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Retreat in the Woods

Ottawa-20150823-02560It’s a chilly late summer morning and I am writing before Felix is up and  eager participants arrive for a holistic kids’ camp reunion.   I need all the focus I can muster to organize the many thoughts that want to tumble out!

It started off when I decided to do a vision quest for my birthday.  The inspiration came from running the week-long kids’  day camp in the woods last month. I hadn’t done a quest since Felix was born and I was yearning for solitude in nature.  The way I was taught traditionally was to stay in the wilderness for three days without food and water while doing spiritual practice in order to gain insight into one’s life.

So I started the process: organizing care for Felix; finding a facilitator, yoga and meditation teacher Kaia Nightingale; deciding on a spot—already seen in a vision years ago; gathering supplies like a tarp, bedding, flashlight, spiritual tools, etc.; and gradually getting my body into cleansing mode over three weeks so that fasting would be relatively easy.

My previous quests had been wonderful, without huge breakthroughs but giving me confidence in this ancient ritual and whetting my appetite for more.  This time I wanted it to be gentler.   I added pyjamas, toothbrush/paste/washcloth/water for washing, body oil, meditation pillow/shawl, inspirational objects for an altar at the fire, my shamanic drum, my phone for taking pictures and a journal with coloured pencils.  I called it a woman’s version and it made me smile…

As happens when a retreat is planned, the time leading up to it became “sacred space”, with more reflection on what I really wanted.  Life fell apart at the last moment when we lost two staff members (Jeremy and Haley) in the same week—and then came together as family and friends rallied for me so that I could still go out after preparing for so long.  I was touched.  Kaia came and did a blessing of the site and we spoke about what I would do and how she could help.  She is an inspiration to me with her humble subtlety and provided perfect healing support.

And then the day came to go out.  I piled my stuff into a wheelbarrow and started my trek into the woods.  I felt drained, as I often do, and wondered about the wisdom of trying this at a time in my life with so many responsibilities.  What happened next was worth all the effort: I slowed down my walking, breathing and thinking and allowed Mother Earth to nourish me with her energies.  For the first time, I palpably felt a responding surge of life force coming through me.  Not like nervous energy, with which I’m too familiar; more like a steady supportive hand.  I realized that this is what real grounding feels like and that I had never felt it before because of being dissociated from my body so much of the time.

Ottawa-20150826-02615From there things only got better, but not without challenges: mosquitos—in spite of spraying the site liberally with garlic oil, a bloody gouge when I slipped from a tree, terror, weakness, nausea–a classic cleansing symptom, interruptions, lack of sleep, wet wood after a long downpour, discouragement.  Which is how it’s supposed to be, of course.  It wouldn’t be as useful without being pushed beyond one’s perceived limits.  But I responded with a break from my usual pattern of making things “so hard”…I softened my approach, modified the process and found what I was looking for: a deeper layer of my self and clear direction about how to continue developing the centre.  The last day, after I returned, nature seemed to celebrate with me as a double rainbow laced the sky, ending just where Felix and I were driving to taekwondo.  Then I remembered that there had been a double rainbow at my first time out—when I had asked for inspiration for starting the centre.

Ottawa-20150825-02578What did I learn?  It wasn’t so much in words as experiences: feeling safe through connection with Spirit after being so terrified I thought I would have to come back the first night; totally loving my body as it is (any woman can relate to what a breakthrough this is!); consciously going into being-beyond-form and back; embracing a new gentleness; discovering more strength than I knew I had; realizing how tight and humourless I can be and how wonderful it feels to open into life with trust and joy; and visions of a thriving healing centre where people can come to be nourished with knowledge, nature and caring.

The best part is that I know that this is not some kind of permanent state, but a glimpse into what can be; that it would be easy to lose/forget all the insights and experiences that I had if they are not anchored in a change of how I live, think and breathe.  That is my commitment for this year of being fifty-eight!

Other than feeling spiritually exhilarated and blessed, mentally clearer and emotionally healed another notch, my body feels younger, lighter and healthier from the fasting.  Kaia and I are talking about setting up a course to allow others to experience this profound ritual for themselves.  We’ll keep you posted!

Next morning: the kitchen is a total mess from the camp reunion yesterday.  We had so much fun in the woods we barely wanted to come back and we’re all looking forward to doing it again next summer or sooner.  Maybe a Halloween party with a haunted forest and healthy sweets…

Now it’s time to get back to daily life, clean up, go to meetings and prepare for a trip to New York to see my sister and share the healing.  I anticipate there will be a “letdown” somewhere in here too, an important part of retreats that need to be acknowledged and navigated or they are devastating.  As I understand retreats, they typically don’t solve all one’s problems, but show us the path forward toward solutions.  Also, they show us how good we can feel and so motivate us to continue making lifestyle changes that support our soul’s purpose.

It’s been a useful exercise in distilling my many pages of notes into this summary—thanks for listening and hope to see you at the Open House in a few weeks!

katherine

Postscript: three days out and plummeting from bliss.  Didn’t expect it to happen this soon, scratching and clawing inside myself to get “back” to where I was.  No go, it doesn’t work like that, smile…need to turn in and down, facing the hard stuff that didn’t magically go away.  Ah, the joys of being human!  But there’s not time to write more now—or process, need to get ready to travel, which will bring ample opportunities for more growth and practicing what I learned.  To be continued…