Grace in Transit
By Lindsay Sullivan, Written for Mala Yoga
“The big question is whether you are going to be able to say a hearty yes to your adventure.”—Joseph Campbell
This time last year, I was preparing for a one-month solitary retreat in the desert-mountains of Colorado. I wasn’t exactly sure what four weeks alone in a cabin to meditate, practice yoga, and stare at the stars would bring me but I knew I was burnt out from years of running around New York City trying to balance practice, work, and play, and I was anxious for some time to focus solely on meditation and yoga.
Before I began my solitary excursion, the last thing my teacher, friend, and retreat advisor said to me was, “The practice is hard enough. Life is hard enough. Find the joy. Find the freedom. Let go.”
However, as often happens, habit won over good advice. I kicked off my retreat like the perfection seeking taskmaster I’m sometimes known to be with 14-hour practice days, a strict retreat diet, and almost no down time. Two weeks in, I found myself in a heap of tears on the front porch of my cabin, exhausted and anguished by the discovery of bugs in my (now inedible) broccoli. I was lonely, pissed, and since my food supply was running low, I was also hungry.
So I decided to let go. Instead of sticking to my rigorous schedule, I took the afternoon off to bask in the sun; I made myself a big dinner of macaroni and cheese (sans broccoli) and slept well past my alarm the next morning.
I awoke feeling refreshed and alive for the first time in a long time. I felt a connection to who I was and my mission in the world. Not being perfect allowed me to see more clearly than the insidious shield of “perfection” ever would. In other words, letting go was working.
With space to hear my own thoughts, I sat on my porch that day staring at the vastness of the Colorado sky and meditated on my life. I realized that it was time for a bigger “letting go.” A “letting go” that has now been nearly a year in the making. A “letting go” that brings me to this letter.
I’m leaving New York.
For sometime, I’ve dreamed of studying psychology and becoming a licensed therapist. As a yoga teacher, I’ve spent years helping people with their physical and spiritual health, noticing along the way the affects a healthy body, relaxed nervous system, and focused mind have on our mental health and well-being.
I’ve wanted to have the skills and the backing to help people heal themselves the way I have been taught to do by so many teachers, therapists, body-workers, and friends. And that means going back to school.
Going to graduate school requires uprooting my life. The program that best suits my needs is 2,000 miles away. New York is my hometown; I have to leave my family, my friends, my teachers, and students, and a business I’ve spent years building. Not to mention my yoga studios, coffee shops, music joints, and of course, the NYC public transportation system I’ve come to know and love.
But the good news is I won’t go empty handed. I’ll bring with me the wisdom of countless students who have stood before me over the past five years with all their open hearts and tight hamstrings. From you, the yoga community, I’ve learned that we all make leaps in our lives, over and over again.
We jump into the unknown of a new relationship or parenthood; we quit the job or buy the house; we say goodbye, or perhaps like me, we move across the country not knowing where we’ll live, or how we’ll pay for school, or what the world is going to look like when we get to the other side. Sometimes we get the results we always wanted and sometimes we are left wondering if we did the right thing. But always, we grow. We learn. We deepen. We strengthen. And in that way we succeed.
To me, this process is yoga. The willingness to be awakened to the entirely of the human experience—all of life’s pains and joys, the sacrifices we make and the gifts we receive, the moments of humility and our initiations into grace—that is our practice. The “union” of yoga is realizing that one thing does not exist without the other—we must risk failure to taste true love.
In the spirit of the great yogis before me, I’m packing my bags, hopping behind the wheel (driving!), and heading west for my next big adventure. Please join me for my last classes at Mala Yoga, in July, and for my “Goodbye For Now” workshop on July 13th.
And please stay in touch! I plan to update you on my adventure via an occasional newsletter and I hope to come back to New York throughout the year to teach workshops on yoga and psychology. You can email me or sign up for a mailing list here.
I will miss you way more than you think.
With love and so much gratitude,
Meditation or Why I’m Choosing to Go on a Solitary Retreat
By Lindsay Sullivan, Written for East Yoga
Before I discovered meditation, I was a frenetic 20-something throwing myself around the mat trying to see how fast or fancy I needed to move to finally quiet the monkey-ish thoughts dancing around the jungle of my mind. All I got from that was a wrist injury and panic attack at age 26.
Then one day I stumbled into a class where the teacher asked us to sit and meditate for a full ten minutes. My body ached, my mind raced, my heart jumped and despite it all, something told me that I’d hit on something. I kept showing up to class, asking questions and seeking out teachers who could help me understand the practice of meditation and why it was so important.
Six years later, I continue to ask those same questions. Meditation is a life-long process that I’ve barely scratched the surface of, but I’ve seen enough to know that it’s worth the work. In this short time, I’ve learned so many invaluable lessons – the benefits of a daily meditation practice; the incredible philosophies of kindness, compassion and wisdom that a healthy meditation (and Yoga) practice supports; what it means to have a teacher and truly respect and carry on a lineage; and the advantages of taking time away from our busy NYC lives for retreat.
Since meditating, my yoga practice has transformed. Each pose offers the same moment of stillness and grace that sitting quietly does. It’s not about being fancier but being more present and engaged. The path of the yogi is literally written in the make-up of our physical and subtle bodies, but to truly be able to experience the inner map requires a deep capacity to focus. Surprisingly, once you find this skill, your practice takes a turn for the playful – each moment fully unique, the spectrum of life at your outstretched finger tips. Elation, frustration, exaltation and even aggravation become a perfect part of your often imperfect practice.
This year there have been many shake ups in the yoga community at large and within the very lineage that taught me these beautiful practices. The decision to go on a month-long meditation retreat was a difficult one. But, it’s our job to never give up on the practice, to keep growing and evolving and passing on the lineage of Yoga to the best of our ability as our teachers did for us. After all, if it hadn’t been for their fear and doubt and courage to try – and sometimes fail – we wouldn’t have the opportunity to experience their wisdom.
So it is with a discerning mind and open heart, that I go west for the month of August to take a little time to understand the practice a little better. I asked a wonderful meditation and retreat practitioner recently what he thought the biggest benefit of going on retreat was and he said after a pause…”it’s so much easier to be a kinder and more compassionate person after doing a few retreats. That’s been the biggest benefit for me.” What more can we really ask for?
With Love and Gratitude for all of your support, Lindsay