Darkest Before the Dawn

Yesterday was the darkest day of my life that I can recall, and it came at the tail of an epically challenging year where Covid-19 has swiftly and progressively dismantled the lives and livelihoods of Meaghan and I. We received a letter from the lawyer of our former landlord…

Let’s go back to March for a moment, back when very few of us saw the forthcoming chasm that would divide us from the supportive, in-person connections, and the community that our humble studio was centered around fostering, and that we had built for over 8 determined years. When we opted to shift to virtual-only offerings days before the initial government shutdown we had no idea what was in store with this pandemic. There have been days recently when I had to consciously be gentle with myself over the naivety with which I operated even months ago.

In June we scraped and fought and tried to reopen our studio to the community – for those who wanted to come in under new parameters. While we continued to offer virtual classes it was time to decide and prepare for our annual teacher training. Breathe’s YTT program, in many ways, is why Meaghan and I left the employment of other studios, so we could pursue offering the knowledge we had gleaned from our years of service through yoga instruction. We wanted to build deeper connections with students and to provide a program that would not only educate, but provide a transformative experience for participants. The level of pride that we have in our program, as it was honed and polished over the last 8 years, is immense. Only, it was never intended to be an online program, certainly not exclusively online. With the coronavirus continuing to spread we faced a difficult decision. Meaghan and I felt that the only responsible thing to do was to shift to the virtual format, admittedly with reservations about the effort it would require and the personal elements that would likely be lost. Ultimately we cancelled this year’s program due to low interest. A devastating blow to both Breathe’s finances and our personal sense of purpose.

Meanwhile, dating back to April we had been paying only half of each month’s rent, as this was all that we could afford. When we thought the pandemic and associated shutdown were temporary setbacks our level of concern was tempered. After reopening the physical location and realizing that the studio space was being severely underutilized, our client base was greatly reduced, and we were now looking at a much longer situation we approached our landlord about a resolution. We were blown off, manipulated, and weaselly abused.

Told by the man that we could have further discussions regarding the rent once we had paid for a broken window, which we did (despite a lack of clarity in the lease about who pays for such a repair and after he had sent multiple contractors to assess and quote estimates – leaving us to believe that he was handling it), and if we were to do the landscaping at the location, which we did (despite the fact that we had been paying for it every month via the CAM fees included in our rent, and it had not been fulfilled by the landlord for over 2 years). The two of us had on many occasions prior to this request performed landscaping tasks in our best efforts to uphold the appearance of our studio’s property. It was a tall task with all that we had going on running the studio, managing our staff, and teaching classes, workshops and trainings. This past summer we went out there on some of the hottest days of the year in an attempt to save our struggling studio, operating under the assumption that we were fulfilling the arrangement of paying half our rent and our physical labor paying the other half. Yet, our landlord would never explicitly communicate that the other half of our rent would still be owed to him or not.

With growing stress over this situation we made the only choice we could: we had to close our studio – a dream in the making sense the day Meaghan and I met in Boulder in 2005. A dream that took 7 and a half years to manifest, that required so much determination, an abundance of courage, and a good bit of luck. Needless to say when it actually took place, the day we moved all of the carefully selected furnishings out (with the help of many of you) it was devastating! I’m certain that I will never forget lying in humility on the bamboo floor in Studio Shiva, a floor that 4 years previously I had installed in the late August heat with so much hope. I was filled with emotion and sobbing uncontrollably as Meaghan wrapped her arms around me and said to me “let her go.”

I may not be 100% certain of my intention in airing the details of this journey, not usually my style to say the least. I am not so evolved that selfishness doesn’t influence me. In truth it feels healing to write it out, even if it accomplishes nothing else. Maybe this can provide some insight to future studio owners so that they may avoid my naive mistakes. Nonetheless, I believe that the community has a right to know, or at the very least I have the right to tell it. I also believe that we are all subject to judgement and, perhaps being a yoga studio owner and a teacher, I may be viewed under a more critical lens. Maybe I’ll gain the understanding, compassion, and forgiveness from an individual or two. Or maybe now I’m finally reaching the heart of the matter…

Compassion and forgiveness.

It would seem to me, that having paid every month’s rent in-full, on time, up to the point of the pandemic, plus making every effort to maintain the appearance of the property that I had agreed to lease might warrant some understanding from a building owner toward their tenant. Especially now that an unprecedented global pandemic and resulting government shutdown that was beyond our control wasn’t just hurting his wallet, but crushing the dream of two individuals. This forgiveness was not extended. Instead I’ve been issued a warrant. One that states I either pay the half rent payments totaling upwards of $8K, or appear in court, or have a warrant for my arrest.

Compassion and forgiveness.

I’m thankful that I have been blessed with excellent models of love and forgiveness by my humble parents. I recall at my dad’s retirement party his employees speaking of how in awe and inspired they were when, on many occasions, when my dad, the owner of an appliance business for 30 years, would agree to unreasonable customer demands – stating on his behalf that his loyalty to them would always pay him back.

Compassion and forgiveness.

I don’t feel as evolved as my father who at the time of this writing has participated in one yoga class and one meditation that I’ve lead, but otherwise has no yoga experience. Perhaps this is why this path was laid before me, because I need it, because I have hatred and vile words that are desperately wishing to be spoken to my forsaken landlord. Now I must navigate a journey of resolving this, perhaps negotiating with someone that my heart is shattered by.

It didn’t feel real until now… upon our departure Meaghan wouldn’t let herself drive by the studio. The day we heard that another studio from Virginia Beach was moving into our abandoned location was especially difficult. I had people text me when they saw the sign for the incoming studio in the parking lot. I drove by on occasion, but it wasn’t until yesterday that I saw the studio owners there beginning their renovations. Ironic considering the night before I had a dream where I went into their studio once they were open. It left me shaken through the day.

Compassion and forgiveness.

Less than an hour before receiving the letter from my ex-landlord’s lawyer I witnessed the transfer of our dream studio to other hands. Now I am processing the unpleasant feelings of disgust that wreak havoc on my psyche. I’m finding it nearly impossible to reconcile how I am being asked to pay thousands of dollars to a man I despise, who made my life hell for over 4 years (there are many things that are too extensive to tell in this already lengthy tale), due to circumstances beyond my control and while doing the best I could to keep our dream alive, and now another yoga studio moves into our creation.

Perhaps I’ll find them, compassion and forgiveness. I’ve taught about these things many times. Although my failure at achieving them to this point discourages me, I truly believe that the Universe, the god of our own understanding, karma, et al. places before us only that which we are prepared to face and capable of overcoming. I’ve witnessed many inspiring stories from survivors of unfathomable trauma. If they can find the understanding and willingness to rise above and in many instances let go of the past and forgive unforgivable acts. Now must be my time. Send me your blessings, prayers, and funny memes because I need them.

It’s always darkest before the dawn. Here’s to a new dawn before each and every one of us. May there be a brighter light ahead for all of humanity. Let us live as one.

Om Shanti