“I hope you will go out and let stories, that is life, happen to you, and that you will work with these stories… water them with your blood and tears and your laughter till they bloom, till you yourself burst into bloom.”
– Clarissa Pinkola Estes
Nine months ago I received a phone call from a woman with a robust East coast accent. She had read my book, and was wondering if I would be interested in doing a retreat at her yoga center, Manu Yoga, in Costa Rica. After hearing her message my heart did not skip a beat – it knew the answer was “Yes.” Then suddenly my head came into the picture with fear and logistical questions. “Who is this woman? Where in Costa Rica? I have never done anything like this in the United States, let alone a foreign country, would I be able to do such a thing? Would people even want to do a retreat around my book?”
Thankfully I trusted my heart and stayed with the Yes. My decision felt more secure when my dear friend Charlotte, who lives Florida, agreed to come and do the yoga.
I won’t share too much about what happened in the planning phase, but to say it invites comparison to my two pregnancies. I was scared that I would not be a good enough “mother” to these women, I was stretched physically, emotionally, and spiritually preparing to hold space for them, and doing crazy things like eating a whole batch of chocolate chip cookies, because I was scared shitless that I would fail.
Nine months passed, and I grew to be more comfortable preparing for the birth of this retreat, and the day finally arrived where I got on the plane to fly from Redmond, to Denver, to Houston, to San Jose to Quepos, Costa Rica.
I arrived, the retreat occurred, and this is what transpired.
Charlotte and I designed the retreat to revolve around three areas. First, Cracking Open the body through yoga in order to prepare the soul to feel vulnerable. Second, Cracking Open the spirit by working through the book, page by page; writing, painting, and staying curious with love and compassion. Finally, Cracking Open the heart through massage, laughing, surfing, riding zip lines, and drinking wine while watching the sunset. We strongly believe that transformation occurs from the perfect recipe of yoga, introspective work, laughter, and not taking life too seriously.
The days began with meditation followed by Charlotte’s yoga class or what I call “yummy yoga”. It is yummy because she has a way of letting your body and spirit melt into the poses. She is not a believer of suffering through the poses, pushing you to the brink of pain, or aspiring to be a level three Ashtangi. Oh no, she is all about using props for support. She encourages you to carry this philosophy over into your life, reaching for support during times of struggle and need. Charlotte is about forming a loving relationship with your body, so that you do not injure your back, shoulders, or neck. She is about bringing out oils and beautiful smells to feed the whole body. Her yoga peels away layers of what is not serving you anymore, in order to make room to fill your life with things that nourish and fulfill you. After all of this “yummy yoga” we were ready to eat.
Our breakfasts consisted of fresh squeezed juices, fruit that tasted as if it was just been picked, and homemade granola and yogurt, my mouth is watering remembering their food made with pure love. After eating we would head back down to the yoga pavilion. This canopy was made of teak wood, in the middle of the forest surrounded by butterflies, toucans, and exotic birds that I had never seen or heard of before. The beauty of the land and mystique of its surroundings invited us to embrace our adventurous spirits. It was now after we filled our bodies with meditation, yoga, and a delightful breakfast that we dove into my book. The women would choose chapters such as Be Awake, Be Dark, Be Grateful or Be Free. Writing their deepest thoughts and feelings around being mothers, wives, employees, or employers, exploring life, death, cancer, ending engagements, and how disconnected they may feel to their bodies, lives, and existence. It was raw, honest, brave, alive, and an incredible honor to be in these women’s presence while they were doing what we call as a therapist, “narrative healing”.
It was the writing, and then sharing of their experiences, where I saw old stories around shame, guilt, and weight both physical and emotional be lifted off of their bodies to be carried and dissolved into the Costa Rican trees. There was an unspoken pact that their fellow warrior women, and the ancient Dominical forest would hold their stories with honor and grace.The trifecta of why this retreat was so magical, and exceeded any of Charlotte and I’s expectations, was not only the movement of the body, and deepening of the heart, but remembering the joy of life. Watching these women swim and splash around in one of the three salt water pools, zip line through the Costa Rican forest while monkeys swung from tree to tree, surf with pride and courage in the Pacific Ocean, toast each other while the magnificent sun dipped below the equator, and laughing uncontrollably around a candlelit table over who their doppelganger is, or what movie star would they sleep with, made my heart sore with pride and love.
As for me, I realized we are all mirrors to each other and things in our lives. I saw myself in all of their stories and struggles, no I have not had cancer, or been divorced, but I have had to face my own mortality and challenges as well. I had a moment one day during shivasana where tears were streaming down my face because I was able to embrace all my hard work. My seven years of 5:00 am writing sessions, the death of my father, feeling excluded, alone, and scared, or questioning myself as a wife, mother, and woman. All of it came together in my journal of Cracking Open. I have worked with my stories and watered them with my blood, sweat, and tears to create my book and this moment. All of what I have dreamed of came together in five beautiful days; travel, writing, art, yoga, beautiful aesthetics, honest conversations with honest women, and yes a lovely glass of Sauvignon Blanc while watching the sunset. All came together with these 9 women over these 5 days in Costa Rica.
On the day all the women were leaving I stood on the edge of the Pacific Ocean, amongst the toucans and sloths to watch nine women drive away in white van down a stone path. Remembering the day they arrived tired, tapped out, over worked, and over weight, I watched the van wobble down the road and felt a warmth arise that they were leaving with nourished bodies, enlightened spirits and wholehearted souls. They were leaving with letting their stories happen to them while blooming and bursting. And I was left standing on this magical land with immense amounts of gratitude and grace.