Are you comfortable sleeping in a tent?
The question comes from an anxious face and I fear my tousled night of sleep must show in my demeanor this morning. So I tell my questioner a story: When I was a little girl, my family had for a while only a one-room schoolhouse in which we lived. To create more space, my mother bought a World War II hospital tent from the Army Surplus store. Carpenters built a platform west of the schoolhouse and I slept there for a summer, or was it two.
I don’t tell my questioner, my hostess at the Sivananda Ashram in the Bahamas where I have come to learn more about a possible editing job, that in spite of the novelty of that summer, in spite of the fact that my parents set up my four-poster bed that was meant to have a canopy, in spite of the fact that my friends thought it was the best adventure to come for sleepovers in the room-sized tent, I never much cared for the tent. I longed for a room of my own.
The tent I’ve been assigned at the ashram is about 8 foot square and tall enough to stand up in at the center. It’s furnished with a bookshelf, a small square table, and a narrow cot and powered by a tangle of extension cords that stretch some distance to the nearest outlet. The tent is on a platform about eighteen inches high and wooden steps lead up. A blue tarp is permanently installed above the tent, and it is the flapping of this tarp in the wind that wakes me my first night, after the fireworks from the nearby casino wake me, before the narrow hard cot digs into my hips and wakes me. I toss and turn and sleep fitfully.
My story doesn’t relieve my hostess, and even though I try reassuring her that I am fine, the second night I am moved to a room at the inn, a comfortable room with a window and a ceiling fan and lights that aren’t powered by extension cables. That night when rains lash the roof and lightning tears at the sky and the wind blows even harder, I am snug and comfortable and slumber gratefully.
The meeting I have come for, discussing how Swami Swaroopananda’s lectures might be edited into a book-length manuscript, goes well. Behind the scenes volunteers and assistants are busily working to get the documents ready for me to bring home for further review. In the meantime, I am invited to enjoy the Ashram and the beautiful Caribbean beach. From wheels up to wheels down, I have the better part of four days away from my life.
Ashram life is simple and comes with a regimented schedule. At 5:30 in the morning a bell rings and temple—Kirtan, meditation, prayers and lecture—begins at 6. At eight there are three different levels of yoga classes to choose from, the Sivananda practice being quite specific—chanting followed by breath work followed by Sun Salutations and twelve major asana. The practice is two hours and proceeds brunch, a nourishing meal of vegetarian fare served buffet style in outdoor dining accommodations.
The day’s schedule opens up then—people in the Ashram for yoga vacations might enjoy a class or free time until four. There’s a boat that goes into town and a beach to frolic on. There are quiet spaces for meditation and one’s room or tent to go to. A second yoga practice follows in the afternoon, from four to six, with dinner after. At 7:30 the bell clangs and the evening begins—temple again: Kirtan, meditation and prayer, followed by a lecture or other special event depending upon who is at the Ashram. At ten it’s quiet hours.
The population at the Ashram is international—a combination of yoga teacher training students, people there for yoga vacations, guest speakers and lecturers from all over, and the people who run the Ashram, many of them exchanging work for the opportunity to stay, some months at a time. My status is “specific guest,” and I realize that means that I am invited to partake in as much or as little of Ashram life as I wish. I take some formal classes and step in and then back out of temple practices. I eat with other “specific guests,” including a bright-eyed Swami of indeterminate age who asks me at dinner every night, “did Robin chirp today?” This makes me smile, the question and the questioner somehow reminding me of my father. Flowing through it all but saying uncharacteristically little, I soon begin to understand that my visit to the Bahamas is like an extended yoga practice—if I listen quietly, I will come up against my edges, my fragile spots, my strengths, and I will figure out what I need from this practice of being away, alone, and mere yards from the softest sand beach I’ve set foot on in a long, long time.
I find on that beach nary a seashell, but the wisdom I need. Away from the myopic vision brought on by keeping my head down and plowing through the requirements of daily life, I look out to sea and start to discover a wider worldview. In my notebook, sitting compatibly with a psychologist from Tennessee who is creating a watercolor of star-gazer lilies, neither of us taking the formal afternoon yoga practice, I sketch a picture of 2012, of a sample week’s schedule, of my larger goals and ambitions. I come to terms with where I am and I realize how far I have journeyed and how far there is yet to travel.
I am eager to head home. The place is beautiful and the routine relaxing—after that first night I sleep deeply and long. But the gray late winter world of home is calling me and I step easily onto the westbound airplane. Back in my routine I enjoy telling people of my adventure, and I relish being at home in my own bed, my roof secure over my head. Someone asks me if four days was enough of a break; she’s expecting me to say no. It was, I tell her, but perhaps such breaks don’t come often enough. Traveling connects us with our pasts and moves us into our futures if we are present enough when we are doing it to listen. For once I can say that I listened well.
It’s a full moon, darling reader, the Full Worm Moon, when the robins come back to us. There are sunspots and Mercury is in retrograde and the March winds are blowing. The winter season isn’t fully over, but it’s close,
and that makes me— chirping indeed but roosting happily under my own roof—the first robin of spring. Namaste. xoR