Most of the time, you think you’re fine. You have a loving boyfriend, interesting job, a circle of friends, and a few very special friends whom you’d trust with anything. You live in a nice apartment in a pretty neighborhood in one of the best cities in the world. You’re young and healthy, and can take pleasure in the little things as well as occasionally more substantial, profound matters. So you think you’re doing fine, if not great.
Then, all of the sudden, you don’t feel so sure. You feel like you’re always catching up on something. Something is always needing to be done, attention is always being demanded. You unfairly take out your stress on your boyfriend. Your father is angry at you. You call your mom intending to smooth things over, and end up telling her exactly why you haven’t been calling them these past several weeks. She hangs up, saying, “I see what you’re saying,” and doesn’t call again. On your Facebook feed, you see that annoying ex roommate from college has posted yet another grandiose milestone, and that guy, also from college, has had another TV interview or some shit. Both get dozens of likes and congratulations from well-wishers. You find out that your guy’s best friend is engaged to a girl he met on Match exactly six months ago. You go to bed at 2 a.m. so frequently that midnight feels early. There is nothing to wear. More work stress. The subway is unbearable. Laundry exists everywhere.
When you can’t take it anymore, you do the most impulsive thing you’ve done in a long time, which is sign up for a yoga retreat in Massachusetts. You pack a backpack and flea the city, watching the scenery change out the window. After your first yoga class that afternoon, you feel yourself breathing normally for the first time in a long time. You eat steamed veggies, tofu, and brown rice for dinner, do the sauna, and fall asleep at 10 pm. The next morning, you wake up at 5:50 am for the morning yoga class. You go out to the terrace with a cup of tea, and watch the sun rise over the mountains. Yoga class, then another simple breakfast of broth, steamed broccoli, and brown rice. At noon, you take an improv dance class, set to live African drummers, which you know all your friends, except a few of the very best ones, would think is so unendurably hippie–and feel totally amazing and sensual like a goddess. You go on an afternoon hike through the woods, where the guide points out the spot where she saw a mama bear and her three cubs. Afterwards, you call your mom–but she doesn’t pick up, so you just text her, “just saying hi. At a yoga retreat.” You don’t hear from her, even after another yoga class.
You eat dinner and go down to the cafe, where they are doing aura photography special event. You debate the wisdom of spending $30 on something so hokey, then decide that you can spend money just for fun while you’re on vacation. Plus, you’ve been reading all about chakras and you have no idea whether you’re overflowing or running dry on any of them. With healthy air of skepticism, you ask the aura photographer if this detects thermal energy; and the baby-faced photographer with a nose piercing says very earnestly that no, it doesn’t gauge your temperature but rather the energy that everyone radiates. Since you were going to do it anyway, you sit in front of the camera apparatus and have your picture taken. She walks you through the chakras while you wait for the picture to develop. Even though you don’t really believe in this, you worry that the photo will come out all black, and what that would mean about your soul. Thankfully, she says that no one ever comes out without any colors. She finally peels off the backing, and says, “oh, so pretty!”–just like a hairstylist exclaims right after she’s finished cutting your hair, as if to reassure you and herself that she’s done a good job.
She lays the photo on the table and you see something that strikes you at first as not quite so remarkable. Vivid emerald green on left and right sides, framing a cloud of violet and indigo. She starts by pointing out your pink energy, and how it’s so rare to get someone with pink. “Pink means you are an incredibly nurturing and loving person. In fact you have a lot of love energy. Your left side–the right side of the photo–is your incoming energy, meaning what you’re receiving from the world. Your right side is the energy you project to the world, and this is most people’s perception of you. Green is your heart chakra and it means you’re giving a lot of love and care. Greens can sometimes give too much to other people at the expense of themselves, but you have a nice healthy love coming in so that’s not a worry.” She then explains how the center top of the photo is who you truly are at this moment in life, that violet relates to the crown chakra, and that it speaks to your spirituality, intuition, and uncommon intelligence. You tell her you have been very focused on building yourself spiritually over the past few years, to which she positively beams. The indigo around the edge is the sign of your third eye, which means you are open to the mysterious and the divine, and possess healing and intuitive abilities. So far, so good.
“See these blue orbs around the top?” she points out. “They’re your spirit guides.”
“Like, angels? Or relatives?” You ask.
“They can be anything…anything you like to think of them as.” She says haltingly.
“Why are there no colors in the center? Am I missing something there?”
“Don’t worry, that’s normal. See, you have a bit of pink right on your heart chakra, and then some purple on your root chakra. That shows how you’re building your foundation on spirituality.”
You thank the girlish photographer and go up to your room. When you lie down on your bed, you notice that you’re seeing stars for the first time in forever. You check your phone and notice that your mom hasn’t called back.
You wake up the next morning and take the sunrise yoga class. Your yoga teacher has a soft silver beard and longish hair and looks like a hippie version of your favorite professor. At the start of the class, he quotes from Brian Josephson, the Nobel prize-winning physicist. You strain to remember the elegant words but only retain that after thinking so profoundly and studying science so deeply, he proposed that there is a limit to the understanding of reality through science alone, at which point one must seek other means of understanding truth.
After class, you head out to the woods by yourself. No one is out this early. You get lost, then find a cluster of beech trees, all silver and gold in the morning light. You take a picture and send it to your mom, who still hasn’t called. You eat lunch by yourself and head to your final yoga class. Lots of hip openers, which are said to open up your feelings, and ground you.
When you come back from your shower, you see a text from your mom: “I’ll call you later this morning.” You go downstairs to the terrace. The sun is already low on the sky. In defiance of retreat rules, you sit down on a bench and make the call. Your mom answers on the second ring. To your surprise and relief, she sounds happy. Nothing is mentioned of the bad call some weeks ago. You tell her all about the yoga classes, the hiking, and the trees. The conversation moves onto literature and books. Then you tell her about the aura photo, and even over the phone, she sounds alarmed, skeptical.
“I’m not saying it’s all true. But it’s a way for people to understand things which cannot be explained through other means–a language of metaphors.” You say, defensively.
“I suppose so,” she says.
“Sometimes it’s good to have a means of visualizing these things to seek things out spiritually. I know you think it’s hokey but it’s important and it’s positive. I remember how you made fun of Dad when he started meditating. You should’ve have done that.” You imagine your dad, who had the misfortune of falling to meditation almost twenty years ago, a long time before it became fashionable. You think about how your mom openly mocked him. “That was just his way of trying to nurture that aspect of him, but you just ridiculed him.” Your voice is shaking. Your throat gets hot, thinking how these two people have lived their entire lives on different frequencies, not understanding each other’s higher longings–her yearning for literature, his yearning for mystery, and how you’re the only one who completely gets the full picture, because you inherited both of those things and more. You got the “crazy artist” side from both parents, which they could not accept in each other.
“I did not make fun of him,” your mom protests, weakly.
“Yes, you did.” You insist.
“I might have poked fun a little bit, but I didn’t think it was necessarily bad. Look, your father is still the one who knows me the best in the whole world. And I love him the best in the whole world. You don’t need to worry about us. We’re happy.”
You sit in the cold for a long time after you hang up, holding onto the last rays of November sun. You now know what colors your aura is made of. You know the real you walks tall, shoulders open, chin held up lightly, with a slight smile on your lips; and that when you’re at your natural state, your default feelings are compassion, curiosity, and joy, instead of anger, indifference, and irritation; that you need to be in nature, as much as possible, to feel truly balanced. You also know that in a few hours you’ll go back to the city, back to worrying about your parents, working too much, feeling tired and stressed out, uncertain about the future. You know all these things, but it doesn’t matter. For the present, you sit and let yourself just be.
More in Voices: Grandmothers (and Mothers) Don’t Always Know Best
Photo: Kripalu; Peaceful Dumpling