This is an excerpt from Mudra Love’s book, Monk’s Daughter.
Chapter 1: All That Glitters Is Not Gold
It is 3 p.m. on a Tuesday afternoon when I receive a phone call that changes the course of my life forever. I am supposed to be in math class taking a statistics exam, but instead I’m hurling into a trash bin next to my bed. When I come up for air, I catch a glimpse of the Dalai Lama’s face. I look into his eyes and try to steady my gaze, but the thick rims of his glasses are distracting and moving all over the place. His book, The Art of Happiness, is lying by my bedside. It has a note from my father inside: “To Mumu, it’s not a party unless you’re reading.”
I guess I haven’t been to a party in a long time.
Let me backtrack a few days.
It is the week of my finals, and on Friday I am turning in a blank history exam. At that moment, I take a vow and tell myself that I won’t be going out. I need to stay home and study. I’m getting sick of Hollywood, anyway. I don’t want to go to another “VIP,” “exclusive,” “industry-only” party or take another mind-numbing shot at the bar. Even toasting to the sunrise in a jacuzzi overlooking the Hollywood Hills has lost its magic.
So, when I return home from school, I hop in the shower and get ready for a yin yoga class. I hope the endorphins released from the deep stretches will put me straight to sleep for the night, and possibly the entire weekend, if it means I won’t be tempted to go out.
I have been taking yoga classes since my sophomore year in high school, after I got grounded for sneaking out to a college party at UCLA. When I came home at 2 a.m., I was shocked to find my entire bedroom door missing. My father had also removed all my clothes from the drawers, including my bras and panties. How humiliating! His rationale was that if I had nothing to wear, I’d have nowhere to go. And he was right. I wouldn’t be caught dead wearing my mother’s clothes. To add to my bewilderment, my father made me go to yoga with him every day after school.
Yoga was torture. It was an impossible mixture of boredom and complete and utter exhaustion. I was furious with my father for subjecting me to such cruel and unusual punishment, but somehow, over the years I grew to like it, especially if it was Denise instructing.
Denise Kaufman is a friend of my father. Her yin yoga class appeals to me for many reasons. For one, I am drawn toward intensity and extremes. The deep stretches held for long periods of time create a pattern of tension and release, pain and ecstasy. Her poses require flexibility. I am naturally lithe and lanky. My body, just like my spirit, is malleable and free flowing. I am lazy. I don’t like whipping my body through rigorous, high-energy poses like they do in power yoga. Even less appealing to me are bootcamp-inspired classes designed to make you cry and sweat. Denise’s classes are gentle, slow moving, and entirely on the floor—just my kind of “workout.”
During class, Denise talks about getting unstuck, releasing our bodies from rigid, linear poses to more fluid and natural postures designed to bring our bodies back in alignment. I have been glued to a desk all week, fixed to a 90-degree angle, and I’m due for a serious course adjustment. I stretch out on my yoga mat and listen to the soothing sounds of Denise’s voice as I sink into a rhythm of cats and cows and dragons and sphinxes.
After ninety minutes of deep stretching, Denise guides us onto our backs for a final savasana. I allow my mind to drift, but I am attentive, bringing my attention back to my breath whenever I feel I am about to doze off. I have stolen Adderall from my roommate to help me study for my exams, and while these blue-and-white bullets have turned me into a concentration machine, I am severely sleep deprived.
What if I fall asleep and I never wake up?
Maybe a deep coma is exactly what I need: to forget everything and start all over.
Denise rings a bell signaling the end of class. The woman lying next to me is snoring loudly. I’m embarrassed for her. I’m embarrassed anyone can make such private noises in public. But I’m also intrigued. Will I ever be like her? I don’t want to be obnoxious or impolite, but if I happen to fall asleep and snore or worse, pass gas in yoga, I’d like to not be mortified. I bet this woman has no problem speaking her mind. I bet she tells people what she wants and to go to hell if they’ve crossed the line.
I wish I could be like her.
I’ve always been quiet. Quiet is a safe, dangerous place to be.
I curl over to my side and push my way to a seated position. Bowing my head slightly, I bring my hands to prayer.
“Namaste,” Denise whispers.
“Namaste,” I reply, bowing my head to the floor. I keep my head bowed, my forehead touching the ground, for as long as it’s not too awkward. I respect Denise immensely. She is an example of someone who is present, grounded, and comfortable in her own skin. She radiates pure joy and shares it freely with others. She has realized her light, a light that is in all of us, but I am failing to see it in myself.
I hope that one day I can be like her too.
The class is now emptying. A few yogis are walking up to Denise and gathering around her. They are smiling, saying hello, and asking questions. I don’t have anything to say, but I think I want a hug. I walk to where the crowd is gathered and wait my turn.
When I am face to face with Denise, I freeze. I’ve been contorting my limbs into sphinx and dragons for two hours, but I don’t know how to be in my own body as me. I try to steady my fidgeting hands by clasping them behind my back. Then I try to figure out how to best arrange my face. I feel suddenly as if I am about to explode into tears. Not knowing what to do with my face or hands has become all too stressful. I don’t want to be here a moment longer, standing in the presence of someone who is so confident, grounded, and capable. The contrast between us is too sharp, obvious, and difficult to bear. It makes me feel even more insecure and uncertain of how to relate.
Thankfully, she knows what to do. People like Denise always know what to do. She opens her arms wide and brings me in for a long embrace. I relax into her arms and steady my fluttering chest against the giant steady beat of her heart. Everything feels okay with the world again. She then wishes me a safe and healthy weekend and I say goodbye, heading out into the star-filled sky.
I stroll along Main Street in Santa Monica, endorphins flooding my body; happily, in a daze. I take my time, peeking through the windows of local bars and cafes, watching a barista wiping the counters and putting away the leftover milk and half-and-half. I turn the corner on Ashland Avenue and pace up two big undulating hills leading to my apartment.
Boo, my roommate’s cat, greets me at the door. She prances around my legs and rubs her fluffy body against my shins. She looks like a ghost in reverse—she is all black with white circles around her eyes.
I step inside my apartment and walk to the kitchen. A soothing cup of chamomile seems like the perfect way to end this evening. I reach in the cupboards for a box of chamomile tea, and then I hear my phone ring.
This is not the phone call that changes my life, but it does add momentum to it. I dash to my room, and the box of tea drops to the floor. I look at the screen and see that my friend Olivia is calling. She’s inviting me over for some drinks.
I met Olivia one night at a club in Hollywood, while a Katy Perry song was blaring on the speakers. She was singing about kissing girls and liking it, and Olivia surprised me by following the lyrics, pulling out her cherry Chapstick, smoothing it over her lips, and giving me a kiss. She didn’t take the kiss or herself too seriously, and that’s exactly what I liked about her.
Olivia is a breath of fresh air in the suffocating atmosphere that is Hollywood, choking on the smog of its own pretense and self-importance. She is also independent. She has her own apartment, pays her own bills, and drives her own car. Unlike many women in Hollywood, Olivia doesn’t rely on a man to take care of her.
She is yet another person I want to be like.
“I’ll be right over,” I say, my words spilling out of my mouth. I have no control over my reflex to party. It has become a kind of an addiction. As soon as the words, “party,” “club,” or “drinks,” are mentioned, there is no other thought than “I’m in.” Though, I suspect, if I paused for even a split second, I could tap into a part of me who knows what’s best for me, especially after a long, grueling week of final exams.
I stuff my leopard print duffle bag with tight dresses, leather jackets, knee-high boots, stilettos, and other heavy armor to brave the night, and head out onto the I-10 freeway. I roll down the windows, and my hair blows into the wind, and along with it, all hopes and ambitions of staying home and studying for the weekend.
Olivia greets me at the door with a vodka cranberry in hand. Her face looks distraught, and I can tell she is holding back tears. For the Love of Ray J, a dating show in which a group of women compete for the love of the hip-hop singer Ray J (made immortal by his sex tape with Kim Kardashian so many years ago) is playing on the flat screen behind her. A box of Domino’s pizza looks at me longingly from the kitchen counter.
“Today was my last day at work,” she blurts. Tears are streaming down her face. “My boss assured me my position was safe,” she says in disbelief.
Olivia is a portfolio manager at an investment management firm. She is someone who I always considered as having a “real job,” maybe because of nothing more than the serious sounding title of her job, or for the simple fact that she wore crisp white button-down shirts and high heels and carried a briefcase. I would watch her in the mornings, as she blow-dried her hair and ironed her shirt (while I lay massively hungover in her bed) and think that she was so grown-up. On her way out, Olivia would grab the keys to her shiny white Mercedes, which I couldn’t help but compare to my beaten down Toyota with paint chipping off the hood, and say, “Au revoir!”
I release the straps of my duffle bag, and it makes a loud thud when it reaches the floor. I wrap my arms around Olivia and let her tears fall on my shoulders. I knew her company was going through a merger, but I didn’t think she would lose her job.
I reassure Oliva and tell her, “Everything is going to be okay,” and this just makes her sob harder. When Olivia has no more tears to cry, she sits up straight and manages a shaky smile. “Thanks,” she says. I let out an exhalation and feel relieved. Olivia believes me. And she should, because for Olivia, everything is going to be okay.
It’s my turn now. I tell Olivia I had a rough week too, and that I bombed all my finals.
This is unlike me. I have always been a top student. I got straight A’s on my report cards with the occasional B, but rarely a C and never a D or an F (except for when I was severely bullied in Maui—I’ll get to that later). When I got to high school, I developed a “work hard, play hard,” mentality, and justified my partying with good grades.
After graduation, I was desperate to see the world. I backpacked around Europe with my friend, Alexia, and I also returned to Nepal after a ten-year absence. I loved being in the real world. I valued real life experiences, even if these experiences came from partying, more than what I could learn from a textbook. Academia felt dry and limiting. But the old dictum rang in the back of my head, “If you want to get a good job, you have to go to college,” and begrudgingly, I enrolled in Santa Monica City College. (I wasn’t ready to commit to a four-year University.)
Now, I am in my third year at my community college, only recently declaring my major in Communications after a classmate said to me, “The quicker you choose a major, the quicker you can transfer.” It somehow didn’t even occur to me that I was supposed to transfer after this. Wasn’t a two-year degree enough?
It’s Olivia’s turn to say, “Everything is going to be okay,” and she does, but I don’t believe her.