06 Jul sacred springs retreat
“There are moments when those eyes inside your brain stare right back at you.”
This year I have embarked on a journey of self discovery, seeking to find ways to be with my anxiety instead of running from it, and to find all the things that keep me from my own happiness. Working on re-training my brain to break those bad habits has become the goal. This led me to a sudden impulse decision at the beginning of the new year to do something I have never done or even considered; go on a spiritual healing retreat. It was the first challenge I presented to myself for 2016. Finding that I had many codependent tendencies, I wanted to do this on my own and for a person with an anxiety disorder, even the thought of this was daunting. After doing some research, I landed on a little slice of heaven called Sacred Springs Retreat.
My journey to the retreat was taxing on my nervous system, with a crying fit send off from my ex the night before, terrified and wondering why the hell I decided to this. I headed to the airport at 4am, had an encouraging pep talk from my Lyft driver and hopped onto the plane doing my best to just breathe through my fear of flying. I made it through the 45 minute flight and hopped onto a bus for a 2 hour scenic ride to Sonoma Airport, guided mindfulness meditations on repeat. There I was greeted by the retreat owner, Anjay. I felt a sense of calm already from the conversation we had on the way to the retreat grounds. Anjay has a way to calm your nerves, it’s a special talent if you ask me.
High up in the mountains of Napa Valley, we arrived to the property that immediately reminded me of summer camp. Amidst lush forests were around 20 separate cabins, a pool, multiple hiking trails, a labryinth, library, art room, and dining hall. After giving me a tour of the grounds, Anjay showed me to my own private cabin in the woods. On the rainy walk to my home for the week, realizing I would be alone in a cabin for seven days, fear really started to set in. “Why did I do this? I don’t like the woods! I’m all alone!” Anjay likely sensing my fear, eased my troubled thoughts by mentioning I was amongst a rotation of 3-6 other women at the retreat, so I was not as “alone” as I had imagined.
The retreat offers many different kinds of packages and I chose one to help me learn skills to cope with my anxiety and depression. My schedule was as follows: wake up and drink a glass of water and cup of tea, all conveniently provided in my adorable wood cabin. I did this each morning while enjoying my view of the empty woods, raindrops trickling down the windows. At 8:30am, the other women on the retreat and I gathered in a cabin for meditation and yoga. Each morning we were taught a different form of meditation and yoga; my favorite being Chi Gong and the day we freestyle danced to the 5 Rythms. 9:30am breakfast was provided in the kitchen. I chose all vegan meals, as opposed to the juice cleanse. The cooks, Hannah, and Ashley (Anjay’s wife) were very talented and opened up my world to the wonders of delicious vegan meals. 12:30pm lunch was provided, and 5:30pm dinner was served. Every meal just as satisfying as the last. In between I was basically free to do whatever I pleased. Most of the women were there to be on their own journey and soul search themselves, and since all were encouraged to be cell phone and internet free for the whole trip, there was a lot of time alone to self reflect. And self reflect I did.
I set off on a beautiful solo hour and a half hike, finding my own way on one of the many hiking trails on the property. Jumping over streams of water, getting caught at forks in the road, having to make the decision to go left or right, finding myself worried that I would make the wrong choice and get lost. Epiphany: this is much like a lot of life’s decisions.
I hung out in the art room and decided to be a painter for a day. It was my first time painting in almost 20 years, and with this experience I discovered how much emotion can go into art. Tearfully painting for an hour, I was pleasantly surprised with the finished product; the hummingbird in the above photos that is dedicated to my late grandpa.
I read “You Are Here,” by Thich Naht Hanh in the infrared sauna, overlooking a serene stream. So immersed in the book, I did not realize that day quickly became night and it was pitch black outside. I found myself sprinting through the dark woods with flashlight in hand, trembling and terrified of what may be following me (leave it to all the scary movies I have watched in my lifetime). Stumbling into my cabin, heart pounding out of my chest, I immediately began to laugh. I realized: there is no reason to be so afraid of the dark.
I journaled endlessly. Word vomiting as much as possible, letting out all that had been pent up in my mind for 28 years. I was excited about all I was learning, yet scared about what was to come. Transferring thoughts from my brain straight through the pen and onto paper was a healing experience.
I ventured to the labyrinth and did a walking meditation. Doing my best at focusing on the moment, putting one foot in front of the other, moving slowly, feeling the earth beneath me. I found myself growing wildly impatient after one minute, anxiety in full affect, wanting to run through the rest of the maze as quickly as possible. I stuck with it, and another lesson emerged: patience truly is a virtue.
Though the time alone was enlightening, it was also comforting to spend time with others on the retreat. There were daily breath work and counseling sessions with Anjay, and around four different holistic massages throughout the week from the encouraging and kind group of healers that came through. One of my favorite days was heading down the mountain to the Indian Wells Springs with the other ladies, where we were treated to volcanic ash baths and lounged in the beautiful all natural hot spring pool; a relaxing and grounding experience. Taking cooking lessons with Anjay’s lovely wife sparked my interest in nutrition and inspired me to change my diet. I make the vegan cheesecake, parsley brown rice and kale tahini salad on the regular.
This experience was the first step towards having a relationship with myself, mind/body/soul. It was most certainly a definitive first step in knowing my own strength. Spending that much time with myself and disconnected from society showed me a lot about my habits and my mind. Though it was difficult in the mindset I was in, I am forever grateful that I had this experience. It was truly the beginning of the unravelling that is just now starting to come to fruition. The incredibly supportive people I met at the retreat, the beauty of the journey itself and the knowledge I gained have been so valuable to my growth in these last 6 months. I am excited to continue growing, learning, and deepening my relationship with myself as it truly is the most important relationship there is in life.
Check out Sacred Springs Retreat here. They are now holding retreats in Yelapa, Mexico and they are offering a 10-20% discount, don’t miss out!