The Gift of Surrender

By Joanna Sesny, August, 2017

In June, I signed on to do a 10-day yoga retreat in Ladakh, India, led by Nikki Costello. This was to be my very first retreat, and the days leading up to it were fraught: I hadn’t been away from my three daughters for more than a couple of nights since they were born, and now I was about to jump on a plane, cross a few times zones, and park myself on a mountaintop in the Himalayas.

I wanted to back out.

About a week before I was set to leave, I was working at the front desk at Yogi Shanti, thoughts swirling around my head, when Nikki appeared. My reaction? CRY. Nikki said, “Yes, this is big. Your feelings are valid. I’ll be there for you when your plane lands in India.” So I breathed again, trusting.

I know it takes an act of God to change the course of your life. Sometimes these acts are baby steps, and other times they’re grand gestures. India for me was that grand gesture.

Fifteen hours after taking off, our plane landed in Delhi and my heart cracked open. We spent three days in that city, which was a good transition for me. I had cell service to talk to my husband and daughters, great food, Balinese massage, and a king-size bed—all the comforts.

BUT. The night before our 6am flight to Ladakh, the “I cannot do this” set back in. It was as if I were standing in a line I couldn’t get out of. Nor did I want to: I want to cultivate individuality in my lifetime. I want to be authentic. But spiritual growth, for me, is scary most of the time. I can’t determine if it’s pain-filled joy or joy-filled pain.

Ladakh is 12,000 feet above sea level, and it takes several days to acclimate. In the first 24 hours of this retreat, I cried, laughed, panicked, and prayed. But I was there, and I was in it a hundred percent.

When I woke up each day after that, my heart was filled with gratitude. I’d look out my window at the clear view of a monastery built on the side of the mountain. I’d hear the engine of the local school bus start up outside. (The bus driver lived with his family behind my building). The majestic mountains surrounded me as I walked to the temple for morning puja with the monks. Their chanting pulsated my heart. The novice children in the monastary pouring tea, banging the drums, looking up at their elders, rebirthed me. That sacred place welcomed me fully.

I surrendered, and felt free. I had nothing to hide. Those mountains could handle and protect me even in the darkest of nights. It was magical and amazing. Each day was filled with community, asana, and refuge.

As we neared the end of our time together, we were told that a rare meeting with His Holiness the Dali Lama was organized for our group. When His Holiness spoke with us, his first words were, “We are all the same.”

I’m sure I’ll be unpacking this experience for many days, weeks, months, and years. But I leave you with this, from His Holiness: “We are visitors on this planet. We are here for 90 or 100 years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something useful with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true meaning of life.”

Joanna Sesny


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