A common “overwhelm” for me is the sense that I am getting too much advice from the physical and virtual world I live in. I am drowning in “shoulds.” How I should look. How I should behave. How I should decorate my home. How I should exercise. What I should eat. And on, and on, and on. The risk in my listening – in my believing – is that I lose myself. I lose confidence in my decision-making. I lose compassion and acceptance of my aging face and body. I lose the joy of being my authentic self.
I feel it as a disconnection from my core. I find myself critically unsure of who I am. And a cruel judge of myself and others. With this disquiet simmering, I made my way to a yoga retreat themed to rebalance the mind, body and spirit. I was promised a cabin in the woods, a shared washroom in the main lodge, vegan meals, plus yoga classes and lectures.
As a serial retreater, I have been to a variety of centres, in various geographies. It has been my experience that the more luxurious venues tend to be less determined in their commitment to facilitating deep inner growth. It’s ok to be there for a good night’s sleep, delicious food and a two-hour facial. The more ascetic environments guarantee a singleness of purpose in self-discovery. And the sparse resources and facilities are conducive to reflection, solitude and curiosity.
Last Friday, as I bumped down the rutted, muddy lane, dark grey clouds overhead threatened rain, and bare trees and swamp brush lounged in a haphazard manner on either side of the road. I drove hesitantly, searching for a sign that I was at my intended destination. Ever distrustful of Google, I wanted a calligraphy sign of welcome, guest reception, plus a map of the grounds. Instead, I spied tiny red tin-roofed cabins dotting the edge of the forest, in a large semi-circle around a flattened field of dead grass and desperate milkweed. On my left was an odd-shaped red-brown stucco building: rounded on one side, with a sharply sloping roof. Extending at irregular angles from the flat side of this structure were two rectangles with peaked roofs. The round-about was delineated by a border of stones and small rocks barely visible above the surface of the puddles. Instead of turning around, which was my first reaction, I chose to believe this meant challenging work lay ahead.
The Friday evening restorative yoga class was the premier in a series of sessions that soothed my untethered self. Lying on my mat in the candlelit room, with a bolster supporting my knees and a thick blanket creating a cocoon, I closed my eyes and the nine other souls were. We were asked why we had come for the weekend. “To rest and restore my energy, to learn how to create balance and space in my day, to nurture my body, to have time and space on my own.” I wanted all of that. And I needed to find compassion and self-acceptance. Who I am, how I am, why I am. That’s what I uttered aloud to the group.
In the session on Saturday, while discussing Ayurvedic energy, I was reminded that we are not random pieces of matter thrown together to form a human. There is a pattern to our physical characteristics, our energy, our proclivities. The questions to determine our Dosha, a Sanskrit word that categorizes our physical, mental and emotional characteristics, covered everything from our skin, hair, and body shape to the details of our poop.
I learned that we all have energy fields within. And most of us have a dominant one that governs how we tend to show up and respond to the world around us. Hungering for deeper self-awareness with a curiosity about mind, body and spiritual connections, I was open to the holistic study. And not surprised by the revelation that my Dosha is Pitta. Centred in the element of fire, my energy patterns govern my metabolism and digestion. At my best, I am a teacher: energetic, sharp-witted and a good decision-maker. When stressed, I am irritable, short-tempered, intense and physically unwell. PItta people require moderation to balance the heat.
With hindsight and reflection, it is clear to me that the weekend delivered what was promised. An exploration and experience of rebalancing body, mind and spirit. We were encouraged to curate our environment. To orchestrate changes to our space to make it relaxing and nurturing. To honour ourselves, not our influencers. To master the art of mono-tasking, rather than multi-tasking. To censure our critical thoughts, rather than marinate in them. To cultivate the strength and vibrancy that lives within us. And divinely download the rest.
As I inched out of the driveway, in the sideways Sunday afternoon rain, I caught a glimpse of my tiny cabin, perched at the edge of a newly formed swamp. I smiled at its desperate clinging and understood its musty smell. It was unbalanced.
At least, that is my experience.