Thursday, July 24, 2008

Kripalu Field Trip

Over the weekend, I went on an excursion to Lenox, Massachusetts, and spent the day at the Kripalu yoga center for a day of "Retreat & Renewal." It is a gorgeous place, set in the hills of the Berkshires, with wooded grounds, great lawns, and a view of a huge lake. I had my camera locked in my locker for the duration of the day, and several times I thought about going to get it to make some art. But I thought again, and decided that it would be fun to try to record the essence of the experience in my head in another way - to remove myself from the ability to instantaneously record what I was seeing, in order to more fully immerse myself in the sounds, smells, and feeling of the place.

The feeling there was very loving and light-hearted. I could understand why many people from the city would want to take a retreat there, because it allowed time for relaxing in the hot tub and sauna, hearing lectures, going to yoga, taking walks on the grounds, and chatting with people over delicious vegetarian meals. At the same time, it wasn't too intensely driven towards having epiphanies - it was very accepting of people at whatever level they happened to be on. In that way, I understood why it would be a gateway for a lot of people new to a yoga practice, or even new to the idea of nurturing their true natures. Having had a lot of practice, at times I wondered if the place was too gentle for my taste. But then again, maybe the atmosphere could serve as a reminder to me that I could be more like that - accepting of people wherever they are.

When you walk out of the main building at Kripalu, you are greeting by an amazing view of tall, green mountain not too far in the distance. Overlooking the great lawn sloping steeply away from the building, you see first a forest, then a layer of water (the lake is nestled in there), and then the mountain stands serenely over the water. There are a couple of smaller mountain friends to the side and behind the big guy. And the sky above is fun to watch throughout the day as the weather changes and the sun moves across. A year and a half ago, I was there in the winter, and I took some photos of this view. It was beautiful in the summer as well! But I wondered at the idea of just relishing the view for myself in that moment - I wondered if I had gotten into the habit of letting experience slip away in just mechanically recording everything in the instant that I noticed it. With digital technology, I find that it's easy to snap away, and forget to relish the fleetingness of a moment.

Early in the day, I took a walk through the scene described above. I walked all the way down the huge driveway that curved around the great sloped lawn. I crossed the street into a small field, and followed the path deep into the forest. I could hear a creek running not too far from the trail, and lots and lots of birds. The forest was very lush and thick, and sunlight only twinkled through in tiny spots. As I walked and walked, I relaxed a great deal into the idea of feeling like I was part of nature. (We humans forget that we are sometimes, don't we?) Finally, I came to a clearing, and found myself on the banks of the huge lake I had seen from up above. I waded into the water, which was pretty warm, and totally soothing as it lapped against my skin.

As I type this, I am relaxing on the back porch of my parents' house near Greater Cleveland, Ohio, gazing out into the dense woods on a beautiful sunny summer day. The sun is brightening patches of the green forest floor, birds are singing, and the wind is dancing through the leaves. Just now, a fawn was grazing along the banks of the creek that runs through their woods. It was so beautiful, with its spotted sides and flicking tail! It walked a few steps along the creek and met up with its mother, and they disappeared into the the thick woods together. A bright red cardinal is now darting around from tree to tree. And, as I sit here, I find that trying to keep up with recording the beauty I find in nature is simultaneously impossible and effortless - impossible because there are infinite things of wonder to try to record, and effortless because to capture even the slightest essence of it is to succeed in having glimpsed the whole of it.

And that was what my day of getaway at Kripalu was all about. One of my favorite moments came late in the afternoon, when I was exploring a different part of their vast grounds. Suddenly, I thought to myself, "You are not going to cover all the grounds in one day. You're not meant to. That's why people stay here for weeks at a time." With that thought, my mind utterly relaxed. I walked into a small clearing surrounded by trees, and found a seat on a bench. There was a large birch tree directly in front of me, with it's leaves dangling around in the breeze. I sat there for several minutes, simply looking at the tree, and not thinking of much else.

I think there's something metaphoric about that thought that had come to me spontaneously: that we are not meant to cover all the grounds here in one day. Maybe we can slow down and just experience what's right in front of us.

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