Written by Ellen Sanders
At the end of April, I went on the Hummingbird yoga retreat at a center in Cammal, PA which is located in the Pine Creek Valley. I had never been on a yoga retreat before and was so excited to have been given the opportunity to go. For years I have wanted to attend something like this, but between being pregnant and having young children, it just wasn’t feasible, logistically or financially. I would fantasize (yes, I have yoga fantasies!) about being away for a couple of days in an environment of like-minded beings trying to transcend their everyday realties and connect to the divine within. I would look through the Kripalu catalog and think, “Someday…”
Two weeks before the retreat, I got a message from Linda, the owner of Hummingbird, telling me that a donation had been made so that someone could attend the retreat and she wanted to offer the “scholarship” to me. I couldn’t believe it! This was a moment of tremendous grace. You see, in many ways I was feeling overwhelmed in my life. Even though I pray and meditate regularly, daily life events add up and over time can wear me down.
I have two children and I’m a stay-at-home mom. And I’m sober. For me, that’s a very essential combination because if I wasn’t sober, I wouldn’t be a parent or a wife. That may sound melodramatic, but indeed it is not. The fact is, if not sober I most likely would not be alive. So, while being a mother is the most important thing I will ever do and is something I always wanted to experience, it is hard. In fact, in some ways it is so much harder for me than I ever could have envisioned.
Don’t get me wrong – is it hard to love my kids? Heck no! Is it difficult to get less sleep when a baby is sick or teething or your toddler has nightmares? Yeah, kind of. But that’s not what I’m talking about. What is challenging for me is participating in the activities that feed my soul without feeling guilty for taking time away from my family. I know this is something that many people struggle with, but for me and those like me, it can be deadly. If I am not actively working on growing spiritually, then I am headed towards those instincts which led to and fueled my addiction. So, if I’m not living in the solution (i.e. nurturing my spirit and further developing my relationship with god), I may not immediately use drugs or alcohol, however my thoughts will head towards self-destructive behavior. Therefore, when I was given the opportunity to go on the retreat, I knew this experience could help realign and ground me.
So, I made the preparations to go and really looked forward to it. However, in the days leading up to the weekend, I started to feel a little anxious. I would be arriving hours later than most of the other attendees because of needing to get babysitting coverage for the kids until my husband got home from work. I would be arriving alone while most of the others were carpooling. I only knew 3 of the 10 women going. The hamster wheel in my head was starting to spin and I was starting to feel “outside.” But I knew in my soul that I could not let fear manifested as self-consciousness take hold. I needed to show up and bring whatever I had to give and graciously accept whatever I was given.
The schedule of activities at the retreat was amazing. We practiced yoga at least twice a day. One remarkable session was a two-hour yin practice on the grass of the riverbank with the sun beaming down on us. Talk about divine! There were two separate guided chakra meditations. There was an art activity focused on our individual reflections on the chakra meditation. There were times for silent contemplation and there were walks in the valley. And there were healthy, delicious meals cooked together in a small kitchen where we kept bumping into each other, but didn’t mind.
As I intimated earlier, it’s easy for me to feel like an outsider in most situations, but with these women I felt like I fit in almost immediately. And I think I know why. Every woman who attended the retreat has some sort of relationship with recovery. There were women who are recovering addicts/alcoholics. There were women with loved ones who are addicts: some of whom have gotten sober and some not. The common thread we all shared, apart from practicing yoga, was that we are all trying to live by the tenets of recovery. More simply, we are all healing from the pain that one experiences as a natural part of life and are choosing to not be victims.
Here is what wasn’t on the itinerary, but what happened and what I carry forward with me. There were women who have lived through hurt and fear, but allow themselves to be vulnerable – even with strangers. There was no hierarchy, competition, or drama. We gave love, compassion and support freely and generously. We were real.
I have learned in my personal path of healing that it is only through true vulnerability that one can experience real love. I can say that although most of these women are new friends to me, I do love them. And we will forever have the memories of this retreat and the bond of experiencing truth together.