(…the ‘to be continued’ from Why I Retreat Part 1…)
As the saying goes, “Leap & the net will appear.”
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 Young, Anita 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.
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).
It was hard for every single one of us to not feel guilt-ridden about getting away, if only for a week.
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?