Checking in

For the past month or so, I’ve been hosting a weekly yoga class. My intention was to gain teaching experience while helping my friends better cope with the challenges of the difficult times that we’re living in.

I’ve realized that the real value of the weekly sessions are to connect and check-in. While I usually just teach impromptu without much of a plan, I can find a groove based on the general mood of the group to quickly decide what is most needed.

As a heavy consumer of media, I’ve been reminded many times since March to reach out and check in with folks. Yoga gives me an opportunity to not just ask how they’re doing, but sense how they’re doing based on body language and their requests.

Most people are feeling exhausted and drained, particularly in the evenings. Even though social isolation seems to make time slow down, the days and weeks seem to be passing quickly. It is difficult to truly process all that is happening in the world right now, leaving a deep emotional imprint that we each carry with us.

So, what about the check-ins? Reaching out to friends to ask how they’re doing generally results in an avalanche of complaints, gripes and long venting sessions. All understandable, but my takeaway is usually that they are irritated but not truly struggling. Because truly struggling generally results in silence and introspection, followed by (hopefully) strength and courage.

Yet irritation demands attention, like a gnat that just won’t go away until we attend to it. I believe that venting and complaining are avoidance strategies, but not true coping mechanisms that will ultimately serve to resolve issues, rather they only perpetuate and spread them.

And if we don’t attend to minor irritations, we tend to get bigger challenges until we finally relent and acknowledge the struggle, which is the beginning of coming to terms with it.

When the pandemic started, I recalled all the conversations I had with my spiritual mentors at Yogaville who believe that difficult circumstances are a Kali Yuga, or a time of upheaval that can ultimately be transformative.

While it is easy to fall into the trap of reacting, awareness and patience an turn a bad situation into a potential lesson and opportunity for growth.

Easy to say, yet hard to do. In Emerson’s words, “Life is a succession of lessons which must be lived to be understood.”

While I have managed to commit to teaching yoga once a week, I have neglected to write because it requires honesty and authenticity and right now, it is hard just to get through my day. Creativity remains largely elusive for me. I haven’t painted in months. I feel numb and overwhelmed most of the time.

The majority of my efforts in life to connect with people have fallen flat and while I know how important connection is, mostly I just want to disconnect. Social isolation has made me want to isolate permanently and I have less agitation in my life when I don’t attempt to connect to new people.

I look forward to weekly yoga classes all week, and checking in even if I hear so much irritation. While I don’t usually share my own irritations because I try to focus on widening the lens more than anything else, it is comforting to know that I am not alone in having them.

I hope that the great changes in the world and in the struggles and tragedies that we all face only lead to positive outcomes achieved through awareness and patience. I hope that these times lead to profound growth and greater connection.

My hope for all yogis is a deeper understanding of the minor irritations that can lead to a greater self-concept and more serious commitment to the journey of growth and experience.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

 

Let’s all do our part

When the pandemic started, I thought of it as being asked to do very little and didn’t consider social distancing and staying at home to be a real big deal. It was the least that I could do to maintain a safe community and get us back on track while preventing any unnecessary damage to the economy. And I think the majority of the people that I talked to felt this way.

Then George Floyd was killed sparking protests across the country and we saw another aspect of our society that it had long been easy to ignore as a white person. I always knew that it was there, but I for one neglected to understand my part to change it.

And for the first time, I started recognizing that I not only had a responsibility to be educated on the two Americas that we live in, but I also had to do my part to be a part of the change that is so desperately needed.

A few things have made me see the world differently over the past few months. First, people pouring their hearts out who have been in pain a long time pointing out that to do nothing makes us complicit. Second, people who believe that their reality is the only reality who make hateful remarks… truly this is a time that has drawn out all the racists. Third, recognizing that I needed to be prepared for a situation in which someone is being mistreated and act quickly. I know from experience that in order for me to be ready to act and know exactly what to do, I have to educate myself and be prepared to respond before the situation presents itself.

And let’s be honest, we all witness situations that are inappropriate and wrong. Oftentimes, I feel as though I am taken off-guard and am too shocked to react appropriately.

So I chose to use this time to learn and grow and prepare. Being an antiracist is a value that I now hold as I recognize that the only way things are going to change is if we change individually. Being antiracist has many dimensions, and it’s important to understand them all. I started with Dr. Kendi’s book to question my own assumptions and ingrained beliefs.

I grew up outside of Detroit and always knew that we lived in a society with extreme inequities. In college, I wrote my master’s thesis on depictions of slavery in a historical context and read books on segregation in housing and schools. While I had an interest in learning, I always knew that it was something that we don’t talk about generally and as a white person, I felt like it wasn’t my issue because my rights weren’t being taken away because of the color of my skin.

But thank goodness times have changed and what we now need above all else is compassion for one another and the desire to seek and learn more about one another and the experiences that we have survived. All the answers lie within and listening unlocks all of the power for a better, stronger society to emerge.

Below is a list of the resources that I have collected and committed to using to expand my understanding of the world around me, please let me know if you have any to add.

Om Shanti.

Books:

  • White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, Robin DiAngelo
  • How to Be An Antiracist, Dr. Ibram X. Kendi
  • Me and White Supremacy: Combat Racism, Change the World and Become a Good Ancestor, Layla F. Saad
  • So You Want to Talk About Race, Ijeoma Oluo
  • Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race, Reni Eddo-Lodge
  • How to Be Less Stupid About Race, Crystal M. Fleming
  • White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide, Carol Anderson, PhD
  • Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers Her Superpower, Dr. Brittney Cooper
  • I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Maya Angelou

NY Times Podcast: 1619

Mellody Hobson: Color blind or color brave? 

Rich Roll (Podcast): This Is America: Byron Davis & Phil Allen, Jr.

  • This Is America: Baptized in Whiteness Phil Allen blog post

  • 13th on Netflix, a documentary analysis of the criminalization of African Americans and the U.S. prison boom — and a master class in contextualizing the systemic aspect of racism.

Tim Wise Video: On White Privilege

TedTalk: Lucky Zip Codes

September: Uptight

If I had to pick one word for the city that I live in, it would be uptight. Yet this isn’t my word, I met an elderly man from India (guru/wise sage?) outside of a coffee shop a few weeks ago and this was his assessment.

He had only been living in my city for a few days, and he shared that this was his instinctual reaction to the people in the area. He had transplanted from India, and he approached me because he saw me playing with my dog and not being uptight.

I got the sense that he really wanted to share his feelings with someone. I understand what he meant as I’ve had hundreds of encounters with uptight strangers. I try to remind myself that perhaps they’re not uptight, but rather distracted or confused or daydreaming.

But if you look more closely and keep looking, it’s hard not to use the word uptight.

We are all guilty of taking ourselves way too seriously, and being distracted, confused and daydreaming are all totally normal. But if uptight-ness is underlying all of it, we all need to get to a yoga studio STAT.

Life is too short to spend it tied up in knots inside. One of the saddest realities that I learned in yoga class (actually getting certified class, not typical yoga class) is that some people can’t relax or meditate. It makes them uncomfortable and stressed because they’ve spent so much time in a heightened state of emotion and repression that relaxation is next to impossible, and actually produces the opposite effect of stress.

While there could be other dynamics at play, most yoginis believe that this is great information and a great opportunity. Going deeper and moving into it and toward it can be truly transformative.

Accessible yoga has always been compelling to me. Accessible anything has always been compelling to me. People who say it’s not for them, they don’t fit in, they could never be successful at it. These are all messages that it may be exactly what they need (perhaps not always, but it is a clue that should be explored). Typically, the term “accessible” is applied to people who have a physical limitation, but from my perspective any other type of block – emotional, spiritual, psychological – can be applicable.

This is one of the many beauties of yoga. I view my studio as an oasis of peace and clarity in an otherwise chaotic and uptight city.

So if this is you, go forward and be so fruitful in your endeavors. Untie the knots and know that we all have our knots to untie. Explore the unknown and know that we all have our unknowns.

We are all terrified of what is just beyond us that is so scary yet so fascinating and offers us pure, unadulterated, liberating freedom, freedom, freedom.

Om Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

July: The end of the world

One of my favorite movies is Until the End of the World, partially because the soundtrack is amazing but partially because of the prophetic message.

In one scene of the movie, people are given devices to sleep with that can record their dreams and they become obsessed with watching the recordings. In fact, they become so obsessed that they only can focus on sleeping and then watching their dreams.

It may sound crazy but if you have been on a city bus or subway lately and looked around you, you would have probably noticed everyone is on their devices these days.

While our phones don’t record our dreams, they do lead us on believing that all of our dreams are stored in our devices. Life is better on social media. Everyone is beautiful and happy. Ads promise bigger, better, fancier. It is all available to us all the time, we can dream all day and all night and it never has to end.

It’s amazing how often I flash back to my favorite movie of zombie characters obsessed with making all their secret fantasies come true through dreams. The line between reality and fantasy blurs and life becomes unclear, clouded, diffuse.

Yoga offers the opportunity to put down the device. We can practice anytime, anywhere. Silence, stillness, peace. Until the end of the world.

July: Go In

When I was going through teacher training, we often talked about yoga newbies or the uninitiated. Yoga can be intimidating, but I never fully considered how off-putting meditation and silence can be to people who are unfamiliar.

In my own experience, I’ve talked to several friends that had the wrong idea about meditation, which was based on their misunderstanding that it is about inhibiting thoughts to create a sense of silence or stillness.

As yoginis know, Meditation is the practice of non-attachment to thoughts. Throughout our lives, we attach to most everything that comes up and we become a feather in the wind being thrown about by the gesticulations of the day. Not only do our experiences throw us about, but our thoughts throw us about… until we begin to practice non-attachment through meditation.

I had never thought I was particularly good at meditation, then I realized that it didn’t matter. When you really think about, what does it mean to be good at something? Aren’t the benefits we receive the most important factor in comparison to our effort expended?

I was receiving benefits and I was going in deeper. My lucid dream showed me that it was worth my time because I was making progress. I was dreaming while awake, watching my thoughts as though they were a movie. Since the experience was unlike any I have ever had, I began to realize that meditation was much more profound then I initially considered. I decided to Go IN… or go through the door that was opened.

Whether it is a daily practice or courage to go deeper, going in the openings presented is the practice. The discipline is beyond most other activities that fill my life. It isn’t something that I have to get done in any given day (these things are so much easier to accomplish).

It is rather about stopping doing anything and going in. It gives everything and requires only the act of genuine discipline and commitment to something greater than our small minds that provide.

When in doubt, when frustrated, when confused, when overwhelmed… Go IN.

August: Life Lessons from the Woodstock Guru

woodstock GuruAs runners we understand the importance of a strong mind-body connection.

Many runners can find enjoyment and purpose regardless of external circumstances simply through the power of the mind to overcome feelings in the body, which can lead to bliss… sometimes when we least expect it and not necessarily when it is most needed!

Fifty years ago, Swami Satchidananda – the Woodstock Guru – opened the Woodstock Music Festival with a message of peace and love, encouraging everyone to ‘always choose peace by seeking the kingdom within.’ This August is the 50th Anniversary of Woodstock.

Races and runs can present so many challenges that truly the only peace available is deep within, and this calling is the highly-sought after magical trail that many of us seek.

In March, I ran a self-supported 108k trail “moving meditation” at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville to honor Swami Satchidananda—the Woodstock Guru. During the run, I focused on the hallowed ground beneath my feet; the majesty of Mother Nature that held me and comforted me every step.

I reminded myself of the purpose of the practice of running long distances with every mile. It is not about torture or pain or exhaustion. Rather, it is about finding peace and freedom within the challenge. It is about breathing into the tightness until there is a release. It is about creating a mental and physical habit of always maintaining stillness and ease despite any obstacles. For many truly dedicated runners (myself included), the meaning of life can be found in the experience of running.

Swami Satchidananda’s opening remarks and prayer set the tone for a historic three days of peace and music that the world came to know and remember as Woodstock.

The values of Woodstock—peace, love, harmony—are as important today as they were 50 years ago, yet they have gotten lost in the cacophony of a society that may be in as much turmoil today as it was then.

Swami Satchidananda’s message focused on uniting body, mind, and spirit in a state of equanimity is the pathway to peace, harmony, and love. His teachings offer guidance on how to achieve this connection, and as trail runners we can learn from his wisdom, specifically:

Find Your Inner Ease

Swami Satchidananda recommended finding the ease that each of us is born with and recognizing that disease is essentially dis-ease: disturbed ease. We can use the power of the mind to find the disturbance and remove it and to take care not to disturb our ease, once restored.

Through increased awareness, we can identify muscle tightness, imbalances and weaknesses that could impede our performance or lead to injuries. Identifying how to alleviate these issues can serve as the path toward greater well-being, improved performance and a stronger mind-body connection. Rather than trying to find solutions through the latest tools, tricks or trends… tune inward and listen.

In his words: “Actually you don’t have to do anything to heal the body and mind. If you don’t interfere, the body and mind heals itself. There is a healer within everyone. We don’t have to do anything to put health into the body. We have to stop doing the negative things that disturb the body and mind and then the good happens by itself.”

See the Same Spirit in Others

When we identify with our physical bodies and our minds, we see the differences that make us feel separate from one another rather than experiencing all that unites us. Once we realize that behind these superficial differences there is something that unites us all, we can then realize that everyone else is equally a spark of the same light.

We are all united. Our global community is our collective strength.

Recognizing the similarities in our goals and our individual journeys toward achieving these goals is powerful and uplifting. Celebrating our victories and the victories of everyone in their search for peace and harmony… and of course, more miles.

In his words: “If we want to be happy, we should work for the happiness of all people everywhere. In order to have a better world, a more peaceful world, we must have a universal approach. It’s time to know each other and to live as one global family. With that kind of feeling the whole world will be a haven and a heaven.”

Seek Inner Peace and Joy

There are constantly waves in our otherwise peaceful mind caused by selfish desires. If we realize that these desires will only lead to more disturbance in the mind, we can choose more positive thoughts that will not disturb the mind. By letting go of attachments and self-centered thoughts and replacing them with more selflessness, we can find greater tranquility.

As runners, we have a profound opportunity to disentangle the grasping of the mind to hold onto what isn’t needed. Unraveling this tightness to find greater freedom, can change the running experience from a physical activity to personal transformation.

Central to this journey toward greater peace is setting an intention that will serve what we most need. Identifying the reasoning behind goals can serve as a guiding force for not only achieving the goal, but ensuring that the achievement leads to personal growth and satisfaction. Set your intention on having a great adventure that expands your horizons and the experience will take on new and special meaning.

In his words: “Happiness does not come from outside you. No one ever gives you happiness, but only reflects your own inner happiness. You have the strength, courage, and capacity to experience the peace and joy within and to share it with everyone. If you want to be happy, work for the happiness of all people everywhere.”

Since Woodstock, the message of the Age of Aquarius has gotten drowned out by a loud and busy world. Remembering the message of Woodstock is a gift that we can give ourselves of greater peace, health and happiness.

May: where do we go

All week I have been thinking about running off to the mountains with my furry friend for a jaunt in the woods. But when I get there, I know that I’ll still be searching because what I am looking for is not anywhere, any place to be found.

I’m continuing this thread of without and within. With out, or outside of ourselves, there is great promise for everything we desire… and yet it never fulfills. It only leads to more emptiness. Within is where all the treasures can be found… it is where peace resides.

But I know that in nature there is a crying and an aching for stillness and silence. It is a reminder to draw inward while looking outward. Exploring all the things by reaching for an end that will only lead back to the beginning.

This week is filled with distraction because I am in avoidance mode. Avoidance of reality. The mountains provide a good daydream because the distractions will be diminished. I won’t be able to grasp. There will only be me, my furry friend and the mountains, which is so similar to right now and this moment with my girl curled up at my feet dreaming of the mountains.

But peace isn’t out there. It can’t be bought. No one can give it to us. No place can make us feel finally at home within ourselves. Only we can do that, and only here and now. There won’t be a magical time or a magical place or a magical person that can change everything.

It is so easy and yet so hard to accept.

It is easier to grasp and hold on and avoid. I’ve lived a lifetime doing it. Yet the only way out is steadiness and ease – sthira and sukha (in Sanskrit).

Today’s yoga class delivered on my dream of the mountains and brought me the peace that I’ve been craving for days because I found a few moments of presence.

The mat is always a magical carpet ride because it is only me and my awareness, which can take me anywhere I want to go. And the only place I truly want to go is home to the peace within.

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti.

April: The story of the penny

Recent estimates have suggested that there is $10 million in pennies littering the streets of the U.S. How many times have you stepped on a penny or walked past a penny without picking it up? Or are you a karma yogi and insist on picking it up knowing that it will bring you good fortune more valuable than a penny?

Yoga is a discipline focused on increasing our awareness and the insignificance of the penny is entirely significant based on its story. Have you ever wondered where a particular penny came from, and wondered if perhaps someone you know once owned the penny? Have you ever wondered if someone lost a particular penny and where it was located when it belonged to no one?

So many questions for one little penny.

Years ago, my then 4-year-old daughter found a penny on the sidewalk and excitedly decided that we needed to post signs on street corners to find the owner of the penny. She immediately began formulating a plan to screen would-be penny claimers to assess the validity of their claim – asking them to describe the penny and share the story of how it came to be lost.

While I was never quite certain if she was serious, I was fascinated by her curiosity and wonder at something we all take for granted, never giving a second thought to where individual pennies came from or who they may have belonged to in their past life.

Since the “penny incident” I’ve been asking students in my creativity workshops to imagine the story of a particular penny that I gave them, and indeed I have heard some fascinating tales that have changed lives, shaped history, and transformed societies all contained within the smallest unit of currency.

Focusing on the insignificant can lend significance to everything we see, touch and feel in our daily lives. Noticing the miracles and majesty contained in simple packages that we dismiss everyday is yoga.

So next time you see a penny on the sidewalk, pick it up, feel it, take a moment to breath and give it a story.

Om Shanti.

 

March: Better late than never

I could make excuses but I won’t, let’s just say that my life has changed dramatically in the past couple of months and I’m finally getting back to my yoga groove.

Stiff back, neck… tightness everywhere. Most of all in my psyche.

I have been working on a love letter to no one in particular since love is the foundation of yogic philosophy and it is the reason we are all here.

Everything pales in comparison to its importance. Our journey here should be guided by love. Our actions should be dictated by love.

But what happens if we lose our way? What happens when our path is not straight, but rather filled with twists and turns?

What if our path doesn’t feel like a path at all, but rather a tilt-a-whirl, vomatron, kick-you-in-the-keister roller coaster all wrapped together?

My love letter to no one is filled with these references as I’ve recently come to realize that my search for meaning and connection with someone special has had more to do with learning to protect myself rather than finding any such meaning and connection?

In other words, the path that we want to be one isn’t always the path that we’re actually on. Isn’t that truly wonderful? From my perspective, this is the meaning of life. Learning to recognize and adapt because there is a reason. This is yoga. Finding the quiet in the chaos. Finding the meaning when we are lost. This is yoga and it is indeed beautiful.

Here is my abbreviated love letter to no one based on this lesson:

…you weren’t there when I most needed you. At first, I hated being alone and then I hated hating that I was alone. I walked away from so many people who offered nothing of any value to me – the people who pushed me away but desperately needed me at the same time; the people who manipulated me and then manipulated others to believe things about me that weren’t true, I walked away from all of them; the people who couldn’t take no for an answer; the people who needed me to make themselves feel superior; the people who tried to make me feel bad in hopes that they would make themselves feel better. I walked away from all of them recognizing that sticking around would have been a journey of love, but not my journey. Because I continue to believe that there is more. More through peace and quiet. The wanting is the suffering. Recognizing and appreciating the love that is in my life, rather than focusing on what is missing… this is the journey of love. Loving myself to walk away every time that the lesson presented to me is one that I’ve already learned and I don’t need to stay. This is yoga. My small-minded moments wanting what I want and not caring about the lesson only lead to suffering, the real meaning and connection has always been inside of me, wanting my attention. Thank you for all the big bumps along the way, and all the messengers who have given me great opportunities to keep moving, walking away from suffering and walking toward greater meaning and connection. This is love. This is yoga. 

I love this topic, and I’m not done writing my love letter to no one. So stay tuned, more to come… soon

OM Shanti. Shanti. Shanti

 

 

 

 

 

By the time he got to Woodstock…

woodstock Guru
There are trail runs that rock your world and there are trail runs that change your life, my self-supported Yogaville 108k was both. (Recall: http://integralyogamagazine.org/running-a-moving-meditation/)

I got to Yogaville on Wednesday afternoon and changed in the campers bathhouse and took off down the maze of magical trails. Not even a half mile later I bonked my nugget on a tree that had fallen across the trail and never even saw it coming. In fairly short order, I started balling my eyes out thinking I was in way over my head and now my head wasn’t quite right after being knocked silly – No tribe, no pacers, no crew, and very little common sense.

I asked Swami Satchidananda to be with me for the next 67 miles and felt a sense of peace come over me, I was in his home and knew that I would be ok. Shortly thereafter, I ran past a tree that was shivering. The leaves were rustling and the entire tree seemed to be moving, I could hear the leaves from a few hundred feet away as though it were alive. Other nearby trees were completely still. I took this as a sign that I wasn’t alone.

I broke most of my rules in the early miles – my yoga and meditation stops became extremely brief, I was not following my nutrition plan since I desperately needed the caffeine and sugar to keep me moving, and I stopped more frequently than originally intended.

Wednesday night was the only time that I stopped for dinner during the run and they were serving mushroom soup, which melted my heart and softened all my hard edges. I didn’t just eat this bowl of soup, I elevated my being through this soup – it was a spiritual experience. Only long dirty hard-fought miles can make me appreciate seriously good food this much.

When the sun went down on day one, I started listening to live recordings from Woodstock and did some long miles on the LOTUS road, stopping and bowing at LOTUS temple, the tomb of Gurudev and Nataraj shrine each time that I passed. As the miles wore on, I started confusing the spiritual sites and mixing up the names, I was getting tired. (Jai Gurudev, Jai LOTUS, Jai Nataraj)

Not only that, I was terrified running in the dark. It was pitch black and the Ashram was locked up and shut down, and I could only see a few feet in front of me. But here’s the thing that kept me going – the most amazing sky full of stars that I have ever seen in my life. I secretly wished that everyone who loved Yogaville could experience this at some point, I cried deeply over how beautiful it was and how much I appreciated this experience… all the while listening to Hendrix and CSNY and Joe Cocker and on and on rock out at Woodstock.

But the fear became overwhelming and I climbed the stairs to the Kailash shrine and headed for home. There were more than 200 metal steps (I lost count). The night was dead silent and I could only hear my footsteps, until about halfway up the stairway to Heaven (that’s what it looked like in the darkness). My footsteps started to shake the metal contraption and it sounded like there was someone behind me, which greatly added to my fear. I looked down the steps and saw several dozen steps lit up and then drop off into darkness, and I looked up the steps and saw the same and felt that the world had disappeared and it was only me and these steps that seemed to take forever and a day to climb. My breathing was fast and my heartbeat was racing.

Reaching the top of these stairs and looking out over all of Virginia (recall: amazing sky full of stars) was breathtaking, yet still I was surrounded in blackness and now found myself in a big open field with only a couple feet of light ahead of me. (Recall: so scared)

I got back to the room, took a hot shower and climbed into one of the most comfortable beds I have ever slept in. Here I should note that Yogaville set me up in a special guest suite, since this is clearly a step above monastic life at the Ashram. They also put a bowl of fresh fruit harvested from their organic farm in my room. Special, indeed. Day one mileage – 18.

I woke up before dawn and scrambled to put on my muddy shoes and flew out the door. By the time the sun was coming up, I was running along the James River surrounded by deer who seemed to always be nearby. Since I had meetings in the afternoon (I do pro-bono work for Yogaville), I could only run until about 12:30pm. Day two am mileage: 19.

Post meeting I threw on my muddy shoes again and set off. This time, I only ran a few miles since the fear was even worse than the night before. By the time that I got back to the room, there were three deer right outside my door. It was special. Day two pm mileage: 10.

I woke early to wrap up the miles and set the strongest pace for all three days. I was getting seriously hungry at this point because of the high mileage and no meals of substance for several days. Fistfuls of Pringles, PBJs, bananas, Clif Blocks were my only sustenance… and lots of Tailwind, of course.

Near the finish, I stopped by the Yogaville Distribution Center and picked up mala beads as a reward for finishing. It was odd wrapping up 67 miles and not telling anyone, although there was a guy in the parking lot fixing his pick-up and he asked me how many miles I had just run and I explained to him. The look on his face was priceless. Day three mileage: 20.

My love for Yogaville can’t be captured in words and these miles made me feel a special connection to this Heaven on Earth that I had never before experienced in all my visits. I usually feel like a visitor on the trails, but this time I felt like I was at home.

I sat down with one of the Swamis that day and was distracted and hurried and focused on organizing myself and getting back on the road home. Of course, this Swami was filled with peace, love and contentment and she drew me in quickly and everything else seemed to drop away.

This is life as best as I know it – In all of the chaos and confusion and distraction, magic is happening. The goal of life is to not miss it, to be aware and present for it. The look in her eyes and the feeling of being with her is what has always brought me back to Yogaville, there is an energy there that I haven’t found anywhere else in the world.

Running those miles filled me with gratitude for what I have been given through Yogaville and through my life. My birthday was the next day, and someone (I think I know who!) tipped off the Swamis and they sang the Sanskrit happy birthday song (Mahamrityunjay mantra) to me, then the English version then a funny version that I had never heard before and I felt like the luckiest person in the world.

I always cry like a baby when I’m leaving Yogaville, filled with a new sense of focus and purpose. Being alone out there helped me make peace with being alone, and with that acceptance comes a feeling of never being alone. The people who are supposed to be closest to me – my daughter, my parents, my siblings, my long-time friends – are the people who are genuinely closest to me. With them in my life, I will never feel lonely even if I am alone. They are always with me and I do not lose the relationships that truly matter.

I was never alone on those trails, but I did feel a sense of empowerment that comes from supporting myself. The next day, I celebrated my 47th birthday. Three days later, I bought a house on my own. I broke down laughing when I saw my name in the middle of the contract – TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN.

Good reminder that I am standing on my own two feet, whether I am running 108k or buying a house and the lesson that I learned to get me here is the greatest lesson of my life. Maybe there will be another closest relationship in my life but being TRACY COOLEY, A SINGLE WOMAN buying the house, running the miles, eating the Pringles, savoring the mushroom soup and praying with the mala beads is profoundly awesome.

Jai Satchidananda. Jai Woodstock. Jai Yogaville. Victory, victory, victory!