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where the next step lands

When I was in college, my sister and I decided to enroll in a week-long retreat at a center near to the college we were attending. They had wonderful offerings, the surroundings were quite beautiful, and it was exciting to spend the time together. There were several workshops to choose from; she chose a rustic furniture making course, and I, a meditation course. We opted for a tent stay, rather than the cabins, surrounded by the nature of the Adirondack mountains.

In the first meditation class, we all gathered. I knew no one. Thinking back, I am proud of my ability to jump into something like that, without fear or hesitation. We were paired off with a partner, instructed to sit cross-legged, facing each other, knee to knee. The instructions were to look at each other for the next few minutes... 10? 15? 30? in silence. To simply sit, in silence, looking into a complete stranger's eyes.

It was intense.

There were no words.

Yet so much communication.

We sat there, connecting in a way that was so foreign to me. There were no conversation starters, no awkward silences, no doubting of self.

There was openness, compassion, and connection.

I don't recall the exact amount of time the exercise lasted, but it didn't feel long. When it came to a close, I remember my partner looking at me, taking my hand, and saying "Thank you," in such a truly honest way. I was already in tears by then, and we hugged.

There were so many emotions throughout the room. There was laughter, words of gratitude, and like in my case, many tears.

It makes me wonder what gets lost in our words. What gets muddled and confused in them. How the purest parts of us get blocked by all the words we use to define ourselves and categorize each other. What connection gets missed when the space is filled with conversation, and we miss the opportunity to be quiet with each other. Still. And really connect.

My sister and I had to leave the retreat unexpectedly, as there was severe weather (and we were staying in a tent), as well as a family emergency. When we were able to return a few days later, and before we departed for good, my partner had found me, and expressed his worry about us being gone. He gave me small book by Paramahansa Yogananda, and inside, left an inscription:

"Here, at the beginning...

Your feet before a path.

Ponder carefully where your next step lands."

I've kept that book for over 20 years now. I haven't looked at it in a long time, and in fact forgot the words of the inscription until I opened up it to write this.

I don't like to bring attention to my birthday, but it seems interesting that I re-discovered this on the eve of mine. I feel grateful for the reminder, and of the story it brings to mind. I am excited to welcome some quiet, discover connections, and am curious to see where that next step might land.

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