I Failed At My Self-Actualization Vacation

There was a time when yoga was for the hippy fringe, for people who could sit on their ponytails and ate bread made from compacted brown rice. Now it’s nearly an obligation. Like every little girl goes through a dolphin phase, every modern woman must undergo a rite of passage that includes focusing on herself more—eating better, reading at least one self-help book and doing yoga.

Just as cats are a good indicator that someone suffers from debilitating loneliness, yoga is good way to gauge emotionally instability. When a friend starts doing yoga I become instantly worried about her.

“So everything’s OK?” I’ll ask.

She’ll smile gamely, dismissing my concern with a flap of the wrist. “Oh you know, Jon and I went our separate ways recently. We’re both really busy. I have so much work lately and he has his new blond skank! But seriously. Yoga has saved me.”

Usually I turned to Netflix and alcohol for salvation, but when I found a pair of white Marks and Spencer panties bunched up in my boyfriend’s sheets I decided this time I’d give yoga a try. My eyes blurred with tears, I stumbled to the nearest Lulu Lemon.

Take that buddy, I thought, whipping out my emergency credit card. I pictured my streamlined, straight-backed body in the matching spandex brights, the picture of centeredness and health. The next time I saw him I would project an aura of quiet confidence. I would positively glow. But it would be too late for him to win me back, by then I would love myself far too much to ever do anything so stupid.

I was going to Thailand already for work so I decided I would stay for an extra week and do some yoga on the beach. Work on myself. Maybe read a couple of Marion Keyes novels, drink moderately, and relax by the water. I’d come back better, whole, above it all.

But now that I was at the retreat center, being greeted by a woman named Sue in a white caftan and a contrived look of understanding on her makeup-free face, I wondered what I’d been thinking.

“Do you meditate?” Sue asked..

“No,” I said. I think too much. I enjoy the incessant clatter of my brain. I really just wanted to do some not-so-serious yoga and read my book on the beach but I could tell Sue had other plans for me. She was saying something about “my practice” but I was distracted. Where was the beach? I scanned the horizon but saw only ragged vegetation and the pointed peaks of condominiums. I finally interrupted Sue’s flow.

“The beach?” Was it my imagination or had she just laughed? “The beach is about 20 minutes that way,” she gestured vaguely at a mountainous peak to our left.

The website for the landlocked resort where I now stood was filled with magazine-quality photographs depicting a crescent of sand lined with palms and an impossibly blue sea. The same perfect beach was shown in another shot at sunset, the black silhouette of a yogi in Eagle pose in the foreground. I remembered them well. They were why I had come here.

The meditation room was dark and still. I stood for a moment regarding the stuffy little room with its lumpy pillows on the floor. Out the window, the back of a man’s shaved head wavered slightly. Was he feeling reunified with his inner self? Or was he thinking about his girlfriend? His vow of silence would mean it was impossible to ever know.

I went back outside and surveyed the surroundings — the chipped paint, the long driveway, the yogis slumped unhappily in lawn chairs like hospice patients. I pictured the very long evening I would have tonight. Then I thought of six more. My chest constricted in terror.

A part of me wishes that I had sucked it up and stayed for the whole week, that I kept my mouth shut and my heart open or something ridiculous and clichéd that I could later say earnestly to people who I wanted to make uncomfortable.

The experience did show me what I could endure, which turned out to be not very much. When Sue went into the kitchen to make a communal pot of soup I slowly bent down and picked up my gold sandals. I smiled at the others on the patio swaying and blinking in their white outfits. What are you doing? Their eyes asked. Stay here with us. Forever. 

No, I shook my head. Then I turned and ran down the hill to the road with my rolling suitcase bumping behind me. I flagged down a pickup truck. A grinning Thai man who smelled like alcohol drove me to the nearest town. I rolled my suitcase to a bar on the side of the road, sat down and ordered a beer, which was served to me by a very nice girl named Porn-Ra. The ocean was in front of me. I felt extremely happy.