On the first afternoon of the retreat, I found myself on the beach rubbing chocolate on my skin from head to toe and on the backs of women I had just met the night before. My back was scrubbed with chocolate by one of these women too. And before we rinsed the chocolate off in the ocean, we engaged in a large chocolate cuddle puddle on the beach.
I remember giggling like a little girl and basking in the smell of chocolate and the warmth of the afternoon sun. I remember looking out at the blue of the water and feeling free. I cuddled like there was no tomorrow, opening my heart to the experience.
At this retreat, I didn’t hold back. I didn’t withdraw. My intention for the week was to look for the light and to live in deep gratitude.
I was all in.
Over the next week or so, I want to blog a little bit about my experience without giving too much detail in order to respect privacy and the sacred time we had together (and to not spoil it for those who plan on going on one of Camille’s retreats).
I used to have a story about myself. When I tell it now, it seems like an old cautionary tale of someone that I once knew.
I hated yoga, eating dishes peppered with cilantro, dancing in the light of day for all to see, physical contact (especially hugs), and talking to people.
That was my story.
A few years ago, if you told me that I would be going on a women’s retreat where I would doing all of the above, I would have laughed in your face.
A few years ago, I was closed, afraid, anxious, angry, overwhelmed and needed to control everything and everyone in my life.
I still feel all those things sometimes but they aren’t who I am or even a part of the story I tell myself anymore. I feel the feelings but I am NOT the feelings.
There is a huge difference between feeling it and identifying with it.
Feeling it is natural. Feeling it allows you to embrace the experience of life knowing that everything is fleeting. Feeling it helps you be gentle with yourself. Feeling it helps you dig deeper without the intention of staying in the hole. Feeling lets you sort out the ebb and flow of your journey.
Identifying gives you an excuse to make excuses. It takes you out of life and puts you on the sidelines. It pulls you away and keeps you stagnant, staying in one place, re-living the same dramas. It stops you from dreaming big (or doing yoga, eating cilantro, dancing in the light of day for all to see, physical contact, and talking to new people).
Going to this retreat kind of felt like one of those chicken or the egg scenarios.
Would I have gone had I still identified to my own story? Or is it because I let go of my story that I was even presented with this invitation?
Would we even be in Costa Rica for two months if I was still stuck in the cycle of re-telling these stories to myself?
I doubt it.
When I started to really take a closer look at my personal experience here in Costa Rica over the last three and a half weeks, I realized that the retreat was symbolic of everything that has happened since that first cuddle puddle.
I can organize my experience into the three things that I love to organize everything into:
And within each of these parts, I found the four elements (fire, water, air, and earth) in each one.
Today is about the BODY.
It was a very physical retreat. We did twice a day yoga (almost 4 hours in total), biking to get around, hiking, dancing, hooping, swimming, frolicking, and of course, cuddling. You could always go at your own pace but I found defining my own pace was the biggest challenge. Could I push myself just enough without becoming frustrated or feeling taxed but enough so that I was out of my comfort zone?
Let’s start with the yoga.
I did yoga like I had never done yoga before. At one point, I felt like I had given birth again and was very afraid that my uterus was going to fall out. There were sessions when I felt the fire burn my whole body as I dripped with sweat and discovered my abs again. I kissed the earth grateful during child’s pose and felt completely rooted for the first time ever in downward dog instead of trembling, unable to stay stable and at rest. Yoga pushed my body to its limits, burning it to the ground over and over again. Every time I showed up to the mat, it felt like a phoenix re-born, rising from the ashes of the old body.
For the first time, yoga didn’t feel passive for me but an activation of all that had been sleeping during the years I had given my body over to creating life. After closing the chapter on sharing my body through breastfeeding 4 years ago, after a solid 11 years of pregnancy and nursing and co-sleeping, I have discovered my body again. I am getting to know it by finding the ways it needs to be balanced, where I need to be stronger, and where I need to be flexible. And it is at these intersections where the mind and body meet for me as I continue to find new ways to move and train.
What I found interesting was that during the retreat, the movements of my body started to correlate with the movements of my inner soul. My body and soul tucked my mind in for a nap and went to town by the time my body (and soul) started opening up.
Case in point: hiking barefoot.
I hiked barefoot through the jungle for the first time. It wasn’t an intentional challenge for myself. It just happened. I’m sure I would have overthought it if I had set it in my mind to do it. But in this case, my body took over.
Before crossing a river in the jungle, at the beginning of a hike, we touched the earth or a piece of the jungle and asked the jungle if we could enter. I had what I can only describe as a deep visceral connection to the jungle and I felt overwhelming gratitude for being alive and being home. I didn’t want to get my shoes wet so I took them off to cross. And then I never put them back on after that. I stepped lightly through the jungle as if I knew exactly where to step. I was not bitten by any of the ants or stepped on anything sharp. In fact, I felt guided to step gently only in the softest places of mud and moss throughout the trail. We ended up at a breathtaking waterfall and I plunged right into the cold water exploring with complete wonder and curiosity.
(photo by Camille Willemain)
And then there was the cuddling.
Physical touch hasn’t always felt safe for me. This was different. Cuddle puddles among women felt like the epitome of feminine energy. It was nurturing with a solid and intimate strength. It felt freeing and powerful to be so vulnerable with these beautiful women who made it so easy. As my body relaxed into the crook of someone’s arm and as I lay my head on top of the stomach of another, our collective breath began to match. There was no longer “I” but “us.” There was space to let the breath circulate. I felt that if I forgot to breathe, I would be supported by this group inhale and exhale.
I was also introduced to ecstatic dance. Through this dance, I moved my body like I hadn’t moved since I danced the hula but with more confidence and more knowledge of what it means to surrender completely to the music. I felt like I was moving through water. I let go of my mind and let the music move my body. I dripped with sweat but not from the fire that I had experienced from breathing like a dragon in yoga. I dripped in a sweat that cleansed me. It cleansed me of all inhibition and censorship. It cleansed me of “shoulds” and “ifs” and “buts.” It washed away my self-reproach and self-judgement as I moved in whatever way I wanted.
Above all this, we were blessed with food that truly nourished. Bliss Catering made the food with love. Carlos and Claudine were our food angels that fed us what felt like nectar of the gods after morning and evening yoga. Smoothies, green juices, vegetarian, vegan, and the occasional seafood dish satiated our bellies and their genuinely kind dispositions and down-to-earth banter satiated our hearts. The table was always decorated with flowers from the garden and the floral scent blended perfectly with the delicious aromas. It sweetened the air and aroused our senses which gave some respite to our bodies.
My body and I were re-introduced to each other thanks in part to Camille’s beautiful programming and in part to my commitment to regard it as sacred and with complete gratitude.
As with everything, you get what you give. I gave it all and then some. I feel like I had found a joy through different types of movement, breathing, and eating that I had not opened myself up to before. Although at times I cursed the pigeon pose because it made me the most uncomfortable, I opened up more than I thought I could through staying IN IT. I can imagine the light peeking through the more I stay in discomfort and vulnerability. Growth and flexibility sometimes require a little self-destruction and risk-taking. And sometimes you find a strength through softness that would become the source of your power after all.
“Afterward she lies nestled against me, her hair tickling my face. I stroke her lightly, memorizing her body. I want her to melt into me, like butter on toast. I want to absorb her and walk around for the rest of my days with her encased in my skin.”
― Sara Gruen, Water for Elephants
And she wrapped her arms around her body and felt like she was home.
I am taking tomorrow and the weekend off posting to finish writing the next post: Thoughts on my Retreat Experience. Part Two: Head (Mind).
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