There’s seemingly no rhyme or reason to most things. How can a small-town freak from nowhere Alberta be at an amazing women’s retreat in the Dominican Republic, surrounded by some gloriously diverse and palpably powerful women from New York? How can this be happening to one person, while others are at bedside vigils for children, parents or partners somewhere on the planet? Or stuck in a war, or out on the street, or lonely in some cavernous house they do not share with another soul? How does anything, or better yet, why … does anything happen?
The walk between our home for the weekend and Casa Diana was one of the many magical things about the weekend retreat.
In the past handful of hours we have embraced yoga and taken journeys to the beat of shamanistic drums. We’ve jumped off cliffs into crisp Caribbean fresh water. We’ve faced our fears and laughed and most of us have cried.
There’s far too much for me to share in the parameters of a blog, if I have any hopes of holding your attention, so I am going to try to sum up the journey I was sent on at Casa Diana in the confines of the safe and surreal Seahorse Ranch in the Dominican Republic.
Some of you reading are veteran hippies and no strangers to guided meditation or yoga retreats. Some of you will absolutely think this whole debacle is a load of horse shit and you may think me a fool to indulge in such woo. And some of you will read this and wonder when and if you will have an opportunity to embark on your own such journey. I’ll share all the relevant details at the end of the blog.
First, let me tell you about stepping out of my ridiculously vast comfort zone and finding a place where I was still for the first time in a very long time.
After a brilliant local meal of fresh fish in a salty sweet coconut curry, heavy with turmeric and pepper, we settled down for a guided journey to engage with our spirit animals.
The instructions were simple. We were cleansed with burning sage and sent on a self-guided journey to the beating of drums. Compelled by our gentle and powerful leader, Suki, we were to think of a place of water, or a cave, or a hole in a tree. From this place, we were to relax and bid our minds to take us to spirit guides. If and when successful in conjuring guides into our minds eyes, we were to seek answers or an answer to some burning question we are currently grappling with.
My journey started off quite simple and very calmly. I was watching an octopus I remember seeing in that big salt water swimming hole in Samoa. The octopi pointed me to a Tui that led me through the native New Zealand bush. Here I saw dozens of familiar creatures, from the weta (large bug) to the piwakawaka (fantail bird) and even kuni kuni (pig). Then I was dunked unceremoniously into the ocean amidst a pod of dolphins. The pod greeted me but in a split second communicated that I didn’t belong with them, and my mind was then transported to what I have considered my spirit animal for as long as I can remember, the pilot whale. These are one of the most social and intelligent creatures human beings have studied. Unfortunately, their close family bonds mean if one beaches itself, the rest of the pod almost always follow suite.
The last image of the pilot whale I had on this mediation was looking deep into a shiny black pilot whale eye, and then things got really weird.
Every beat of the drum exposed a new animal or group of animals. I spent the next 15 minutes being shown in my mind’s eye, several dozen David Attenborough trailers worth of plants, animals, and even some aboriginal people including an Australian Aborigine with the white dots on his face and flames from a fire amidst an inky black sky with millions of pinhole stars during a dream time ritual. Then crocodiles and emu and snakes and sharks and jellyfish and sooooo many bugs. The journey continued then to North America, where I was greeted by a native American Aboriginal leader wearing a heavily adorned headdress and dancing on dusty ground at dusk. Then eagles, antelope, buffalo, coyote, blue jays, chipmunks and countless other creatures. I think you may be able to understand the progression of this mental journey. I saw thousands of animals, hunted and hunting, alive and dead, some still and others streaking across my mind’s eye. There were plants and vines and flowers and butterflies. And then as the drums slowed, I saw my bare feet walking up an incline on dry and cracked earth, toward a summit a’la Lion King movie when Simba was shown to the Pridelands.
I reached the top of the summit and surveyed the image beneath and it broke my already fragile brain. The tears started to flow and the me in my vision and the me in Casa Diana were both compelled to the child pose with my palms to the sky in an act of submission, desperation and gratitude. My eyes remained closed as my shoulders shook with silent sobs.
When the music stopped, and my tears did not.
Everyone shared their journey as I sat silently listening, tears still streaming down my already chapped face.
I told my story last. And felt like a complete nut job as I did. I didn’t feel judged or anything, just incredibly overwhelmed and vulnerable. I suppose the simplest scientific explaination would be that this was an opportunity to clear some of the cache. My subconscious is riddled with images of the death and destruction of our planet. There’s never a shortage of environmental imagery and content in any day of my life. I’ve been bombarded with it for years now and tonight it appears that it has taken a toll.
We finished up and put our yoga mats away.
Then it was time to dance.
After feeling quite squarely kicked in the guts by my subconscious, or perhaps Gaia, or maybe just jetlag and the two glasses of red wine I had enjoyed with our rich dinner after a very long and beautiful day, I could not dance. I can’t dance under most circumstances, so I did something I rarely do, and I sat, still, and I observed.
I felt blessed to be in that moment, getting to know the women I am sharing these days with. It was calming and made me smile, watching these women silently from the open plan pool area. They are all beautiful and incredibly unique and complex creatures. The sound of crickets and frogs contributed to the soundtrack. This scene, their eyes closed, music compelling them to dance as if no one was watching (except me it turns out) made me feel quite full of joy and appreciation. They all moved completely differently. Our leaders Suki and Joana seemed to know their bodies and almost be in a beautiful trance like flow. The quieter among the group (Kristal and Paula) moved in calculated and authentic rhythm while Carmen and Maria’s Latina roots made their hips sway and their hands reach slithering through the night air like wisps of smoke from a campfire. I have to say, Maria’s boyfriend is one lucky fella, that woman can move!
At one point, Suki suggested to the group that we do something with our bodies we hadn’t done before. And I realized. I already was. I was still. I was not amongst it. I was definitely doing something I may have never done before, and I was observing, silently and learning so much as I did. It was nice.
The evening ended with the theme song from Greatest Showman “This is Me” which I have always enjoyed, despite my children stone cold hating it as it was the music for their class bell in their progressive junior high school on Auckland’s North Shore. The lyrics reminded me of the clarity and bravery of being able to just be our most authentic selves is actually quite terrifying. It’s something that so many people think I have mastered with my DGAF demeanor and fearless observations and questioning in any situation, no matter how inappropriate. But the bold, brave, bossy bitch everyone sees is just plain exhausted most of the time lately. And this past few days, in a place where no one knows me and I am nothing but a stranger with an indistinct North American accent claiming to be a Kiwi, I realized that I am truly terrified for this planet. I don’t know if I have any fight left because I wonder if scratching and biting is just delaying the inevitable demise we perhaps deserve.
Not the most uplifting thought, I know. But it does seem to be a pretty omnipresent theme the past few weeks.
My friends in LA suggested that the generation coming up will look at our waste and disrespect for the planet, the way my generation views racism and intolerance. How could it be considered acceptable? How can a leader from my childhood have told his people to “shop their way out of the recession” at the expense of the air we breathe and the water we need to survive? And how can people still be fighting over the veracity of the science that has shown us that we have seriously messed things up, and need to do something about it or get smacked down by mother nature in her desperate bid to save herself and all the organisms who rely on her.
So. In conclusion.
I strongly recommend to anyone anywhere to take some time, a week, a day or even a class in guided meditation to look into themselves and pinpoint what is important to them, because it feels like there’s a storm coming, the likes of which humanity has never seen. Whatever the years ahead bring, and whatever our fate, I am certain of very little, but I know that it will only be made bearable if we cling to community and kindness, and help each-other and the earth through what can only be described as a total clusterfuck, that, like it or not, we brought upon ourselves.
Thank you for reading.
Please consider this or some other retreat and find your bliss and direction.