This post is about my biggest life lesson in India so far. It's about an experience that I could very easily be upset, bitter or angry about. Instead, I'm learning from it. I am accepting the situation as it is and moving on. I am writing this post as part of the practice of telling the story and then letting it go completely and moving on. So here is what happened.... it's kind of long for the internet, but it is the story as I need to tell it.
In mid-March, while I was in Pandeshwara at the traditional Yoga Guru Kula, I started considering the idea of a longer stay in India. I had a ticket to visit my mom in Florida for April 16 and had been planning to head to Pittsburgh, then Haiti, then back to Hawaii via Arizona. That was my plan. But as I was settling into the rich experience of deep traditional yoga studies, I felt the pull to stay longer to go deeper. As the idea of tossing my plan out the window began blossoming, I started looking for possible yoga teaching positions in India. My cash flow was getting low, a longer stay would require more income.
Within 3-4 days of looking, I was offered a month long yoga teaching job in Dharamshala. A popular spiritual tourist destination, and the home of the Dalai Llama, in the foothills of the Himalayas. It felt like divine provenance. I was clearly supposed to stay in India for a while. It was such a gift to be offered this position so easily and quickly. It let me release all questions of how long to stay at the Yoga Guru Kula and I could be fully present in the learning experience there. It also gave me a sense of security that I'd earn a bit of money this summer and get to stay in India at least through June. I felt great about not having any plans after that. I would get myself to Dharamshala, get settled in and let what was supposed to happen next be revealed to me. I had fully embraced living in the flow and it felt amazing.
Fast forward 6 weeks. on May 10, under a full moon, I took a night bus to Dharamshala from Delhi. I had a great week in Delhi, where I got to visit with a few good friends, and I was excited for the next stage of my healing journey - teaching at a yoga teacher training course in India. It was early morning when I arrived in the 'hill station' town of Dharamshala and took a shared taxi even higher up the mountain to a tiny town called called Upper Bhagsu.
I arrived without issue at the yoga school. I was excited about arriving but I was also tired as I had barely slept, and my legs were extra stiff and weak from sitting on a bumpy bus for 12 hours overnight. I was greeted by the man who had hired me based on my resume and our email exchanges. Our first in-person exchange was friendly and warm. He took my bags to put in an office and offered to show me the yoga school building.
This is when things started to go downhill. Literally.
I had no idea how intense the terrain of Dharamshala and Upper Bhagsu would be. The few streets there are, are narrow, rocky and steep - much of getting around is on unpaved footpaths. Everywhere there are staircases that are weathered, rocky, steep, irregular and don't have bannisters. There are a few of these rocky uneven steps outside the yoga school.
And this really happened....we had started walking to the door, and I was starting to say, "I didn't tell you about my physical condition because..." .and I tripped on one of the stairs and went sprawling onto the cement.
Until that moment, I hadn't fallen a single time in India. Actually, I've only fallen down from tripping 3-4 times in the 18 months of this healing journey. I like to say that I've developed ninja like balance from this injury. I trip often but 98% of the time I catch my step, but not this time. There clearly many conditions that led to this trip and fall. It was not a big fall. I wasn't hurt at all. But it felt pretty clear that it wasn't a good sign.
I tried to laugh it off. The guy kind of laughed, but not really. He also didn't seem overly concerned about my well-being, just confused. And as I started talking about how the injury didn't affect my ability to teach, I could feel my words landing on doubtful ears. We walked up three flights of stairs to see the different part of the residential yoga teacher training building. Did I mention I was already exhausted from the overnight bus? So my going was slow, and I could feel his doubts rising.
Then it was time to go look for a room for me to stay in. We walked out of the school, and started a steep ascent on the 'main road' of Upper Bhagsu. Basically it's a one lane series of cracked and crumbled cement slabs placed at a ridiculously steep angle. After not too far, we turned off onto a footpath. On that short walk, he was the first person to ever walk far ahead of me when going somewhere together. We were on a rocky pathway with plenty of stairs without bannisters and my going was slow, his was not. It was another semi-subtle sign that I would have to work to win him over into believing I would be a good yoga teacher for his students. Thankfully, we quickly found a place for me to stay. A cozy tiny room that fit my budget and was only kind of scary in the navigation it'd take me to get there. We walked the short distance back to the yoga school, and again he did not wait for me - but met me in front of the building.
I will note here that in my yoga resume it says that I have used yoga to recover from a serious spinal cord injury. And we had become friends on Facebook, where I am quite transparent about my injury and current physical state. But I had not disclosed directly my physical limitations because I knew it could cause doubts and I was sure I would be more convincing in person. I imagined when I met him he would sense my sincere commitment to the practice and trust my sincerity and integrity in my belief in my abilities as a strong yoga teacher. I was wrong.
As I reached him at the building, I told him that walking on uneven steep ground is challenging for me, and that my legs were extra stiff because of the bus ride. I went on to say that I could see he was concerned but that he could rest assured that I am totally comfortable in a room teaching yoga, where the floor is flat and my movements are known and easily navigated. I added that I would be happy to discuss ant concerns he had. As I write this, I wish I would have offered to teach a sample class! Anyway, from there he said a few things that didn't feel sincere and I was definitely on the alert, but unsure of what to do.
We parted ways and I didn't see him again until the next evening. I went to the yoga school for the graduation ceremony of the 200hr teacher training session they were just completing. He was standing at the balcony when I walked up and right after kind of greeting me he said, "Lizandra we need to talk. Not now, later." I knew immediately what he was planning to say, and I was surprisingly unreactive. I knew I had taken a chance in not sharing the full extent of my current physical state. I know it has only made me a better teacher, and I also know the current state of the yoga world might not be able to handle it. For sure, I was bummed that it might not work out. But I was still holding out hope that I could convince him.
We met late morning the next day. He was kind, but not apologetic. He said, "Lizandra, we cannot have you teach Ashtnaga Vinyasa to our students." He said he was concerned about his reputation and that the students would not appreciate being taught by someone who can't 'show them' how to do an asana. He had a fair bit else to say, none of which felt 'real' or 'valid' from my point of view - but I also saw it as 'truth' from his perspective. I saw and felt clearly there was no point to any argument - his mind was made. He couldn't see beyond my limitations and didn't trust the incoming students to either.
I listened with an open heart and with tears in my eyes told him I was very sorry he felt that way. I told him that I didn't agree with what he had said, but that I honored his decision as a business owner. We talked a little more, he told me some personal stories of difficulties in his life and some other what felt like totally unrelated stories of challenging students from past trainings. It was both awkward and somehow comforting to make small talk about yoga. Finally, I left.
I went across the street to a cafe and had a tea. I ruminated on the situation. My thoughts were all ver the place. It really hurt to be judged based on my 'disability'. I wondered if this is what racism feels like. I felt hurt, I felt sad and I felt disappointed. But I also felt thankful. I really did. I didn't have to reach too far inside to touch the feeling of gratitude for the circumstances. Aside from the blow to my ego, the loss of a growth opportunity in my yoga teaching, and a little bit of income - everything else was quite fabulous. Really.
As I sipped my tea, I saw I that had a choice. I could get bitter, angry, upset and stew in the unfairness of the situation - or I could just accept it simply wasn't meant to be and let it go at that.
I chose the latter and spent the day at the Dalia Llama's temple. It was the perfect healing energy I needed.
So now here I am in Dharamshala, in the foothills of the Himalayas -enjoying the beauty of my surroundings. Doing long morning yoga practices in my room, sitting in cafes reading spiritual books and going for longer and steeper walks every other day. I have some ideas of what I may do in the coming weeks, but nothing has solidified yet and I am enjoying the practice of living with this uncertainty and trusting that what needs to unfold will.
No doubt, Radical Acceptance is where it is at. I am thankful that I have again found myself showing up in difficulty with incredible grace. What a gift.
Thank you for letting me share this story. It feels good to write it out. I am sure I'll have a few more conversations about it, but my intention is to completely forgive and release any feelings of 'being wronged' because it just doesn't matter. What matters is that my life is on a path that feels good and right - even though I have little to no idea where this path is taking me.
Lizandra Vidal is a poet, writer, and wellness expert. In 2015 she suffered a spinal cord injury and this blog is a space where she shares the story of her experience.