I’ve always loved what I call “sliding doors” moments. A reference to the 1998 Gwyneth Paltrow film, these are the split seconds - the missed trains, the chance meetings - that change our lives. Typically you don’t know they are happening until you look back retrospectively - seeing the many paths you could have taken in that moment and realizing that, perhaps, there was something bigger behind your seemingly random choice. This is exactly how I feel about an otherwise mundane night I spent in Alicante, Spain...
I was nestled into the fluffy white comforter in my hotel room, high above the city streets. My laptop and faithful travel companion sat on my lap, and my sister on the adjacent bed. We had traveled from Barcelona together, but she was about to head to London. We’d meet up again in ten days, in Italy.
I was burnt out, and frustrated that I’d spent so much of my trip staring at my laptop screen; I had a thousand tabs open, all travel sites. I knew I was lucky to be facing this dilemma, but it was a dilemma nonetheless: I had ten days to kill, somewhere around the Mediterranean, with seemingly endless possibilities, and couldn’t decide. I was tight on budget, tired, and hungry. Typical Spanish fare didn’t agree with me, so I was running on fumes. I was feeling the pressure to do something fabulous with this adventure. I could go scuba diving in Ibiza – but I’m terrified of deep water. I could go hiking in Cinque Terre – but, ooph, that place is expensive. I could travel around Spain some more – should I go by train, plane, or automobile? Should I book a hotel, hostel, Airbnb, or Couchsurf? What would I eat when I get there? I wanted to find the best thing, to optimize this amazing opportunity, while also sticking to budget.
I felt like I was doing it wrong. I knew there was something bigger to get out of this trip, but I didn’t know how to find it – I didn’t know what it was. I had been constantly moving, searching, when all I really wanted to do was stop. That’s why I was out there.
You see, I had already made several life-changing decisions that led me to this hotel room: quit my 9-5 office job, sold my condo, shipped my belongings across the country, and took off to Europe with a backpack and a one-way ticket. But these decisions were obviously life altering; they were intentionally so.
My life in Colorado looked good on paper. I’d done everything I was “supposed” to do, but I’d become restless. I wasn’t the person I wanted to be anymore, so I had spent the last year crafting this master plan. After my travels I’d settle in New York and continue merrily on my current career path. I had it all figured out: I knew what I was doing professionally (although my passion had faded), how to be healthy (I just struggled actually practicing it), and how to manage stress (except, my previous summer had been riddled with panic attacks). I knew I needed a change, and figured this big move and once-in-a-lifetime adventure ought to do it.
As I sat there Googling, I recalled a friend’s mid-divorce escape to a yoga retreat. Yes! That’s a thing that people do, right? Really I just wanted a place to be for a while, to rest, recharge, to stop moving for the first time, ever. I had practiced yoga on and off for years, but didn’t consider myself much of a “yogi.” Fortunately these places also have pools and beaches and, best of all, they feed you. There were a few nearby, including one just outside Alicante. That one got back to me quickest, offered the best deal, and I had a nice chat with the owner, John. Suddenly it seemed like the only option; no more planning, I could just go. The next day my sister boarded her flight to London, and I was on a shuttle heading up the coast.
When I arrived at La Crisalida, John and his wife Lisa greeted me with a plate of delicious healthy food. The retreat was practically empty. I was shown to my room, which I had all to myself, and unpacked my bags. I unpacked my bags. I hadn’t done that since I left my home almost two months prior. I learned that the retreat had only been open about one month, thus the very low guest count. I had John and Lisa to myself almost the entire time.
The retreat offered much more than yoga, and I was diligent about participating in every available activity to get the most for my money. I would never have sprung for the add-ons like life coaching (remember, I had it all figured out), but John was eager to coach so he offered me free sessions. I had one-on-one yoga with Lisa, long talks and workshops with John, and shared meals with both of them.
And that’s how what I expected to be a relaxing week turned into one of the most pivotal experiences of my life.
I like to say that John’s life coaching cracked me open and all this shit came pouring out. I discovered dreams, ambitions, fears and blocks that I didn’t know were in there. I added items to a bucket list that hadn’t existed previously. I confronted my need to control everything, and began to trust that things will work out how they are meant to.
Lisa showed me a different side to yoga, one free of judgement and status and fancy leggings. I discovered what yoga is really all about and felt more connected to it than in my previous ten years of practicing.
I had finally stopped, and I could hear myself again.
I got hooked on all that I was feeling and wanted to share it with other people. I started contemplating a career in health and wellness; I knew that if nothing else, my own self-care needed to become a priority in my life.
When I waved goodbye to John and Lisa I felt like I was being released back into the wild. Little did I know, I’d return to the retreat just one month later. I’d dig deeper. I’d spend the rest of my trip plotting a career shift. I’d stay in Barcelona for a month, still seeking a place to just be, and practice this new lifestyle I wanted to live. But, upon my return to New York, I’d get scared and hop back on my old path regardless of how far I’d come.
After exhausting the limits of my travel visa, I found myself sitting at a desk in downtown Manhattan. I had returned to my old world in a new city; I felt more lost than ever. It was like something inside me was going against the grain. My health and wellbeing was taking a backseat to the daily grind, and it only took one month to fall into a depression. I felt the familiar dizziness of a panic attack while at my new office one morning, and spent the next hour just hoping my new colleagues wouldn't notice that I was barely breathing. My body physically reacted with a painful back spasm and after a desperate mid-night call to my sister I realized – I no longer fit in this box; I’d grown too much.
I continued to speak with John, who’d always remind me to trust. But how? I needed to know how this would work out. Just trust. Argh.
I quit the job and followed the signs: my yoga studio in Barcelona was offering a teacher training. As I debated the decision – the commitment to this alternate path, this new identity, and the increased debt – the opportunity seemed to shout at me louder and louder. I packed my bags.
The experience didn’t answer all of my questions as I’d hoped it would, but it was a transformative month and carved out the next phase of my journey. Now a certified yoga instructor, I walked through the doors of the retreat for the third time. This time I was there to work, to lead. I watched people arrive, frazzled, unassuming, not having a clue what they were in for – just as I had one year earlier. I told my story daily, and was touched to see it inspire others. I heard myself giving answers and support from a place of real knowing, because I had lived it. I reveled in these connections and in the beautiful coast of Spain, until finally I was ready to come home, again.
I returned to New York in the dead of winter for the second time. After battling through more fear and self-doubt, I managed to turn my Barcelona “practice” lifestyle into my New York reality. I may have landed in the intended destination, but this was not the plan.
On that night in Alicante I thought there were endless possibilities, but were there? The idea of a yoga retreat struck me for the first time in my life, and I found La Crisalida, which had opened their doors as if just in time for me. My haste, my hunger, and my frustrations all culminated as I stared at my laptop screen searching for answers. I just didn’t even know how big the question was.