Life on the other side of fear. 

Life on the other side of fear. 

I never publicly disclosed this but the first time I was in India, I ended up in the hospital. Well, twice. The first trip was from an Ayurvedic Massage gone wrong that turned into UTI (long story). The second time was more profound. 

Prior to going to India that year, I ended up in the ER five times. Yes, five. And each time for no other reason than my inability to bounce back from a cancer diagnosis at age 24. I had relentless anxiety and deep distrust of my own body. Every time I felt something unusual or abnormal, I assumed it was a sign of something serious… because, at one point, it was.

The reason I went to India was to shift my relationship to this fear. I don’t know what exactly I expected to happen but I figured going alone to a third world country I was equally intrigued by and terrified of would shift something. And lo and behold, as karmic cycles would have it, I ended up in the hospital in India. And of course, it's my anxiety that brings me there. 

Luckily, by this time on my journey, I had made a few friends to sit there and keep me company in my piss-smelling hospital room and help me sift through the reasons why I kept ending up there and why, for some reason, I couldn't seem to leave. I remember pacing the room in my hospital gown frustrated and dumbfounded as I reflected upon how many nights I had spent in the hospital over the past few years and I wasn't even sick anymore. What was it... what force, pattern, or unfinished business keeps bringing me here? Or better question, what thought?

"I just think you need to let yourself be okay,” said Lyn, the Australian yoga retreat leader I found on a Google search who was now sitting front and center to my story. 

And that was my shift. It wasn’t an ecstatic encounter or mind-blowing epiphany. It was a suggestion, a simple shift in perception where it hit me that I was okay. I was in a hospital in a third world country, on the other side of the world, where no one speaks my language, with no one around me that I’ve known for more than a week and I’m… okay. And if I can be okay in this situation, I am okay in any.

That has been the one shift in my life that seems to have actually stuck. I haven’t been to the ER since. In fact, I didn’t even go to the doctor until a year later when I was preparing to leave for India the second time (that’s huge for me). 

But it wasn’t until I returned to India this year and re-entered an similar opportunity where I learned how much this experience had actually shaped me. The day after my yoga retreat completed, I got sick. And this time, legitimately sick. Fever, fatigue, stomach cramping. The power was out, the wireless was down and I had no way of contacting Brandie, Kelsea, Kishore or anyone else who could have cared for me. But I didn’t freak out. Rather, I laid there with my legs up the wall of my piss-colored hostel, staring at the legacy of dirty footprints all over the wall from travelers past and I experienced a deep peace knowing that I was still fine and that I was still not alone. That I was resting and healing and if I really needed to get help, I could. But I didn’t even consider it. Because I felt okay and I felt supported by myself. I slept for 36 hours, took an antibiotic, and woke up the next day feeling better. 

A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us.
— Pema Chodron, The Places That Scare You.

Because of this experience, purposeful entrance into those scary places in life has become foundational to the retreats I lead -- both in regards to curriculum and location. I have no interest in bringing people poolside to some resort on a Caribbean island for random morning asana followed by all-inclusive drinks. Expect to feel supported as you encounter the totality of your deepest self -- the fears and trembling, the ever-present light, the dormant infinite potential just waiting for you to tap into it. Expect it in a location that brings you outside your comfort zone. A place where the symphony of sights, sounds, tastes and smells will jostle your being and awaken resources within you that you didn't know you had.

I've come up with two #yogaguide criteria in choosing locations for my retreats. It's important that the backdrop of our retreat matches the vibrational quality of the content I am offering. Therefore, the location must meet at least one of the following:

  1. It takes your damn breath away.   Hello, Santorini.
  2. It completely scares the shit out of you.   Hello, India.

I want to be clear that finding peace in the places that scare you doesn't have to look like jumping off a cliff into your greatest fear. Sometimes, like it was for me, it's entertaining a simple suggestion, a sweet compassionate invitation to stop struggling. And sometimes it doesn't stick the first time. Fear is loud and obtrusive and the voice of self-compassion is often soft spoken. Sometimes it takes several attempts to breakthrough. And sometimes it requires a different voice. Someone else's voice that can supportively whisper and suggest:

"Hey... you're okay."

It would bring me the deepest joy to be that voice for you. I hope you'll consider of joining me for my remaining retreats in 2015.

My deepest bow,

Jessica

 

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