Written by Sara Sweeney
Retrospect is a funny thing. Time and change are fluid concepts that never allow us to comprehend an experience in any single way. As I accumulate new experiences, I often look back on the past and realize I now see things in a completely different way. Nevertheless, looking back on something or feeling change is hard when you’ve become numb to it by an extremely mundane, monotonous reality.
That’s where my story begins. This past winter, upon graduating college, I decided I needed a change. I could no longer be a student. My Bachelor’s degree had drained me of any and all academic discipline and New York had very little left for me. But what to do? I did not want a job. What was I qualified to do, besides write a nice MLA bibliography?
After a brief stint of running around the North East, visiting friends and family that I had abandoned physically and emotionally during my isolated stretch of thesis writing havoc, I booked a one-way ticket to Utah. I moved in with my Dad there and quickly took to the cushy life of a ski bum who doesn’t pay for rent nor beer. I emerged two months later a much better skier, but no more ready to make any decisions about my future.
I was left with a lingering hangover caused by the adrenaline that comes from skiing and being surrounded by gorgeous men with goggle tans. I realized this hangover wasn’t to be cured with water, rest, or greasy food. I had no idea what it would take to cure it, but I knew it would have to be big.
After reconnecting with my old friend, Gus, I decided to hitch up to Bozeman, Montana with him, heartlessly leaving ex-lovers and slushy snow behind. As I pitter-pattered around “Big Sky Country”, pondering my existence, he was preparing for a gig as manager of the set-up crew at a Kundalini Yoga festival called Summer Solstice Sadhana Celebration. Gus incessantly told me how much I would enjoy this 10-day yoga festival in the high desert. He insisted that I join the set-up crew.
“But I don’t do Kundalini yoga, Gus!” I said to him.
“Come.” he said, “You won’t regret this.”
While I was still unsure about whether or not I would have the time of my life, I decided to go. I figured, if you are hungry you accept a snack even if you aren’t sure if it will fill you up, right?
One month later I got off a plane in Albuquerque, New Mexico, bracing myself for some “consciousness altering” hippy-dippy mumbo-jumbo. On the drive up to Ram Das Puri, the sacred grounds on which we would camp, eat, meditate, sweat, and work together, I confessed to the other yogis that I was not well practiced in Kundalini. I was just your run of the mill Downward Dog type yoga gal.
“Get ready to leave this mountain a different person,” said my new friend.
I was ready. I was finally about to have the experience that I was searching for when I came out West months ago.
As a member of set-up crew, I was to arrive to the campgrounds 10 days early, work my butt off getting the camp ready for 2,000 people and stay two extra days to break down camp afterwards. We were a group of about 30 people. I spent the rest of the first day meeting everyone and setting up my tent.
Over the next couple of days, I became oriented with my surroundings and began to feel the effects of working and living in the desert. The heat was exhausting, and hydration was extremely important. It felt as though any sweat was evaporating directly off of my body. I spent the majority of my time during set-up crew cleaning up the kitchen and washing dishes. The labor was grounding and I was grateful for it, because everything else surrounding me was a major culture shock.
Most people on set-up crew showed up with these smiles on their face and greeted me as if they already loved me and were certain that I loved them, too. Coming from a long line of socially hardened New Yorkers, I was skeptical of their warmth. I was also taken aback by the language that everyone seemed to share. Every other word they spoke was “Wahe Guru!” and each time we met as a team to eat or make decisions, we began with chants and prayers that everyone but me could recite like the Pledge of Allegiance.
I had no idea what I was doing there, but I kept doing it. I emptied myself of any need for purpose and focused on being the person I was in each moment. Feeling drained of reality, I slowly started to feel an unexpected sense of belonging.
Getting into the groove of things, I began to enjoy the cold mid-day showers and waking up early to get to work before the hottest hours of the day, when the set up crew would come together to eat, meditate, and “check in.” This siesta time was precious, as it gave us all a chance to express and process what we were experiencing on the mountain. Each day I looked forward to the meditations and “check ins”. It was during these meetings that I finally began to understand what this celebration was all about. It was love. But it was simpler than I had been making it out to be. These people didn’t have to “know” me to love me. They just had to love themselves and trust that their love would bring out the best in me.
It worked. Throughout the next few days, I felt myself transform into a pure, light-filled being. I returned to a child-like state, free of excessive emotions like jealousy or skepticism. I remained open to learning about the Kundalini practice and culture but I was careful not to push myself too hard. Absorbing too much newness while in such a vulnerable state seemed dangerous. So I drifted at the surface of it all, allowing the sacred grounds of Ram Das Puri and my brothers and sisters to purify and support me, as I did the same for them.
Before I knew it, two-thousand or so people showed up at Ram Das Puri, interrupting the cuddly bliss of the intimate set-up crew. I felt as though a huge wave had come crashing down on us all. We knew it was coming, and we wanted to play in that wave, but it was a shock all the same.
By the time the festival started, I was exhausted from the 10-12 hour days we had put in during set up. I rested up and spent some cherished time with my friends from the set-up crew. I went to some great Kundalini classes, but stayed in the light and bright end of the spectrum. Kundalini Yoga is truly powerful and helps a lot of people work through different issues they face in the ‘real world.’ However, I had already sweat out all of my confusion during set up. Now I just wanted to fill up my tank with the good stuff; laughter, smiles, and maybe some new dance moves.
It has taken some time to fully digest everything that happened to me at Ram Das Puri. I left New Mexico knowing that my life had been changed for certain. I didn’t know how it changed until I began living in my new reality that the shift in consciousness had created. Like I said, retrospect is a funny thing. I came down from the mountain and from my Summer Solstice high without answers. What changed was that I was no longer anxiously asking questions, but quietly looking forward to the journey ahead.