By Nicola-Jane le Breton
“When your ego works, intuition doesn’t. When your intuition works, ego doesn’t.”
How can you tell if your inner promptings come from intuition or from fear and desire? How do you choose the ‘right’ path or action? And what if you doubt yourself—should you listen to these doubts or do it anyway?
Shortly before leaving California to attend Summer Solstice 2018 and White Tantric Yoga® at Guru Ram Das Puri in New Mexico, I said to my husband, “I don’t think I want to go now—I’d rather stay here with all of you.”
I felt nervous about travelling and camping alone and anxious about mingling with a crowd of strangers wearing white. “Why am I doing this?” I asked him, as I toyed with the idea of staying with my family at our friend’s ranch in southern California where there were daily offerings of fresh blueberry smoothies, homemade goat cheese and a bio-swimming-pond.
Except—I’d already paid for the festival, bought the solo-camping gear and booked my airline ticket to Colorado where a childhood friend would drive me to New Mexico.
Luckily, my husband is more-than-familiar with my vacillations and self-doubt, so he didn’t buy into this momentary hiccup in my resolve. “Because it will be good for you,” he said. “You knew it wasn’t going to be easy when you signed up to do this, but it felt right at the time, and now you’re following through on your intuition.”
“You’re right,” I said, after we’d talked it through, and I remembered my original intentions: to complete my Kundalini Yoga teacher training requirements and to deepen my practice and commitment to this spiritual path. Sometimes, I told myself, doing what’s right isn’t comfortable. Sometimes it’s downright terrifying, and often it leads to unexpected challenges as well as opportunities.
My memory of Summer Solstice 2018 at Guru Ram Das Puri in New Mexico is a blur of white turbans, rolling gravel hills, and high-altitude scrub over which I covered thousands of footsteps every day—walking between my tent, the kitchen where I chopped vegetables for daily service, events in a wide-spread array of pavilions, and, of course, early morning sadhana. Unable to attend the whole festival, I arrived in time to attend a day of workshops prior to three days of White Tantric Yoga®.
One workshop stands out vividly in my memory—this was with Dr Siri Atma Singh Khalsa* who described Kundalini Yoga as the yoga of awareness and offered advice on how to develop a finely-tuned intuition, which he described as a pathway to “doing what’s right.” If you’re not sure what the right thing to do is, he told us, it’s often helpful to inquire into your intention or motivation. So, in my crisis of self-doubt before the trip, there was a desire for comfort and the familiarity of staying with people I knew well. And it is easy now to spot the fear that motivated my last-minute hesitation.
Dr Siri Atma also spoke of “hostage-taking thoughts”—those thoughts that sometimes grip us with a sense of urgency and self-importance, like telling myself I’d be “breaking up” the family holiday if I went to New Mexico by myself. If you feel yourself caught up in such thoughts, he suggested, take time to sit quietly and meditate. Also, if you feel yourself motivated by fear or desire, being hassled or hustled by your thoughts, it may be best to postpone acting. In stillness, clarity can emerge.
One piece of advice that resonated with me is that if you have an intuition to do something but feel doubtful, suspend the doubt and do it anyway. Often our doubts arise from fear and habitual approaches to life. Following our intuition may mean stepping out of our comfort zone to do things that are scary and new, expanding our boundaries and growing in strength and confidence.
For me, travelling to New Mexico via Colorado on my own was a big step into an even bigger unknown. I had only discovered Kundalini Yoga in late 2016, deciding almost immediately to train as a teacher; and two years later I was immersing myself in one of the most intense experiences offered by this path—three days of white tantric in the desert.
As a natural introvert who has rarely travelled alone, it’s not easy for me to venture into a crowd of unknown people. I knew of one other friend from Perth who was attending the festival. As soon as I arrived at Guru Ram Das Puri, I realized it was going to be almost impossible to find her each day. I was on my own.
One of the first ‘problems’ I faced was who to partner for tantric—how did that even work? Was it random? Did you have the same partner for three days or a new partner each day? I listened to all these fearful thoughts, and then I did my best to let them go and tell myself all would unfold perfectly—and even if it didn’t, I would be okay.
Sure enough, on my second evening in camp, I sat beside a Sikh woman from Arizona who emanated calm and kindness. We chatted over our daily standard dinner of mung beans and rice with vegetables and salad, and soon she asked, “Do you have a partner for tantric tomorrow?”
I shook my head, “I’m not sure how to find one.”
“Well, you can take pot luck on the day, or you can pair up with a friend, or you can ask a stranger. Often I don’t arrange anything—I just show up and let myself be paired with another person on their own. Would you like to be my partner tomorrow?”
“Yes, please,” I said, sighing inwardly with relief. The thought of doing a whole day of partner yoga was daunting enough, so knowing the woman I would be sitting opposite had a gentle heart and compassionate eyes was a bonus.
The next day, I wept, smiled, laughed, ached and nearly fell asleep countless times. During the first 62-minute meditation, I could hardly keep my eyes open. But no matter what, my partner gazed back at me with sea-green eyes that in turn reminded me of my mother, of my best friend, of the ocean, of mossy trees, of distant stars, and of a mischievous elf. I was awash with gratitude towards all those who had helped me through the most painful and difficult episodes of my life.
Somehow the steadiness of her attention and the unconditional acceptance she vibrated helped me to achieve the impossible—keeping my arms in the air for one endless meditation after another, until my shoulders and arms felt alternately like petrified trees or wobbling jelly, my lower back begged to lie flat on the earth, and my eyelids were falling stones that made my whole upper body sway. But I did it. I got through—admittedly with some rests, with some propping of elbows on knees, and with quite a few tears.
At the end of the day, I thanked my new friend; we said goodbye and she told me she’d be having a rest tomorrow and allowing fate to choose her partner on the third day of tantric. I thought I might be brave enough to do that too. Then, half-an-hour later, she found me again (an amazing achievement amongst two thousand or more white-garbed, white-turbaned yogis) with an unexpected offer.
“Amma, the hugging saint from India, is in New Mexico at a nearby casino. Would you like to see her and perhaps, if you’re lucky, have a hug? We’d need to leave right now.”
It wasn’t in my plan, but I took the leap, trusting this chance offering. By a series of serendipitous openings that allowed me to fast-track through a queue that was normally six or eight hours long, I found myself only a few hours later wrapped in the arms of the Divine Mother. It was a perfect end to a perfect day. After that, I was ready for anything—including another day and a half of tantric and the solo journey back to my family in California.
In his workshop, Dr Siri Atma said there were three kinds of people who, if swimming in a lake and confronted by ice that prevents them surfacing into air and sky, would each respond very differently. One would give up, sinking to the bottom of the metaphorical lake and conforming to society’s expectations of ‘a normal life.’ The second would look for a clever way to get through—perhaps hunting for a shortcut or using others’ efforts to ease the passage. And the third would consolidate until she had the strength to break through herself. This last is the path of the kundalini yogi, he said—she understands that adversity provides an opportunity to grow stronger and to be of service to others.
My tantric companion taught me much, simply by sitting with me in meditation for a whole day. We persevered through seemingly impossible physical challenges, offered each other unconditional acceptance for the emotional patterns that arose, and then, against all odds, embraced an out-of-the-blue opportunity to meet with one of the most pure and selfless vessels of sacred love and compassion walking in our world today.
At the end of the day, my partner gave me a parting gift, one of Amma’s Rudraksha seeds, to wear around my neck and remind me: when life is tough, and I feel most alone or self-doubting, I need only persevere with courage and trust, and love will find and hold me once again. I feel blessed by my adventures in New Mexico, the richness of the Summer Solstice festival, and the people I met there. If I’d succumbed to my doubts and fears, I might never have gone.
Next time my intuition prompts me down a strange new path, I will be more able to listen, suspend my doubts, and take the leap with daring and faith.
* Siri Atma S. Khalsa MD is the author of Waves of Healing: Listening to the Voice of Your Soul and was personal physician to Yogi Bhajan for eight years.
© Nicola-Jane le Breton, 2018
Nicola-Jane le Breton is a community facilitator who plays in the genres of creative writing, environmental arts, dance, theatre, and now yoga. Her strength as a teacher is creating a safe space for participants to discover and trust the creativity that flows from surrender. She offers writing circles and journeys that support deep inquiry through journaling, poetry and memoir. By sharing our innermost stories, we build empathy and dissolve differences in our communities. Nicola-Jane works as a publishing consultant and editor in Western Australia and is completing her Level 1 Kundalini Yoga Teacher Training with the International Karam Kriya School founded by Shiv Charan.
Photo caption: Nicola-Jane (right) and friends at Summer Solstice 2018.