I spent last weekend at Ananda Center at Laurelwood, a yoga and meditation retreat in serene rural Oregon near Portland, and am still feeling a strong connection to my experience there.
I've felt that post-vacation depression feeling before, where I feel bummed about being "back to the grind," as they say. But this is not that. It's more akin to feeling like I left a piece of my heart at Laurelwood.
The entire trip was deeply heart-opening, leaving me with a feeling of expansiveness and joy. Maybe it was the fresh air. The rolling green hills. The pervasively peaceful quality of nature. Meditating with dear friends. Meeting new ones. Being in the powerful vibrations of my guru, Paramhansa Yogananda.
It was certainly all of that. But it was also more.
I used to live at Laurelwood. Being back revealed to me the many ways in which I've grown, allowing me to feel and gently remember who I was when I first arrived at Laurelwood three years ago. It was like present-day me shaking hands with me from another lifetime.
That was powerful. But still, something struck me even more deeply.
At Laurelwood last weekend, it was like the ocean gifted me with a bright, beautiful pearl from its mysterious depths onto its tangible shore. I was enchanted and curious. I inched toward the shiny pearl, admiring its beauty and magnetism, and its ability to make me feel like the present moment is all there is and that the future is a blank slate, to be colored only by will power and choice.
It made me want to start choosing from my heart, with the same liberated boldness that it emanated through its radiant transparency. I thought I felt a warmth stirred up in my heart, but then I realized the pearl's luminosity was so pure that it was casting the warmth I felt. My heart began to sync with it.
Its warmth felt like home. I wanted to expand into it, so I opened my heart. Mesmerized, I bravely reached out toward the pearl. Just as my fingers scooped at the shore, a salty breeze nibbled at my shoulders. I opened my hands to find only wet sand. The ocean had swallowed the pearl back into its mysterious vastness in one mighty pull.
My immediate reaction was a feeling of loss. Then I felt a little lonely. The pearl had made me feel something so familiar. It had brought something out in me that made me feel alive, like anything was possible.
After reflecting on this experience for the last couple days, I realize now that the pearl activated my divine qualities, including love, joy, peace, wisdom, calmness, light and power. It was familiar because I was feeling myself, who I truly am. The uninhibited courage it inspired in me reminded me that it is a choice to tether ourselves to worry and other fears that hold us back. It guided me to renew my affirmation that I choose love and courage over fear.
My experience was not unique. Waves constantly wash pearls up onto the shore of life. We just don't always see them. We get too busy feeding our ego instead of nourishing our soul. When we do spot a pearl and try to grab it, it's okay if we miss. Because the pearl is already within us.
I'm glad the ocean swallowed my pearl this time. We tend to put so much emphasis on external factors being our pearl, our happiness. We find our pearl in lovers, careers, wealth, family, materialism. In doing so, we define our happiness by our pearl. Because we have our pearl, we expect to be happy all the time. When things go wrong, we blame our pearl.
People and life events can awaken our divine qualities of love, peace and joy, just like the pearl did for me this past weekend. But I don't want a pearl to define these qualities in me. I just want to allow it to awaken these qualities in me, guiding me to activate them within myself. That's why I'm thankful the ocean took it back.
My experience at Laurelwood reminded me to never depend on someone or something else to make me feel happy. And whenever those joyous times come along when someone or something awakens love, joy and peace within me, I will have the deepest gratitude—just like I have for the pearl from this past weekend.