The sun is coming up over the mountain to the east, the hillside lush with a mist-fed green not of this world. Long, glittering columns of light like God’s fingers, chase sepia tones from the land – thick with sweet humanity, heavy with history. Its humming, provocative vibration invites effortless dropping in…borne of ancient attunement and respect to the earth and her natural rhythms. The rocks jut out along the coastline and break the beautiful monotony of each cresting wave as they ride, pulsating power, to caress the shore and the dawn is made dynamic by the swoop and song of the mountain blue jays —Grandmother’s bird.
Aldous Huxley said, There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception.
This perception – becoming aware via the senses – doorway, space, threshold, this slightly askew, one-off reality, leaves the freedom of the midline open, like Nataraja’s twisted dance. Esalen’s 6th annual Yoga Festival, with Douglas Brooks, Saul David Raye, Janet Stone, Sianna Sherman & MC Yogi, invited us to embody the divine, 5 days, 5 deities through myth, music, movement and magic.
In the opening ceremony Saul David Raye said; it is a potent time and a potent place, profound, but meant to be. Wake up to who you are. This was the sutra that tied my time at Esalen together, weaving transformation in community with the delightful freedom to do so.
I arrived at Esalen with all my baggage, both inner and outer. The inner, a byproduct of a slippery intuitive recognition that time, life, is accelerating, and the wanton grasping to anchor onto something – anything – that will solidify my future. This back and forth, the dance of anxious what-ifs and trust, self-assurance and self-doubt, teeter on the edge of total engagement and total withdrawal. Douglas Brooks said; the peril of yoga is the more deeply we seek to engage, the higher the stakes. I’m feeling that.
But underlying all this is an inhale of courageous proportions that takes me – ever expanding – to the heart, where I bask in its complete fullness, its perfection, and even in contracted states and difficult moments I take inventory of the incredible gift life is.
Since moving to the Bay nearly one year ago I’ve had the honor of meeting, practicing with and learning from some of the most talented and dedicated yoga teachers in the world today. These messengers – John Friend, Sianna Sherman, Janet Stone, Christopher Wallis – to name only a few, are my mentors and in their company I come face to face with Ganesh. The lovable, big bellied, elephant-headed Lord of the Threshold, who in the form of all my teachers asks me to rise to the occasion of my potential through challenge. And as signified by his broken tusk, we learn humility as vulnerability, building up and breaking again in offering. As one of my favorite poets, Mary Oliver wrote;
never hurry through the world
but walk slowly, and bow often.
Through the hula hoop I’ve learned the power of affirmation. Not only for ourselves, but for each other. When we show up to affirm one another’s gifts, contributions and experiences we say Yes to all the diversity that life is. Four months ago I stared an Anusara Immersion with Sianna and from day one, she has said Yes to who I am. Others too, who started on this path before me, Jeremy, Marni, Abbie, Ginger , Jodi, Meghan and Vinny welcomed me like family and it is through this kula, by the power of affirmation and challenge, that I run backwards in front of my teachers to hear their wisdom, like Hanuman in studentship.
Durga, the one who shows up when things are difficult, teaches us to reintegrate, rather than destroy the blood seeds of our own mistaken choices, to turn them back into creative power again. Like the peacock that turns poison to food, all things are opportunities for growth. Douglas taught that Tantra does not believe the universe to be evenly masculine and feminine encoded, 50/50, but slightly in favor of the generative, receptive feminine. A favoring that leaves space and opening for infinite possibility, a space for transformation and a space for ever-more creation. Empowerment of the highest is in knowing that we have the strength and the capacity to shape our own reality…it’s how we receive the world that invites us to engage it.
Esalen is a place of startling beauty, both in the natural environment and in the social infrastructure. Its existence is dedicated to continual exploration of the human potential, and exploration in any application is dynamic. You feel it when you’re there, an incursive deepening, playful movement, on the grounds, in classes, even the flow of the spring water in the tubs whispers rhythm. Douglas said this world is founded not on stability, but on wonder. Wonder proceeds desire to explore, and desire proceeds all yoga. In Shiva as Nataraja we see the dance and dynamism of creation, the fire of transformation, the steadfastness of manifestation, the beauty in differentiation and the darkness that holds light. In Shiva I face my fear of ultimate empowerment. The Abhaya mudra, the forward facing palm of Nataraja means both do not fear, and never be without fear. Douglas taught, if there is yoga, you’ll take a risk. The gift that fear becomes an expression of yoga turns the table on fear itself. All yoga begins with desire – desire to move into our divine nature – and fear is desire’s immediate ally or adversary.
A small group of us sat inside the Lakota sweat lodge, four rounds of visceral transmutation in the cave of the heart. When the door closed it was inky black, the Grandfather stones glowing Durga red, sparkling and hissing their presence. It smelled of sage, cedar, courage, connection and prayer. In song and story we all stepped to the ledge and jumped. Together we knew we could all become something more when we open our hearts to love. We left different than when we entered, open.
On Friday, the last day, after an evening of ecstatic dance and heartfelt mantra with MC Yogi and Amanda Devi, we celebrated our time together in the abundance of Lakshmi. In the lotuses of wisdom and compassion we learn to always say yes first in radical affirmation. The Big Maha Yes, clear boundaries, no limits. Lakshmi in her abundance asks us to offer ourselves and our gifts to the One, in whatever form they come.
I arrived at Esalen with all my baggage and I left there with space, reminded once again, as Anusara teaches, as the hoop teaches, to step into the currents of the heart and (over)flow from there.
Douglas taught, in Ganesha we meet ourselves – radical authenticity – but ourselves in the face of difference. We can’t construct this world to our expectations but we can learn to receive it as is, to welcome the one standing in the doorway. Like a colt on new legs I stumble with the promise of grace – and I, like all of us, hold the secret capacities of greatness not yet revealed – strength, stamina, wisdom and the desire to run.