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My First Solstice (Winter)

By Sarah Calvert (Amarpal Kaur)

On December 14th, 2011, I still had my ticket booked from Toronto to New York City. My plan was to visit friends and family, see the Radio City Christmas show, a Broadway show, catch some jazz, go to Golden Bridge for some yoga, and eat latkes with my Mum’s extended family. The holiday season is difficult since Mum died five years ago of lung cancer. She was Jewish, but my Dad is Catholic, so we’d celebrate “Christmakah,” which basically consisted of visiting friends and family, skiing, and eating non-stop for about ten days. Her absence is so prevalent, so I thought I’d fill some of that emptiness with the energy and exuberance of New York.

The week before, I’d been sorting through boxes filled with journals and momentos, some of which belonged to Mum. In one box, I found a journal I had written when I was taking care of her the December before she died: “…tomorrow is winter solstice…I pray for Mum to be feeling better.” After reading, I paused and thought about Solstice Sadhana in Florida, wishing I were going there instead of to New York. I was harboring some subconscious grief and heaviness, and knew that I would be using New York as a distraction. I pushed the thought aside and told myself that my decision was already made: New York it was.

On the morning of the 14th I awoke with a bit of anxiety and had some trepidation about my trip. I tried to shrug it off, citing grief as its source, and continued my daily routine of sadhana and taking my dog for a walk along the shore of Georgian Bay in Ontario Canada, where I live. It was during the walk that I had a flash of insight. It was more like panic, but something from the depths of me was prodding me to change my plans: Don’t go to New York. Go to Solstice instead.

I hemmed and hawed about losing $160 for the change of flight fee, coupled with having to pay for taxis and shuttles from the airports, but then I heard Mum’s voice inside my head, “It’s only money, Sarah.” I then heard Yogiji’s common phrase echoing her sentiments, “It’s no big deal.” I thought if people cancel weddings, which have been booked and already cost a fortune, it’s “no big deal” for me to cancel a flight.

And so, the next morning I cancelled my flight to New York and booked a flight to Orlando. The morning I left there was no traffic, which was unprecedented for Toronto and the drive to the airport was a breeze. I had braced myself for holiday travel chaos in the terminal, and had stocked up my Ipod with mantras to help me stay centered. However, the check-in was speedy, I cleared security quickly, and made it to my gate with an hour to spare, which left me ample time to do some stretches and my 90-day meditation. Once I arrived in Florida, I lay in the sun outside the airport, basking in the Vitamin D. The loud speaker made announcements in Spanish; I was in heaven. My community of 9000 people north of Toronto is made up of mostly Caucasians, with the exception of the one Ojibwe woman I saw at the library last month. The cultural and linguistic diversity in Orlando was refreshing and a much needed change. I met my friend, Laura, and her husband for lunch, who just happened to be in Orlando that day (I noted again the flow). When we had finished, I got a call from my friend Gitanjali. We met and her friend picked us up in her van and took us to the Ranch. Perfect timing.

The orange groves that line the road where Circle F Dude Ranch is welcomed me, and once again, I knew I had made the right decision. It was about 4:00 pm when we arrived, and the sun was still warm and bright as we set up our tent, just outside of the women’s cabin and shower area. That evening we attended the kirtan in the Air Tent and immediately the vibration was set for the week to come. Music woke us from reverie the next morning; beautiful chanting outside our tent. I am thinking about patenting an alarm clock that can mimic that sound. I went to my first group sadhana in a very long time, and felt a sense of unity within this group of strangers.

The first day consisted of several workshops whereby I was introduced to new beautiful music (of Harnam), learned about invoking prosperity, and more about Ayurveda, which I have been studying in India and Canada. I was getting exactly what I needed, and the sensation of gratitude was profound. That night in the café I met my amigo Nirmal Singh from Toronto, who introduced me to several kirtan musicians; it was decided I’d play a set the following night. An hour later I was chatting with my new friend, Fateh Singh, who told me he’d be able to find someone to play with me if I liked. Yes, I liked! I’d only been there for a day and already had a gig and a manager: not too shabby.

The next morning I had a true sense of Solstice’s message: “Where Me Becomes We,” with the Shakti Dance facilitated by Dharma Kaur. Every morning at home, I make sure that I spend at least 15 minutes dancing like nobody’s watching (because there really is nobody in my living room), and I usually integrate some dance into the classes I teach. It was amazing to dance with many kindred spirits. The charismatic and playful Harijwan facilitated the next workshop and his teaching style was received with laughter. His analogy of the efficacy of the teachings and cocaine made me crack up: “The key is to keep it pure.”

I was looking forward to the afternoon workshop on, “The Lunar Woman, The Solar Man,” which I knew would be a yogic “Women are from Venus, Men are from Mars”; I’m always intrigued to learn more about the opposite sex. My last relationship proved that I clearly still had much to learn when it comes to relationships. (Note to fellow yoginis: Be careful if you fall in love with a man in India; no matter how spiritual and lovely you are, his mom will probably arrange a marriage for him with an Indian woman…more on that at another time.)

That night, I chanted with the amazing drummer, Ghansham Fergus Singh from Austin, and background vocals were sung by Satya Kaur, a fellow Canuck from Vancouver. Hari Ram Singh, yet another Canadian, performed after me and I had the spontaneous honor of harmonizing. During the days of Tantric, I had more Canuck connections with So Purkh of Ottawa as our Tantric Burger team leader, and his pal James. At first, I was disappointed that I’d miss Sadhana, but each morning we had our own personal serenade by several musicians (including Satya Kaur) who chanted over our burger making. I may hire mantra musicians in my home to preside over me preparing for a dinner party. What a lovely way to prepare food.

All of the Tantric days were unique but common insofar as they were beautiful, terrible, easy, difficult, and every other polarity one can imagine. My partners were exactly what I needed, and I was grateful to them for sharing their experiences and being a source of support and encouragement. A highlight for me was at the end of the third day; the DJ pumped up the tunes and we danced like nobody’s business for an hour amidst the tantric energy. Already I felt lighter and knew that much garbage had been swept away.

On the last night I slept in the Air Tent to partake in the Rensabhai, which was a sacred sound sleepover with music from the Gurdwara. The stars were still bright in the early morning, and I decided to continue dancing; I left the tent and danced to the sadhana music for a little while, and looked up at the stars. I could feel Mum’s presence strongly, and she praised me for following my instincts in coming to Florida. “This is what you needed,” she seemed to say.

Shortly after sadhana, I headed back to pack up the rest of my things and as flow would have it, I found out my Ottawa mates were heading to the airport at the same time, and so I could hitch a ride with them. This sense of ease and being in the flow was a huge part of my Solstice experience. I realized profoundly that Kundalini Yoga has cultivated my sense of intuition, and helped to foster my sense of Self. I look forward to my next Solstice experience, and give reverence to Yogiji, and to all who are carrying on his legacy. Sat Nam.