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: http://spiritspringsretreat.com/.
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.