Impermanence stuck its tongue out at me the following morning while I groggily packed my bags and pouted because I was tired. I then skated off to the airport for my final destination in India: Goa. I whined a bit about having to jump in a plane once again but was thrilled to arrive in a new land, having no idea that land would steal my heart.
A ten-day yoga retreat was the perfect finale to my playtime in India. As the taxi driver bounced his vehicle into a driveway across rocks, dust, and sand, the logo for SWAN Yoga Retreat appeared and I was lost in curious bewilderment. Trekking finally kaput, I was at a place of lengthened residence, a place where I could do nothing and get really good at it.
Two Indian men leading the retreat greeted me, infected me with peace and compassion, and asked me how my time in Delhi was. I hesitated; intense was the only word I could think of and just as it was about to fall out of my mouth, one of the guys laughed out, “intense?” I laughed and relaxed, appreciative my experience was understood. The two cheery men showed me to my dimly lit hut, which included two double beds draped with mosquito nets. Incense was already flowing and the room had an undeniable openness, ready to receive my literal and figurative baggage. I dumped the literal immediately.
Two beautiful blonde labs kissed my face and jumped all over me as I was steered into the common area. I transferred to my puppy voice and doubled over with bliss, dropping to my knees and letting the two furry antidepressants soothe me. I began to cry for two reasons. Reason 1: that was the first time I had touched a dog since August, 2013. I’m tearing up now thinking about how lovely it was just to feel an animal and be loved up by one. I scratched Leela and Shakti’s bellies as they fought for my attention and playfully bit my fingers. Reason 2: I knew I could lie there and play all day with those dogs if I wanted to. And the next day, and the next day, and the day after that.
Time ceased to exist at SWAN, just like it did at Parmarth Niketan. Some days after my arrival I asked, “Is today Friday?” casually directing my question to everyone sitting in the common area. “No, Abu, today is Tuesday.” I responded with a three second long “hmm” and a speculating stare. I stopped caring again at the end of those three seconds.
It was at SWAN that I made soul friends. You know, those people you know for only a few days or maybe even a couple hours, and you fall in love with them and form a connection so tightly locked that you know, you just know you will never, ever lose touch even when you go your separate ways. SWAN taught me the effects of traveling: you meet people doing the exact same as you, leaving it no surprise that bonds are formed strong enough to invoke tears when parting ways.
Spending two major holidays with the people at SWAN was uncharacteristic and fun. We wore Santa hats and danced in the yoga hall on Christmas Eve, following a decadent dinner cooked by SWAN’s exceptional chef. I woke up early the next morning to Skype with my family and friends from home. It was difficult to see them through a screen as usual, but I felt lucky to be able to contact them at all, from a peaceful, hippy city in India, so far from home.
New Years Eve was a blockbuster evening. We went to the beach and indulged in cocktails, which lead to a glorious instant when the clock struck 12. New Years had never felt so different as my feet dug into the sand, waves crashed into my shins and wet my dress, my hands and nose reached upward toward the stars, and illuminating fireworks cut colorful slivers of joy into the sky. “Happy New Year!” everyone shouted as we splashed across the water and gave each other hugs, best friends in that moment.
Most of what I experienced at SWAN were the effects of turning inward. It’s as simple as that. I can’t remember how I felt in a specific meditation, or on a particular morning, but what I can tell you is this: some days I laughed and some I cried. Some I felt angry, and some I was filled with contentment. There were days I wanted to explore the city, and days I wanted to stay put. Some days I was exhausted, and on others I felt energized.
Nothing about India stayed the same, from my emotions to my experiences. And I’m starting to learn that that’s okay. I think one of the biggest challenges we face in this life is the ability to stay grounded in the face of inherent change. Sitting in a tattoo shop in Goa, I held out my forearm for the tattoo artist to draw the mantra, “Lokah, Sumastha, Sukhino, Bhavantu” (loosely translated, “May all living things be happy and free”), and I thought that perhaps tattoos are one of the only things treading close to something permanent in this life.
We humans are dealt with a lot of sh*t all of the time. A lot of sh*t that despite our efforts, a lot of the time it doesn’t seem to make much sense. We then attach to the emotions we feel and become stunned when those emotions shift, from positive to negative, and negative to positive. But there must be some way to relieve ourselves from this state of shock- a way to find stability in the face of transition, peace among chaos, tolerance in unfavorable surroundings, acceptance of losses.
Witnessing my truest self began in India, and the lessons I learned there are the first of millions, I’m sure. I know I have so much more to discover. What are my dreams and goals? What do I truly want to accomplish in this life? Who am I? A sliver of the authentic me was exposed in India, like finding “X marks the spot” but not yet reaching the treasure.
As the cliché goes, “It’s about the journey, not the end result”. Yeah, yeah. I’m workin’ on it.