The Gift of Retreat

There is something remarkable about being around people who are undergoing transformation of some kind- be that physical, emotional, spiritual or a combination of all three. Working in a retreat environment always ignites an almost tangible air of change and movement. It is a space where people are starting out on a remarkable journey and you are there witnessing their very first steps on that pilgrimage.

It isn’t an easy first step, taking time out of full and hectic lives to do something entirely for yourself. With work, family commitments, friends, finances and the other million and one things going on in most people’s day to day lives, it can seem next to impossible to take any time out at all.

Yet, the ability to gift yourself space and solitude is really a gift to the other people in your life also- allowing you the ability to fill your own cup, to nourish your own body and soul, to build up the depleted energy that may have escaped over time to allow you to return to day to day life, full and whole again.

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People go on detox and cleanse retreats for various reasons and I have witnessed many of these reasons over the years- some come to try and heal lingering health issues, to break negative patterns in their lifestyle, to clear away stagnant emotional clutter, to drop a few niggling kilos, to unwind from stress or to find that vibrancy and zest for life that they know still exists somewhere deep within.

No matter the reason, people come together on a retreat, united by their shared differences and thread of commonality. The guests find stories that overlap in lives that appear remarkably different at the outset. People from all walks of life fall into step together- supporting one another, cheering one another on, being a shoulder to cry on or kind ear ready to listen.

Detoxing is likely to bring up all sorts of emotions and thought processes that the guests don’t contemplate when they arrive on day one. Sometimes the physical cleanse is the easiest part as the body releases that which it no longer deems necessary to hold onto. You experience people in a very vulnerable state and I have never taken that fact lightly. It is an honor to be with people as they dive into dark places buried deep within and shed the layers they have cocooned around themselves for one reason or another.

Last week I assisted on an Embracing Health Detox Retreat. It was the third time I was lucky enough to work with the team and what a remarkable and life changing week it was for everyone involved.

The retreat consisted of five days of juice fasting and 3 days of raw vegan cuisine. Interspersed with the days juices was yoga, massage, colonics, lectures on health and nutrition, sound healing, vision boarding, raw food demonstrations and also plenty of time for guests to unwind, stretch their legs along the deserted ocean shoreline or relax in the onsite infrared sauna.

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When you are on a cleanse, every moment of every day can be different- one minute you can feel energized and as high as a kite, while the next moment can see you spiral into a web of confusion and despair. Various side effects tend to arise and lethargy and insomnia are indeed two sides of the same coin.

Yet one of the things I love the most about being in these environments is experiencing the perseverance and dedication of the guests. What I love, time and time again, is watching them continue to show up.

A long time ago I sat in a lecture in California with the owners of Café Gratitude. These people were real role models to me, a family or sorts when I was desperately seeking a place to belong. I attended many workshops with them and was hypnotized by their knowledge and wisdom and ways of living and sharing. I remember sitting in a lecture, at a rather low point in my life, and all across my notebook I kept scrawling the words- Keep Showing Up. Keep Showing Up. Keep Showing Up.

Still to this day, when I feel myself begin to spiral, I remind myself of these three little words. Because in my eyes, showing up is the best that we can do. What do I mean by showing up? Being truthful, being honest, being real. The opposite of hiding in the shadows or putting on a mask; avoidance behavior that stems from our inability or unwillingness to face a situation. Showing up is the ability to be completely transparent, open and willing to be all that you are- because in the end, what more can we be?

I had a partner once who was also one of my greatest teachers. He often spoke to me of authenticity and integrity. Again, I wasn’t in a great place in my life when we were together, and most of his lessons I only integrated many years later- but these two words of his stayed with me. In my dark times, I would think of these words and instead of making excuses, of hiding, of shying away from growth due to fear of being ‘seen’ I would step forwards.

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Showing up, being authentic, living in integrity are not necessarily the lessons you plan to learn about when you embark on a detox retreat. Yet for me, these were the things I was reminded of day after day. I arrived each morning and saw a combination of faces- some bright and cherry, others a little downcast, but every face appeared, every day, no matter the inner or outer turmoil. I developed such a deep respect and admiration for everyone in the group and I would promise myself daily to also keep showing up, to keep being a constant presence that these people could rely upon.

I’m not sure if the guests assume that for the facilitators, those 8 days are simply work- you come, you go, you do what is needed as you have done before and at the end of the week you get a thank you and a paycheck and tentatively plan dates for the next rendezvous. But let me assure you, this isn’t the case. I often think I learn just as much as the guests do- about myself, about life, about my passions, my goals, my own place in this big wide world.

I hope that working in these environments never becomes merely a job for me. I cannot imagine it would. For each time I am constantly presented with new people, new obstacles, new experiences and of course, new reminders of the old. Perhaps one of the greatest reminders is that we are all so very alike- we all have our issues, our baggage, our ‘stuff’ as you like. We all think our life would be better if ‘this’ could change or ‘that’ could disappear. We all tend to stand and look at greener pastures next door, envisioning life there rather than watering the grass we stand upon.

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I left this retreat, as I leave all retreats, with a fresh outlook on what I wanted to call into my own world, with a ferocious flame within that wouldn’t be tamed until I listened to its crackling demands. The daily lectures had ignited my own love of learning and thirst for knowledge, while my time with the guests had exposed just how much I desired to help people on a deeper level. On the final day, I knew exactly what I had to do. I sat down at my computer, I electronically signed on the dotted line and I enrolled to study Nutritional Medicine, knowing that I had procrastinated long enough and the time was now here.

Every one of the guests set goals and tasks that they planned to accomplish during the first week they returned back to their regular lives. Just like yoga- taking the practice off the mat and into day-to-day life is the real practice at heart. I watched the guests leave and I shared their steadfast determination and their childlike enthusiasm.

It is ever so easy to get caught up in the web of life, to put things off, to say maybe next year or put someone or something before our own needs. Yet when we do gift ourselves that time out, when we immerse ourselves in a space where we can listen to that deeper voice and reconnect with that person within that really we do love, that is where we find the answers to the silent questions and the path we may have strayed from appears again, waiting patiently for us to return.

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