By Sarah Calvert
“I’m scared. I’m nervous. I don’t want to leave my cozy home. I don’t know anyone else who is going. I don’t know what to expect. I don’t want to go.“
That could easily have been the journal entry from when I was nine years old, being sent off to summer camp for the first time. Flash forward almost four decades, and it’s actually the feelings I had before embarking upon my journey to Summer Solstice in New Mexico a couple of weeks ago.
All of a sudden, this normally fearless Kundalini-teaching Leo who incessantly travels the world alone was getting cold feet. I almost backed out. I looked online to check the cancellation policy for Southwest Airlines. My rationale was that I actually needed a break after a lot of spring travel that took me from Nicaragua, back to Canada, down to California for Sat Nam Fest, then back home to Canada.
I’d just had a huge album release event, which involved a lot of rehearsals and planning, and I thought I now deserved a “break.” To me, heading up to the high desert, camping, using port-a-potties, and doing three days of White Tantric Yoga® didn’t equate to a “break.” I almost convinced myself that hammock-ing by day and Netflix-ing by night would be a better option. Almost.
Fortunately, I have a photo of Yogi Bhajan beside my altar, and during a morning meditation, he kept reminding me to stick with my decision. Not in a way that was reprimanding, but in a way that forced me to face what I needed to do. “Clean your garbage!” was the message I got.
I hadn’t been to New Mexico since 2007, when I did my Level One Teacher Training in Espanola. It was profound. At that time my mother had recently died of cancer, I had just quit teaching high school, and I enrolled into a jazz college to further my studies in piano and vocals.
My mum’s passing had been an epiphany for me and it encouraged me do what I love and felt called to do; clearly we’re only here for a short time so make it count. I knew that becoming a Kundalini Yoga teacher was part of this path. I sat at my altar that morning and remembered the magic of the land, the support and guidance I felt, the dry air and warm sun. Eleven years ago I traveled into the unknown, not knowing a soul, and came home restored and forever transformed. I didn’t call the airline. I got in my car. I drove four hours to Spokane and got on the plane. I kept up.
Like most middle-class kids in Ontario Canada, I went to summer camp. This experience defined who I was to become: a leader, a teacher, a Jill-of-all-trades and most importantly, a confident woman. In those transformative summers I learned how to sail, kayak, swim, jump off huge cliffs, and most importantly, how to revere nature.
Yogi Bhajan said the best way to master something was to teach it. And so I did. I worked at Camp Kitchi until I was in my early twenties, and only left because it was my time to move forward, and make way for the younger crew to follow in my footsteps. On that magical island in Georgian Bay, I learned to honor the land and its history―our camp was based on the sacred land of the Onondaga and Chippewa tribes. We learned stories of powerful chiefs and were made very aware that we were NOT the first people on this island.
This recent experience at Ram Das Puri was strikingly similar to my Kitchi experiences as a child: reverence for the land, honoring nature, respecting each other, cultivating self-love and trust. Music. The hoop dance performed by Nakotah LaRance on Peace Prayer day instilled this feeling of respect for those who walked this land before us.
At Kitchi, we began each morning with a “dip” which meant we had to run into the chilly water (and I mean VERY chilly in May!) to wash. At Solstice we began our day with a cold shower. I didn’t know the benefits of hydrotherapy when I was nine, but I know I felt great and ready to take on the world.
At Kitchi we awoke to the sound of the morning bell. At Solstice, Guru Singh’s voice and guitar roused us from slumber with his gentle, “Rise Up.” I joined him for several mornings, strumming my ukulele while serenading the camp under the stars. Magical.
Before breakfast at Kitchi we’d meet as a community around the flagpole and listen to the “thought of the day” which helped shape our spiritual lives. At Solstice, we gathered for Sadhana and chanted together to also help shape our spiritual lives.
At Kitchi we performed skits (acting and singing) and this made me really comfortable with being on stage. At Solstice, I performed a song and mantra on stage during Ransabhai (the all night musical slumber party), and loved the camaraderie of blending voices with my fellow musicians. The parallels are uncanny.
The first night I arrived at Solstice I attended the International party where the many (and I mean many) people from other countries were invited to come and enjoy an evening of song and dance with the Espanola sangat. I ran into my group leader from my teacher training all those years ago, who embraced me and said, “Welcome home.”
I met so many amazing people that week and got to speak Spanish and French, to all the international yogis. During the week I’d have a thought and almost moments later, it would manifest and come to fruition. Call it manifestation, call it intuition, call it magic. This is the power of Kundalini Yoga and White Tantric.
Who knew that almost 40 years after my childhood camp experience, I’d be having another transformational camp experience. The insights and what I’ve taken home from Solstice are hard to describe. I just know that I feel super-charged to continue my path of being the lighthouse for others.
In a couple of days I lead one of my women’s retreats here in Nelson BC, whereby Kundalini Yoga is the foundation for our day. The teachers I met at Solstice inspired me with new kriyas and insights that I’m eager to share with my ladies. Many of the women in my retreats tell me they feel like they are back at camp. We move our bodies, we chant, we revere nature, we honor the Creator, we get in touch with ourselves. When these often fearful and timid women walk into the retreat center in a couple of days, unsure of what the week will hold, I will embrace them, say “Sat Nam. Welcome Home.”
Sarah Calvert is a Level 1 and 2 Kundalini Yoga teacher and musician based in Nelson, BC. She has just released her second album of chants, “Santiago Sadhana” that she composed while walking the Camino de Santiago in Spain. https://sarahcalvert.bandcamp.com/album/santiago-sadhana