Thursday, April 14, 2011


I keep thinking about my collision with the county coroner about a year ago, and how it was such a harbinger of things to come ( Who knew that when I rear-ended the coroner last March that both of my parents would be dead within the year. I know it's not my fault, but in hindsight it certainly seems like a strange coincidence.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

spirit springs (day five)

A sound night's sleep, even though I got locked out of the shared bathroom by the kid in the middle of the night, and had to jimmy the lock with my triple-A card. Grrr. But a good night in my nice big bed with the creek bubbling outside. Another good yoga and meditation session in the morning, followed by a delicious breakfast of raw oatmeal with fruit, nuts, honey, and cinnamon. Plus a grapefruit. Good stuff.

At 11:30 a.m., I met Andrzej in the studio for my final clarity breathwork session. We talked about commitments that I want to make to myself following the retreat. Things like creating a small but dedicated space for meditation at home, and keeping the daily routine of meditating, but not berating myself if I don't do it (which reminds me, I haven't done it at all since I returned a few days ago! And I also want to start eating grapefruit every day.); having faith that positive change will come with time; and opening up to my feminine side, with which I am apparently having an internal battle (I could go on about this at length, but now is not the time).

This retreat was challenging, but overall a very positive experience. I did my best to remain open to new experiences, and I think I succeeded at that. I learned that I need to stop fighting with myself internally; that I can do new things and open myself up to growth and change; that I can't eat too much raw food; that Tibetan singing bowls have freaky powers; that fear is just a function of bad wiring in the brain, and that I can rewire myself to minimize this; to allow everything to be as it is; that death is a blessing (still working on this one); that I already have everything I need to succeed and be happy, I just need to understand this on a spiritual level; that Watsu is awesome.

I drove back to San Francisco on Friday evening, and the first thing I did at the airport was eat a piece of cheese pizza, a muffin, and a fizzy drink. Oh, how I'd been craving those things. I flew home to L.A., and stayed up much of the night watching "Lost" on DVD, and waiting for Mr. G to come home from a late night of work. A return to bad habits, or simply an indulgence in familiar comforts that I deserve? Definitely the latter . . . I think. Yes, definitely. True growth takes time :)

spirit springs (day four)

Finally a solid night's sleep! And I saw a wild turkey outside my window as I washed my face. I awoke feeling good, and ready for an intense yoga and meditation session with Andrzej and the new kid. Today's session started with us shaking around like loose skeletons to very staccato new age music. We were supposed to keep our backs to each other and our eyes closed so that we wouldn't be distracted by self-conscious inhibitions, and could just let our bodies move to the music as they so desired. We then progressed to "unconditional dancing," which seemed similar to the shaking, but perhaps more fluid and potentially more elaborate. I got into it several times, but every time I opened my eyes, I noticed that my movements suddenly became much less natural. I guess I'm self-conscious even in front of myself. Lame!

After about 30 minutes of shaking and dancing, we sat down rather abruptly for 15 minutes of meditation. The sharp contrast from all that movement to sudden stillness makes you especially aware of your body, and the energy pulsating through it. One of the tricks of meditation (as I understand/experience it), is to be "mindful" of your body and of the present moment, yet also to move beyond the physical somehow. It ain't easy. After quiet meditation, we then focused on our chakras, imagining the spinning wheels of energy focused at the tailbone and on up to the crown of the head. I like the chakras because they give me something pseudo-concrete to focus on during meditation.

Breakfast was raw "bread" with almond butter and jelly, grapefruit, and ginger tea. This was mostly for my benefit since the other guest was on the juice plan. His breakfast was a gigantic glass of a brilliant purple slush that contained about fifty different kinds of fruit. He looked like he was struggling with it, poor guy. Today I definitely turned a corner. I felt healthy and happy, and ready for new challenges all of a sudden. I certainly had dark moments earlier in the week, but I also came to the realization (again) that the positive impact of this retreat (and my entire leave of absence) may not be immediately measurable, but I have faith that they will have great significance and value in the longer term. That takes a lot of pressure off of having to achieve and grow on a daily basis!

I took another hike up a different trail today. I always cry on these hikes, for whatever reason, but this time I was taking photos of the pretty views and thinking, "Who's even going to appreciate these?" Who's going to enjoy, reflect upon, and discuss this experience with me with the level of interest and enthusiasm that Mom and Dad would? It made me realize that much of what we do (I do/did) has something to do with wanting to receive praise and feedback from our parents. And now that's gone, so why do anything? Just a passing thought.

After dinner, we went to Harbin Hot Springs, and it was by far the highlight of the entire retreat for me ( It was extremely cold, and the sun was setting as we arrived (it's about a 10 minute drive from Spirit Springs). The hot springs are clothing optional, but everyone is naked, so you'd stand out much more if you came in wearing a swim suit than if you just walk around nude. So be it. Next thing I knew I was stripping down with Andrzej and the kid, and slipping into the steaming pool among a bunch of strangers.

Andrzej almost immediately began a Watsu session with me. Watsu is a form of water massage where the therapist continuously supports your relaxed body, and pushes and pulls you through the warm water. Your eyes are closed, and only your face is above the water line, so you have the added effect of hearing only the sounds of the water, and nothing of the world above. It's obviously very evocative of the womb-state, and was quite magical. I put complete trust in him, and let him swing me around the pool like a ballet dancer, naked, with strangers all around. From time to time, I'd open my eyes and see the silhouettes of the trees against the darkening sky; or feel the icy cold raindrops that fell on my face periodically. Mostly I was stretched out in various positions, but sometimes he'd curl me up into a fetal ball, or wrap one of my legs around the back of his neck. It was unlike anything I've ever done before, and I HIGHLY recommend it. (Note: this photo is of Andrzej, but not me. Cameras are not allowed at Harbin, as you might imagine.)

We then ended our "formal" session, and had fun running naked through the dark between the other super hot boiling pool -- that was so hot you couldn't even see each other through all the steam -- and the super cold freezing pool that had a spout of fresh water you could drink from. It was exhilarating. We lost the kid somewhere along the way, but then reconnected, got dressed, and went to the unconditional dancing room. It was like a rave, with techno music and flashing lights, and people being totally uninhibited. I felt awesome -- utterly relaxed and warm and content from my watsu and the hot springs. My hair was all tangled, and I was wearing capri pants and a tank top (have you ever seen me look like that?), and I was dancing with the crowd. Pretty fucking awesome.

We came home about 11:00 p.m., and chatted by the fireplace, with cats on our laps and tea in our mugs. Then Andrzej walked me to my cottage and gave me a big, warm hug, like he always does after these intense experiences (clarity breathwork, watsu). He told me I was radiant, and you know he means it in the most sincere of ways: simply a radiant human being, as we all are when we allow ourselves to shine.

spirit springs (day three)

A rough night, thanks to my new diet of raw foods. Stomach cramps kept me from getting a sound night's sleep, so when 8:30 a.m. finally rolled around, I dragged myself up to the studio to tell the woman who had come for my yoga session that I couldn't do it today. I felt like a failure, but she was very understanding, and said she'd be there all day, so just come back when I was ready. I slept for a couple more hours, showered, and then went up to the house where I was welcomed with some tea, a miso broth, and a big glass of grapefruit juice. These were supposed to ease my stomach, but what I wouldn't have given for just some toast or a scone; or some cheese or yogurt! I just needed something "solid" in my belly; something to chew on.

I sat in the sun for a while, letting its warm rays heal me as I sipped my various liquids, and felt my energy returning. She then gave me a soothing massage, with special emphasis on my belly, and exercises to help focus my attention away from my belly as needed. I felt much better afterwards. Andrzej returned in the afternoon with a new guest, a young man coping with Celiac disease. He'd just had a colonic, and was starting the juice detox diet, which involves drinking gigantic glasses of blended fruit and veggies every few hours for many days. And that's all you get. And I thought I was uncomfortable! He also gave me some natural probiotic pills, and then we ate yams for dinner. That made me happy.

We had stimulating dinner conversation. "Ignorance is bliss" is apparently not a true statement, but I still think it's better not to suffer, isn't it? Yes, if you are struck down by an illness or a loss, you may as well make the best of it and see what it can teach you, but to call it a "blessing" seems like a stretch. But I guess the point is that suffering is in fact unavoidable, and the sooner you understand that, the sooner you can learn from it. So in that sense, yes, it is a blessing to have your eyes opened by life's challenges, because otherwise they usually remain shut. We also talked about the importance of deep eye-contact with other people, and present touching (like a sincere hug). How often do we indulge in these things? It's all about seeing and acknowledging the oneness of everything in all of us. When I look into your eyes, I'm also looking into my own eyes. I'm all for it, but how does it help my tummy trouble? I guess I'm still thinking too small.

The creek is bubbling
The frogs are croaking
My gut is gurgling
The fire is toasting

Today was hump day, so I went to bed determined to sleep soundly and have a better tomorrow.

spirit springs (day two)

A fitful night. My cottage was literally on the edge of a bubbling creek, which is lovely during the day, but deafening at night. Its incessant gurgling made it difficult to discern where exactly those other creepy nighttime noises were coming from. I know it's perfectly safe, and the sounds of the countryside are supposed to be soothing, but it's a rough transition to make from the white noise of traffic, sirens, chattering people and garbage trucks to the creaking of the trees, the rustling of small animals, and the oppressive silence of the night.

I met Andrzej in the studio for yoga at 8:15 a.m. It was a very good session, with lots of loosening stretches and positions that seemed to open up the body both physically and spiritually. After yoga, we had breakfast in the main house: homemade granola with nuts and seeds (raw), fruit, almond milk, and grapefruit. And a big pitcher of water with sliced cucumbers and lemons. Delicious. There are never more than 6 guests allowed at a time at Spirit Springs, but for the first few days I was the only one there, so I had the privilege of Andrzej's undivided attention. We talked about death and new beginnings, and the word "emergency." Emerge and see opportunities for growth in the midst of chaos and overwhelming change.

It was a sunny day, so I set out for a hike after eating, and climbed to the top of one of the local trails which provided amazing vistas. On the way down the hill, I began feeling absolutely exhausted, and an indefinable sense of fear and panic began welling up inside me. I've been through a lot lately, plus the stress of this whole retreat thing. These feelings are understandable. I simply have to learn to ride them out, and remember that they always pass. There's no need to let the fear build upon itself. See it for what it is, accept it, and let it go. As Andrzej says, if you look directly into the fear, it usually diminishes; like when you turn on the light, the scary monsters suddenly disappear. If only I could believe this was true. I want to believe!

Around 2:00 p.m., I met a nice young woman in the studio for a healing massage. She also prepared two raw meals for me, because Andrzej had to go away for the afternoon/evening, so I would be completely alone until the following morning. Yikes! For a while, I just wandered around the property, walked along the creek, played with the cats, and then I went into a little tailspin. I curled up by the fireplace in my cottage, listened to an encouraging voice-mail that Mr. G had left for me before I left (the only way I'd hear his voice all week long), and started obsessing about how horrible this whole idea was. This is totally not my thing! Yoga, meditation, spirituality. It's just not a good fit for me! What was I thinking? What am I going to do with myself? I have to tough it out. I've made a commitment, if only to myself; I can't go home now. Crap, it's only Tuesday! Aaaaaaaa . . .

"If you try to win the war with your mind, you'll be at war forever."

After a while I went up the main house and ate some of the food that was left for me with sweet little notes explaining what everything was: forbidden rice with avocado, gazpacho soup to be poured over a bed of sprouts, blueberry hazelnut cream for dessert. All raw, all lactose and gluten free. I made myself some peppermint tea, and headed back to the studio to watch some of the DVDs that Andrzej had recommended before he left. He has quite a library, so I watched things about quantum physics and spirituality, and a woman named Gangaji and her teachings about death, and what a blessing it is. Everything she said made sense, but it's a difficult balancing act to "accept" death as one of the most natural and beautiful -- and inevitable -- of life's transitions, while still understanding that one must also grieve the loss. Yes, I appreciate that we are all glorious manifestations of the greater life energy, but I also miss my mom and dad, even if what I'm missing is really just their physical forms. That's all I knew! But not really. I knew their love, their essences, their spirits. And those things never really die. But it still sucks.

"Allow everything to be as it is. Let everything within you reveal itself to you. Fear is often a doorway; walk through it and see what's underneath. Ask yourself the question: What or Who am I? You are not your thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or personality. All of these things exist within you, and yet there is a deeper "you" that is able to witness and observe them. Who is this observer?" (Adyashanti) I basically spent the evening in solitary spiritual study. What? Yes, that's right. So unlike me. And it was good. I went to bed feeling tired but enriched.

(Note: Please excuse the sometimes hokey spiritual imagery that accompanies these blogs.)

spirit springs (day one)

Life has been traumatic lately. As part of my 2 month leave of absence from work, friends, and "regular" life, I decided to go on a one-week spiritual/nature retreat to help myself relax, reflect, and refocus. I envisioned a place ensconced in nature, with plenty of time and space for quiet personal reflection and solitude, but with trained professionals on hand to offer guided meditation and provide other tools that might help me cope with my anxiety, grief, anger, disorientation, and general well being. Spirit Springs seemed the perfect fit:

So I hopped a plane to San Francisco, and drove up the 101 toward Napa Valley. I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge, through the rainbow tunnel, and into the gorgeous landscape of rolling green hills and giant oak trees that is northern California. If you know me at all, you can imagine how scary the notion of retreating into nature, alone, with only my thoughts and feelings to keep me company, would be. No friends or family, no TV, computers, or cell phones. Zero contact with the outside world! It wasn't easy, but it felt right. All I asked was that my mind/body/heart remain open to whatever experiences came my way during the week. I was ready to (try to) let go and receive goodness.

I arrived at Spirit Springs around 5:00 p.m., after many miles of twisty, tree-lined roads taking me further and further from civilization. My host, Andrzej, greeted me, and offered me an elixir of mysterious juices from the Amazonian rain forest, which I sipped tentatively as we discussed my reasons for coming. Of course I cried. He smiled gently and said that there was no need to keep wearing my "brave face" while I was there. Whatever emotions arise, let them flow. We then sat down to my first of many delicious raw meals. You can either do a raw foods routine while you're there, or a juice detox, which is definitely more than I can handle. It's hard to relax and meditate when your colon is being cleansed. We then launched almost immediately into my first "clarity breathwork" session.

Clarity Breathwork™ (yes, apparently it's trademarked) is "a profound tool for transformation and healing on all levels--body, mind & spirit. It uses the ancient practice of circular, connected breathing that has been used in cultures around the world, for thousands of years, for healing and attaining higher states of consciousness. Breathwork is one of the purest and most effective techniques to release stress and tension, heal and resolve trauma, and awaken you to your true Being." Sounds good, right? And it is, but it's INTENSE. For the first hour we simply sat and talked about my deepest fears and vulnerabilities. Ugh. The second hour involved me lying on my back with my eyes closed, attempting to find some kind of rhythm to my cyclical breathing. Periodically, he would place his warm hands on my chest or stomach, and ask me to tell him what thoughts or sensations I was experiencing. Soon, my hands and arms became numb, and I began to feel all jittery. I'm sure some of it was anxiety, but he said some of it was simply me tuning in to the energy moving around inside my body. (Same difference, right?)

But it got really crazy with the introduction of the Tibetan singing bowls, which he began ringing at different pitches and positions. Each chime felt like an electrical surge through my body, and next thing I knew, I was humming along in some sort of trance state. I think I rode it for a while, but then my pesky brain kicked in and said, "Hey, what the hell's going on here? I don't think you're in complete control of your senses," and my eyes suddenly popped open and it was over.

By now it was quite dark outside, with just the glow of a few candles in the room. Andrzej said it was beautiful, and that I looked and sounded totally different afterwards. Part of the purpose is to understand that we are more than our minds, thoughts, beliefs, and experiences. We're part of a greater energy, and we need to set our analytical brains and egos aside in order to feel this truth about ourselves. I believe it, but the brain is such a powerful entity. It can be your ally, but it can also be an enemy, or at least an obstacle. And with that concept to ponder, I retired to my private creekside cottage for the night, entrusting myself to this man for the next 5 days.