You’ll find all sorts of people at a yoga retreat: friendly, reserved, overweight, underweight, wearing the latest earth-tone yoga gear, slumming it in sweats or decked out in lycra. Don’t think everyone around here’s enlightened. People do the same stuff they do in the world outside. You might carry your breakfast tray down the stairs and out onto the patio, breathing the fresh country air into your citified lungs, and notice that some guy is breaking the rules by working on his laptop at a table out there. He’s put his bags on the benches, a clear message of unwelcometude to everyone but the woman you saw him with earlier. If you’re like me, that’s the table you’ll choose, setting your stuff down at the very end—the guy doesn’t have enough bags to appropriate the entire table, after all. You turn away and gaze out across the lawn, toward the lake and surrounding hills, tossing your bread crumbs to the little birds that hop and peck in the grass at your feet. The dude and his bags, just inches from you, will fade from your consciousness until you turn and realize he’s quietly disappeared. Contentment and solitude: this is where yoga and inner peace will take you.
It can be treacherous to start conversations. If you stay in a dorm, you might have a roomie who’s friendly and full of advice one day and then, when you see her the next and say hello, greets you with a strained, apologetic smile. You then notice the badge she’s wearing, printed with the words “In Loving Silence.” Aaah. I get it. I’m not supposed to talk to you today. You smile and say, “Sorry.” You feel momentarily like an idiot but you shrug it off. You didn’t spend five-hundred-something dollars and abandon your husband and child for four days to stress over shit like this. But it can be awkward. There are conversations that happen naturally, over meals, as tables fill up and strangers sit next to you and you have to move your stuff to make room so words emerge from your mouth and the other person returns some and, before you know it, you’ve entered into a dialogue. You may or may not see this person again; you may or may not remember anything about this conversation. But that’s okay. Because sharing a few words with a stranger is part of the engine that makes time move through the universe, propelling us toward a destination…whatever that may be. Without these moments, whether pleasant or inane or profound, we wouldn’t arrive anywhere at all.
Everyone’s here. There are folks who won’t speak to you because you don’t look like them, or are not in their age range, or are not wearing the right sort of yoga gear. Who knows their reasons, really? Do they know their reasons? You might utter an innocuous remark to someone while standing at the bathroom sink and this person might just screw the top onto their toothpaste tube and hightail it outta there, not even looking at you. You shake your head, thinking, I guess you haven’t made it to the loving-kindness part of your program. Yes, it’s a place where people go to slow down, but there are still those who breathe down your neck on the cafeteria line, making it clear you’re not moving fast enough. Breathe. Patience. Namaste. Back off. A yoga retreat is filled with all kinds; people have their own reasons for being here. Don’t think all those hearts are filled with love, compassion, and wisdom.
But you’re not responsible for everyone else. You can change only yourself. What are your reasons for coming here? Have you thought them through, really, or did you have some vague idea of being by yourself for a while? You can be by yourself here despite the people all around you; you don’t necessarily even require an “In Loving Silence” badge. You can imagine, pleasantly, not speaking to anyone for a couple of days (although you can’t imagine giving up talking and social media). But there are moments of loneliness. Solitude is double-edged: you don’t have to meet anyone else’s expectations, yet when something delights you there’s no one to share it with.
Patience. Acceptance. You repeat those words in your mind as you take deep, slow breaths, breaths that take in all the patience and acceptance you can manage and release as much judgment and resentment and obstacles as will go. You’ve eaten healthy, nutritious food; you’ve worked out and yoga-fied more in these four days than you have in years. You think about your little boy and your husband constantly; they’re as close to being here with you without being here. But it’s nice, so nice, not to have to answer to anyone, to make choices without worrying about their affects on anyone else.
And when it’s time to go, you’re ready to go. The drive home is swift; you can almost feel your little boy in your arms again. You’re happy to have gone; you’re happy to return. It’s a nice place to just be, but you wouldn’t want to live there.