Encinitas, California is a costal city just north of San Diego named by National Geographic as one of the 20 best surf towns in the world. In 1937, Paramanhansa Yogananda established the Self Realization Fellowship Ashram Center on the palmy cliffs of Encinitas to spread the supreme technique of yoga to the West. One need only walk the streets of downtown “OMcinitas, Yoga Capital” to witness his success. Here, yoga studios offer classes of every flavor: hatha, ashtanga, kundalini, prenatal, bikram, mudras, power, core power, iyengar, ananda, joy, pranayama, mommy and me, vinyasa, anusara, sun gazing. With this much self-awareness and meditation, residents such as myself tend to forget – or, rather, concentrate on forgetting – that Encinitas is also a half-marathon’s distance from the Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, which is roughly the size of Rhode Island and has 42,000 active duty personnel, making it one of the largest military bases in the world.
Take in the bright pink light. Feel the energy in your body.
Isn’t it strange we say take a breath, when, in truth, we receive a breath?
Receive a breath.
October 2009. The economy was in a coma and we were in the middle of two wars. Iraq was winding down, Afghanistan winding up. I took my first-ever yoga class nine months to the day after giving birth to my daughter.
In the class, aimed at pre- and postnatal women as well as general beginners, I watched a woman who’d had a baby only seven weeks prior twist her body into positions I still couldn’t. Seven weeks after giving birth, I wasn’t able to sit up in bed. Just getting into bed required a step stool. I’d step on the bottom level, one foot then the other, then the top level and fall into bed like a bungee jumper, careful to keep my legs together in the false hope that it would help the jagged skin grow back straight and fast.
Send the purple light of peace out to the world.
Feel the purple light leaving you as you send peace into the world.
The morning after class was a Sunday. My husband Jose attached my daughter to the front of him and we all walked toward the Self Realization Fellowship, Swamis as we locals call it. To get to the beach below, you must descend an ominous set of steps – ominous because you know you will have to huff up them to return home. If you look left, you see a cliff of fan palm trees, trunks thick with dead fronds no one will ever trim, grey-green bushes like long pom poms, bunched vines of aloe-like ice plant, tall-swaying stalks that look like soft, oversized wheat, the cliff face striated into different shades of sand and streaked vertically with water stains, rusted and broken drainage pipes. When you look right, you see the ocean dotted with black-suited surfers on ivory boards, pelicans landing quietly on the water, seagulls hovering for their piece of food, tequila-colored seaweed strings with pods that snap under foot, smooth, black beach rocks, teeming bunches of twig-legged clay-colored birds poking their thin-hooked beaks into the sand, and teeming bunches of smaller, fatter white birds poking their beaks into the sand. If you walk toward either of these flocks of birds, they will scurry, not fly, away from you.
As we headed back toward the tower of steps, the baby noticed seagulls and kicked the air. A group of men jogged toward us. As they got closer, we saw they were soldiers in training. In the front, the men wore T shirts announcing they were Navy Seals. In the rear, a clutch of about twelve guys – teenagers – struggled in camouflage pants and white undershirts. The men in the front breathed easy, looked glib. The guys in back scuffed the soft sand with their boots and carried black packs. They were flush-cheeked, wide eyed, stared straight. As they approached I noticed words written on their undershirts in black marker. I was only able to read three. Dying, Sarah, then Shit Turd.
Why were they running on this beach when Camp Pendleton has miles and miles of coastline? Had they run all the way from Pendleton? Maybe the guys in front just wanted to show us beach bums and yoga fruits exactly who the fuck was dying over there.
To train for childbirth, I took a class centered around the idea of mind over matter – hypnobirthing. We were coached to escape with our minds, meditating to each color of the rainbow. Every night before bed, we were to listen to a recording by the method’s founder and train ourselves to relax. This was impossible for me, since all I could focus on was the clicking of her dentures. Our instructor told us that contractions wouldn’t hurt. They were merely the result of a muscle contracting. Nothing more than flexing a bicep.
Six months after I gave birth, I had to drive my niece to the airport. We were late because I’d been sick with an upset stomach all morning.
“I don’t know if I’m going to make it to the airport,” I said. “I might shit my pants.”
My niece laughed, her face red with embarrassment for me. I laughed, too. Before giving birth, I would have been able to hold it. Now I was nervous.
I dropped my niece at the terminal then parked in the short term lot planning to meet her inside and see her off. I pulled the stroller from the trunk, then lifted my daughter out of the car and strapped her into her stroller. I draped a blanket over the canopy to keep the chill from her. I reached to close the trunk when I felt a sharp pain in my gut.
“Come on,” I told myself. “Focus.” I closed my eyes and steadied my breathing. “Focus.” My daughter was next to me in the stroller, kicking the blanket that covered her. From the edge of my vision, I saw a clean, unused diaper in the side pocket of the trunk. I grabbed it and stuffed it down the back of my pants.
I climbed into the car and ripped off my pants, thankful for the tinted windows. Naked from the waist down, I looked into the rearview mirror and saw a man staring at my baby’s stroller.
“Keep walking,” I said through clenched teeth. “Go.”
He stopped in front of her and looked around for signs of an adult.
I wiped myself with my underwear. Tears gathered in the corners of my eyes as I stuffed the diaper and my underwear into an empty grocery bag I kept for trash. The man took a step away, then another. He looked over his shoulder, searched again for an adult, checked his watch and walked toward the terminal.
One Sunday morning, Jose and I headed out on a nearly empty freeway toward downtown San Diego, toward the air and seaports, the aircraft carriers and the destroyers. As we drove we passed a white school bus with United States Marine Corps written on the side in plain black lettering. After we passed one white bus, we passed another and another and another. Through the windows I saw soldiers asleep, soldiers listening to music, soldiers staring. Yellow school busses are like popcorn machines, barely able to contain the energy of the children inside. They are giggles and squeals and elbows to the ribs and hip shoves. But, the white school busses were still. The quiet seeped into us until the only discernible sound was the relentless click of wheels on cement.
Back for more of the same – that’s how the Afghans view us, according to General Stanley McChrystal, the man once in charge of Operation Enduring Freedom. How do I know General McChrystal’s take on the Afghans? Jose spoke to him at the AdvaMed CEO Summit where McChrystal was the keynote speaker. In the Afghans’ opinion, their country was a major battleground in the Cold War between America and the Soviets. We supported the Afghans who fought a long, decimating war and ultimately defeated the Soviets. Then we abandoned them and the Taliban filled the vacuum. And now, because Al Qaeda attacked us, we’re there again. Not to provide help, but to seek revenge.
“What’s most important to understand,” General McChrystal told Jose, “Is that soon after the Afghans defeated the Red Army, the Soviet Empire collapsed. From the Afghans’ point of view, Afghanistan won the Cold War for America.”
In the yoga class, as I lunged and struggled for balance, the instructor explained that the generations of people on earth correlate to the rainbow. Her generation was the blue generation – the generation of change. She and my parents and all the other Baby Boomers changed the world. My generation was the indigo generation, a period of transition. We stepped on the backs of her generation.
The yoga instructor walked the room correcting our poses. She shifted my hips to center then received a breath.
“These babies you’re bringing into the world,” said the yoga instructor. “Are the violet generation.” She weaved a path through the maze of mats then paused to align another set of hips. “They are the generation of peace.”
Nine months earlier, on the day I brought my baby into the world, Marine Lance Corporal Julian Brennan of Brooklyn, New York, was killed by a roadside bomb in Farah, Afghanistan. To his mother, he expressed a “deep empathy” for the Afghan people. His father called him a “happy and ethical warrior.”
Rumpus original art by Clare Nauman.
Listen to Gwen read her essay: