Trust that you are in the right place.
And I kept exhaling. And I kept practicing. Even though I still didn't know what the hell I was doing. And this guru of mine, this teacher that was the experience of being thrown into an unknown situation with a bunch of strangers who hugged and talked about love a lot, kept me there, and showed me the power of staying, and in the years since that teacher has wrought so much beauty and transformation in my life, such rich relationship and even richer study, the devotion, the certainty, that comes of finding one's true dharma, one's true place.
All because I stayed. Because Rusty encouraged us to. Even though I didn't want to.
Because I thought it was wrong.
Because I thought I was wrong.
God bless Rusty Wells for saying that, in that moment. It kept me. And it keeps me still.
I am thinking a lot about teachers these days. Gratitude for my own teacher, gratitude for my many teachers throughout the years, gratitude for the teacher that is this life we're born into (Guru Brahma), this life we continue to lead (Guru Vishnu), and the teacher who shows up in the form of change and destruction, chaos and uncertainty (Guru Devo Maheshwara). Some of these teachers are so obvious — and others are so hard to see, mired as they are in shadow and tumult.
And yet, always and ever, we dedicate all efforts up to those very teachers: Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha. Especially the uncomfortable ones.
Hours deep in study with David and Sharon's book have left my mind whirling with thoughts of tapas (discipline) and svadhyaya (self-study) and ishvara pranidhana (offering all efforts to the Divine). And that triad of kriyas (techniques for spiritual development) feels right, and true, and particularly germane to these few days of stillness and writing.
Tapas. Austerities, discipline. Maybe my tapas is learning to live without the coffee. Or maybe it's the walking down the hill in 90-degree heat to buy Nescafe from the mini-mart down the street, and the mad sunburn that resulted.
(All is well in the world. See pic below.)
Svadhyaya. Self-study. The being forced to sit with oneself, in the quiet, racing mind and churning heart, and watch it. To pause, to stop the rushing and stop the working and just be right here, observing, gently.
(Sounds a lot like meditation to me.)
Ishvara Pranidhana. Surrender. Offering all efforts away. Doing what we do not for ego, or for striving, or for clinging, but for the sake of doing it, for the joy of the work, not with any goal in mind, but rather in the service of whatever strikes you as divine.
(Or, in Christian circles: Soli Deo Gloria. All for the glory of God. Same thing.)
Trust. Trust that you are in the right place. As Rusty often says, trust that every step you have ever taken has been bringing you to this very place, this moment, this life. Trust that you are exactly where you're meant to be — coffee or no.
I've been remembering this, over and over, and finding such exhalation, such release, such comfort in that reminder.
Nescafe to the rescue.
Jivamukti to the rescue.
Marla Singer to the rescue.
Eka pada rajakapotasana to the rescue.
Gary Snyder and Alan Watts to the rescue.
Humid tropical mornings blooming into blaring sunny afternoons melting into languid island twilights to the rescue.
Last night I found the Kamalaya steam cavern. It's a wee little space tucked into the hillside overlooking the Gulf. The air inside is wet and thick, hot as Hades, 42 degrees C, sweaty and audibly sizzling with steam. My Bikram-loving joints went bazooka for it. I walked in, grinned (felt like home!), sat down, closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and folded forward in a 5-minute Paschimottanasana, right there in that 107-degree heat, and knew I was in the right place after all.
My hamstrings knew, too.
Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshath Parambrahma,
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshath Parambrahma,
Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha