A 21st Century Spiritual Adventure

Hébert has written a 21st century spiritual adventure that is in large part "Autobiography of a Yogini" with an ounce of Eat, Pray, Love. Hébert lives through dangerous and even potentially life-threatening experiences, but as she puts it, "because I trusted my guru more deeply than I have ever trusted another living being, I was at peace with everything that was - and was to come." Whether or not you have a teacher on your own spiritual path, Hébert's story of devotion to hers, told with such clarity and kindness, will touch your heart. You may even question your assumption about the guru disciple relationship. Self-inquiry is a good thing.

 

The Tenth Door is a spiritual memoir that begins in Cleveland, Ohio in the 50's, where Hébert was an inattentive doodler in her Catholic school religion class. Hébert has written a 21st century spiritual adventure that is in large part "Autobiography of a Yogini" with an ounce of Eat, Pray, Love. There is warm humor in the voice as she describes her Cleveland childhood where her father, William Hébert was a flutist with the Cleveland Orchestra, and she was his pupil. Hébert was also a sister to five brothers, and daughter to a "good-hearted" mother who was often overwhelmed by the management of her big chaotic household. Her teenage daughter escaped the chaos and challenges of family life by falling in love and an early and brief marriage during college to her high school boyfriend.

 

Hébert moves to San Francisco in the late 60's and finds her way to Walt and Magnana Baptiste's Yoga compound on Clement Street that includes the famous Hungry Mouth natural foods restaurant. The building in the Richmond also housed a new age boutique run by Magnana that was way ahead of its time, selling crystals and clothing from the Baptistes' travels around the world. Magnana's dance studio, Sherri Baptiste's health food store, Walt's body-building gym, and the yoga studio that first drew Hébert to the Baptistes were also within the compound walls. Hébert takes yoga classes with Walt in exchange for shifts as a server in the restaurant. Nobody judges her for smoking outside on her breaks. It's clear to Norm, the scholar in the community, that Michele is on a serious quest for enlightenment, and they know as she as yet does not, that the smoking will fall away.

 

Walt himself is fascinating. Before immersing himself in Yoga, he had been a champion body-builder who Hébert says is the architect of practicing repetitive sets in a workout routine. He teaches his followers yogic philosophy, the principles of yoga as therapy, the benefits of natural foods and good nutrition, and appears from these pages to have learned this himself-a natural autodidact without his own guru. We get glimpses of family life with the ten-year-old Baron, the youngest of the Baptiste children, who is now, along with sister Sherri, well-known in the world of Yoga.

 

Hébert's deepening attachment to Walt and the community is accompanied by a subtle change in her writing voice. There is not an ounce of irony in her description of her growing love for her guru. In an age where it's cool to practice yoga at your local gym but where devotion of any kind, much less to a guru, is often viewed with skepticism, it takes courage to stay true to the authentic expression of what it means to be a disciple in modern times. There is a purity and innocence to the writing voice that takes us through four years on a beach near the jungle in El Salvador, where Hébert managed Walt's retreat. Her clarity and her loyalty are tested during those years as the revolution in that country touches her life in frightening ways. Throughout the memoir, there is that glimmer of the seeker's clear vision. Hébert never conceals the depth of her spiritual commitment, nor does she mask her longing to awaken.

 

On her first visit, the twenty-eight year-old Hébert is unexpectedly left alone to manage the retreat center for a month, with little command of the language. Her companions are Walt's dog and a local hired couple, the husband of whom takes to howling at the full moon and waving a loaded gun in Walt's absence. But Walt has given her a deep asana practice to sustain her. He names ten postures, in each of which she is to spend an hour. After asana practice, she is to use her kriya breathing practice to contain the awakened sexual energy and move it up to her higher chakras.

 

With devotion and deep trust, Hébert assumes her duties and deepens her practice and grows to love her life in El Salvador. The memoir follows her home through the adjustments she makes when the war in El Salvador forces her return to the U.S. Hébert lives through dangerous and even potentially life-threatening experiences, but as she puts it, "because I trusted my guru more deeply than I have ever trusted another living being, I was at peace with everything that was and was to come."

 

Whether or not you have a teacher on your own spiritual path, Hébert's story of devotion to hers, told with such clarity and kindness, will touch your heart. You may even question your assumptions about the guru disciple relationship. Self-inquiry is a good thing.

 

 

- Amy Weintraub,
LifeForce Yoga