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Friday, December 10, 2010

The Yurt

Speaking with a friend who is building a yurt in Hawaii, I was reminded of the yurt I lived in for several months at Ananda Spiritual Community in California.  This is a rather long blog, a section from Knowing Woman, Nurturing the Feminine Self.

The Yurt

The minister at Ocean Song, an Ananda-operated property on the Northern California coast, had invited me to help her develop a guesthouse and retreat center. After I returned from Israel, my daughter, two-year-old grandson, and I drove over to see the spectacular property, located on rolling hills a mile from the ocean. Pleased with what I found and eager for a ministerial opportunity, I prepared to move.
The day before I was to leave, the Ocean Song minister phoned. “I’m sorry, Jo,” she said, “Don’t come. Swami Kriyananda has decided to return the property to the owner.”
I scrambled to find a place to live—a guest cabin at the Old Retreat—and a job, writing publicity for The Expanding Light. A few weeks later, a yurt on the hill above the dairy became available and I drove over to see it.
Parking my car at the end of the road, I followed a deer trail up a steep hill through trees and small bushes. Turning a bend, I saw a small, round structure nestled against the hill one hundred feet above me. On its lower side, peeled poles supported the canvas building; on the upper side, a three-foot porch fit the curve of the land. Modeled after the homes of Siberian nomads, the yurt was twelve feet in diameter with a dome roof; crisscrossed, two-inch lathes framed the interior fabric walls.
Inside, under the window and next to the sink, a two-burner Coleman stove sat atop a small storage cabinet. Kerosene fueled the lights and space heater; when the temperature rose above freezing, I would have cold water from a hose outside. I moved in immediately.
I slept under cozy blankets on a four-inch foam pad laid out on the varnished, yellow pine floor. On clear nights, stars filled the sky; deer foraged outside, so close—and the canvas walls so thin—I could hear them chewing. One evening as I drifted off to sleep, a doe and a yearling grazed nearby. An owl hooted a quarter mile away, startling the deer; the ground vibrated under their hooves as they ran, setting up a resonance I felt in my half-sleep.
One week out of four, the full moon shone through the un-curtained windows. Soft shadows spread across the polished floor. Month by month, I moved my pad and blankets, following the moon south and west. Old books warned of moon madness if the full moon shone on one, but I knew differently. With the full moon came a fullness of being—an intuitive knowing beyond rational thought, identification with the heart of nature.
As the weather warmed, I bundled up and meditated entire mornings on the sheltered north porch. Birds flew in and joined me, then moved on with a tiny flutter. At the porch edge, three-inch long, leathery green salamanders stretched, absorbing the heat of the late winter sun. One morning, I felt a stir of air, a tiny vibration near my cheek. Carefully, slowly, I lifted an eyelid to see what was causing it. A yellow and gray hummingbird with speckled throat feathers hovered at my mouth, its beak dipping for moisture between my open lips.
Meditating, reading, and writing, I built a castle of silent joy, a hermitage of the heart. Alone, I enjoyed a kind of global immersion. Peaceful and serene, I resisted going out, knowing my unity would be shattered. Leaving the yurt broke my connectedness with God, with the land, with deep silence.
In sharp contrast, when I was with others, I experienced a loss of self. I became the zeitgeist of the moment for as long as the connection—with a friend, family member, or guest—lasted. Relating to others for hours while I was with them, I was unaware that my energy was draining away. Leaving them, I experienced our separation as a great loss, accompanied by overwhelming sadness.
Both conditions—being with others or alonesatisfied me; however, the transition from one state to the other caused emotional devastation. I had experienced this loss all my life without knowing why. For many years, busyness had covered the hole in my heart; now, the emptiness seemed related to my habitual denial of self.
Each time I went out, I coached myself: this time, this time, I’ll feel at home among my spiritual friends. But it never worked. When I was with other devotees, I pretended, as I had always done. Anandans told me I looked sublimely happy; guests called me Joy. Like a small white hand in a soft leather glove, I acted as if I belonged in the community while my heart’s perpetual turmoil threatened my self-control. Life seesawed between the truth I perceived and the reality others appeared to live. My fragile self swung back and forth, a pendulum pointing first to my knowledge, then to Ananda’s truth, oscillating between awareness of my duplicity and my need to be accepted. If only I could be like them, I thought, I would be at peace.
The problem lay in me: because I had not found my true Self, like many, perhaps most women and men, I externalized my valueif they loved me, I would be happy.
At Easter, I waited tables at a wedding banquet. As usual, pretending joy I did not feel, I observed the festivities from the sidelines. (“Smile!” my grandmother had instructed when I was nine. “If you don’t smile, people will think you’re angry.” Taught from an early age to always appear happy, at the end of a long day in the governor’s office, my face had sometimes ached from smiling. By the time I arrived at Ananda, I had a perfect false smile.) As soon as I could leave without being noticed, I slipped away. Crossing the greening meadow, I entered the woods above the village. Safely hidden, I began to cry.
Ten minutes later, as I neared the dairy, a car approached on the road behind me. Swami Kriyananda and Rosannathe beautiful, young Italian woman he had married the previous summerwere returning to the Hermitage. They stopped to offer me a ride. Suppressing my inner tumult, I smiled a greeting.
“How are you?” Swami asked.
A God-given opportunity for spiritual guidance, I thought. Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
“Fine!” I answered cheerfully, “Although it’s not easy being a single, older woman in gatherings like the one we just left.”
“What do you mean?” Rosanna asked.
“With people or alone, I’m happy; moving from seclusion to being with people, or reversing the process—from the group back into seclusion—is hard. Swamiji, do you ever experience that?”
“I can’t say that I do,” Swami answered.
At the turnoff to the yurt, I jumped nimbly out of the car, wished them a joyful Easter, and waved as they drove away.
A few steps up the trail, I sobbed aloud.


  1. Hi Jo! As I told you in person--quite synchronistically, on the exact day you wrote this post--I struggle with the same problem! I enjoy being with people, and when I finally give in, I enjoy spending time by myself...but the transitions from one to the other require a lot of energy. I always used to score half/half introvert/extrovert on myers' briggs tests....but the profile that best described me (this was about 8 years ago, so I'd have to re-check) was the INFJ. (I'm kind of a split between P and J...I'm a lazy J that acts like a P!...but that's another story). I remember it saying that this type comprised only 1% of the population. I suppose you and I are rare souls indeed! It is so nice finally to have met someone who shares this trait...I was so relieved when I got to this part of your book describing your yurt experience! And as you said, I'm the first one you've found that shares your trait, so I'm sure you find comfort in it as well. And you are probably right about me really being more of an introvert....when I think back to when I was a little girl, I was extremely shy and private. The extroverted bold part of my personality didn't come in until I was in my mid-teens.

    Thank you so much for your wonderful readings. I hope I didn't talk too much and make it harder for you to focus! I enjoyed sharing with you and I learned a lot from you even though we didn't talk astrology the whole time! I feel like you helped me come to a better understanding of myself, so thank you!

    P.S. I will try to make it to your meditation group one of these sundays...I wasn't feeling well this whole past week so I took it easy. Also, if you are serious about doing a trade, let me know. I may be able to help with your heart, as I was reading more about your condition in your previous blog...sounds awful!!

  2. Deanna, thanks for the comment! Over the years, the transitions have grown much easier. It's mainly because I pay much more attention to how I am feelng. If I am tired of one state or the other, I move into the other....for example, if I find myself with family overload, I know when to disappear for awhile.

    I love doing Shamanic Astrology readings. I always tell my clients that it's a conscious equal partnership. The client brings their whole self, open to listening to what I have to contribute. I bring a lot of training and a lot of living to the exchange, being "present" I say.

    Last week's meditation was on synchronicity, and was just fabulous. I will be doing a post soon about that.

    Blessings, jo