“Facing Your Fears” was the 8:00 PM session for Thursday. I was not looking forward to it.
At the end of the afternoon session, our instructor told us to come prepared with a drawing of “our shadow” and a blindfold, and to wear all black clothing, fit for movement. We were going to get sweaty, she said. “I’ll bring the handcuffs,” I murmured “because shit is about to get weird.” I think nobody laughed. Maybe nobody heard me. I wasn’t sure. Either way, I was only kidding – I knew darn well these weren’t instructions to prepare us for some kinky group sex session. This was in fact not a “Central American Yoga Orgy Camp”, as my friend had coined it. It was just a part of our month-long 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Course taking place in the paradisiacal realm of the Anamaya retreat center, set above the trendy little beach town of Montezuma, Costa Rica. And anyway sex (as well as drugs and alcohol) was strictly forbidden. However, shit was about to get weird.
When we arrived to the open air yoga deck, we were told to put our shadows aside – at this point the importance was in the exercise of creating of them, not sharing them (thank God, because I wasn’t exactly eager to delve into the symbolism of the long mane of Rapunzel hair surrounded by prescription bottles and other maudlin accoutrements that made up the drawing of my shadow).
We would be practicing an Osho Active Meditation, we were told. And, believe it or not, nearly all of the thirty people in the room raised their hands to indicate that they actually knew what the hell that meant. I was not one of them.
Embrace the Chaos
As Osho’s website explains, the meditation is meant to be an intense way “to break old ingrained patterns in the bodymind that keep one imprisoned in the past, and to experience the freedom, the witnessing, silence and peace that are hidden behind these prison walls.” Oof.
Our instructor donned a Madonna headset, cued the tribal tunes, and instructed us to put on our blindfolds and spread out to inhabit the entire expansive floor. The first step was to engage in chaotic breathing. Unlike my roommate at the retreat, I don’t frequent “Native American Ceremonies”, participate in rebirthing sessions, or even own crystals. I might be the most obvious embodiment of “hippy” that many of my family and friends know even if only because I have no permanent residence, but I haven’t departed entirely from my conservative, upper middle class, mid-Atlantic, Episcopalian upbringing – point is, this wasn’t going to come naturally to me.
I started with an exaggerated kind of pant, pushing my arms in and out in front of me in tandem with the breath coming in and out of my body. I was clearly a novice as my own ridiculous exhalations paled in comparison to the cacophony around me – yogis seemingly possessed by the spirits of the howler monkeys with whom we shared our jungle paradise. The chorus of chaos became increasingly guttural and undeniably sexual sounding. I began to pant harder, opening my mouth wider and even thrusting my tongue out, but I couldn’t even seem to conjure the same creativity and authenticity that I had displayed just a few weeks ago when a late-night, rum-fueled, beach-side game of truth or dare found me reenacting my most expressive orgasm.
Move with Your Madness
Next, we were invited to use our bodies and voices in any way we saw fit – to invoke the madness and to move with it. A terrifying, hellish chorale of voices rose up around me. The audible assault was so profound that my first instinct was to cover my ears and I could muster only a timid contribution, continuously conscious of protecting my vocal chords.
As the tribal music beat on and the angry outpouring continued, the instructor came over the mic to tell us to direct that emanation at the person standing in front of us – not the physical person standing in front of us, of course, but the metaphorical person of our choosing, I suppose. I got a little lost in my inner monologue weighing the merits of who should receive my shouting. I thought of my mother first, perhaps as a likely candidate for someone I would want to scream at, but I couldn’t scream at her. Not her. Not now. Even though I had spent so many years doing just that.
Then, I thought of myself. I thought of the shadow that I had conjured – a past that I am ashamed of and from which I try desperately to disassociate my present self. With the image of this girl in mind, I was quiet at first. And then the words “I am not angry anymore” came softly to my lips, almost pleadingly as the thirty other tortured souls around me ranted like lunatics and screamed bloody murder into the night sky. The words became a sort of mantra to ease my present discomfort – just as my mother’s lullaby had so many years ago – as I lay in the back of an ambulance, as the paramedics cut first through the front of my shirt and then my jeans, exposing my battered body to be tested and monitored – I had thoughtlessly, effortless sang to myself to take my consciousness outside of my body, far from the pain.
I’ve a dear little dolly, she has eyes of bright green
She can open and shut them and to me she’s a queen
In the morning I dress her and we go out to play
But I like best to rock her at the end of each day
As I am writing this, I am reviewing Osho’s website for the first time as I entered into the practice naïve to the method. It tells me that the third stage is to raise your arms above your head and jump up and down repeating the mantra “Hoo! Hoo! Hoo!” as deeply as possible. It specifies that “each time you land, on the flats of your feet, let the sound hammer deep into the sex center.”
There were definitely some directives from the instructor that were drowned out by the surrounding pandemonium, this was likely one of them. I suppose I recall a certain shift toward a more unified sound that could vaguely be described as a “hoo!” and perhaps I even subconsciously let my own noises and movements conform to those around me. Twenty-four hours later, I astoundingly don’t remember. I’m a little disappointed to have missed a stage. Particularly the part about the “hammer deep into the sex center” – I think I would have quite liked that.
At a certain point the instructor told us to stop all movement and noise and freeze where we were. My arms must have been above my head in some ape-like posturing as I recall slowly lowering them to my sides, softening my knees, letting my head roll back and my mouth flop open. I must have looked like a limp, catatonic octogenarian – the resemblance keenly confirmed by the trajectory of drool.
Rejoice with Dance
The final movement stage was a celebration through interpretive dance. This felt undeniably good – to truly dance as if no one were watching because, well, they weren’t. The Indian-sounding beats of the music called my body to dance and I reveled in flailing my arms and swiveling my hips, recalling a move or two, even, from my long-lost Zumba craze. I was a little apprehensive of whacking another blindfolded ballerina upside the head, but mostly I just wanted to move away from them all and throw my shoes and purse in pile and JUST DANCE. The more I made my way through the crowd in order to seek solitude, the more electric was the charge from every passing sweaty palm and side that brushed up against me.
As we lay on our backs, our bodies at odd angles to each other, each of us soaking in the sensations of night sounds, the hard wood floor pressed against the lengths of our bodies, we were told we could remain as long as we wished. With my eyes still blindfolded, a final mantra came to my lips – that which I had been using to meditate for the week.
Shanti, shanti, shanti
Peace, peace, peace
“Stay here as long you like, but when you are ready, the kitchen staff has prepared a sweet treat for you. And, if you feel like you need to be re-baptized, the pool is right there. Clothing optional,” our instructor casually remarked before sauntering out of the scene (I assume she sauntered her usual saunter, but really I have no idea because I was still semi-catatonic, lying blindfolded on the floor chanting to myself).
Peals of laughter and shouts of carefree abandon brought me back to physical reality and I knew everyone was headed for the pool. “Shanti, shanti, shanti…” I mumbled, trying to bring myself back to my previous transcendental state of peace. “But, skinny dipping is, like, your thing…” interrupted my ever-rude, incessant monologue. The monologue might be rude, but sometimes it’s just damn right. Before it could get another word in edgewise, I was on my feet, running, pulling off my shorts, shirt, bra, and headband, before throwing my body, in all its primal, writhing, babbling, naked glory into the tepid saltwater infinity pool, arms and legs splayed in every direction. I breached the surface of the water to throngs of cheers and more rippling laughter. At least half the group was already in the pool, but much to my surprise, I was the only one who was naked.
For as enlightened as this experience and the whole first five days of the course had seemed, I laughed to myself realizing that this activity was essentially one long, hedonistic dance that ended in a revelry of food and sex (well, at least the sexiest thing we were going to get this month). How ironic, I thought, considering our afternoon session had just brushed upon these two subjects – in response to a question I had posed about the power of positive and negative thought. Food and sex, we were told, were in fact two addictive desires, whether they were indulged in the physical sense or just (“innocently”, I had naïvely assumed) as compulsive thoughts. But, that is all fodder for a future session, I thought to myself. So, after I had cajoled as many others as I could to join me in that most pleasurable experience of swimming naked under an expanse of starry sky, I wrapped myself in a towel and ate my vegan, gluten- free cake with gusto and licked the plate clean.