Home is where friends are
and you can make friends wherever you go
When I arrive at a yoga retreat on a Thai island, I am jetlagged and mourning leaving a life in Lisbon. "I'm not going to talk to anyone," I think, slouching my awareness to the back of my mind.
But before I reach my room, I’m greeted from the porch hammock by a blonde guy who introduces himself as Johnny. Johnny is the type of person who interprets every happening as a communication from the universe, and so is trying to ascertain where the signs are pointing him for tonight’s activities.
Johnny also believes in the manifestation capacity of words. So when I tell him I'm going to be boring and not go to the evening bonfire, his eyes widen. He says gravely: "I will allow you to restate this."
"I’m really excited to be on my laptop tonight?"
I successfully avoid talking to Johnny or anyone the next day. I sit alone in the dining hall and read Seneca’s On the Shortness of Life. I’m in my happy place.
The following day Johnny is in the hammock again. He went into town to acquire cacao, would I like some? Johnny is Irish and has the gift of the gab, prattling on in an endearing Irish lilt. I like talkers like this, interesting people who allow you to enter their minds just by listening and occasionally offering a remark or question to keep them rolling.
Johnny came to the yoga retreat by following a group of students who themselves are following a qi gong teacher. At dinner, one of these students, Aurora, joins us. Aurora is 19 and from Germany. Her name’s actually Meira, but I call her Aurora in my mind because she has the same white-blonde hair and ethereal pureness as the singer.
I ask Aurora what she’s journaling about and she says pictures. By that she means that she describes visual impressions in words. Today she is writing about what it looked like to ride her motorbike as the moon rose over the horizon.
Aurora, Johnny, and I become the three musketeers for the next several days. Johnny and I chat about the yoga instructor we’re obsessed with, and Aurora talks about her qi gong lessons. She shares her dream to live in a dome-shaped house with her family and future children. She feels shy about this dream, as the messages she’s received from society are that your dreams should be more ambitious.
Slowly I relax and open up. The lingering heartbreak, the grief of leaving Berlin, then Porto, then Lisbon—it all starts to lift. I spontaneously put on music and dance about, simply for the joy of it. I begrudgingly abandon my reading to sit with people at lunch. I start to feel open and free.
I am reminded of the character in Eat Pray Love who calls Elizabeth Gilbert “groceries” at the beginning of her ashram stay because she has, in her misery, piled huge amounts of food on her plate. Her friendship with that guy is in some ways her turning point from self-pity to embracing life at the ashram. Johnny is that guy for me. Though he mostly is just offering cacao and talking about life or manifestation or whatever is the subject du jour, he’s reminding me that there are more people, places, and ideas to love in the world. (He also is convinced that just by being your best and brightest self, you are of service to the world. At the time I rolled my eyes at the notion, but in reflection that is exactly how he helped me.)
Johnny leaves and his room is taken by an Israeli woman who is upset to be here, but all the accommodations by the beach were booked. If I were Johnny I would help her see that the universe is opening an opportunity for her here, and isn’t that curious? What might she be meant to discover? But I’m not Johnny, so I bid her goodnight.
"My new neighbor is really not as good as you," I text him to complain.
"I know,” he replies. “They never are."
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