Last week I both attended and taught my first ever yoga retreat. For months leading up to it I would shoot up in the middle of the night with thoughts like, “I need to buy rice!” and “Should I print the Yoga with a Purpose logo on stickers or straight on the journal?” I arrived in Lake Tahoe full of nerves and exhausted from stress. It didn’t help that when I got there I was greeted by a water leak and a list of things I forgot to do.
Amy, my fellow yoga teacher, arrived with her family a few days before the retreat. We spent the weekend preparing physically, emotionally, and spiritually. By the time Monday rolled around she had calmed me down and we were more than ready.
The retreat went beautifully, but I hardly had time to reflect. I got home Saturday evening, pulled my yoga clothes out of my suitcase, and shoved sweaters in their place. I answered over one hundred emails and saw Phantom of the Opera on Sunday, then boarded a plane today. Now I sit quietly breathing recycled air as I fly to Georgia for two weeks (then on to Boston and NYC). Finally, I have some time to reflect on what this retreat meant to me.
Finding my inner child and greeting all things with joy
I spent most of my ‘down time’ with Amy’s sons, Cade (6) and Sawyer (3). One afternoon they informed me that they were “cockroaches that eat every kind of meat” and that I was a “google-a-gunk”, which is apparently something that is particularly terrified of cockroaches. We spent the next 30 or so minutes running full-speed through the house. I jumped on every piece of furniture I could find and they continued to shout, “you’re not safe, we can still get you”, wiggling their fingers at me and laughing hysterically.
The next morning my forehead was covered with sweat, but the blindfold tied around my eyes kept it from dripping onto my yoga mat. I tried for the thousandth time to tap into that still place that helps me balance in yoga class. I wobbled at the thought of standing on one leg. Without my gaze to hold me steady, I toppled every time I tried to place my left foot on my right thigh. I spouted some gibberish that sounded like awwwhhgrlgaarf in an attempt to croon my way into balance. Of course I still lost my balance, but this time my dignity went with it. As I failed once again to hold myself still, I thought of Cade and Sawyer.
I thought of the way they approached everything that week. Whether it was counting ceiling fans in the mall or making ebleskivers for breakfast, they came at everything with curiosity, imagination, and joy. They laughed twice as much as they talked (which was a lot). They ran with endless energy and when they fell, they wiped the dirt from their knees and went straight back to playing. In my blindfolded yoga class, I fell out of tree pose again, but this time I wiped the sweat from my forehead and went straight back to playing.
Peace, purification, and a little bit of anger
The theme of the retreat last week was purification. That wasn’t Amy and my intention when we planned the retreat, but by day two it was clear that purification was what we all needed.
For a long time I believed purification came from peace. Find peace and in the clarity and stillness that follows you will be purified. Or so I thought. This week I realized I’ve had it backwards all along.
Purification is an aggressive process. Pouring rain, raging fires, falling backwards off your paddle board into the ice cold lake… these are the things that cleanse. When we are full of anger and fear, shutting ourselves up and insisting we are peaceful doesn’t do any good. In fact, storing these emotions inside creates a toxic environment that is quite the opposite of purification. As the week progressed we practiced feeling everything and letting go. We talked freely about our angers and fears. We embraced everything that held us back. Then the rain started to pour (literally) and we threw all the anger, fear, and blockages into the fire. We let it all go. For some of us it was letting go of things for the last time, for others it was the beginning of what will be a long and emotional cleansing process. But we opened ourselves to purification. We embraced our tumultuous lives and recognized that peace is the end goal, not the first step.
Support comes in all shapes and sizes
I was almost twenty years younger than the next youngest woman on the retreat. One of the women was my mom, one was a friend of my mom’s I’ve known for years, one was my yoga mentor/soul sister, and two were total strangers. I expected my mom to support me from a business perspective (helping her daughter get her first retreat off the ground) and my mentor to support me from a spiritual perspective. As for the rest, well I mostly just expected them to be there. What I did not expect was for every single person (including Amy’s husband and kids) to be so present the entire time.
In fact, we were all there for each other in ways I hadn’t imagined. Despite our differences, despite our backgrounds, and despite our unique situations, we were a family for that week. We had our dysfunctions and disagreements like all families do, but greater than that was the love. Because what is family without unconditional love? We supported each other, we shared, and were there for each other physically, emotionally, and spiritually. It was inspiring to see a group of women with so little in common become so close and grow to care so much about each other in such a short period of time. It reminded me of something I continue to learn every time I travel: family exists in a million different forms.
Above all else, I am always learning
Technically speaking, I was a teacher on this retreat. I led a few yoga classes, guided some meditations, and wore all the other hats necessary to fill the role of “yoga teacher.” Personally, I felt like more of a student than a teacher. Whether it was listening to the other women share their journeys over dinner or trusting my gut as I led the meditation hike, I was constantly learning from something or someone.
Through the years I’ve redefined myself countless times. I’ve been a straight-A student, an athlete, an atheist, a hippy, a dog lover, a horseback rider, an entrepreneur, a cynic, a believer, a dreamer, a world-changer, an anxiety ridden mess, a writer, and everything in between. But no matter where I go or what I do there is one identity that has always held true: I have always been and always will be a learner.
It’s not an effort so much as it is a natural instinct for me to approach all things with curiosity. The unknown is my crack. Mystery is my addiction. I’m astounded by how much there is to learn in this world and inspired by the fact that no matter how old I get, there will always be more to learn. Even as I filled the role of teacher last week, I was reminded that no matter how much I “know”, there will always be more I don’t know.