My mom—whom I affectionately call my Muru—has taught and practiced yoga for my entire life.
I grew up swimming in a sea of spirituality, but I didn’t have any experience with Buddhist philosophy.
That is until the grey April of 2010 when, in one the most impulsive moves of my life, I decided to spend six months in retreat with a Tibetan Buddhist teacher, who I had just met.
When I applied to the retreat, I was failing an undergraduate class on Buddhism because my teacher found my approach “too zen.” I was also enrolled in a yoga teacher training, where I was agonizing over upcoming meditation modules because I had been actively avoiding formal sitting meditation for as long as I could remember.
And it was at that time that everything came to an auspicious, screeching halt.
On a vacation to Yosemite National Park, my then-boyfriend not-so-skillfully informed me that we would be breaking up in approximately two months, when he was moving away for grad school.
He was my first love and I was completely bewildered. We lived together! And he wanted me to just go back to playing house until he moved away?
The only empowering choice I could see was to end it right there.
On our hellishly awkward day-long road-trip back to Portland I had lots of time to ponder my next move. A nagging intuition told me the best thing to do was to turn inward and study my own mind.
Shortly thereafter, I met a teacher and decided to listen to my intuition and to trust myself.
I’ve accompanied him to shopping malls and Walmarts, parks and beaches. We’ve eaten at restaurants and gambled in Las Vegas’ casinos on New Year’s Eve. Every single time he was dressed flamboyantly like Padmasambhava from a Thangka (Tibetan Buddhist painting of a deity). I’ve heard another Lama (spiritual master) describe him as outrageous. But he is so much more.
My love for him is uncontrived and unconditional. It is intertwined with gratitude and servitude and surely a few threads of confusion. I’ve spent years since that first intense encounter trying to make sense of this man, his lineage and culture. I have also tried to integrate the experiences and insights he imparted during the retreat.
I cannot believe it has been nearly seven years. I dreamed such big dreams during those six months on retreat. I took vows and made aspirations in solemn and joyous situations. I participated in rituals that pay homage to their ancient roots and bow to innovation.
During that retreat, I became the poster child for transformation.
I had arrived a broken-hearted blissed-out split end, swimming in my parents old clothes. I shook when I addressed strangers, a quiver amplified based on the number of strangers I was addressing.
By the end of the retreat I was giving public Dharma teachings, some of which were recorded and published on YouTube.
Those are still a source of endless humiliation for me. It is not because of what was said, but because of the person who was speaking. I struggle to love past versions of myself. Looking in the mirror of the internet can be especially uncomfortable.
In May of 2016 I graduated with a MA in Religious Studies from Naropa University. The week before graduation, along with a few other students, I took part in the filmed interview about my experience in the program. Recently a video of me from that interview began circulating on Facebook.
I find the video deeply embarrassing. I’m ashamed of my body, my face and my voice. But I am proud of my words. I rejoice that others comment, share, and connect over these words, my words.
I believe these messages are of benefit, because that is the intention in the heart of the woman speaking.
Learning to love that woman will probably be a lifelong journey for me. I’m sharing her with you now, because her words are true and because I’m proud of her.
I always lift other people’s voices. However, for me it has become a means of hiding behind others. This woman deserves to be heard just as much as anyone else and I’m not going to let her hide anymore.
This woman is me.
And because I think it is good torture for my ego, here are a few from retreat:
Author: Stella Bonnie
Image: timies art/Flickr
Apprentice Editor: Galina Singer, Editor: Caitlin Oriel