[This essay won the grand prize for our 2020 holiday essay contest.]
I visited Renay last fall, while my husband was away working in a refugee camp in Kenya, and we were nearing a big transition. After several years of living in Boulder – a lovely bubble – filled with adventures, graduate degrees, stability, and friends, we both felt the urge to live abroad again, to be less comfortable, to make a big ripple and avoid getting complacent. When I met Renay, we were planning to leave the US in January of 2020. The idea was to spend most of our time in India, with no distinct plans for where exactly we would be, what we were going to do, or how long we would stay away. The questions I asked Renay during my Jyotish session were related to the broad arc of this lifetime: What is my role in all this? Being highly trained in both science and yoga, what is the proper balance? How can I be most helpful to the world?
In late January, we packed up, rented out our condo, drove from Colorado to North Carolina to leave a car at my parents’ house, and flew to Rishikesh. We arrived at a large ashram on the banks of the Ganges, a place we had visited four years earlier – a place where we could land and do helpful volunteer work for a while as sevaks. We ended up staying at the ashram for five months, three of those in tight lockdown, not allowed outside the gates to walk in the forest or even take the few steps to the river (except for a brief window in the early morning allowed for Ganga snaan – bathing at the ghat). It was a beautiful prison, with gardens full of hibiscus bushes, roses, and ancient bodhi trees. During this time of being locked in the ashram, I didn’t wear shoes for three full months – not even flip-flops.
Over the course of my conversation with Renay, I learned that I had been under the “gaze of Saturn” for the past ~19 years, and that this cycle would lift around May 2020. Near the end of our discussion, I asked an aside question about how children may or may not fit into this lifetime (my husband and I had always been undecided about whether that was the right path or not, given the environmental, social, karmic, and other considerations involved in such a choice). After consulting the charts and noting some interesting related observations, Renay told me that if we decided to pursue that route, May 2020 would be a conducive time for conception. Otherwise, January 2021 would be the next optimal window, and then not for a few years.
At some point this spring, as the COVID-19 pandemic spread and we were locked in the ashram in Rishikesh, it became clear that becoming a mother may indeed be the right path. After thinking about the logistics, consulting a doctor staying at the ashram, as well as one of the spiritual leaders, we decided to do an experiment – in May 2020. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it was successful, and I confirmed I was pregnant soon after we left the ashram in June to move to a village higher up in the Himalayas near Uttarkashi, along the main upper tributary of the Ganges river called Bhagirathi that tumbles down from Gangotri glacier. Fittingly, the name of the village was Matli – which means “nausea” in Hindi or Sanskrit (highly appropriate for early pregnancy). Of course, unbeknownst to us when we arrived, there happened to be a couple of American doctors (one a midwife) from Aspen, Colorado living in the village, and running a mission clinic and women’s health center. Things always seem to work out this way and fall into place.
Were we out of our minds? Being pregnant, in a small Himalayan village, in the midst of a global pandemic, with no distinct plans for the future, could make it seem so from a certain perspective. But somehow it was perfect.
After about three months in Matli, including more lockdowns, the Indian monsoon, a few highaltitude Himalayan treks, and many delightful motorbike rides through the terraced green idyllic surroundings crumbling with landslides, we descended from the mountains and made our way to Kenya at the end of September. We spent the following two months living at the edge of Lake Naivasha, a magical place with giraffes and zebras, and hippos who come out of the lake at night, and now in December we are back in the US, residing with my parents for a few weeks on the coast of North Carolina before driving out to Colorado around the end of this year. I started a new job as a postdoc at Dartmouth College this fall, working remotely for now as the pandemic rages, but we will move to New Hampshire in the summer. After several months of not being formally involved in science work, this feels like the right balance again.
The baby is due in late February, and she is moving quite a lot these days in her personal womb universe of my body. She has already been immersed in some extraordinarily beautiful places, from being conceived in Rishikesh, to high Himalayan glaciers, to the Maasai Mara in Kenya. After learning I was pregnant, a friend asked out of curiosity if we had been trying for a while. I told her it happened immediately in the first month of the experiment – but to be fair, that we had the advantage of a Jyotish astrologer advising me that May could be a good time. I say it laughingly to friends, but it obviously was accurate. Of course, I ask myself the questions: What would have happened if we had waited? And perhaps more importantly, how would this have played out if I hadn’t met with Renay at all? The net is beautifully complex and full of wonder.
This year, 2020, has been interesting and challenging in different ways for everyone, everywhere around the planet. It seems fitting that Jupiter and Saturn are the closest together in our sky that they have been for the past 400 years (since Galileo’s time). After recently emerging from my time with Saturn, I suppose I feel a special friendliness toward what that planet represents, almost as if being in on some sort of cosmic joke.
Onward we go, with curiosity, steadiness, and a smile, as we tumble along the arrow of time as we perceive it. We’ll see how this goes, spinning threads and tracing arcs.