The first time I experienced pain meditation, I thought I was leaving this world forever. Naturally, I struggled to break free, back to comfort but Miles helped me through the suffocating shock by holding me down, overpowering me with his strength. His grip sent a puncturing pain into my neck, my face heated up from loss of circulation, and my eyes gradually bulged out of their sockets. Once I moved past trying to fight it, I surrendered myself fully to The Darius and to The Light. My vision got foggy. Bright blurry spots sporadically appeared and disappeared. I couldn’t feel my body’s existence and The Darius’ voice became muffled and distorted. Memories began to rush through my mind of my old life on the outside. Then, the moment I was about to fall into darkness, Miles released his hands from my throat. I could see clearer than ever now. I was saved.
Pain meditation was an essential part of the Journey to Freedom and we practiced it in many ways. The Darius explained to us how essential pain is in order to finally reach The Light and without pain we would never get there. He told us that only the most special and intelligent people would be able to do it. We practiced it during yoga each day. When I first heard about Pain Yoga my heart sank into my stomach. What kind of pain? Was I going to get hurt? Was I going to bleed? The pounding of my heart seemed to jump into my throat, making it impossible to swallow. Miles assured me it was nothing I couldn’t handle and that it was part of The Entrance stage just like the pain meditation. After a couple of months at Freedom House, the Pain Yoga never seemed to get easier, but I knew I was always closer to The Light. I reminded myself how much I wanted to serve our community and The Darius, how much I wanted to be there when we all made it to The Light and how they all saved me from the outside.
There was one Pain Yoga session that is forever ingrained in my memory. I had just finished my morning chores and had an afternoon yoga session to get to. I walked to the doorway of the yoga room and stared in. About twenty members were inside, standing straight with perfect posture on their blue mats and facing the large mirror in the front of the room. Each person wore the same expression on their face. Their eyes, absent from blinking, were in a calmed trance, eyebrows fully relaxed, with a closed mouth smile. Freedom House’s yoga instructor, Sky, stood at the front and gave the same hypnotized stare back at her students. She kept her body stiff and straight but then, slowly turned only her head to my direction. “Ivy, we’ve been waiting for you. Close the door behind you.” I stepped from the doorway into the yoga room and felt the extreme change in temperature inside the room. I immediately began to sweat, my palms getting clammy. I could barely take a breath in there. I looked at everyone standing on their yoga mats, and still they faced forward, like statues frozen in eternity. I shut the door behind me.
The room was heated to 125 degrees Fahrenheit. I couldn’t think or breathe. There were rules during yoga. No one was allowed to leave the room during the 30-minute session. No one was allowed to bring water into the room. If we needed to take a break, we could go into child pose position. Sky explained that this was all to help us and build our strength as a community, so we’d be ready for The Light. There was one large window absent of curtains that spanned the length of the wall opposite the door, peering out into the depths of the redwoods’ deepest secrets. Sky held a small black device, home to a single button. When she pressed it, a thin black window screen slowly crept down from the top rim of the window to the bottom of the floor, immersing us all in total darkness.
“We will begin in cow’s pose. Slowly curl your head back to feel a deep stretch in your back. Now slowly transition into cat pose, arch your back, shoulders up and neck down.” I could barely breathe and the combination of the heat and pitch, black darkness sent a panic through me. I couldn’t see anyone else so I couldn’t tell if anyone else felt the same. I was starting to get dizzy and just kept moving my body to try and keep up. Suddenly, a sliver of light and cool breeze broke into the room uninvited. Someone had broken the rule of leaving and opened the door hastily to escape. Who was it?
Sky interceded, “Please continue. Let’s not let this cloud our bodies and minds. You are all so special and are closer to The Light.”
After Pain Yoga, we were all required to take cold showers, turned all the way to the coldest setting. When the freezing water hit my back in sent shock waves through my skin and was almost unbearable, but I knew it would make me stronger. When we were all done showering, after everyone exited the bathroom, I stayed behind. I looked into the mirror and stared at myself. I felt so accomplished after getting through that. A smile slowly broke through and I began to think about The Darius and how he was like no one I had ever met. I couldn’t explain it. My thoughts were interrupted when I heard a whisper outside the bathroom, down the hall. I hid near the doorway to listen.
“Please, please let me try again. I don’t want to go in there.”
It was the voice of a middle-aged woman named Jody. She had been at Freedom House for some time and was in the pain yoga session right before showers. It entered my mind in that moment, she did not shower with all of us. I moved my body just a couple of inches past the doorway to peer out down the hall. The Darius and Sky were standing with her at the very end of the hall, in front of the large red door. The Darius pulled out a key, unlocked the door, and they escorted her in, the door shutting very quietly behind them. Maybe she was going to miss out on lunch as a consequence. She knew the rules. It was now lunchtime and I didn’t want to be late.
We sat outside that day, near the coy pond, all fifty of us minus Jody. Penelope made a vegetable stew with carrots, celery, squash, and a delicious vegetable I had never had before. “This is tasty, what’s this vegetable?” I lifted my spoon up for Miles to see.
“That’s Penelope’s special ingredient.”
I was on kitchen clean up duty after lunch. Penelope was putting the left overs away as I washed the dishes. “Penelope, your stew was so good. I have never had anything like that. And your special vegetable was - ”
Penelope swiftly turned interrupting me, “Who told you that?”
“I asked Miles what is was because - ”
“Did he tell you?”
I was confused by her sudden turn to panic and paranoia. “No, he just told me it was your special ingredient.”
Her panic changed abruptly to a soft smile and she stared into my eyes long enough that it made me nervous. I turned around and started washing the dishes again.
“Hey Penelope, what happened to Jody? I didn’t see her at lunchtime.”
Penelope turned around to look at me, “Who?”
I stopped washing dishes. She must have not heard me through the sound of water running and the clanging of glasses. I turned the water off and looked at her. I gave a small chuckle, “Jody. She was in yoga with us earlier today but not at lunch, where is she?”
Penelope tilted her head with that gentle smirk, “There’s never been anyone by that name here. Are you feeling okay?”
My heart dropped. Was she kidding? I didn’t know how to respond. I just wanted to get out of the kitchen. “You’re right. I have a bit of a headache. I’m going to head out to Freedom Park to get some air.”
As I walked outside, I didn’t turn around to look back at Penelope. I didn’t have to. I could feel her stare and that smile watching me as I walked away. I needed to find Miles.
-Written by Sterp
All Rights Reserved
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My Mantra: Strive to be the best me and improve a little every day. Be compassionate, especially to those who may not practice it. Continue to learn and love. Take a moment multiple times each day to breathe. Forgive myself and forgive others. Read books. Live what I preach. Accept others. And above all, laugh every single day. (P.S. I have an infatuation for horror and disturbing and dark true stories.)