“Uncle” Days

Today, I cried ‘Uncle.’

Well, I texted Uncle, actually. (It is the modern age after all.)

I’ve always gotten a kick out of that expression, which, according to the language authority that is Wikipedia, is defined as follows:

In the United States and Canada, the idiomatic expression “Say ‘uncle’!” may be used as an imperative command to demand submission of one’s opponent, such as during an informal wrestling match. Similarly, the exclamation “Uncle!” is an indication of submission – analogous to “I give up” – or it may be a cry for mercy, in such a game or match.

Although it is often regarded as an Americanism, there are at least two differing theories as to the true origin of the phrase: ancient Rome and 19th century England.

The Roman Empire theory says, Roman children, when beset by a bully, would be forced to say the Latin phrase, “Patrue, mi Patruissimo,” or, “Uncle, my best Uncle,” in order to surrender and be freed.  […] The 19th century England theory says it comes from an English joke about a bullied parrot being coaxed to address his owner’s uncle.

Yes, my friends, snow days can provide ample opportunities for language lessons too!

And yes, I did say “snow day.”

Our fair city has been hit with a giant batch of the white stuff, far too early than any of us would care to have to deal with. Within a 24 hour period, we went from tank tops and flip flops to down-filled parkas, mitts… the whole kit’n’caboodle. Social media has been plastered with images of fallen trees, kids building snowmen, vegetables salvaged in the nick of time, flower beds draped with towels and tarps, and hands clasping coffee mugs perfectly positioned in front of a roaring fire…on a Wednesday…in Summer.

Upon rising (late) this morning, we found our power was out (the absence of the alarm tipped us off), the tree in front of our house torn out of the earth and cozied up to the hood of our van, and snow softly piling onto the solid base that had been falling for the last couple of days.

I had plans, items/to do’s to knock off the list, places to be at certain times… But there’s nothing like a power outage to remind us how much we rely on our technology (none of which was working; texting/calling from our cell phones was all we had), and boy, does a city filled with fallen trees, backed up and blocked off roadways, and out-of-commission traffic lights show us how, instead of pushing against every obstacle you face,  it’s not a bad idea to say “Uncle!” and throw in the towel.

I wish I could pinpoint the exact moment when I realized that to micromanage, or to over-plan, or to over-expect, or to continuously push uphill, was fighting a futile fight. My life has proven, with each coming year, that letting go of the plan, and acknowledging the truth of a situation, leaves much more room for the Universe (for lack of a better term at the moment) to just do what it needs to. If we’re talking about this current meteorological dilemma, here’s a truth:

Complaining about the weather is not going to change it. Period.

A delightful side effect of relinquishing some control of your ‘plan’ is shedding unnecessary stress — stress that we create both internally (our brains are good at that!), and externally through trying to navigate circumstances we have zero control over. We’ve all enjoyed telling a story about how stressful/challenging/frustrating it was to get from Point A to Point B. But what if we simply removed the need to tell it? We are no longer trying to make something work that, on a normal day (whatever that is!?), would flow just fine, but on this one day in time is just not worth the headache.

Whether letting go (or crying Uncle!) is to provide space for beautiful surprises or just necessary changes, releasing my grasp on what is no longer working or no longer serving me, or whatever is starting to feel like a constant uphill battle, has been both challenging and freeing. Whether it was calling in sick to work when I needed a day to hole up in bed, nap and not talk to anyone, or canceling a commitment I had excitedly made in earlier times, or even in January of this year, when I came down with the flu the VERY week I was to do a Yoga teacher training to work with Cancer patients/survivors (yup, I definitely had to cry Uncle on that one, and it was heartbreaking)… there is always that part of me that feels like I am doing something wrong, or letting someone down, for having to choose what I need.

(Isn’t that crazy!? It feels wild to actually see that written down — that choosing what I need for my own well-being, whether physical, mental, emotional, spiritual, etc. was/is considered a guilt-point. Seriously!? Where do we GET this stuff!?)

For years and years, I feel as though I tried to fit into the mould or expectation of what would create the most harmonious result for all involved, oftentimes sacrificing what I truly yearned for to keep myself feeling whole. I remember one New Year’s in particular when my recently wounded heart, along with my “compensating-introvert” tank, unexpectedly ran dry, and all I could think of doing was getting out in the woods (we were in the mountains), being alone, having a quiet word with the stars in the night sky, and going to bed. In the end, I stuck around 30 minutes longer than I wanted to, and the feeling of inner struggle in those extra 30 minutes was SO not worth it.  I have swallowed my reluctance, I have ignored my intuition, or let my boundaries be broken down, all for the sake of what might make someone else happy (or at the very least, content); that no one will perceive me to be a party pooper, or a letdown.

Some days (well, most days, but some days more so than others), you have to let go of the plan (and I mean ANY plan — big or small), and surrender. You may even have to let go of some guilt attached. (Seriously, let it go.) I can’t guarantee that the day you have after the fact will be better or worse for having made the decision (that’s all up to you!) but you will have followed your gut, your heart, your inner compass. You will have made a commitment to yourself to quit being the salmon swimming up stream, and to ride the current, wherever it flows.

Calgarians are impeccably talented at both praising and trashing the weather. When the devastating floods hit our city last year, I can’t think of a single person who wasn’t reminded of how powerful Mother Nature really is, and how no matter how hard we may resist her actions, we are still at her mercy. These are the forces that are more vast, that have far bigger intentions than any of the myriad of expectations or parameters we may try to impose upon them.

Patrue, mi Patruissimo.” (“Uncle, my best Uncle.“)

I surrender, and I am freed.

Harness the clouds

Why I Retreat (Part 2)

(…the ‘to be continued’ from Why I Retreat Part 1…)

As the saying goes, “Leap & the net will appear.”

I leapt.

To be honest, I felt like I was falling for some time.

Like Alice down the rabbit hole, I’m not exactly sure I knew where I would land, or when. The period of time of nearly a whole year that I was ‘looking for It,’ did not always run smooth, but I persisted.

What I didn’t always see at the time was that I was planting seeds.

One of the seeds I came to nourish, develop and fall in love with during that time of transition was with a group of yoga teacher friends. My dear friend Anita and I tossed the idea out there that it would be cool to try our hands at putting together a retreat. Fueled by the idea that we could share this transformative experience (as in Part 1) with others, I saw beauty in this organic formation of a group of good-hearted people who would come together in a magical place to unwind, practice and grow. Whoever these people would be, I knew they would be joining us in a similar manner to how I dove into all my own retreat adventures – by feeling a strong call to be there, whether to heal, to rest, to have fun, to get re-inspired or to simply feel reprieve from the snow and cold.

Inspired, we approached our  yoga teacher friend Jeff Mah with our idea. The intention was pretty clear: a yoga getaway in a place that would take your breath away, opportunities for people to practice, eat amazing food, soak up the beauty of nature, re-connect with themselves (and some new friends!), and return home feeling like a million bucks.

One year after Bali, One More Breath Retreats (a team comprised of Jeff Mah & his partner Hilary YoungAnita Athavale, me and our incomparable chef Brett McDermott) brought a group to Maui. Bringing this dream to reality involved countless hours of e-mailing, phone calling, coordinating and gathering around Jeff & Hilary’s kitchen table, or (one of my most favourite ‘tasks’) sitting on Brett’s living room floor sampling the kinds of foods he envisioned serving up to our guests. (Drool.)

When the retreat arrived at last, I remember stepping off our flight and walking out into a classic, balmy Hawaii morning. The sight of the palm trees and feeling of the soft, warm, humid air turned us all into mush. We had only been on this island for a matter of minutes when Jeff said, “Guys, we’re totally coming back here.”

And we did.

As we had expected, the nicest, down-to-earth group of people came together and willingly agreed to be our guinea pigs for two very different experiences that I am positive none of us will soon forget. No matter how each participant chose to spend their time, our hope was  that each person who joined us would leave on departure day feeling that they had found even a sliver of what they needed.

Our first retreat (in 2012) fell over the Leap Year and one of our cherished retreaters celebrated his leap year birthday half way through our week together. That night, I remember looking around at this big-hearted group that had banded together to kick off John’s upcoming year with laughter and good cheer. As this community-away-from home celebrated their new-found friend, I saw another layer to this Leap Year celebration.

Each and every one of these amazing people had seen themselves in our dream as vividly as we had seen them in it. They saw us jump, and had whole-heartedly jumped in alongside us.

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 Still flying high from the second Maui trip in 2013, a new opportunity to retreat presented itself in our own backyard.

My Dad had been raving about his multiple return experiences to a hidden gem called Maurelle Island off the coast of Vancouver Island, BC. Go With The Flow Adventures is the luxury kayaking dream/brain child of a wonderful couple named Brody Wilson & Cristina Fox. Brody was keen to marry the meant-for-each other activities of Kayaking and Yoga. We would paddle the calm waters of the Discovery Islands during the day, have daily yoga practices both at the luxury base camp and out in nature on our paddling trips, eat delicious home-cooked food (again, good food — very important!), and allow ourselves a week to simply, well, go with the flow.

We were SO in.  Kayak + Yoga = Kayoga! Then Mother Nature threw an unexpected test our way.

Just over a week before we were due to leave, Southern Alberta was hit with a devastating flood.

Our hometowns of Calgary & Canmore declared a state of emergency.

No matter whether the flood affected our own neighbourhoods directly or not, we were all in shock.

Our hearts were torn. Was this really the time to skip town when the entire city was putting on gumboots and venturing down into the affected areas to help out with the clean up?

Two of our guests who were to join us on the trip were feverishly working with a host of volunteers to save their family home.

The highway between Calgary & Canmore was a mess.

For a moment there, it was hard to see how this was going to happen as we had hoped. But something inside me told me that the timing of this trip couldn’t have been more perfect. We were all emotionally drained. Stressed. Exhausted. Our city had been working around the clock to get life back on track for its citizens. As I visualized the quiet, island oasis that I knew Maurelle would absolutely be for us, I couldn’t help but feel that our perception of Mother Nature right now was a bit skewed, and that all we needed was to be reminded of the healing  forces of nature .

I searched  for a sign to validate my feeling that getting some reprieve from the stress and chaos of a city in crisis was actually a good thing and not something to feel guilty about.

Hallejulah. I found this quote (and promptly plastered it on top of a beautiful image that Brody had sent me).

nature restores

It was hard for every single one of us to not feel guilt-ridden about getting away, if only for a week.

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 It turned out that a week was all we needed.

Maurelle was pure magic.

There was laughter and tears.

There were groans as shoulders and hips were stretched.

There were sighs as we settled into Yoga Nidra and relaxation.

We couldn’t get enough of the quiet and stillness there, being out in the fresh air all day every day, rolling our mats out overlooking the water, the incredible food, the hot tub, the paddling, the fluffy white bathrobes, the stars that lit up the night sky…

It was the best medicine. 

When we saw the relaxed faces, bright eyes and contented smiles on our guests as they (somewhat reluctantly!) began their journey back home, it became clear to me why the retreat experience holds a value that can never be quantified:

When we give ourselves the opportunity to rest, relax, heal, and brighten our own inner light, we have SO much more to to give to the world. 

The photo below shows one of the most painful sunburns I have ever had the privilege of sporting. More than that, though, I snapped this photo in Bali as a reminder of why I retreat, and now, why I have felt inspired to share this experience with others. What I can see in my own eyes and face in this picture speaks volumes — that I took a leap and gave myself permission to let go, unwind, take care of myself, have fun, be quiet, rest, get grounded, explore, connect with my own heart and re-fill my tank so I could be a better person in my day-to-day life.

Call it cliche, but Morocco, Mexico, Bali — and then eventually Maui and Maurelle Island — have all changed the way I love, think, and live.

In each of these places, I have gotten to know myself better just as much through the exhilarating moments as I have through challenges on my yoga mat, or recently, in the kayak!  When I retreat, I dig deep. It isn’t always easy, but every time, I feel I have found strength and energy to make my life and world more meaningful.

Isn’t that what it’s all about — how well you lived, how well you loved, and how you shared your light to help illuminate the world?

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