As many readers know, my little pals, Satish and Danta, love to play chess. When they were little we'd sit down to at least three matches every play date and I imagine they still know exactly how many wins I've had compared to theirs (yes, the number is significantly smaller). You'd think I'd be a better player having been taught the finer points of the game when I was still in elementary school.
Still, I'm more of a play-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal like Danta, while Satish is a Strategy Man all the way...like most of the men I've played chess with over the years. When I lived in Big Sur, a friend and I enjoyed sitting in the lodge with a cup of coffee, playing board games. Once Michael tried to teach me how to play Cribbage, but I complained mightily.
"My brain can't keep all those numbers straight," I sighed. "I'd rather play chess or something to do with words."
"Yeah!" Michael brightened. "I love to play chess...too bad there isn't a set in the game cupboard."
"Don't worry," I shrugged. "I'll manifest one in the Free Box."
"Yeah, right," Michael grinned. "How are you going to manage that? In all the years I've been coming to Esalen, there's never been a chess board around."
"The Free Box and I have a healthy relationship," I grinned. "Just wait and see."
The Free Box was a place where anyone on campus could donate whatever they no longer needed and whomever needed it could take it free of charge...kind of like a perpetual garage sale with no money necessary. That night on the way back to my hut, I passed by the laundry where the Free Box stood chock full of eccentric clothes. Shelves of books lined the cupboards above the sink and a rack of shoes, boots, and the like stood by the doorway.
I remembered the Keen sandals I had wanted a few weeks previous, footwear I could never afford on my own, but admired on the feet of many a workshop participant ambling through the gardens. I had asked the Free Box for a pair of Keens in size 8.5 and what do you know? Within a day or so, a pair in just my size (and practically new) arrived on a sunny morning. I wore them while the garden crew harvested and I worked in the greenhouse, but by lunchtime, realized that while they might look pretty spiffy, the sandals also rubbed a bunch of blisters on my heels and toes. So that evening, I gently cleaned them and back into the Free Box they went.
Still, I figured a chess set is One Size Fits All, so as I walked home in the darkness, I silently said, "Source of infinite generosity and kindness, please manifest a chess set in the Free Box so that I can play with Michael before he has to leave next week."
The next morning I stopped by the laundry to drop off some books I had read...and voila! There sitting next to the sink was a beautiful crystal chess set with a wooden board. What a bonus! I figured Michael and I could use the checkerboard, but now there was no need. I found an old shoebox in a cupboard and stacked the black and white pieces inside. Then, carrying the lot to the lodge, I found Michael near the coffee maker.
"Lookie here!" I beamed.
When he saw the chess set in my hands, Michael's eyes widened. "Holy s&%t, Kate!" he laughed. "You weren't kidding."
"Now we can play after our work shifts this afternoon."
Michael shook his head. "Nah...I've got to get back to L.A. early. Sorry. Maybe next time I'm in Big Sur."
"Okay," I nodded. "I'll keep it safe at my place."
"Deal," he smiled.
Alas, Michael never returned to Esalen during my stay, but one of the children on campus befriended me and often visited my hut in the afternoons. Eager and incredibly bright, Nicole showed interest in the chess set, so I taught her how to play. Soon enough, she learned how to capture my queen and castle her king, so I was given a run for my money. It was a great lesson in humility and prepared me to graciously lose to both Satish and Danta in the years to come. Still, I also learned that even though I could easily manifest the chess set, it wasn't given to me for the reasons I had intended.
Then again, much of what I've been able to create since then hasn't turned out like I had initially envisioned it. It's turned out even better.
A couple of weeks ago I watched Under the Tuscan Sun. It's a movie I'll revisit when I need to reframe my life apart from the way I think it should be in order to fully accept it as it is. If you've not seen it, suffice it to say, the parallels to my own life aren't far off the mark: a writer moves to Italy on the spur of the moment to help her start anew after the end of a bitter relationship and the depression that inevitably followed. Hoping to one day marry and have children of her own, Frances painstakingly refurbishes an old home with the hopes of "if I build it, they will come". Fortunately or unfortunately - depending on how you look at it - the reality of her life is very different than the way she had hoped it might be. Still, she's continually surrounded by wonderfully eclectic people. There's a new baby in her midst, even though it's not one of her own. Ultimately, she learns that friends truly are the family you choose for yourself.
Watching the film reminded me of a conversation I had with a friend and yoga student more than fifteen years ago. John arrived for Saturday morning class and as he was my only student that day, we ended up talking about the serendipity of my meeting his friend on a flight to North Carolina the year previous.
"If you hadn't been going there to teach that workshop, he wouldn't have met you," John said. "Then I wouldn't have met you when he suggested I take your yoga classes."
"It's fun how that works, isn't it?" I replied. "The game of life...what an adventure."
Then I asked John about all the places he had visited, for at the time, he was a world traveler for his business. "Where's the most fascinating place you've ever been?" I asked.
Without hesitation, John said, "Right here in this room."
Startled, I cocked my head. "For real? Come on...you've been to some of the most stunning places on earth."
"I'm not kidding," he smiled gently. "Out there in the world I have to be what my clients need me to be. What my kids need me to be...what my wife needs. Here I can just be myself and do what I need to do...be who I need to be. In the warmth and love of this space I can learn more about who I am...and that's a real gift."
At the time, I was stunned to hear such kind words. These days I know exactly what John means.
I've been contemplating a move to the outskirts of Toledo for quite some time and when the moment is right, I'll make my exodus to wherever I'm meant to be once my life here is complete. Until then, I'll spend as much time as possible in my yoga studio, for it's been there that I've gently unfolded the painful parts of myself in order to heal and let them go. There I've experienced more than one resurrection. There I've taught yoga classes to so many people I cannot count them all...students who've become more than friends.
They've become my family.
In 1999, when I left teaching to pursue a career as a writer, being a yoga instructor paid the bills...and it still does. Back then I figured I'd only be doing this for a few years, but what started out as a small class twice a week has blossomed into something I didn't quite anticipate, but still eagerly embrace with everything I am. Had I not continued to teach yoga, I would never have met Satish and his family. I would have never gone to Esalen. Never met my friends Barb or Erin or Becky. I would never know how much love this house can hold, for it has welcomed a host of children, although none of them have been my own. It has celebrated marriages and graduations and retirements. It has brought peace to people who are in transition, who know that in this place, they don't have to be anything more than who they are.
This incredible home has taught me how to live spherically, in many directions, often losing my way, yet never losing my child-like enthusiasm. Somehow the things I most desired came along, but not often in the way I had wanted to create them. I may still live by the seat of my pants, but it's incredible to know that the Source of infinite grace and generosity has always known what's best for me.