Recovering my zen in Sri Lanka

sri lanka

Where to begin…

I am almost two weeks into my Sri Lankan yoga journey and truly don’t know where to begin in this well of love and connection and healing that I am sharing with my fellow yogis and myself. As I write, I am sitting at my dream writing desk surrounded by windows and nothing but lush green as far as the eye can see in a gorgeous room with open windows listening to the healing and magical sound of the rain.

They say start at the beginning with a story, but that tends to imply that time is linear and I don’t think I subscribe to that philosophy anymore, so maybe that won’t work. What would the beginning be anyway? Birth? Death of an old life and rebirth into a new one? The day I discovered yoga? The day I discovered myself? The day I discovered what love really is? The days and nights I keep discovering it? Or that we are all so beautifully perfect and connected that sometimes (often) I just need to weep to take it all in and let it all out? I know, I’ve already lost some of you who are reading with this woo woo talk, but that’s ok.

So, perhaps for this passage of sharing, I will start with the experience of the journey to Sri Lanka itself, and what it has been for me so far.

The last couple of times I have traveled, I have done so with a really heavy heart and not being really ready to go for some reason, even when returning to places that I have already left pieces of my soul that are home to people that I have fallen in love with (as you may know, I tend to fall in love with people everywhere…not the romantic love, but the big “you, you, you!” love that Martha Beck and Liz Gilbert like to talk about.) Maybe then it was work stress and the imminent return of that same stress that I knew would still be there when I returned and that actually followed me away on holiday or maybe I was having one of those dark soul times that I just needed to get through. I think it was a combination. But, to my great delight, this time when I was packing to travel to this absolutely stunning tea plantation in the mountains of central Sri Lanka, all I could feel was pure love and the sensation that I was answering a call of my soul. (Those are the best calls, you know...)

The travel here itself was a bit less than stellar with a late night flight and early morning arrival followed by a 4 hour twisty, windy ride through the mountains —- but my arrival at the Ashburnham Plantation was warm and welcoming and full of bright shiny faces fresh from their morning’s mysore ashtanga practice. I arrived just in time for breakfast. Seriously, I could dedicate an entire blog to the otherworldly deliciousness of the beautiful and mostly vegan (occasional dairy or egg) meals that have been prepared for us here. It’s colorful, full of many veggies I’ve never seen, spicy and prepared with such love by the wonderful Reegie, Sylvie and Vish who are the staff who have become family in this piece of heaven.

After that first breakfast, I pretty much shut down for about a day and a half due to sleep deprivation, a condition I am sad for now because I missed precious time with many of the beautiful souls on this retreat, 7 of whom left last Wednesday morning. Many of them in tears and many of us as well. Ah, the sweet release of emotion and love. We will meet again, I know this— Christina, my soul daughter; Esther, sister of my soul; Marta, Michaela, Laura, Melena, and George – beautiful, kindred spirits who showed me immediately exactly why I had chosen this place in Sri Lanka without even knowing… We will meet again.

Even before this mass exodus, the beautiful and inspiring Eva from Prague left us to return to her life of teaching there. I wish we’d had more time Eva, but thank you for your grace and warmth and for sharing that first sunset with me after meditation. I will see you again, also.

At this stage in my life, I can now say with solid gratitude that I now have 3 yoga teachers that I would gladly travel the world to practice with.

Peter Askew who introduced me to Ashtanga in Portugal in 2012 and gave my ego the utter lack of attention it needed so that I could actually learn to listen to my body and my soul.

Olivier David, who gave me the opportunity to break down my ego once again when I learned exactly what a Mysore practice meant in Thailand in 2013 (then again in South Africa 2014).

And now, Jacob Handwerker who is my new teacher I’ve come to really appreciate here in Sri Lanka. Jacob has achieved expert level safe space holding status with gentle guidance and peaceful energy that is both soothing and encouraging allowing you (me) to push myself to (your) my edge without judgment, without injury and with deep respect. There aren’t enough thank you’s, Jacob. But thank you from the bottom of my heart just the same.

I actually have a 4th teacher in the beautiful and radiant earth mother, Sue Billington in Portugal. Sue has guided me to deepen my Ashtanga practice and my connection to myself in general on many an evening with her very nourishing Yin practice. Love you, Sue.

Best of all, I can truly call each of these wonderful teachers my friend as well.

As I continue to write, I realize it will be impossible to adequately encapsulate this experience, and I am sure I will be processing much of it for some time to come.

The days here are so simple and so full at the same time. I wake…I meditate or do pranayama or both, have a little walk, eat an incredible breakfast, then either read or hike to the private waterfall and have a swim and a healing lie on the hot rocks there, or even have a swim in the pool before a shower, evening meditation and then another vibrant and nourishing dinner. In between, connection and conversations with the remainder of the group here. There are fewer of us with a different energy than when our mostly Spanish and Czech contingent was here, but they are some of the loveliest souls I’ve encountered. There’s our beautiful, healing love goddess Anna from Dublin who sort of floats through the world bringing joy and light wherever she goes. And then, there’s our gorgeous Aussie friend, Phil who brings an energy and an edge that help to keep it all real and who makes me laugh. Jonas, from Czech, deeply sensitive, kind, loving and happens to be an incredibly talented circus performer who moves from the heart wanting to connect to the audience and all who he encounters. Joanna left us on Sunday and we miss her (we will meet again, too Joanna). Joanna is a generous and caring soul from Holland who looks like she belongs on an old Hollywood movie set. She oozes glamour, confidence and calm and looks like Katherine Hepburn.

And who can forget Fabian from Germany…a curious young fellow with a passion for acro yoga, long solo visits to the waterfall, eating 4 or 5 meals in a single sitting and making videos of things that I’m sure there’s a market for somewhere…(smile) I’ll never forget the evening when Reegie and Vish came around the corner en route to the waterfall saying “we are going to find the boy!” as Fabian had been gone since breakfast. He was found safe…perhaps overexposed to the leeches, but safe nonetheless.

Then there’s David, who owns the Ashburnham Estate we are all so fortunate to be living together in, and his beautiful wife Indie and their 3 gorgeous children. David is an accomplished astute business man who likes to solve problems and listen to new ideas and who manages to make us feel as welcome and at home as if we were old friends from University. He also likes to hike and accompanied us at the beginning of an 8 hour hike through the tea plantations and jungle last Saturday. (He’d have completed the full hike, but he had guests in for lunch, and managed to spend 4 hours hiking anyway.) Then there’s David’s terribly handsome young nephew, Max, who is the temporary manager for the place while we await the arrival of the newly hired full time manager. While Max hasn’t yet joined us in morning yoga, I believe he has really enjoyed the peace and calm energy the group has brought to the estate. His sense of humor and complete dedication to making sure we have whatever we need whenever we need it have rounded out the experience.

It’s funny, whenever I leave for vacation and tell people I am going on a yoga retreat, they usually give me puzzled looks and ask what on earth is “vacation-like” about going on a yoga retreat? Before this trip, I actually had someone say “how could THAT possibly be relaxing?”

WHAT??? I am not sure I understand the question. I have so little interest in lying on a beach with an umbrella drink in my hand and waking up dehydrated and hungover every day…or traveling to some place with an agenda to see as many tourist sites as possible that ends with a return home and the lingering feeling that you “need a vacation after your vacation.” No thanks. I’ll take yoga, no agenda, peace, quiet and the beautiful souls I meet when I journey – every time.

I could go on and on, and am sure I will revisit, but for now – this little piece of inspired sharing feels complete. I have only two days left before I return to the land of sand in Abu Dhabi and the beautiful and shiny souls that I love so dearly there. You know who you are.

I can wrap it all up with a gratitude bow and with a return to the peaceful and grounded happiness that I recognize as my true essential self and that I met for the first time in 2012. My big takeaways are remembering that we are all connected, and we are all love, and we all need and want and often feel the same things.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING is permanent, and that is ok. It is good to embrace until it is time to let go. And in the letting go, space is created for the beautiful embrace of whatever is next on the journey. There’s an incredible gift in that. Priceless.

Sure, there are always going to be stresses and day to day quandaries to solve, but it is and ever will be true that all is well, all will be well.

A mantra of mine has often been “if you get a chance, take it…if it changes your life, let it.”. You have chances every day. Take some.

Yeah…that feels really good.

Namaste, ya’ll.

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