את לא לבד
You are not alone.
It’s the Hebrew phrase that kept ringing through my ear where I attended my first Jennifer Pastiloff Manifestation Yoga retreat over Labor Day weekend in the oasis of Ojai Valley, California.
It was a weekend packed full of that which we later dubbed “The Jen Pastiloff Experience.” Complete with all sorts of awesomeness: karaoke yoga, delicious love-filled food, surprise soul-stirring live music, insightful writing, new friends that felt like childhood besties, epiphanies, life-altering conversation, heart-wrenching stories of love and loss, poetry, natural wonders. Also a little wine, deep talks around the pool about diamonds and time transport of the Whovian persuasion, and a midnight swim or two under the brightest stars I’ve ever seen (not to mention a handful of shooting stragglers from the end of the Perseid meteor shower that peaked a few weeks ago—which for geeks like me is heaven)
I could go on all day attempting to describe what we did there and still not capture all that was the magical time we spent in Ojai. You know how words so often fail where the heart is concerned.
I found mine pounding at the thought of facing my fears—the biggest of which was the fear that I would somehow find myself alone amongst all these people: virtual strangers.
But something unspoken, somewhere trapped under my tongue, there in my quivering voice, was that phrase once again waiting to remind me….
You are not alone.
I found myself involuntarily muttering it aloud in a circle full of exquisitely and intricately beautiful people atop our yoga mats on a floor that reflects light as if it were glass; and again this morning as I tried to capture the spirit that embodied our time there. Trying to describe the feeling that was at the heart of it all; that which I came out knowing in body and spirit what I before only understood in theory.
את לא לבד
Aht lo le-Vahd
Its only fitting that it would be Hebrew that would echo in the valley and in my ear in Ojai. Not that I’m religious, or technically even Jewish by lineage.
I don’t speak Hebrew aside from a few prayers, although I try. I studied diligently for over a year in preparation for my marriage into a Jewish family but never converted. But if we are being authentic here (and isn’t that the whole point?), I would be amiss if I didn’t say I have felt Jewish from the time I was a young girl and have spent a good part of my life chasing where that feeling came from.
It’s hard to explain the way I feel it in my bones—the way it pulls me inward like metal shavings to a magnet—all my little pieces I thought were lost underfoot somewhere, pulled like splinters out of the floor boards.
But in this sacred space where the veil between here and the ether feels ever so slightly drawn aside, it can be no accident that I’m here just in time to ring in Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year and in preparation for the Days of Awe, the highest of the high Holy days.
My last days have indeed been days of awe.
The Universe is clever like that.
You’ll find it here in droves.
It in the valley rich with succulents thriving in rock in the 100 degree plus desert heat. It’s in the colors of sunrise in the yoga studio doors. It’s in the morning moon where the twilight still lingers and the promise of another day is just over the horizon—a horizon that is literal mountains in 360 degrees. It’s in the trees filled with ripe and heavy fruit, ready to rupture as it hits the ground, giving sustenance as it enters it’s next stage of life, giving it’s flesh to nourish life still living.
But more than anything I found it in the people who dwelled there together for four awe-inspiring days. It’s in the stories we told of our brokenness.
It wasn’t just figs that were falling to the ground breaking open.
I’ve always held the notion that being broken was undesirable, that it branded you damaged somehow. That even though you would like to forget, that it is necessary for you to carry the scar with you to remind you of your brokenness lest you ever think you are complete just as you are.
On the way to Ojai valley, I couldn’t help but notice all the straw hats over bent backs in the fields lining each side of the highway for miles and miles.
harvesting—all the things of my childhood on the farm with my own ghosts traipsing through the mud clods and piles of grain so high you could swim in them.
This morning, reading through the scribbles I made in my journal as we drove through the fields on the way to Ojai, it came to me, epiphany style:
The Divine has been using brokenness to make things whole again since life first began.
It’s when the dirt at summers end has hardened to a tough crust that it must be broken open again in order to bear next season’s fruit.
It’s the rain pouring forth from broken clouds; breaking open to spill the field full of new life pulsing underground.
It’s in the seedling that breaks the surface of the soil as life emerges from the dirt; in the wheat that is thrashed until the beginning of bread has broken.
In the bread that is broken together where strength is born for life to continue evolving.
In the cracks where our hearts have broken now put back together again.
It was seeking my most beautiful things that had brought me to this place and where the breathtakingly beautiful things that happened here brought me so close to the Divine I could taste it. That brought me to my knees in gratitude at the top of the hill behind the yoga studio where I was witness to that neon sunrise reflection in the glass. In the same dirt from which new life emerges I fell to my knees in awe, in gratitude, in reverence to the life lived before here, while we were here, and to our lives beyond this space—before we packed our things and drove away, before I said my goodbye to the place where I discovered that I’m not so shattered after all.
Broken and made whole again—like this tribe of people, all of us with our own brand of heartbreak, now shining all our light on the mirror, complete with all its cracks, but pieced together for us to finally see the depth of our own beauty.
This tribe of incredible people, willing to bear their souls and their deepest fears; that bear witness to the primordial cry inside all of us.
People willing to bare their broken hearts in front of a room full of virtual strangers.
People with beauty and light so deep and so bright,
if you stared too long it would burn your eyes.
As I drove home with my family and left Ojai valley, watching the mountains and velvet hills and colors and shapes of sunrise in reverse, expecting the sacred space to fade away as we were carried further away from it’s magic, only to find it expanded exponentially as I saw the ocean open up into foreverness. It wasn’t a fading away but a birth of all that was waiting to come alive inside of me and around me.
“But in a way you can say that after leaving the sea, after all those millions of years of living inside of the sea, we took the ocean with us. When a woman makes a baby, she gives it water, inside her body, to grow in. That water inside her body is almost exactly the same as the water of the sea. It is salty, by just the same amount. She makes a little ocean, in her body. And not only this. Our blood and our sweating, they are both salty, almost exactly like the water from the sea is salty. We carry oceans inside of us, in our blood and our sweat. And we are crying the oceans, in our tears.”
~ Gregory David Roberts, Shantaram
Oh, there was plenty of sweat (with a hundred degree plus heat wave we could have called it hot yoga), and an ocean of tears in the stories shared, in the hearts bared.
It was a birth. A death.
An evolution of no longer holding oneself back, of manifesting that life which is yours for the taking should you choose to take the gift as it was given.
As your birthright.
When I stop and think about it for even a moment, I find my own eyes fill with tears remembering just how not alone I am. How connected it all really is. How the Divine fills all worlds.
And now that I’m home, with the ocean and those majestic mountains no longer in my field of view, with the magical energy of our collective dispersed, I find the fear that I couldn’t bring the magic home with me is unfounded.
It’s just as palpable here in my kitchen with a sink full of coffee cups and toast crumbs on the floor. Here where the birthday sign in the window is long overdue to be taken down. Backlit with morning sun, still hanging there with my own majestic mountains behind it in a neon sunrise on a blanket of cool Silicon valley fog, beckoning me to take this day as my birthday—every day as a birth and remembering these words, I know that it is….
“He allowed himself to
be swayed by his conviction
that human beings are not
born once and for all on the
day their mothers give birth
to them, but that life obliges
them over and over again
to give birth to themselves.”
~ Gabriel García Márquez,
Love in the Time of Cholera
. . . . . . . . . . . .
by Marika Rosenthal Delan
Leaving, not going
now a torch,
“At the end of my life when I ask What have I done? one final time,
I want to answer: I have done love.”
~ Jennifer Pastiloff
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Assistant Editor: Dana Gornall
Photo Credit: Pixoto/Chris Mare