It was New Year’s Eve. I was in a strange house in Maui. My teacher, whom I had met in person just two days before when I arrived from Canada, slept a few rooms away. It was late and the house was silent. I lay in bed, feeling like I was going to jump out of my skin. Tomorrow, January 1, 2010, I would begin my first silent retreat at Hale Pule. This was my opportunity, as a Yoga student and teacher, to become a yogini – to embrace the practices of Yoga and Ayurveda as the foundation for my life. But that would mean letting go, and in the darkness of that room, that felt very scary to me. My mind raced: “Are you sure you want to do this? Are you sure you want to take this direction with your life?”
I eventually remembered that I was a Yoga teacher and moved to the floor, sat down and practiced a few rounds of nadi shodhana pranayama. I chanted mantra to clear my mind. I realized that I was terrified of letting go of the comfort of mediocrity and the familiarity of my life as it was. I had spent so much time building who I thought I should be that I was resistant to tearing that down. Who was I? If I whole-heartedly embraced Yoga, what would I be like? I didn’t know.
That night I was physically alone, but I could feel that I was not spiritually alone. As I sat with closed eyes, a soft, gentle thought whispered, “It’s okay. It will be alright.” I made the decision to go to bed and trust that soft thought.
Hearing the call of my spirit
I don’t know what inspired me to inquire about Hale Pule’s silent meditation retreat on Maui – perhaps frustration at the continued ups and down in my energy, mental state and emotions. I had begun a mentorship with Myra from my home in Canada since completing my 200-hour Yoga teacher training in Maharashtra, India, but had never met her in person. Two weeks before the retreat began, I emailed to see if there was still space. There was, and with little thought aside from how fantastic it would be to spend time on a beach in December, I bought my ticket.
I had never planned to go to Hawaii – I didn’t know much about it and I was more interested in more exotic places like India, China and other Asian countries. Yet there I was – flying to Hawaii, to stay with a woman I had never actually met, to be silent. Silent. For NINE days. That thought made me feel slightly ill – nine days was a long time to be quiet, especially for a vata imbalanced woman who regularly talked over her discomfort.
I woke up the first day of the retreat and shared my late-night doubts with Myra. She looked up, unfazed, and laughed as she explained that it was common for people to have a crisis like I did. It was just my lower ego trying to hang on when it knew it was going to die. I wasn’t the only one in the group who was overcome with fear and doubt – she had already pacified two other women that morning! I thanked the universe for providing the validation that I was not alone and the feelings I had – the doubts, the questioning – were not signs to leave Hale Pule and abandon Yoga entirely. Rather, they were signs to move ahead.
Stepping onto my path
Despite my recent Yoga training and mentorship with Myra, I wasn’t living life much differently prior to coming to the retreat. I had more home practice, taught asana and was making a more determined effort to be positive, all of which allowed the highly emotional, unpredictable Kelsey who worried about everyone and everything to relax a little. But I was doing just enough to get by at a slightly more comfortable level than I had been before. I didn’t know much at all about Ayurveda, and frankly thought I was pretty healthy so wasn’t looking to learn more. In fact, I had continual, low-level depression, regular chest pains, gas, bloating, constipation, acne and more symptoms that I had grown accustomed to as part of my life. I hadn’t ever considered that one could be medication free – Advil was a basic human need, wasn’t it? I knew Yoga was transformative and I had transformed a little bit. Still, I was living with a mediocre level of health and well-being. Mediocre was my norm, and I was afraid to step too much beyond that.
In the complete silence of the nine-day retreat, I had no choice but to turn inward. I learned that I had a lot of anger inside and that I was actually not as content as I told myself I was in my efforts to be positive. I learned that I had unspeakable joy and that I could forgive myself and others. I became honest with myself and saw how distracting, annoying and painful the physical symptoms I had were, and how lost and afraid I felt most of the time. Over the course of nine days, I found faith that the transformation that awaited me was worth losing my current sense of self.
I left the retreat with a notebook filled with wise teachings that provided a roadmap to freedom that I never knew existed. I stopped eating salads and raw food and the gas, bloating and scattered mind went away. My body shape changed, my skin began to clear and I learned how to work with asana in a way that moved my energy and balanced my doshas. I stopped getting colds, began eliminating daily and no longer needed naps. I had greater patience for myself and others.
Since that first retreat, I felt lost and found many times over, realized talents and capabilities I didn’t know I had and began to make choices based in my truth, rather than what I thought I should do or would make others happy. Some relationships ended, others morphed into something different and new ones were formed. But it’s all okay – it’s just the process of life.
By making Yoga the foundation for my life, my mind has continued to open to support my continued growth and expansion. I have ups and downs, but with my practice of Ayurveda and Yoga, the bumps aren’t as big, the falls aren’t as hard and the lessons aren’t as painful.
The choice to walk into unknown territory of establishing Yoga as a foundation for living takes courage. Laying a new foundation means all that exists will be shuffled around to accommodate growing consciousness or let go. It is okay to let go, step into the unknown and do things differently from other people we know and love. After all, our varied and unique paths are what make life interesting.
Today I live in the flow of my life’s purpose and there is no place else I would rather be. I am grateful every day for these practices in my life, practices that pave a way to deep and abiding joy and connection to myself as eternal spirit.