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The vibration of the chant tickled the back of Shanti’s throat, and she coughed. The hacking sound broke the flow of the aural vibration. A few eyes of her fellow chanters opened and glared at her.
Shanti winced in apology. Few acceptances were forthcoming in the room full of zen-seekers. She wished the sky would open up and she could float away.
That is until the yoga instructor’s gaze found hers. Yogi Wizdom’s hazel eyes locked with Shanti’s. His easy smile spoke of encouragement, patience, and peace. None of the things Shanti felt. Instead, Shanti felt warm, hot, and wet.
“Focus on a single point,” Wizdom encouraged the room of meditators. “And in that point, you will find enlightenment.”
Everything in Shanti was focused to one point all right. It all all arrowed straight to her core. Shanti shifted on her yoga mat as she imagined those hazel eyes gazing down at her while she lay prone instead of folded into a lotus flower. Wizdom’s brown skin made Shanti think of chocolate sauce, spiced chai tea, curried lentils.
Wow, when had her fantasies become Indian in flavor? Wizdom wasn’t Indian. He was American, just like her. She’d found that out her second night at the ashram when she’d spent a good twenty minutes chatting him up, sharing stories of their unconventional youths.
They’d both grown up with alternative parents who believed in healthy eating, yogic exercise, and mindfulness. The difference, she learned, was that Wizdom’s parents were music moguls who’d adopted the lifestyle late in their lives and passed the knowledge, along with their millions, down to their only child.
Shanti had been born on a commune to the sound of drumming and her mother yowling at the moon during her water birth -not in a tub, in the actual ocean. When Shanti’s parents passed, they did so without a dollar to their name.
Shanti had been hoping to get to know Wizdom even better the other night. Hoping that the knowing would come while they were between the sheets. Hoping that he would focus on a single point of her anatomy, and that she’d be the one finding enlightenment. But they’d been interrupted.
Bow, short for Rainbow, Montgomery had sashayed her size zero Lululemons into the midst of Shanti and Wizdom’s conversation. Bow sent friendly smiles in Shanti’s direction. Even though Shanti never attended a formal high school, mean-girl was a universal language. Bow continued to send Shanti false smiles while cockblocking Shanti’s efforts to get Wiz alone for the rest of the night.
But now, as Wiz led the class in the final breathing exercise of the yoga class, he smiled at her. Shanti wondered if he was thinking what she was? Was he thinking of bending her body over on the meditation pillows? Was he thinking of slowing down her breaths and teasing her until she was left panting and gasping? Was he thinking of opening her body as well as her third eye?
Wizdom’s mouth opened wide. Shanti leaned forward as though she were going to kiss him. He closed his eyes. His lips rounded into an O and…
“Ommm,” he chanted.
Shanti sighed in frustration as her libido crashed back down on this plane of existence. She shut her eyes and tried to pick up on the tail end of the intonation, but she was completely out of tune. She sat on a cold marbled floor -the yoga mat gave little cushion. Her long legs were folded into the unappetizing pretzel of the lotus position. She tried to concentrate on the words of the chant but her big toe was going numb. She tried wiggling it, but then her ankle lost its footing on her knee. Her body tilted to the right. She tried to correct her self, but over-corrected and crashed down to the left, into the person sitting beside her.
It was Bow. Bow dropped her fake zen and threw death stars at Shanti. Turning, Bow looked up at Wiz. Her brows rose, her eyes rolled, and her shoulders shrugged as though to say that Shanti was out of their league.
Bow scooted up in front of Shanti, directly in front of Wiz’s eye line. She refolded herself into a lotus -without the assistance of her hands- closed her eyes, and easily slipped back into the meditation. It appeared that everyone had strategically scooted away from Shanti. She sat in a wide circle of nothing. No one near her. No one touching her.
Everyone’s eyes were closed, mouths trembling out the tones, hands laid open to receive the bountiful energy from the universe. Shanti’s eyes were open, her teeth chewed her inner lip, her hands clenched into fists. She looked over her shoulder at the door.
What the hell had she been thinking coming here? She’d stayed away from these places for the last ten years of her life for a reason. This reason. She didn’t fit in. She didn’t have the attention span to sit still for meditation. She lacked the flexibility for the intricate yoga poses. Why hadn’t she gone on a single’s cruise instead? She didn’t need to get in touch with her inner self. She needed someone to touch her inner self. That’s what would solve her problems.
She gave Wiz a fleeting look before rising. His eyes were closed as he continued to lead the chant. Shanti rose as quietly as possible and exited the room.
Walking into the hall, the explosion of colors and statues brought her back to her childhood. Her father had been a part of the Black Panthers Party’s breakfast program before he began following an Indian Mystic. Her mother was one of the mystic’s many children. Shanti had grown up with a sense of righteous indignation and tolerant compassion. Her parents were hippies, the kind that pillow surfed from ashram to ashram; mat-surfed to yogavilles; and couch-surfed into the basements of the strangers who they’d met at the ashrams and yogavilles. The way she’d grown up didn’t make it easy to maintain longterm relationships with kids her own age.
Her parents had been content to shout, pray, and talk a problem to death. They’d host sit ins and bed ins, labor strikes (though neither worked a day in their lives) and hunger strikes.
As much as Shanti hated moving around as a kid, she hated sitting still even more. She’d been introduced to too many gods to wait for answered prayers. Shanti was a doer. A mover. A shaker.
She moved quickly to her room and shook the contents of her drawer into her suitcase. She’d thought that getting back to her roots would help her figure out what to do with her future now that her past was so screwed up. But that was a load of bull. Her early past had been an exercise is trying to be still and peaceful while waiting for the world to change. Her more recent past had been full of her doing, moving fast and shaking up the status quo. Only Shanti learned that those outside of the zen community also preferred to move at a slower pace and wait for the world to change.
Shanti snapped her suitcase closed and made her way back down the hall. She’d planned to be at the ashram for thirty days. She’d wanted to cleanse her spirit, sweep out her soul to rediscover her authentic self. But what she found in a week was that she was who she’d always been.
“You are running away?”
Shanti stopped in her tracks. She turned back to face the little Indian woman. The woman’s face was round, her cheek bones high, her eyes overly large. Her gray hairs poked out of a scarf. She was bent over on her knees cleaning the floor. Shanti had seen the woman a few times during her stay.
“Your feet move faster than your head. Slow down so that they can catch up. Then you will be where you’re supposed to be.”
“I’m not supposed to be here,” Shanti said.
“No,” the old lady smiled. “But slow down and you’ll get there, yes.”
The old lady came over to Shanti and peered in her eyes.
“Water never needs to rush. It goes slowly and brings the whole beach with it.”
She gave Shanti a pat on the check and then bent her old body down to the floor once more.
“All journeys come full circle,” the old woman said with a secret smile on her lips.
Shanti was done with riddles and koans for the time being. She turned and let the door close behind her. She stepped out into the night’s air. She didn’t run. She didn’t have to run. She had no where to run to.
She’d run so far, so fast, away from all of her parents’ teachings when she became a legal adult. Well, most of her parents’ teachings. Okay, well maybe not their teachings, but definitely their lifestyle.
During cold season, Shanti still drank Echinacea Tea and swallowed a clove of garlic instead of making a visit to the pharmacy. She had a recycling bin instead of a trash can and a compost under the sink instead of a garbage disposal. She cared about the environment. She cared about animals. She even cared about the humans who were doing all the damage to the environment, the animals, and to themselves. But unlike her parents Shanti wasn’t content to sit on a yoga mat or a meditation cushion and light candles for peace and compassion.
After her years in the Peace Corp, she found a job that used her specific set of skills in political science and human resources. Instead of sitting down and waiting for change, instead of simply trying to be the change, Shanti tried to pull the change into the present day.
In her small little town, Shanti not only became a loud advocate for change. She became a thorn in the side of farmers who sprayed pesticides on their crops and posted organic labels on their foods. She helped unionize daycare workers, aligning them with teachers union. She fought for public spaces for women to breastfeed. But when she went after the polluted waterways of the adjacent fishing community, it all come crashing down.
Now, Shanti walked down the busy streets of a small village in the middle of India. Her suitcase bumped her heels as it bumped over the graveled pathway. Off in the distance she saw flashing lights. Everyone on the streets paused, looking over at the display. Obviously someone had set of fireworks over the waterways. It was a beautiful display of yellows and blues.
Shanti took a seat at a bus stop. The bus might not come until morning, but she had no where else to be. No one looking out for her.
The nights were warm in India. But a cool breeze blew through the air. There was a body of water nearby. Shanti had tried to go down and see it earlier in her stay, but the ashram’s strict schedule of peace always precluded her. Looking at the posted schedule, she saw that the next bus out of the village wasn’t coming for hours. Shanti decided to take a moment to herself. She could go down to the waters. She might even catch more of the fireworks display.
She made slow progress down the path. It gave her time to think. Her feet matched the slow pace of her thoughts as she walked down into the clearing at the water’s edge.
At the clearing’s edge, Shanti looked out over the inky blackness of the still waters. She couldn’t tell if the waters were polluted here. She supposed so. Even though the planet was 70 percent water, humans seemed to think they couldn’t harm it. They didn’t seem to realize that only a small fraction of that water was viable to them, and the animals needed it more than they did. But no, humans tossed their refuse into the oceans as though it were a garbage disposal.
When she’d gone after the corporations who helped pollute the city she’d tried to settle down in the community had been behind her.
Then once the people of the community saw that Shanti’s plans would hurt their pocketbooks in the fishing and crabbing industry, that they’d have to give up some of the rights to their beachfront properties, they turned on her.
It was like the tale of the scorpion who needed a ride across the water and asked a turtle -or was it a frog- to help it get across. The turtle-frog was quite apprehensive at the request. Who wouldn’t be? The potential passenger had a death ray on its tail. Still being a good-hearted compassionate create, like its parents probably crammed into its reptilian brain, it put its trust in the scorpion. Only halfway to the other side, the scorpion stung the turtle, or the frog?, causing them both to sink. Before they were submerged, the turtle-frog asked why the scorpion did it? Hadn’t the scorpion known that they would both die? The scorpion replied, that it was his nature.
Shanti sat down under a tree. She reached for the compassion that her parents had instilled in her but it would not rise. All she could feel was bitterness at the people for turning on her. Jealousy that Bow would probably be doing advanced yoga poses in Wiz’s bed tonight. Direction-lessness at which way to go with her life now that she was out of a job and didn’t care to show her face in the community that had said thank you, but no thank you to her help with change.
Out over on the other side of the water, she thought she saw something move on the bank. Shanti peered into the darkness, but stillness reigned in the twilight. She slunk back against the tree and looked up at the branches. The leaves looked like they bared fig fruits. On closer inspection, she realized she sat underneath a Bodhi Tree. The same type of tree the Buddha sat under when he became enlightened.
Shanti chuckled. “All right,” she spread her arms skyward. “Enlighten me then.”
She heard a rustle on the ground. She looked down. Under the starry night, she very clearly made out a scorpion. The two stared off; Shanti and the scorpion.
Shanti inched back.
The scorpion took a skittered step to the side.
Shanti sprang to a crouch, but she wasn’t fast enough. The scorpion struck. The last thing she remembered as she began to topple over, was a hooded figure floating down towards her.