I had a place to sleep - an air mattress on the floor, generously given to me by a friend - and I only wanted three other things: a yoga studio, a day in the mountains, and a coffee shop where I could write.
A quick search for best yoga Denver delivered the first, and I was walking there when I stumbled upon the Weathervane Cafe.
It spanned two cozy stories through a small house right off the street. Jack Kerouac and Woody Guthrie quotes lined the walls. Letterpress cards and herbal remedies filled the shelves. Old records sat in the corner, and imagination ran through every wooden nook and cranny, including on a tiny chalkboard sign hung beneath stacks of mugs. It read:
I believe in everything. Nothing is sacred. I believe in nothing. Everything is sacred.
Living in Paradox
Paradox. I’d been training myself in it ever since I stumbled upon a story by Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön.
In the story, she's teaching at an event. Sometimes, she's asked to take center stage and sit in a special chair and is generally treated like a big deal. Other times, she's asked to sit on the floor with everyone else and mix and mingle like one of the crowd. For her, the experience was excruciating. Her expectations surrounding how she was perceived and how she was supposed to behave were constantly being thwarted. She had yet to learn, as her teacher soon told her, how to be both big and small.
Be both big and small.
I’d been working with the idea for a year or so before arriving in Denver. I’d been working with the image of each of my thoughts simply being a bird passing through my mind, and in the image, my mind was as vast as the sky. So I could think I was small, but that thought was only passing through, and around it, there was plenty of space for another thought - the thought that I was big - to also move through.
And this is really what meditation is all about - a tool to teach you to build space in your mind around all of your thoughts.
Space for being both big and small. Space for being both soft and hard. Space for believing in everything and believing in nothing.
And that's why I was in Denver - to create even more space. During this time in my life, I'd intentionally ripped out my roots. Left my job. Left my apartment. Left my city and was wandering largely without aim.
I wanted to know what would happen when I removed bills, routine, expectation, and obligation from my life and replaced them with space. Total open-ended space. And so, I chose groundlessness. I chose nothingness. And I suspected that that is where I would find everything.
Everything Lives Here
I left the Weathervane Cafe and continued on to the yoga studio.
A flyer hung at the front desk advertising a gong bath. I’d never heard of such a thing and had no idea what to expect. Naturally, I signed up.
The gong bath took place in the largest studio room, and it was filled with person after person lying next to each other with basically no space between them. I was able to lay my mat at the front of the room, facing the massive golden gong.
A man in his fifties or sixties - I couldn't quite tell - sat next to the gong, preparing to play. He sat on top of a blanket covered in hundreds of crystals.
We were invited to take them to use during the experience. None of them were labeled. All of them were unique.
I’d never used crystals and had no idea what they were supposed to do, but I selected four because I liked them. I was instructed where to place them - one above my head, one between my eyebrows, one at my throat, and one at my heart.
And so I lay on the floor. Crystals on my body. A gong at my feet. For one hour, its sound rippled through me, gently shaking my body as I relaxed further and further into the blanket beneath me.
And as I relaxed, image after image came to my mind. The first two were memories. Memories of times I’d seen things that had later come true. And then I remembered the life I’d left back in New York - specifically, I remembered the person I’d left. And I saw a moment between us from two years earlier. I saw tea being poured, a mug being passed between us, and both of us smiling.
The moment was small and seemingly insignificant, Two years ago, it had barely registered in my conscious mind, but in this remembering, I became aware of its significance. Then my mind jumped to images of experiences I'd yet to know because they either hadn't happened yet or I had simply forgotten them.
And for the first time in my life, on that crammed floor amongst all that space, I believed that someday soon I would experience what I saw.
I trusted this beyond all reasonable doubt, beyond every passing month that it ceased to be proven true - until three months later when it was.
Forgiveness Lives Here
Five months after that, I was back in New York, sitting on a rock in Central Park. The rock was large and gray. It'd been placed there over 150 years ago with the utmost intention.
I arrived at the rock - my heart racing and tears in my eyes. As soon as I sat, the tears began to pour. I cried for about five minutes, and then I stopped.
Not slowly. Not sniffling. I just stopped.
For the first time in my then twenty-nine years, I felt something I could only describe as forgiveness. Not I-should-forgive-them forgiveness, but real, true forgiveness.
Everything that had felt so big, big enough to leave me crying on a rock - suddenly felt small. But it didn’t just become small. It also stayed big.
Just like everything else.
Nothing Lives Here
One year later, I was on a plane to Ohio, sitting by the window, fading in and out between closed eyes and watching the clouds.
As I sat there, out of nowhere, I fell into space. I fell into nothingness. My mind filled with so much space that I felt completely detached from everything and everyone that typically fills my understanding of my life.
As much as I believed that everything was possible and beautiful and imbued with something I can only describe as sacred. As much as I trusted the memory of lying on the floor at a Denver yoga studio and sitting on a rock in New York and sitting on that plane somewhere over America. In that moment, I also sensed that there was nothing. Nothing but vast, empty space.
Stars - for the first time - Stars
Before I left Denver, I got my day in the mountains.
I drove to Boulder with the person who'd given me the air mattress. We stayed past nightfall, and just before we hopped in the car to leave, I looked up and saw all of the stars in the sky.
Oh, wow! Look at the stars!
I was transfixed. I couldn’t take my eyes off of them. I also couldn’t remember the last time I’d seen them. I certainly never saw them in New York. And the city lights were even too bright in Denver.
My friend didn’t understand. He found my fascination and excitement childish. After all, they were just stars.