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My experience As a Student – Carly Speno


Yoga Testimonial - Carly. Our Guatemala Yoga Teacher Training Alumni

Yoga Testimonial – Carly. Our Guatemala Yoga Teacher Training Alumni

It is the last day in the Serpent Cycle – the direction of the South in the Shamanic Medicine Wheel, represented by the creature serpent. A cycle about shedding our skins, ridding ourselves of the stories that no longer serve us. Learning how to walk in the beauty of the everyday – belly to belly with Mother Earth. 

I awoke feeling anxious. Self doubt rising like the sea at high tide. Not feeling “enough” — a feeling so prevalent lately. Obsessively comparing myself to others, worrying about relationships, anxious to please. Each one of my insecurities fighting for my full attention like baby birds at feeding time.

Tonight is our serpent ceremony — a celebration of completion for all we had put to rest. A final farewell as we “burn our old skins” in the temazcal (pretty much the Mayan version of a sauna…but way cooler, and more ancient) Meanwhile, I feel like a fraud. I celebrate in unity with my fellow yogis, putting on a face of freedom. But I know deep down, I haven’t let go — not really. As desperately as I want to be free, those inner voices of fear, failure, skepticism, self doubt are still very much alive in me, like thick weeds, wound tightly around my ligaments, making a home. 

And we sing songs about shedding our dead layers and shout in guttural screams all the insecurities of which we are letting go. All of those roles we play that do not, cannot, for the love of God must not, define Who We Are. And the heat rises to unbearable heights but I like the burn. I like the feeling of raw skin — being born anew. The hot steam opens my pores and the chamomile and the lavender and the fresh aloe seep in — softening the weeds. And as these impossibly thick vines begin to fray, I can feel my soul wriggling free. 

And we run — me and these peaceful strangers whom I’ve just met, but clearly know — our naked vessels gleaming under the light of the full moon. And we jump into the water, letting the lake’s mysterious, forceful energy wash us clean. And we swim under the starlight and among the volcanoes. And we laugh and play and joke and breathe in this new cycle, together. Individuals, but tonight, one. And I feel as free as I ever have and I swear to myself I won’t forget this moment. Me, all of me, feeling the cool lake beneath the pale moon looking up at our majestic Mother Earth, feeling weightless as I shed my old layers, knowing with certainty that I am better off without them. And here I am. Finally. Standing in my power. Ready to be used. Ready to learn, to grow, to fight, to love. Here I am. As I am. 

In July of 2019, I quit my job. With no prospects, no real plan (much to my parents’ dismay). Just the notion that there was something more, and I needed to find it (I can practically hear the click of this website tab closing as all the Gen X readers roll their eyes). I had been living in New York City for about a year and a half, most of that time spent behind a communal WeWork desk, which, don’t get me wrong, I absolutely loved (free happy hours, dog yoga, and massages? Um, yes please). But it wasn’t a long term gig, and while I was (and still am) so grateful for the people I met and the things I learned there, I knew it wasn’t meant to last long. Earlier that year, I had debated the prospect of embarking on a Yoga Teacher Training program. There are so many in the city, I figured I could just do it at my home studio at the time — it would still be an incredible experience, right? At least it would lead me…somewhere, maybe to the thing I felt I was seeking? But as I contemplated, something in me knew it still wasn’t enough. I was restless, claustrophobic. I wanted out. Somewhere along my stumble through life, I adopted the habit of picking up and changing everything in my life whenever I started to feel complacent.

Not sure exactly where that came from, whether or not it’s healthy, but that’s what I’ve done time and time again. Moving to New York came out of that quirk. That exact squirmy, “what am I doing with my life” feeling. “Well even if she doesn’t have her life together, at least she’s doing something interesting” is how I felt whenever I took those leaps. And so I began to look at programs abroad. Google is a wonderful, and dangerous tool, let me tell you. I googled until my brains turned to mush – until I found a school and a program that made the hairs on the back of my neck stand up in anticipation and wonder. I was going to the Mystical Yoga Farm in Lake Atitlan, Guatemala.

Now this all sounds very spontaneous and exciting, but another thing you should know about me: while I seem to have that wanderlust-y, adventure is out there, ‘I’m a free spirit’ vibe, I’m also a meticulous planner, over-thinker, and second-guesser. So though I applied for a scholarship, and booked a spot in School Yoga Institute’s 200 hour yoga teacher training in March (after 2 months of vacillating). I wasn’t set to leave until November. Wah wah wah. Oh well, at least I had something to look forward to? In any event, it gave me time to plan. Which was good, because I also decided I would stay in Central America after the training and do a little solo traveling, something I had always wanted to do. Naturally, with 7 and a half months notice, I was at the CVS instant clinic 12 hours before my flight getting desperate, last minute vaccines (helloooo type A planner meets painful procrastinator). But alas, after almost 8 months, one job change, lots of babysitting, and a few passion projects, I was finally off on a grand adventure! 

And adventure, it was. Cut Carly in urban jungle to Carly in ACTUAL jungle, and loving every moment. When recounting my experience to others now, I often tell them I was living out my truest hippie self. From the compost toilet, to the permaculture farm, to the ecstatic dancing, to the skinny dipped lake swimming, to the drum circles, to the endless yoga, tea, cacao, plant medicine, nature, beauty and back again — I was in pure bliss. I wondered how I would possibly leave this stretch of heaven, this utopian bubble that was bound to pop. And so, to come back down to earth, I remembered why I was there. I remembered what it took to get there, what I was seeking, and what an immense privilege this opportunity was that I didn’t want to waste by not allowing myself to go deeper than the perfect Instagram photo op. And so, I hunkered down, tuned in, and waited. I listened to the yoga, the meditation, our wonderful instructors, my fellow yogis, the volcanoes, and the lake. I listened hard, but I couldn’t hear. Where were the answers that I was promised? That I knew I would find if I just took this leap? Where was my life’s purpose laid out for me? In every last detail? Where were the intrinsic details of my childhood, unraveled clearly for me to analyze, learn from and essentially use to fix all of my current problems? Where was my “ah-ha!” moment? Where was the photograph I could point it all back to, show off to the world, and say “the Mystical Yoga Farm changed me!” See, I like clear, crisp endings. I like packages tied up with a pretty bow. I like for the girl to end up with the guy that was pining after her the whole freakin’ movie (ahem, still mourning the loss of Laurie and Jo March). I like a comeback story and a plan of action. What I don’t like so much is uncertainty. Breakthroughs, without the promise of a clear cause or solution. Vulnerability. But while I was so busy listening to others’ voices, waiting to adopt their dramatic breakthroughs as my own, I didn’t realize the listening induced silence was beginning to stir my own heart, mind, and spirit. My own inner knowing was calling to me in smaller, more subtle ways: through the depths of the impossible current in an otherwise still lake; through our morning meditation practice, nothing to do but be still and breathe; through my own voice in song, surprising me with it’s sweet and clear tone; through freedom in movement, my body showing me the way when my mind was too tangled in self doubt.  Emotion began to pour out of me, tangibly, and I couldn’t explain the cause or source, but I was at peace with it. I was experiencing my own breakthrough, a release of the dam blocked up inside of me brick by brick. And though I didn’t fully understand the source of the dam, or the purpose, my body and my soul was doing the work my mind was too afraid of. I learned to trust myself again. To hold my hands out in sacrifice, offering myself up to the world. To be vulnerable. And for the first time in what seemed like centuries, I met ME. I heard my voice, a voice I had muzzled over the years. And only then did I begin to find healing.

Fast forward to today — I have to tell you, I’m still unsure. I still don’t fully understand my purpose, or see a clear path for my life. But, thanks to School Yoga Institute, and all my teachers at The Mystical Yoga Farm, I got a little closer to knowing myself, feeling my power, and trusting my intuition. I realized my passion for free movement, and cacao. I experienced myself as completely free, and fully alive. I am grateful beyond measure to have the privilege of these experiences (and I recognize what a privilege it is). AND here’s where I say, you don’t have to go on a crazy yoga retreat in the jungle or run away to Central America to “find yourself” (though there’s value in those things, if you have the means, opportunity, and passion to do so). You need only to turn inward and meet yourself where you are. To become curious about the walls you have built, and curiouser still about what might happen if you poked at those walls until one day, they came crumbling down. Whether you do so in isolation, or on a crowded subway; among tall trees and clear water, or skyscrapers and patches of grass — it doesn’t matter, your true self will be revealed if only you have the desire to see. I’m still learning this myself, and most days, I fail.

In The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, Benedicta Ward relates a popular story among the desert sayings: “A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word. The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’” In another story, Amma Syncletica said, “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in the town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.”  

I love Richard Rohr’s analysis of these ancient stories. He says: “But you don’t have to have a cell, and you don’t have to run away from the responsibilities of an active life, to experience solitude and silence. By solitude, the desert mystics didn’t mean mere privacy or protected space, although there is a need for that too. The desert mystics saw solitude, in Henri Nouwen’s words, as a ‘place of conversion, the place where the old self dies and the new self is born, the place where the emergence of the [person] occurs.’ Solitude is a courageous encounter with our naked, most raw and real self, in the presence of pure Love. This level of contemplation cannot help but bring about action.”

A courageous encounter with our naked, most raw and real self, in the presence of pure Love. Now that is powerful. And perhaps, if that is the purpose we all vow to seek, our world of chaos and noise will begin to change for the better because of it. 

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