This won't be a linear story. Instead it will skip back and forth along the timeline, like an arthouse movie.
Fast forward and go backwards. It is 2006. One year after Hurricane Katrina literally turned everything upside down in New Orleans, where I was living at the time.
I am desperate. Lost. Not only have my circle of friends been scattered all across the country because of the landfall of the hurricane and all the mayhem in its wake. My green card application has been denied. After12 years of living in the United States, I am now being asked to leave the country. Worse, I am actually now also an undocumented (read: Illegal) immigrant.
I am practicing a lot of yoga, going to class five times a week, but I am also self-medicating a lot. By partying, mostly with alcohol, but occasionally I do a line of coke, or take a pill. I fall in and out of love. I work several jobs in the service industry, and I kind of play in a band. I keep busy but I am not in a good headspace.
I decide to apply to be a karma yogi for one month at an ashram (a spiritual retreat) in the rocky mountains of Colorado.
I arrive in the middle of a snowstorm. The train from California (where I have driven from New Orleans to leave my dog to be cared for by my brother) is twelve hours delayed, and by the time I arrive in the nearest little town to the ashram, I can barely see a thing as I fumble through the blizzard, into the warmth of a wood-panelled bar. where I can use the pay phone to call the people at the ashram to come get me.
It's a stunning place. Nestled into the Rockies, and everything covered by pristine snow. Everyone is friendly, if a bit weird. The lunch is tasty. I take a nap in my bunk bed, while one of my roomies, thin as a cucumber meditate on the floor in full lotus.
The following day the gong wakes us at five. We are to be in the meditation hall by five thirty. In fact, we need to be seated by 5:29 or we are considered late. The meditation hall is a wooden pagoda built on top of a hill. Myself and two of my roommates Nikki and Amber (who are way more on my page than the cucumber girl) curse under our breath as we sink down to our pussies in the snow while running up the hill.
But we are not prepared for what comes next. First, there is one of hour of chanting something called 'Guru Gita.' The chanting is atonal, non-melodic and ugly as fuck. It makes me angry. When that horror show is over, we are made to continue to sit on our asses, on little hard cushions, for 30 minutes of silent meditation It hurts all over my body. Neck, back, shoulders. And it feels as if my pelvis is slowly being ground to a dust. As if my thighs are being ripped off my trunk, as fried chicken legs. And even worse, my mind is all cluttered up by thoughts, it's impossible to clear it. How can it be so damn hard to not think? I immediately know that this isn't for me. I had signed up for this because I love yoga. And with yoga I meant things like Warrior I and II. Chatturangas. Standing on my head. Breathing and sweating. That was my temple. My religion. Not this.
Sometimes I can manage two or three and then my 'monkey mind' is again violently swinging from branch to branch in the deep dense jungle, filled with snakes and spiders and other unpleasant things that is my mind.
And this goes on an on. There's the two hours of chanting and meditating in what they call the morning, but it's really the night. Then there's the evening meditation, which thank fucking Shiva only goes on for 20-30 minutes. But then they throw in a few other sittings here and there. Meanwhile, we only get to attend three yoga asana classes per week.
Nikki, Amber and I bitch about this and more in the hot tub at night, before going to bed. It's my favourite part of the day. We go to to 'spa building,' undress and step outside to the patio, which is usually covered by snow, and remove the cover to the hot tub, and get into the steaming water. We are strangely the only ones using it. It's so beautiful, under the stars, with the mountains like gentle giant in a reverent circle around us. Sometimes it snows on us. It's a very sensual experience to have icy snowflakes land on your hot skin.
We trade debauchery tales from back home. We compare notes on our constant failures in the meditation hall. We gossip about cucumber girl who's holier than than thou and therefore annoying as fuck. And, we agree, she probably has an eating disorder.
The third week into my stay, there's a meditation intensive going on. Which means the place is full of people, and the spiritual leader, the guru, or whatever they call him, is there. I am very sceptical. The devotees treat this middle-aged, overweight white guy like god.
It is while meditating in a small group with him though, that I have a break-through. After all of those hours and hours of fighting with myself, and with the voices in my head -- most of them mean, or at least, boring as hell, I get concentrated. It just happens. It's like I come to a clearing in the dense forest of my mind. Everything is ok. In fact, everything is beyond perfect. I feel love. I am love. The fact that my left foot has fallen asleep, and that my butt hurts, can't take any of that away from me.
When the bell rings to signal that the sitting is over, it's usually a big relief. It's freedom. Now it's an end to my freedom.
I am high, so high. I think, finally I know how to meditate.
Next session, I get concentrated again. And I get cocky. I got this.
But the following session I am back to my monkey mind and my achy hips.