Retreating - The gift to self that expands.

Updated: Apr 5

Namaste and welcome!


With The Field Retreat coming soon, I am called to try to put into words what retreating is - an experience that is beyond language. I will give it a go by attempting to describing many whys, whens, whats and how I've gained seeds from each that have grown in my life exponentially . . . and how that abundance could not have been predicted.

 

The first overnight retreats that I led or co-led were annual overnight girls kayak trips beginning in 2001, at age 32. I had most of the kayaks needed for these trips and needed to feel wild again as I embarked on a new chapter in life in Kansas. There were typically 5-20 women on these trips, new faces showing up by referral. The only rules were:

  1. No complaining

  2. Paddle your own boat and all your stuff (this is not a float)

  3. Take part in the evening talent show (unique expression opportunities to avoid binge drinking and gossiping).




What I gained from these overnight kayak "retreats" was a sense of belonging and freedom to be myself wherever I was. No matter how dirty, sunburned, talkative or quiet, fast or slow, stinky and lousy at a random "talent" I was, these women loved me. Moreover, this feeling of being enough transcended into a feeling of love for each of them and overwhelming gratitude for their unique and authentic selves.


And possibly the greatest high I experienced was the knowing that ANYTHING we wished to do, we could. My "sisters", a small circle that began in my small town who reached wider circles quickly. were strong in heart and mind.

 

A decade into the annual overnight kayak trips, and a couple of years into my directing of adventure races, an OB nurse friend of mine said to me, "Charmion, I think it would be healing if some rendition of this magic could be offered to other women."


My answer was a quick NO.

I simply didn't have the bandwidth to add this to everything else.

We walked a few more steps down the path.


Then, my heart changed my mind.

Yes. The answer to this seed you have offered is yes.


The first official overnight retreat that I led involving people paying to come was in 2010 - the Wild Outdoor Women/Charm School/W.O.W. It focused on learning technical mountain biking, trail running, rappelling and ascending cliffs with a rope, land navigation, and kayaking. But truly it was about women connecting to their own power, shared struggles and celebrating survival while glowing in freedom.


I led several of these women's retreats over the course of the next five years, with the addition of leading a yoga class each day after the first year. The rules were different:

  1. Upon arrival, answer 3 questions about your past, present and future that cannot cite animate things, jobs or family.

  2. Clean up after yourself.

  3. Be on time for your massage.



What I gained from these WOW Retreats was a deep sense of commonality among all women, early graying of my hair and a love for yoga.


The very first activity of each retreat was the answering of the question that stripped us all bare so that we could really SEE each other on the inside without bias of any other details, and inside of the essence of each individual was incredible common ground.


The gray hair came from teaching rock climbing, ascending and rappelling . . . not because any of these dozens of women were obstinate. The truth was quite contrary in that when women joined other women in ultimate vulnerability, challenge and potential danger . . . they couldn't be stopped. Each retreat, directly after finishing the ropes course, my close friends handed me a flask of liquor to celebrate the elation that no one died and I sent up a silent prayer of thanks.


The biggest surprise though, was that I started to understand the potentiality of yoga - how even though I new very little of this ancient science, we all found healing in these sacred morning rituals on our mats.

 

From 2014 to 2018, I led another type of annual retreat - dubbed, "Dirty Hands, Clean Hearts" - that involved travel to Guatemala for cultural immersion, fresh air, hard work, trust, compassion, courage, acceptance, vulnerability and creativity.


The seed that had planted these "retreats" in 2014 was an 8 year old Mayan girl who hugged me with tears in her eyes and asked (in Spanish), "will you return?".

To the question Petronila asked, I did not respond. My head already knew it was no.


I simply didn't have the bandwidth to add this to everything else.

The plane lifted off and I saw the mountain of Guatemala from above.


Then, my heart changed my mind.

Yes. The answer to this seed you have offered is yes.

I will return and bring help.


These "retreats" averaged about 12 people each year, many of them returning Dirty Hands and many that were not. Important "rules" were:

  1. Brink your own wet wipes and leave jewelry at home

  2. Activities are voluntary but once committed, there is no turning back


What I gained from these Dirty Hands "retreats" was in-explainable connection to all of humanity, untapped depths of understanding myself within this circle of life, the deepest knowing of what "Giving is Living" means and how ultimately that also requires surrendering of the outcome.


Each time I bare witness to mine and other's hearts being washed clean by the simplest acts of shared humanness was a testament to the unlimited nature of the heart when it is set free from artificial binds. I learned that beyond doubt that I, and each person with a heartbeat, can change the world in ways that they choose to effort and surrender into.

 

In 2017, I attended my first overnight retreat led entirely by someone else, the owner of one of my yoga studios in California. It was the "Live Your Truth" final retreat after 21 long days (broken up into 7 weekends) of intensive get our of your own way and do yoga work.


I had signed up for this training not to become a yoga teacher, but to more fully understand how to use yoga in my life as a resource in my tools for well-being.


This retreat stood between me and graduating with a certificate of completion. A sense of doom regarding this last effort had been building since overhearing a fellow student joking about the secret rules of the 4 day retreat that we would learn upon arrival:

  1. You are not allowed to leave the compound (church camp at Lake Tahoe).

  2. You will eat nothing but vegetable broth for meals.

  3. You are not authorized to use your phone for any reason.

  4. You will probably not be allowed to speak for days.

  5. You will probably have to meditate for days.

  6. You will bunk with 12 other women, share 1 bathroom and have no eye contact.

  7. There will be NO alcohol or drugs of any kind

I was a fan of rules that made sense, but this was beyond rationale thought. I scheduled additional massages, acupuncture and reiki to soothe the anxiety that was out of control. No amount of yogaing could quell the fear I had. Declining the retreat meant that my expenditure of $3500 would not result in a certificate - though I wasn't sure why I really needed that piece of paper.


To my surprise, upon arrival we were told we had free time and kayaks were available to use. My head did cartwheels of gratitude as optimism came in waves. However, after dinner, much contrary to my revised enthusiastic faith in potentiality, our teacher told us . . . "and now we begin". It was all the horrific rumors and more.


I asked myself, "will you stay?". My head was screaming RUN!

I simply didn't have the bandwidth to add this to everything else.


But my cohorts all complied, ready to face the hardest part of this journey.

Their hearts changed my mind.

Yes. The answer to this ripping off every aspect of myself that is not my soul is yes.



What I gained from this "Live your Truth" Retreat was the realization of TOTAL perspective. Some of the stuff I was obsessing about in life was actually not deserving of the level of fear I was placing on it, and that was liberating to a degree I had not yet experienced. The only pictures I took at that retreat were early on before the rules were implemented, but they capture some epic insights - that this was my first retreat/yoga training that involved men and all of my 45 fellow students knew about my imaginary belt buckle.


Witnessing men also go through this deep dive into internal work and process all levels of emotions so they could show up in life and relationships free from pre-conditioned unnecessary weight was something I desperately needed to know was possible. Their masculine vulnerability rippled the expanse of compassion that had been growing in me into a vast ocean.


The belt buckle was an observation one of my fellow students had made weeks before, commenting about my turn at lead teaching 50 people. "You were doing great and then you seemed to go somewhere else . . . and then you grabbed your waistband like it was a belt and seemed to become someone else". In her observation in that moment, I had made the connection to when I was much younger, maybe 10 years old, and faced off with wild horses. Back then, I was told to "get in there and show em whose boss". I needed protection, to protect myself, so I pulled up my pants held by a western belt, dried my tears and went in the ring - to be broken, again and again. And I did this in some form for the rest of my life, until that day I saw with TOTAL perspective that I had been abandoning myself for far too long.


After that final retreat, I not only felt safe in my own choices and actions, but also connected without barrier to a power much greater than my fears - the divine who had always been and would always be holding me.

 

In 2018, my brother offered a week long Ayurveda & Yoga Retreat in Antigua, Guatemala. About this time I had just opened a yoga studio, in addition to my full-time job. And I wasn't a huge fan of Antigua - it was too touristy for this tourist, if that makes any sense?


I was sort of set on no based upon my multitudes of reasons.

But I couldn't shake this feeling that this was meant for me in ways I couldn't rationalize,


I paid the registration and opened to what might grow of it.

Yes. The answer to this seed you have offered is yes.

My brother had some rules too:

  1. Don't hurt yourself, your yoga practice is more when it is less physical

  2. Eat the Ayurvedic meals because there is not an option

  3. Taking part in organized tourist activities is optional, but if you come, don't b**ch


What I gained from Antigua retreat was the opportunity to practice yoga led by an ER doctor who nearly died traumatically not long before, the joy of getting to know my brother's future husband, experiencing the most incredible Lenten celebration of my life, renewed love for Qigong, and new loves for Ayurveda and Pranayama. And most of all, I gained time to be still and discover greater depths within.


My brother offered Qigong elements in his yoga classes geared at overall harmony. I had missed these practices greatly since leaving California, so I renewed my curiosity and followed it down paths of deeper learning and internal healing.


And in my ample free time during this retreat, I voluntarily showed up for an evening 2 hour practice of Pranayam (breathing practices). I had just begun to truly embrace breathing practices while moving through poses in my vinyasa classes, but had no idea what we do with it in stillness. Pranayam is the regulation of life force (breath) through awareness, control and inward focus, and I learned that there is an unlimited capacity in it to explore. It has also led me into even further exploration and discovery.


Finally, each meal was prepared in such a manner that I had never experienced. The flavors, nutrients, colors and textures were like artistic masterpieces of simplicity for our specific constitutions for . . . get this, for disease prevention. What?! The continued learning and integration of Ayurveda since has led me to pretty wild understanding that somehow makes metabolism, clarity and energy from nutrition perfectly clear.

 

Fast forward to current retreating options led by me. I was beyond fortunate that friends trusted me enough to let me play with creating yoga retreats before experimenting on unknowing strangers. Some of the earliest retreats that I created involved diving deep into areas I understood in theory and personal practice, but not in offering to groups of diverse individuals with various layers of stuff to work through. It was exciting and scary.


I asked myself, "Do I trust myself to go further into the unknown?".

My head was silent. My gut said you have no choice, this is meant for you.


By now I knew that I had unlimited bandwidth to give action to that internal voice of faith.

Yes. The answer to trusting that this is part of my path is yes.


I was able to move through dark, hidden places to heightened awareness because of the willingness of these these first participants. By 2020 though, I had refined my offerings in a way that they could be more beneficial for many different people and led my first large overnight YOGA retreat, the Intentions Retreat.


When 24 people showed up on that first night and sat in a circle, I talked about the big rules:

  1. No harassment, judgement or other limitations to openness

  2. Yes to common ground among us - nothing I say or do is meant to express any preference on any religions, political or other values

  3. Take a break when you need it, your comfort is important

  4. Limit cell phone usage so you can be present

  5. Everything is voluntary so you always have a choice

  6. Clean up after yourself so we can all enjoy freedom from distractions

  7. Meals are planned for rejuvenation and energy, but snack if you need to

  8. There is a cash bar at dinner, but moderation or abstinence will heighten your overall experience at this retreat

  9. I am here and am ready to support you


At the Intentions Retreat I was asked to lead a Chakra Retreat. And the Chakra Retreat led to the Awake Retreat. The Awake Retreat led to the Sisterhood Retreat.


Each retreat offered seeds for my basket, not because what I was offering, but because of what I received from each person who attended.


Whether they know it or not, each person at each retreat has marked me inside like a permanent tattoo that becomes more vibrant with time - an inward eternal imprinting of goodness that shows up on EVERYTHING through the lens from which I view the world.


If I have learned anything in the last 20 years of retreating is that had I listened to what I thought were my limits, instead of my heart or my gut, it would have been challenging to witness the wild and abundant blooming that surrounds me now . Although I face many challenging physical conditions that are catching up to me from choices made differently along this path, I am in love with life and am in constant amazement of all that unfolds.


What each person may grow from retreating is never mine to assume.


I believe that each of us receives what we most need when we most need it and all we have to do is show up - not for more of the same, but for more of what expands the natural goodness and purpose that is within each one of us. I will show up as long as I can, not out of obligation or expectation, but out of something that defies language. All of the retreats I lead include threads from my own experiences (yes, even some of the early wild ones!) and from amazing teachers that have shown up when I also showed up.


The first retreat of this year is The Field Retreat, a few months later comes the Harvest Retreat, then the Sisterhood Retreat and finally the Embrace Retreat. If you can come to all of them, that's the fast track for sure! If you can only come to one, the one that begins the rest may be the most impactful (registration closes 4/1).





Sat Nam,

Charmion


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