I was having an Eat, Pray, Love kind of year. Two years of unexplained infertility in an outwardly idilic life pushed me to the breaking point.
First World Problems, I know.
My attempts to bury myself by way of constant bathing in the font of Facebook was ineffective, and I found myself spending most days trying not to smack a pregnant woman.
This is unbecoming of a yoga teacher.
Especially a prenatal yoga teacher.
You see, not only would I be a great mother, not only have I been ready in every sense for years, not only have I done everything this side of submitting to a science experiment, but all of my friends are expecting. And by all, I mean everyone I interact with on a daily basis, because I teach prenatal yoga. In the rest of my life, my friends who pre-date my birthy-life are all pregnant. With twins.
You cannot make this up.
I needed out.
Many years ago I stumbled across the website for the Sivananda Yoga Ashram in the Bahamas. I would be lying if I said the word “Ashram” or “yoga” stood out to me more than the word “Bahamas,” but I perused the website and bookmarked it.
(That’s what people used to do before Pinterest).
Every few weeks, when I would wander down the rabbit hole of the internet on a spiritual getaway, those carefully crafted cyber-samskaras would lead me back to the page. My Inner Excuse Maker (I call her Priscilla) had a lot to say about the possibility of traveling out of the country for the Advanced Teacher Training Program. You probably know the drill: not enough time or money, the danger of committing to something when you could get pregnant any day now.
I also didn’t have a passport.
(I’m really good at keeping myself locked in a cage).
The obsessive lunacy of my struggles with fertility set fire to my life and imploded my marriage. Perfect life, be gone. Priscilla, take a hike.
While she packed up my husband’s belongings and swapped my wedding photographs for art prints, my BFF asked me what I wanted to do next. Since I live at the bridge between yoga and birth, I provided two options: attend midwifery school or advance my yoga teaching.
Clearly, one made more sense than the other, despite Priscilla’s insistence that draining my savings account was inadvisable.
(She’s so right about some things).
My students were less than enthusiastic to hear that I was abandoning them for two months. My mother was quietly furious. I thought my divorce was the last thing I could do to disappoint my parents, but apparently running away to the (sub) tropics with my new boyfriend instead of spending Christmas with family was a big one. One student noted the striking similarities between ashram life and prison life and suggested I bring a bag of contraband: tampons and chocolate to trade for an extra meditation cushion.
The truth, as I’m sure you know already, is that I was attempting to run away from the terrific pain and disappointment of Not Getting What I Wanted. This is what perfectionists do when they fail repeatedly at the same thing: mutiny. When Priscilla isn’t busy making excuses, she does a great job of organizing the resistance: can’t get pregnant? Find a new partner and escape to a tropical paradise/minimum-security ashram for two months to recharge.
Everyone mentioned how fantastic this training would be for me. That I would probably magically get pregnant, what with all of the chanting and spiritual secret sauce that characterizes daily living (and the new boyfriend). Wouldn’t that be the kicker of this story? As a writer, I’m always looking for a happy ending, and wouldn’t this be an Oscar winner?
(You’d at least watch it on Netflix).
Unfortunately, this plan only works well in polished novels or biographies or whatever flavor of literature Eat, Pray, Love is. Trust me, I have conceived of hundreds of ways that this story ends happily. Infertility may sound like a curse, but boy is it the cure for a stagnating imagination. And like all baggage we carry, all hopes and dreams unfulfilled, this one has followed me to the Caribbean.
And it will follow me home.
Emily Dickinson said, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” I didn’t study literature in college, so I can’t say for sure, but I think that “thing” is a demon. Hope has been the most caustic elixir. It is the gift and the curse of everyone with whom I share my story. They offer hope, and I feel compelled to take it on, as though a backpack stuffed full of hope will do anything other than pull me backwards when I lose my balance.
The Universal Suggestion is, “Have you tried giving up? Because my best friend’s uncle/yoga teacher’s partner/neighbor’s iguana did and they got pregnant right away.” Believe it or not, I have tried releasing my grip on this backpack in every way I can fathom, from leaving it at the airport to dropping it into the ocean, and somehow it always finds its way back to me.
I have let go of so much this year: my husband, my home, many career goals. My philosophy about money and time. Essentially everything in my closet and retirement account. In the middle of the ocean, sandwiched between A Lost City and The Pirates of the Caribbean, I’ve jumped into a tradition that feels foreign. Alien.
Poor Priscilla couldn’t hack it.
It is possible that I’ve made some progress. It is also possible that after several weeks of lentils and six hours of sleep a night, I’ve lost my discernment.
But I’m doing the program, getting up at 4:30am to breathe for an hour, meditate, chant, practice asana, lather, rinse, and repeat. And between the lectures and the chats in the yard with my fellow inmates, I dip my toes into the ocean and occasionally hold hands with the thought that I may not get to be a mother in this lifetime, at least not in the traditional sense. We’re not friends, this thought and me, but when our eyes lock for a brief moment she blocks the view of my feathered friend.
The ocean is the pervasive metaphor here on this island, perhaps because her sweet song undercuts every moment. Perhaps because she never ceases to breathe as her waves crash upon the shore and draw back into her. Silent meditation is never silent, even in her quietest moments. In class, we are constantly reminded that we are made off the same stuff as the ocean—that all creation is an illusion and that separation is as impossible as separating the wave from the ocean.
Occasionally, this is comforting.
I’ve always said two things: that a good yoga teacher will get you to touch your toes and a great yoga teacher will get you to release the want. And that if you make the unfortunate decision to step into the role of teacher, life will hand you something to teach. A petty tyrant. A demon.
What I’ve learned here has crept in between the lather and the rinse, or the pranayama and the karma yoga: the closer you hold the demon, the more damage it can do. When the demon lives in you, you must walk to the end, curl your toes over the edge of the plank, and make peace with drowning. In that moment your reflection can peer back at you and show you who you really are: just a wave in the ocean.
Author: Kari Kwinn
Editor: Caroline Beaton