I spent the past four days at the Squaw Valley Wanderlust Festival.
That meant four days of mountain air, practicing under the guidance of masterful teachers, meeting interesting people, hiking and exploring nature, and connecting with the warm yoga community as much as I could. Walking through the festival was like finding my own special haven- everywhere I looked there was celebration. Celebration of life, celebration of nature, celebration of health. Throughout the entire experience I felt no sense of hate, anger, or discrimination. I saw strangers hugging and laughing, friends dancing and playing together, and teachers sharing their passion with such enthusiasm and such love that it inspired everyone to come together and practice as one regardless of who they were or where they came from.
One theme, however, crept up again and again throughout the weekend.
I first became really conscious of it when I took MC Yogi’s class, “Only Love is Real”, Friday afternoon. Before class began, Nicholas Giacomini (who is better known by his stage name) asked the packed class to leave our mats and come circle around him. Pressed shoulder-to-shoulder against the stage, we listened to Nicholas perform his song Road Home. After the song completed, he paused, absorbed the applause for a moment, and then began to speak.
“This class has already happened.” he said, a grin on his face like he knew a secret we didn’t, “We practiced, and we moved, and we laid in savasana already.”
“And then we went to the rest of our day, and we ate dinner, and we went to bed.” He continued, “And we woke up the next day and did it all over again. And the next day. And then the weekend was over and we all went home. And then weeks passed. And then a month. And then two months. And then it was winter.”
At this point the class was captivated. We stared at this unassuming yoga teacher, dressed more like a rapper than a stereotypical yogi, wondering where this seemingly nonsensical speech was going.
“And years passed. And we grew old, and the body grew sick. And our parents were gone. And our friends were gone. And then everyone we knew was gone, and we were gone. And then the trees and the mountains and the oceans were gone. And then the sun was gone. And it was all gone.” He paused for a moment, letting us all soak in this apparent reality of a world already passed, “It all happened already.”
Silence still filled the room. Two women, who we would later learn were his wife and one of his assistants, sat cross-legged on the floor next to him, smiling knowingly. Behind him was a DJ with long, blonde dreadlocks who also wore a subtle smile on his lips, and to his side was another dreadlocked man who had been singing as we laid our mats down before class. A million curious eyes looked up at this yogi-turned-rapper who was grinning as though he knew the greatest secret in the world.
“We know this. We know all of this will happen.” He began to speak again, “We are all headed to the same destination, all have the same fate. This world, as we know it, will end. Everyone we love will someday be gone, and we will someday be gone. We are all on our way home.”
A line from the song he had just performed suddenly reappeared in my head, now with more clarity: The world is a bridge/And the body’s on loan/God bless every child traveling the road home.
Nicholas went on to explain the meaning of the song, the realization he had years ago that we are all on the path we are meant to be on, and so long as we are good and loving people the specifics of our lives don’t matter. The job we have, the car we drive, the house we live in- these aren’t things that will matter when the trees and the mountains and the oceans are gone. All that will be meaningful is how we carry ourselves along our journey home, how we speak our truth, how we share our love, how we act in a way that is authentic to our beliefs and our passions. We are all guaranteed the same fate, regardless of who we are or where we come from, so we must live the life we love in the moments we have.
“The beautiful thing is that this class has already happened.” He finally said, scanning the audience and nodding, “And now all we have to do is live it.”
With that, we all crawled back to our mats, and practiced with joy and abandon. We tapped our feet to the music in crescent lunge, clapped our hands together overhead in unison in warrior two, hopped off of our mats and danced with our neighbors. There was no room for uncertainty or discomfort anymore- this had all already happened. It was a part of our story, it was where we were meant to be. Just like we could look back five, ten, twenty years ago and see why all those little things had happened for a reason, we could live in the moment knowing that this was happening for a reason, too.
As we sat in meditation at the end of class, the words of Nicholas’s song reverberated in my head: The world is a bridge/And the body’s on loan/God bless every child traveling the road home.
I wasn’t quite clear just yet, but the words struck a chord deep inside of me. I cried, eyes closed, sitting on my mat like a tiny island in a sea of others, wondering just what exactly I was feeling.
Later in the week, I took the tram up to the top of the mountain to take a class overlooking the valley with my teacher Jenni Wendell. As we waited for class to start and the students to find their places on their mats, I stood with Jenni and her assistant (and my dear friend Misha) soaking in the view. Before us were a thousand trees stretching up towards the vast blue sky, tiny purple flowers pressing their faces up towards the sun through the earth, and mountains that stood, with humbling pride, like solemn guards overlooking the scene.
“Remember that time,” Misha said, “When Jenni was about to teach a class on top of a mountain at Wanderlust?”
It was simple, but it put everything into perspective. This was one of those moments we would reminisce on, that we would smile as we remembered years down the line, that we would write down in hopes that we would never forget- and we were living in it. I felt suddenly zoomed in, like I had been living through a wide lens and was now forced to see what was right in front of me. Somehow, I had made it here. I was on top of a mountain practicing yoga. I was smiling more than I had ever smiled. I was more at peace than I had ever felt.
I couldn’t believe, as Misha wrapped her arms around my shoulders and my eyes filled with tears again, that I was meant to end up in a place this beautiful.
On the last day, I took a class with world-renowned teacher Seane Corn. Just like Nicholas, she invited us all to press up against the stage and listen to her speak, or as she called it, “Set the context for the class.” The class was titled “Power vs. Empowerment,” and she spoke beautifully to this message.
“In yoga, we stretch.” she said, holding her arm out to her side in demonstration, “We stretch, and we release the tension. We release all the tension we hold from stress and anger and hatred, and we can then step into power.”
Self-confidence, Seane said, is the root of empowerment. Yoga is a practice in confidence- in trusting the process, in trusting our capabilities, in trusting that we are exactly where we need to be. Once we are at peace with ourselves there is no need to control the world around us, no desire to fix others to meet our mold or change ourselves to meet that of others. We are able to generate meaningful change, to bring passion and light into the world now that there is no clinging on, no tension.
Before we broke to practice, she said, “We may not be enlightened in this lifetime, but we can be empowered today.”
This wasn’t the first time I had taken Seane’s class, and each time I do I’m taken aback by how powerful her class is with remarkable simplicity. There were no fancy transitions, no dramatic arm balances, no flair or drama. But there was power- her voice rang clearly throughout the room, and she seemed to float on air as she walked us through our practice while speaking in a way that could only be described as preaching. She swelled you up with a power that you didn’t know you had within you, while simultaneously rooting you back down to earth with her own humbling power.
Like Nicholas, she ended our class in a seated meditation. As Kevin Paris sweetly sang Lokah Samastah (one of my favorite chants), Seane spoke one last time.
“There is power in trust,” she said to a sea of closed eyes and open hearts, “And you are worthy of trust. Whatever it is, whatever you’re stepping into, you’re ready. You are so beyond ready.”
And then it all hit me at once, what all the little seeds that had been planted this weekend had blossomed into. As much as I write about trusting the process and trusting the Universe, I was still struggling to believe that I was ready to leave my community and move to Santa Cruz. I couldn’t believe that, just as I was beginning to step into my voice as a teacher and find a path that felt really, truly authentic to me, I was being cut short by what felt like an obligation. I had to go to college. That’s just what you do. But it felt like it was tearing me away from what I loved and where I felt loved. It felt like it was ending what was just beginning.
But just as Nicholas had said, I was on my way home. This had all already happened, this was all already a part of my story. I had already left Just Be, I had already gone away to college, I had already grown up and graduated and moved forward. And, just like I look back on my time in the hospital as a way to finding yoga, or my stumble into Just Be as my unintentional path to teaching, I would someday look back on this next step to Santa Cruz and see what it had given me that I would never want to miss.
A few weeks before leaving for Wanderlust, my mother got the news that she didn’t get the new job she had applied for.
She really wanted it. She worked hard, tirelessly, day and night. And she didn’t get it.
And the advice I gave her was to trust the Universe, to trust that everything happens for a reason. I told her I couldn’t wait to look back with her in a year and say, “If that hadn’t happened, we wouldn’t be here today. I’m so happy we’re here.” Because, without fail, that has always happened in my life. Every heartache, every struggle, every obstacle, led me to where I am now, and I have truly never felt happier.
And as I sat on my mat, crying for what felt like the millionth time that weekend, I suddenly heard my own advice.
We are on our way home. All of us. This is my path. What is meant to be will be. Moving, Santa Cruz, college…these aren’t things getting in the way of my journey, these are things that are a part of it. My fears of not teaching, or losing my connection to my community, or losing the person I’ve become who I’ve come to love so much are tension that I’m carrying. Tension that can be released. Tension that stands in the way of stepping into my own power.
After Seane’s class, I had to say goodbye to Misha, Jenni, and the other Just Be yogis who had come to the festival. When Misha wrapped her arms around me, she said, “You are so loved. You are so, so loved.” I sobbed into her shoulder, and I believed her. I believed, maybe for the first time, that I wouldn’t be forgotten. That I wasn’t being torn away. That I was headed where I was supposed to be headed.
I went to aerial yoga that afternoon, one of my last classes of the festival, and found some play and lightness there. After flipping upside down, experiencing poses in a new way, laughing at how ridiculous I must have looked to anyone on the outside, we found our way into one of the most blissful savasanas I have ever experienced. As I floated above the earth, swaying in the mountain air and feeling the warmth of the sun through my hammock, I thought to myself, “I almost didn’t make it here.”
Three years ago, I didn’t have any desire to be alive. I felt like there was nothing tying me to the earth, nothing pushing me forward or holding me back. When the doctors told me, in an attempt to get me to care about regaining my health, that I could quite possibly die, it sparked no urgency in me. I didn’t care if I made it to the next year, the next day, or the next breath. There was no thought in my head about what could be, or who I someday would be, and living felt far more tiring than I cared to do anymore.
But this bliss I experienced, floating, completely immersed in a weekend of joy and love, was something I couldn’t imagine not making it to. I almost missed out on this. I almost missed out on this weekend. I almost missed out on Wanderlust, on teacher training, on my very first class. I almost missed out on the joy of my first crow pose, on the pride of holding my certificate in my hands, on the feeling of standing in front of my graduating class and speaking my truth. I almost missed out on all of it, because I didn’t believe there was something greater coming in the next chapter.
I’m ready to believe now. I’m ready to believe that in a year, two years, three, there will be a moment where I’ll look back on all the times I was almost too scared to go to college and think, “I almost didn’t make it here.”
I’m on my way home. I’m ready to trust that path now.