Poetry & Prose

Neither Beautiful Nor a Bird

“Imagine you are a beautiful bird. A big, beautiful bird.”

I was not beautiful. I was not a bird.

And yet there I was at the splintered crack of dawn, listening to a long-haired, long-skirted woman lead a meditation. We were cross-legged in an ashram’s temple of exposed wood and polished shrines deep within the Rockies’ pines.

A year earlier I did not meditate and probably thought that Sanskrit was a type of Indian food. I was a college girl intent on achieving success, which at the time meant straight As and 6 minute miles. But through a murky series of unfortunate events, I found myself out of school and on a “spirit journey,” so to speak.

The days at the ashram were filled with chants, meditation, and work; work kept the community afloat. “Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water,” they said. “After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.”

There was a guru who visited sometimes. He wore bright orange, had a big smile, and looked like Santa Claus. The yogis bowed to him in the temple and danced around his armchair waving small mirrors and peacock feather fans. His wife was a high school teacher. That was all I knew for sure about the guru.

At breakfast one morning I leaned towards the man sitting across from me. “So,” I said, “is there a book somewhere that I could read about how to meditate better? I try really hard but I don’t think I’m getting anywhere.”

His eyes grew wide, and he set his fork down on the table. “Don’t think.” He laughed for a moment, and then continued to eat his scrambled eggs.

I intended to cloister myself at a New Age nunnery, but to my disbelief, the ashram was not a good place to hide from problems. The yogis claimed that the place’s intense psychic energy sped up everyone’s karma, magnifying destructive patterns and exposing our most tender vulnerabilities. There were beautiful, tempting meals, and a bowl of chocolate always sat on the table. If you were not fat pre-ashram, you would probably be fat post-ashram.

There were boys. In particular there was one beautiful, enticing boy, a yogi, who always sat next to me at the table. He had hazel eyes and did yoga and only sang Bob Dylan songs.

He asked me how I was feeling during lunch. I shrugged and looked at the mountains.

His mild persistence and utter unflappability bewildered me. “Baiting-the-yogi” became my hobby of choice; how far could I push him? I wanted to prove to him that I was crooked and hollow, or at the very least terribly annoying. But every obnoxious remark that darted out of my mouth crumbled into dust at his feet. It was like picking a fistfight with Gandhi. I had no choice but to surrender.

One night at meditation we had a new teacher. “Breathe in like it is your first breath,” she said. “Feel it wash over your forehead and flow into your heart.”

I didn’t believe in karma or gurus or sacred energy, but I could believe in this. In breathing in and breathing out. In starting over and letting go. “It’s like taking a bite of food and tasting it like you’ve never eaten before,” said the teacher. “It’s like chewing slowly and hearing rain on the roof. In this moment, this exact moment, everything is new.”

“Come to my tent,” the boy finally said to me. I nodded and walked with him into the woods, as if it was my first time.

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