I had chosen to attend the “Living Yoga Program,” in Austin, Texas for its good professional reputation but also because I was emotionally in need of distance from my normal surroundings. I needed to re-think the whole strategy of my life as a single divorced woman, mother of two daughters. I was worried about just about everything. About how was I going to maintain our household with no child-support from Kevin, how was I going to control and know what my teenage daughters were doing in their free time, when I worked two jobs and had no help, except the once a month dinner Kevin offered for his children.
The yoga certification was meant to not only diversify my practice which relied on massage, and work with my hands so heavily, but also it was meant to allow me ten days of focusing, rethinking and relaxation away from the source of the problems.
The Living Yoga teachers, Ellen, Charles and Donna rented space in Barsana Dham, a replica of the holly Barsana Dham Temple in India. Build as the center of a compound on which approximately 50-60 believers lived, Barsana looked to me as a Paradise lost in the mist of Texas. It made me wonder why there? What was the history of building this magical place which looked so out-of-place in Texas.
I took a shuttle from the airport, and little by little all the other passengers got off at their stops. Now it was just the African-American driver and me and for a while he was silent, but tht kind of silence where one could feel heavy thoughts floating inside the head of the other person.
:I knew you was coming!” He declared quickly, as if this was a key statement, and it was, because it made me wonder why was he even thinking I was coming and how did his premonition that “I was coming,” fit into our sudden relationship.
“Oh?” I answered very intelligently, and decided I rather listen and find out more before I venture any opinions about the nature of our new and unexpected relationship.
“I am a Christian. A real Christian. This place not good. Wy you come here?”
I explained I was not there to worship whatever the place and Temple worshiped and that my teachers rented space in the compound, that was the only reason I were there, not to convert to whatever he thought it was going to steal my soul and put me on a wrong path. Frankly, after the Flower of Life Re-Birth experiment, I was myelf careful to hold on to my soul, so what he said worried me.
“Tell me more, why are you saying this? Do you know something… would you like to share?”
As we drove up the maniqured road, I observed several people dressed in Orange saris. Some had white tunics over tight pants. Tey had a red line in the middle of their forehead, which I learned symbolized the path of God.
“They certainly have very colorful clothing,” I told the driver, as he didn’t seem to be willing to share with me the fears for my life.”
“When their new-born males are born, the fathers kill them instantly for fear they will be competition later!”
“What, what? They kill their male children? Oh my God, but you must report this to Police! Who horrible! And how did you find this out?”
The driver looked at me and as we continued to drive up to the main building, out in the fields, he pointed at a group of beautiful pea-cock.
“I saw them! When male bird, father kills! I saw them!”
“You mean the birds? You were talking about the birds?”
“Yes, peacocks bad, evil place, you not good here!”
Oh, I thought, at least we are not talking of mass murderers of male babies. If the Chinese would only know, and the rest of the world with their adoration for male babies. If only my mother would have known when I was born a girl and she was disappointed. Hmm, the peacocks were certainly unique in their determination f values and threats…
“I am so sorry, yes you are right, it is terrible they kill the male bird babies.”
“Stay away from them! Evil!”
We stopped in front of the Temple where next to it there was a small gift shop and I paid him. As I was handing him the fee, he hesitated:
“How long you here? He asked.
“Ten days, I am taking a course, I am not worshiping… I don’t even know what they worship…”
“I come back to see you okay.”
I was confused… was he telling me I was in danger, that he will check I was still alive in three days… he wanted to come back? why? when?
” Thank you, but I am here with a group of students in yoga and our teachers. Thank you, you don’t have to come back, but I appreciate.”
He looked at me in silence, took the fee and as he was driving away said:
“Yoga not good!”
Great beginning for me, seeking peace, to be far from the maddening world, to re-organize by shattered life!
I walked in the reception area and was assigned to my small, austere room which had two beds. I was going to have a roommate, but she was to arrive later.
I changed and went outside to try to understand my temporary residence. Who were the people who lived here? Why was this devoted Christian so much against them? Where was I?
I am not sure that my understanding was correct, but some things were for sure. They were vegetarian and we ate some of the best vegetarian meals I ever had. They had a rigorous partition of their duties and were very simple in their way of dressing and speaking. Very kind and slightly reserved, but not in the way which told one yo are not welcomed. After some investigations and reading their brochures, I understood they belonged to a Krishna Temple, also called “The International Society of Devine Love,” established by His Divinity Swami Prokashana and Saeaswati. He started ashrams in India, New Zealand and now i the U.S.
To this day I am not sure I understood correctly who The Radha Krishna was. It seemed a couple of divine origin… a manifestation of God? They are a couple that God is both. Yes, I could agree to that, that God is both.
Later I was told they had a branch in Philadelphia, strangely close to my house!
I even participated at a Krishna Service in the Temple. No shoes allowed. The Temple is spotless and it has marble floors and is carpeted in the actual worship chapel. There were pillows everywhere on the floor and the worshipers sat down with some exceptions when they stood up. The ceiling of the Temple looked like a sky with fluffy white clouds. There were two stages in the worship room. One stage has in the center a picture of their Devine… and the two characters, the couple I believe to represent God who is both man and woman. Everything around them is serene, peaceful. Flowers, trees. The other stage is closed by a courtain until the end of the service when the worship climaxes in chanting, the worshipers raise their hands to Heavens… and since I couldn’t understand the words, I am sure my perceptions were distorted. I was taken to an adjacent room to watch an English version of the service, but I didn’t resist through it all, I turned off the TV and tiptoed out. I put on my shoes and headed back to my room. May be my roommate had arrived!
Her name was Kate. She was a tall, beautiful woman who definitely was practicing yoga more than I did. I could tell just looking at her flexible, beautiful body. I am still friends with Kate, and over the years that passed since 2004 many things happened to both of us. I must say though, of all the things we shared and did together, the one I will never forget were the exercises she was doing every morning upon waking up. She didn’t even come out of her bed. She had an amazing technique of stretching right there in her narrow, hard bed. Her body was already flexible and ready by the time she stood up ready to start the day. Come to think of it… she should start a class teaching people how to do the bed stretches. I think that would be awesome!
The yoga program was just what I needed at the time. We worked hard, with training starting at 7:00 AM and with some short breaks ending after 5:00 PM. A group of wonderful people, united by our desire to understand more about the meaning of life, to become more flexible in our minds and bodies and become good enough to teach others.
When the time came to say good-bye and go back in our real worlds I cried. My soul knew, this was the break I was allowed and what was going to follow in my life, was going to be nothing from easy. I needed the nourishment of my soul, to learn that all is relative, to appreciate the small things in life and nature, which no matter how sick or poor we become, we all still could enjoy. A Full Moon brushing behind the clouds and reappearing again, is the same to the rich and the poor, the well and the sick.
Back in Philadelphia I threw myself in our new life, me as a single mother of two teenagers, holding on to the memories of positiveness, friendship and hope I had learned in the Living Yoga program.
I was hopeful, I was determined, I believed in my own capacity to fight and defeat adversity. After all, don’t they say there are peaks and valleys? I was in a valley but I was sure going to climb out of it!
Then one day, I noticed my right hand started to tremor. A little at the beginning, worse and worse. I couldn’t use it to eat any more. I trained my left hand, who was not shaking.
I was scared and my doctor didn’t seem to know what was my problem. It was not Parkinson, she assured me, which was good news, but it wasn’t Parkinson, what was it? I could not use my right hand to eat.
“I will order an MRI. You have arthritis in your spine, let’s see if something is not pressing on a nerve…”
I stepped into the MRI room at the University of Pennsylvania and listened to the technician’s instructions. The MRI tube always reminded me of a coffin, not my favorite test, but as they say you do what you have to do. I had no choice.
A few days later my doctor called me personally. Not a good sign when the doctor calls, usually an assistant calls and tells you cheerfully they found nothing wrong with you! Why was the doctor calling and not a nurse?
“How are you? How are you feeling?”
Oh, I thought, she was now making small talk. It must be really bad…
“Fine, fine, but my right hand is still shaking… do you have the MRI results?”
“Yes, that’s why I was calling… well, the MRI doesn’t show why your right hand shakes, we still don’t know, but the MRI went a little out of the spine area and the radiologist discovered you have a tumor under your left scapula. Does it hurt you, your left shoulder?”
My left shoulder didn’t hurt. The doctor could not feel and tumor as it was under my shoulder-blade…
“I suggest you have this tumor checked out as soon as possible.” She advised me, and the worry in her eyes made me believe I really had to take it seriously.
I am still thankful to the radiologist at the University of Pennsylvania and the technician who went beyond the strict call of their duty and discovered and took the time to report an incidental finding on an MRI.
The incidental finding which changed my life!