“Kyla, we don’t have any of those things on our paddle board here…” Suzanne patiently explained in her warm voice giggling to herself because I had asked her in one form or another like a bazillion times. We were somewhere along the Colorado River in Moab (Utah) on a four person paddle board with Kate and Laura—paddling for our lives sans snacks, cellphones, but with an incredible determination to find the other half of our group (ok full disclosure: we also wanted the snacks and cellphones they had with them on their inflatable raft). We had split up a mile or so back and they were no longer in sight.


I had another ulterior motive to paddle as hard as I could: I had a 4:30pm phone call with a prospective client for my upcoming retreat in San Diego. I shared with the other girls how my hubby would be stunned to see me now. Every time he and I would go kayaking or anything involving paddling together, he would joke that he got stuck paddling solo while I sat and sunbathed with my feet up.


We decided to take a rest and relieve ourselves on a small inlet. Laura and Suzanne decided to go up river to see if they could see the other girls and call out to them. Kate and I stayed behind to look after our paddle board.


I began spinning. With no idea what time it was, how much further of the six miles we had to go, and no phone to even let the prospective client know I was able to contact her, I was inconsolable.


“Do you want to do some positive affirmations?” Kate asked hesitantly. “I’ve never done them before…”

“Yessss please!” I closed my eyes, lay down on the paddle board, and breathed in the endless Utah sun and sky. It was like inhaling nature’s own magical drug.

“I’m ok right here in the present moment…” Kate began and I repeated positive affirmation after positive affirmation.


We decided to get going on our paddle board not knowing what else to do.

Then we heard voices echoing. Was it the other girls? But weren’t they upstream? It was coming from downstream? Who the heck was out here? We had only seen two other people the whole time we had been on the river…


As we got closer to the voices, we could hear Tia’s distinctive Aussie accent and Kelli’s Canadian one. It was them. They had somehow beat us down river. We would find out how later but for now, “What time is it?!” I called out trying to sound as calm as I could. Instinctively Tia yells back, “You’ve got 5 minutes!” We see both of them guiding us to land on a tiny strip on the side of the river.


“The keys are in the car, the car’s up there…go! You can make it!” Kelli guided me up like a sports coach. Suzanne had the brilliant idea to have me use her phone because my phone was back in the other car that was parked at the beginning of our river adventure.


Just 3 minutes tardy, I spoke to the prospective client. It was just as Kate had said, “You know, if she isn’t understanding of your situation, then maybe it’s a sign you may not want her at your retreat…” She was completely understanding and non-judgmental.


At a cowboy dinner before a moonlit cruise (along that very same river) blanketed by the brightest stars I’d seen in a long time, I told the girls the good news: “She is going to sign up for the retreat!” Amongst mostly baby boomers, there we were: 8 women (+our friend Stacey who was four months pregnant so we caught up with her in Park City) who had met on a retreat in the jungles of Costa Rica. On our second day on retreat in the pool, we planned to meet up five months later in Utah.


Amidst the jokes of the day’s events on the river, Cami and Melissa chime in at dinner, “They didn’t want us to paddle really so we just kinda hung out…” They hadn’t cared at all, instead enjoying the time they had had on the raft while Tia and Kelli had actually hitchhiked to Kelli’s car, drove to a point along the river and just yelled for us. We laughed out loud—laughs from the belly about our river adventure speculating who would play us in a movie. I mean, we had to turn our story into a movie. It was too good not to.


Just that morning, before the river adventure, Kelli had walked us through an activity around assumptions. We had to vulnerably share what we had assumed about each other. It was confronting, anxiety-inducing, and just when we thought we couldn’t we did. We brought our sisterhood to levels of depth you felt after knowing someone for decades not months.


During the exercise, we had cried, laughed, held space for and WITH each other and then repeated the same. We laughed and remarked how this was a group that didn’t judge nor compete. Kelli had looked and waited for us to judge her back in the jungles of Costa Rica during one of our writing workshops where she had shared a deeply inspiring and revealing true story. During the assumption activity that she led that morning, she had admitted another truth bomb: Back on retreat in Costa Rica, she had wanted to share her story and then never speak to us again. She had assumed that we would judge her. We never did nor will we ever.


Assumption after assumption, we realized how we had all been intimidated by each other, how we had assumed the other was more together, and how we had all struggled to overcome our own inner critics. Kate had cried sharing her story, and Kelli hugged her asking, “What can we do to help?”


We decided upon a poop emoji. It would be like an SOS of sorts. Once we saw this in our group chat room, we would write nice things about that person, a word of support and encouragement, or just simply respond with a heart emoji. Gosh, doesn’t everyone need a poop emoji SOS?


After our impromptu assumption session, we stood in a circle with our arms around each other. We shared what we were grateful for. As each person shared, the other girls put their foot on the speaker’s foot affectionately—a sign of support, affection, love, another kind of poop emoji if you will.


Over omelets at the Salt Lake City airport, Kelli mentioned again how much healing she had done just by being heard and not judged by us. “That’s what everyone deserves don’t you think? I mean imagine if every one at this airport, in the world had a supportive, non-judgmental space they could share? Like how different would the world be?” I asked rhetorically. We both nodded.

That afternoon we texted our final goodbyes in our group chat. We were greeted by a picture of Kate and her dog at a campsite not too far off from “our” river and a message that read: “I’m scared AF but super inspired by all of you.” I thought of what Cami had told me earlier on in the trip: “You know, I’m inspired by each one of you ladies. You each have a part of you that I aspire to be like.”



To the sound of a deer hide drum beat, I couldn’t help but channel my inner Peking Opera singer to the bewilderment and sheer amusement of the other girls. We had wanted to celebrate the new moon by releasing that which no longer served us and bringing in that which did. That’s the thing with this sisterhood: it didn’t matter what we shared, how we shared it, or where we were when we shared it. We truly accepted each other, celebrated each other, and supported each other. Ok and occasionally laughed at/with each other.

Thanks girls. You really know how to make a girl feel like anything is possible. Even Peking Opera and a 4:30pm call with no cellphone in sight.

I love you, sisters.


  • Kyla Mitsunaga

    Global Happiness Coach | ThetaHealing® Coach | Author of WITH vs AT: Two Prepositions That Changed My Life

    KYLA MITSUNAGA is a Global Happiness Coach/ThetaHealing® Coach/Speaker/Award-Winning Professor/Founder of WITH Warriors LLC. She realized her true calling and passion for helping others when she won her first teaching award at Harvard. She went on to teach at Yonsei University in Seoul for 7 years creating unique and innovative content for classes such as Career Development, Global Issues, Cross-Cultural Communication. She even created a course on Happiness for Freshman and won multiple teaching awards. In 2012, she was invited to be a [email protected] speaker. She recently trademarked her TED Talk title WITH vs AT and turned it into a book as well as a retreat. In 2017, she embarked on a healing journey working WITH her depression. She decided to take the year out to finish her book, start a pop-up cafe in her apartment (serving no-salt dishes and no-sugar desserts), become a certified life coach, become a certified happiness coach, and most recently a certified ThetaHealing® practitioner. She has now realized that in order to become happy, we must first heal from WITHin. She has delivered innovative and dynamic corporate workshops as well as practiced one-on-one coaching all over the globe. When not speaking or workshopping globally, you can find Kyla swimming, baking (without processed sugar), writing, finding the best eats in Korea, and mulling over women’s rights. Kyla has traveled to 49 countries, delivered workshops in 16, and calls 5 countries “home.”