September 5th, 2009

kripaluview“Are you going to start talking like that all the time now?”  my husband, Wayne, asked me. He had just picked me up from Kripalu Yoga Center, and was driving me the two hours home. For the first half hour I had talked non-stop about the yoga, the workshops, and the people I met over the five days I stayed there for a retreat. Now I was describing a woman I decided to refer to as Negative Energy Lady.

“Like what?” I asked, but I knew what he was talking about. People speak differently at Kripalu. Lots of us nodded when a workshop leader said, “Does anyone in here resonate with that idea?” In real life, ideas are allowed to resonate, people are not.

“About people’s energy,” Wayne said.

“I  don’t know,” I said. “It seemed like a more Kripalu way of describing it. I suppose one could call her a bitch.” In truth, I liked thinking about her in terms of energy. It made me feel more in touch, spiritually. I noticed that every time I saw her in a workshop or yoga class or the dining hall, she’d manage to say something horribly negative in a nasty tone, despite the fact that we were all supposed to be here to pursue the spiritual practice of yoga. She exuded a whole different energy than everyone else at Kripalu. I mean, I can feel it in my gut when she uses that tone of voice.  To step back and look at her as a ball of negative energy helped me not to react to it, though it didn’t stop me from talking about it. My new Kripalu friends and I were comparing notes about the woman at lunch, hours earlier. It felt distinctly unenlightened to talk negatively about a person, which is probably why we kept saying that clearly she was hurting inside.

Earlier that morning, when a number of us went for a meditation walk, the leader was describing the idea behind the practice. Negative Energy Lady (NEL) barked, “You didn’t say we need to be silent.”

The leader responded gently, as if the comment was meant as a polite reminder rather than an irritated criticism, “Thank you. I did forget to mention that the walk was silent.”

“Yes, you did forget and it’s necessary!” Returned NEL.

Earlier in the day NEL had moved my friends to leave a workshop called “Creating a Home Practice” about figuring out how to fit yoga into your home life. We were in the midst of sharing with partners when the leader, a different yoga instructor, asked if we needed more time.

“You need to show us some yoga moves you do at home. We’re running out of time. You led us to believe at the beginning you’d do that,” barked NEL.

“Thank you for sharing that,” the leader said with genuine calm, again as if NEL had spoken in a respectful tone.

“Those instructors sure are more enlightened and compassionate than I am,” I said to Wayne. “I would have known that I was supposed to be nice, but I don’t think I’d take it so well. Unless I lived at Kripalu for a while, I guess.”

I think the first thing that changes in new arrivals at Kripalu is the way we speak. After listening to workshops and yoga instructors, we start using softer voices and peppering our speech with spiritual terms. Then we all begin to resonate with a different kind of energy from hanging around yogis, eating breakfast in meditative silence, and taking yoga classes. Well, not everyone, I saw. When I first saw NEL she was barking about something in a yoga class. I thought, phew, she must have just gotten here and hasn’t turned that off yet.

In truth, NEL was just a piece of the real world inside the mostly isolated Kripalu. My roommate, who had been there for two weeks so far for an Integrate Yoga Therapy certification hadn’t heard about Senator Kennedy’s death until a week later because Kripalu has no tvs, and while there is now internet access in the cafe, I guess not many people were checking the news that way, either. Kripalu is housed in a former Jesuit seminary, a huge building at the top of a grass hill, overlooking a lake, nestled in the Berkshire mountains. It is a retreat from the real world, but the real world seeps in with us. The habit of complaining about people’s bad behavior was our own real world baggage we brought to Kripalu. And there I was, just having left the place, taking the winding beautiful back roads towards home, telling this story, because compared to her, I guess I’m a lot closer to enlightenment. Only if I were further down that path, maybe I’d be quietly enjoying the ride home.

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