I Left My Kids To Go To A Three Month Meditation Training In India
This is my story originally published at www.mothermag.com on March 8, 2019.
The balance between caring for yourself and caring for others is an especially delicate one when you are a mother. In this week’s Mom Talk essay, Kristen Vandivier talks about deciding to leave her one-year-old and three-year-old children in order to live in an Ashram in India for three months, and the clarity it ultimately brought her and her family.
“Searching, searching, searching…”
Frantically, I aimed the satellite phone antenna towards the inky silhouette of the Himalayan foothills, but still this same message repeated. Only a few days before, I was putting my two little girls to bed in Mill Valley, California. Now, I was halfway around the world at an isolated ashram outside of Rishikesh, India, where I would be sequestered for the next three months as part of my Vedic meditation teacher training. The time away I had anticipated, but the idea of not being able to contact them was too much. I suddenly felt the need to see them desperately. What had I done? After all my family went through to get me here, would I have to turn around and go home?
One year earlier, the idea of me living in India or teaching meditation had not even entered the remotest corners of my awareness. I was working as the marketing director of a fashion brand while taking care of my one-year-old daughter Delphine and three-year-old daughter Scarlett. Life looked good on paper, but behind the façade it was incredibly stressful. There was a lot of snapping at the kids and walking on eggshells. The relationship between my husband Ben and I was often strained. We operated more like business partners than husband and wife and had little energy for romance or intimacy. I had tried different means of dealing with the stress — yoga, hypnotherapy, psychotherapy. Vedic meditation was the first thing I tried that really worked, although once I had kids, I was not always consistent in my practice, which eroded the benefits. I knew something had to change, I just didn’t know what. That is, until one average Saturday morning at a yoga class.
I was in the middle of a Vinyasa sequence when I had what can only be described as an epiphany. It felt like an octopus that had been clenching my heart my whole life let go of its grip. I heard a voice in my head. It was my own voice but different, like me but from the future. And it told me I was to go to India next year to learn to teach meditation. Despite the intensity of the experience, I argued back.
It responded, “Okay, it’s impossible. But what if it wasn’t, what would that look like?”
It had a point. I started to think….maybe ….but then I argued again.
“Delphine is so little, she’s still nursing. Why next year?”
What answered back was not so much a voice, but a presence. At first I thought it was my mother who had died a decade before, the only intangible presence I had ever felt. But this one was different. The moment I asked the question, I had the understanding of who it was — a baby that was wanting to be born. That was why India couldn’t wait.
I must have attracted some attention being on my knees with tears streaming down my face in the middle of the studio while everyone else was downward dogging away, since my teacher asked me at the end of class, “What the heck happened to you in there?” I didn’t know how to answer her. In fact, I didn’t tell anyone at first, it was too big. And too weird. I was not the sort of person who wore crystals or read horoscopes or talked about people’s “energies.” This was way out of my wheelhouse. My life had been on a fairly singular ad career-driven, family-growing trajectory up until then, and the thought of derailing everything was petrifying. Maybe I could forget the whole thing? So I did nothing.
But life stepped in to act when I wouldn’t. The eleven-year-old company I had been a part of for five years suddenly closed with no warning. I wondered, “Yikes, did I do that?” as if somehow because I hadn’t left of my own fruition, nature had to do it for me. When I tried to think of what I was going to do next, it was as if my mind wouldn’t let me consider anything other than this one intimidating path. Nothing else was charming. The magic eight ball in my head came back with the same answer no matter how many times I shook it.
Finally, I mustered up the courage to tell Ben. At first, he looked a little green. But after some quiet moments he said it somehow seemed right to him, too. He agreed we needed a paradigm shift in our lives, and maybe this was it. But if we were going to do this there would be no time to waste.
Looking back, I still don’t know how we pulled it off. I had to fit what was normally about two years of study before the three-month intensive in India into six months. We not only lost my income but now, rather than me getting another job, we had to also pay for my preliminary course work and the India trip, plus have enough saved so Ben could have a lighter work schedule while I was away. To make it work, we took my daughter out of her expensive preschool, Ben worked most weekends, and the credit card debt we had expected to pay off that year would have to wait. I spent my weeks alternating between driving up to Sonoma to study with a teacher up there and staying home with the girls while Ben worked later hours to make ends meet. Whenever it seemed like we were about to hit a block or not make enough to keep the plan going, something would always miraculously come through.
I couldn’t even think about leaving the girls. When I tried, I could feel the panic start to rise up my throat, and I’d have to think about something else immediately. I told myself that when the time came, I would somehow be ready. Deep down I knew that following my inner voice and going through the intense transformation I was about to undergo would benefit them far more than what leaving would take away. But not everyone believed this way. I had many friends let me know what they thought I was doing was crazy. Certain family members even sat me down for a kind of intervention to tell me I would be harming my children if I were to follow this path. I learned quickly to, as much as possible, keep my plans to myself.
But no matter how much I tried not to think about it, the day to leave them finally came. Thinking about it now still brings tears to my eyes. Looking out the back of the cab as Ben held little Delphine then walked back to the house. Scarlett, my four year old lingering outside the gate, waving until I could no longer see her. She had on a t-shirt with the word “LOVE” across the front. She said she wore it for me.
Once in India, I did manage to figure out a way to call them, though it took about a week to track down the right kind of SIM card. Finding the time to talk, however, was challenging. This was no weekends-only yoga teacher training. We worked our way up to 30 straight days of 14 hours of meditation a day broken up by some breath work and a few yoga poses combined with lectures and testing. We slept about four, sometimes only three hours a night. And, because I was on one of the testing committees, I had a half-hour break for lunch and another half hour for dinner. No matter how tired I was, every day I snuck in a half-hour Skype call in the morning, which was right before the girls were going to bed in their time zone.
While I was spending the length of two cross-country flights a day sitting still with my eyes closed, Ben was busy keeping everything going at home. We had a few visitors come to help, but mostly it was all him with a sitter to watch them while he was at work. Their lives became very regimented — baths at the same time every night, hair braided tightly every Sunday to make it easier during the week, the same cycle of simple-to-make meals. Ben’s meditation practice became regimented as well. It was the first time he was consistent with it since he learned years before. It was necessary to bank enough energy to handle his job and the girls by himself.
I had told the girls it would go by fast and would be over before they knew it, but for me, it was the longest three months of my life. By the end, I was a different person. I didn’t even look the same. I felt a clarity and a wholeness that is impossible to fully describe in words and a constant flow of love through my heart that reached out to everything and everyone I saw. The program was less about teaching us how to teach and more about expanding our state of consciousness so we could be what it was we were trying to teach. Turns out they didn’t want a bunch of stress-bags teaching meditation.
Early morning on Easter in 2017, I came through our gate in Mill Valley as if walking through Alice’s looking glass — so familiar yet seemingly from another lifetime. Scarlett and Delphine, both taller than when I’d last seen them ran barefoot into my arms and we stayed that way for some time. I remember breathing in their hair mixed with my tears, I had seen their faces on the phone but had forgotten how they smelled.
It’s not that everything was perfect from then on. There was a lot of integration that needed to happen and that was challenging at times. But a cascade of improvements had been put in motion that is continuing to unfold. I left marketing and started teaching regularly under my brand, The Vedic Method. Rather than using my skills of communication to sell people on the idea they need some product to be happy, I was able to use those same skills to show people that happiness comes from within. After going through this together, the connection between Ben and I took on a whole new dimension. In one direction, it felt deeper and more profound while in another, lighter and more flirtatious. The dynamic of our family completely changed as well. What had once been mostly stress and anxiety with glimmers of joy shifted to mostly joy and laughter with only moments of imbalance.
And then I got pregnant. When we were actively trying not to due to projects we both had going on, the little being I had felt so long before found his entry through the cosmic door anyway. Adrian was born last August.
Five months later, this January, I returned to India for a couple weeks in order to do some advanced meditation training and took Adrian with me. To come full circle, from his presence being there at the inception of this journey to returning with him to the place of my personal transformation was like a dream. Showing him the ashram where I trained, sitting through four hour yagyas with him, dipping his feet in the Ganga — even at such a young age, he seemed just as happy as I was, as if he had returned home.
Before I left, some people told me it was impossible to bring a baby to India on my own. They said it was too dangerous or I wouldn’t be able to handle the hours and hours of travel while dealing with him. But now I am more accustomed to following my inner voice over the voices of others. And I know that, sure, things might be impossible. But if they weren’t, what would that look like?
Originally published at www.mothermag.com on March 8, 2019.