June 2008

For the past few years, I have spent my vacations at a beach resort in Fort Lauderdale with my friend Netta. We sit on the beach, eat gourmet meals, shop for hours, and watch tv. For exciting reasons –namely, Netta’s 3 week tour of Great Britain — that vacation could not happen this year, and I had to scramble to find something else to do. Last fall, I was planning to go to the Kripalu Center to attend a Women of Color Yoga Retreat (WOCYR), but my depression was at such an intense level that I couldn’t set my mind to make any decisions. Needless to say, when I was in scramble mode this year, my search brought me to the Kripalu website, and the WOCYR happened to be scheduled for the same weekend as my vacation. We call that perfect timing.

I am interested in yoga, and I have taken quite a few yoga classes, but I have not practiced yoga. Well, yoga and the yogic lifestyle are a significant part of the Kripalu experience. At Kripalu, life is simple unless, of course, you choose to complicate it with a very visible flirtation with JC from Jerusalem, and despite the ever-growing presence of Kate Spade handbags in my closet, I crave a simpler life. This center is a special place, and the experience was one that I will build upon as much as I possibly can.

When I first arrived at the center, I expected to stand out as the lone suburban Jesus lover among a sea of experienced tree hugging, Eastern religion pushing, Christianity-averse people who potentially were boycotting deodorant. I could not have been more wrong. I went in with a head full of erroneous expectations and judgments hoping not to be judged by those around me.  We call that ironic hypocrisy.  

I needed the Kripalu experience. I needed to step far outside of my box and try something new. I needed no frills, no excesses. I needed deliberate exposure to nature uncluttered with buildings. I needed healthy nourishment without preservatives, and I needed interaction with a community of people without any agenda other than encouraging one another in being our authentic selves. Most importantly, I needed open space, fresh air, and a distraction free setting to allow me to sit and talk with my Lord, quietly enough to hear Him speak to me. And I got everything that I needed… and more.

As a Christ-follower struggling with my role in the contemporary Christian community, I found it refreshing to exist, however briefly, in a place dedicated to the yogic value system, which resembles some aspects of the Christian values with which I was raised. According to their website, “Kripalu operates in accord with a set of core values that [include]: a commitment to authenticity, radical self-trust, the courage to fully express one’s self, and unconditional positive regard for others.” I must admit, as I walked around the campus of Kripalu on my first day, and adapted to the spirit of that place, I was impressed with the commitment to the yogic lifestyle that everyone I encountered displayed. 

The makeup of this place is not at all conducive to sustaining the capitalistic, sex-, money- and power-obsessed world in which we live. It is a spiritual place that “works” because its ideals are clear and unwavering, and its leadership, staff and visitors hold those ideals as non-negotiable staples to the experience. And in a place without crosses and Bibles, I was able to focus on God, and listen to His cry for me to release my grip from the pains of the past so that He could fill my life with something better. And He used an unlikely bunch of amazing women to remind me that I am loved and accepted for nothing other than just being myself. They supported my creative flow in a new way, wiped my tears of loss and regret, shared God’s love by reminding me to take care of the temple He gave me, encouraged me not to give up the Church just because one church has forgotten The Way, and taught me the Cha-cha slide patiently and methodically. And for all of that, I am so, so grateful.

I suppose the biggest lesson I learned at Kripalu was about doing things differently. I incorporated that idea into my life immediately upon arriving at the center. For one thing, I ate an entirely vegetarian diet for my entire stay. In addition, when selecting my food from the meal lines – it’s cafeteria style dining – I selected foods that I had never eaten before, and I ate the food from one large bowl. That might not seem like a big deal, but I was a person that required that the items on my plate never touch, and I have never been adventurous with my food. The result – I ate fabulous meals in moderation, and I lost 6 pounds. I have gone back to eating some animal proteins, but far fewer than I had prior to my trip.

Another difference for me was that I paid little attention to my attire at the center. I wore shorts for the first time in about 3 years, and I wore bright pink fake Crocs – affectionately referred to as Cracs – that didn’t match a thing on my body, and it was great! And oddly enough, I didn’t even pay attention to what other people were wearing… except for the cool hat that JC wore.

The most surprising difference was that I freely expressed my creativity without any fears in the midst of strangers. I’m ashamed to say that despite my leaning to the creative side of life – namely writing – I have often felt hindered by the destructive criticism uttered by individuals around me. I remember the last drama I was asked to participate in at my former church, and how, on day 1 of rehearsals, almost the entire cast complained about my delivery of lines I had seen for the first time that night, each trying to out criticize the other… and those people were “Christians” claiming to be my friends. Imagine what strangers would do. But at Kripalu, there was a welcoming support for my creative flow, not just in writing, but also in dance and impromptu speaking and in jewelry making, and I created art in that environment in a way that I never thought I could. There’s just no limit to a freely creative mind. 

I understand, of course, that Kripalu was just the setting, that the experiences were not site-specific, and that timing had much to do with the benefits of the experience for me. A year ago, I would not have been able to comprehend the benefits of a technology free zone. A year ago, I would not have been able to accept that I had to let go of a place and people that were essentially more destructive than crack (or Cracs) to me. A year ago, I would not have been able to live without a burger and fries a few times a week. And a year ago, I would not have seen the importance of getting so quiet that the thoughts in my mind were still enough to actually hear from God. What a difference a year makes!

My intended prayer: “Lord, everything I thought I lost, everything I thought I needed, I give to You without hesitation. You have shown me something so much better – the wealth of a simplified and creative life. And you did it all at one of the most beautiful places on earth. Thank You.”

Tim Russert died today. This I learned after reading the news that R. Kelly was acquitted of child porno charges, which is really part of the problem. Why is that even newsworthy? He’s still a freak! But I digress…

Tim Russert has died, and when I saw the words on my computer screen, tears flooded my eyes and continue to do so. Why? Why does this man’s death cause me, and, I’m sure, many like me, to be filled with sadness? My answer is that he is really an American icon. He’s a guy, an American guy that gets it … this whole idea of appreciating the importance of politics and understanding the role of politics and politicians in this country is so far from the thinking most of my peers and, really, most people that I know. Sure, we can detail the daily meltdowns of every 20-something in LAla-land, but we don’t know what the U.S. Congress is doing, what decisions are made each day that actively affect our day to day lives. Lest you think I’m preaching, I’m understand that I am part of the “we”.

And when I look at Russert, listen to Russert, I am so appreciative of his voice and that his voice has, for many years, encourage others to have not only a voice, but a listening and discerning ear. Studying and analyzing was not just his job, it was his interests. How can we not be interested in the world in which we live? How can it be so far down on the list of topics of conversation? We are told not to discuss politics and religion (is there a difference these days…) in polite conversation, but we can casually discuss the womb watch of 2008. It’s hard not to want to take an interest when listening to a man like Russert. He’s a reminder, really, of what makes our country great, what makes America worth fighting for, and why we Americans need to stop focusing on nonsense and on nothing, and to start making some changes.

I don’t want to rant, really. I want to express my deep sadness over the passing of an American great. I want to express my condolences to his family who have, in an instant, lost their dad and husband too soon. God help them walk this painful road.

There are losses every day, and I understand that each life has value. I wonder if it’s the surprise of the loss that intensifies the depth of this loss. I really can’t say, but this is a sad day.