There is a saying that, ”Healing is not linear” and I have always believed the truth in this. There is no straight and narrow path to getting better; however, it seems like this statement needs a slight amendment. “Healing is not linear and it doesn’t always feel good.”
This past weekend, I was fortunate enough to take my second Yoga in the Wild retreat with VentureWell Yoga; and while the trip started off in much the same way as the one prior, with hiking, yoga, camaraderie and adventure, there was a distinct point at which the trip turned from a physical journey into an emotional one for me.
It was Saturday afternoon and we were scheduled for a one hour sun salutation practice before heading to a sunset meditation. I unrolled my mat and prepared for the standard sequence of breath and movement that would inevitably leave me in a post practice bliss most notably arrived at during Savasana. That moment of bliss never came. As we warmed up our bodies and began the repetition of mountain poses, forward folds, planks, chaturangas, and downward dogs; I began to lose myself in my breath and my movement. After years of practice, I have become accustomed to matching breath with movement and clearing my mind of residual chatter as I do so, but never before have I been so wholly consumed by the steady inhalation and exhalation of my lungs. It was as if I completely detached from everything and for those few moments simply became the movement and the breath itself. I did not have to think about the cues, I didn’t worry about the bodies around me, and I stopped being aware of the distraction of light and sound and temperature. I adjusted my form without thought, I modified without question or ego, and I moved completely in the present moment.
As the practice wound down and I snapped back into the reality of the world around me, I was overwhelmed. Every sound felt foreign, every sensation was uncomfortable, and during Savasana, I began to feel the tears well up inside me as my brain kept repeating the phrase, “You don’t belong anywhere”. It took everything I had to roll up my mat at the end of the class and retreat to my tent before bursting into silent tears. My anxiety kicked in as I tried to pull myself together in time to put on a good face and partake in the next activity. But, the more I pulled on my hiking shoes and packed my day pack, the harder it became; so instead I decided to stop and do something completely out of character for me, I decided to stay at camp.
After everyone had left, I cooked a quick dinner and retreated once again to my tent to process what the hell just happened; and as much I would love to say that I sat in silent mediation for a few hours and was suddenly drawn into understanding and peace, nothing even remotely close to that happened. Mostly, I cried and sat in confusion. Why did I suddenly feel completely disconnected from everything? Why did simple conversations feel excruciating? Why did the wonder of the natural beauty around me suddenly seem veiled and foggy? I wrote in my journal that I felt much like a visitor to a foreign land, unable to speak the language, unsure of local customs, and so utterly confused and overwhelmed by my surroundings; and try as I might, there was simply no making sense of it at any point that evening.
The following morning, I woke up three minutes before my alarm was set to go off and decided to try participating in the sunrise yoga class. Sunrises have always held a particularly special place of healing in my heart, and I figured if anything could help reconnect me to the universe, a sunrise could do it; but as if part of some continued cosmic challenge, the fog had rolled in and the sunrise was completely obstructed. So, rather than participate in another asana practice, I choose instead to spend some time alone again, wandering the cliffs and listening to the morning silence. As my stomach began to rumble and I realized that my physical body was demanding some attention as well, I started the trek back to camp. My head was swirling with the frustration of feeling as if someone had come along and clipped the wires that held me plugged into the universe. I was completely disconnected, and I couldn’t see how I was supposed to “plug back in”.
I decided to try grounding. It had always been a source of energy and strength in the past, so why not now? Off came the shoes and I proceeded to walk the second half of the trail back to camp barefoot, naked feet against the earth. Grounding did work, for a time. I was able to enjoy breakfast and some lovely conversations throughout the early part of the day, but as the hours passed, I slipped back into disconnect. By the time we boarded the boat for the return trip home, I felt as if I wanted to hide away in the most secluded dark corner of the world, alone and silent, because I truly didn’t belong anywhere.
It has now been several days since that fateful yoga class and in that time, I spent a lot of time railing against the frustration of feeling lonely and disconnected. But, once I was home in a familiar space, I began slowly to surrender to these difficult emotions. I wandered my backyard allowing the heaviness to hang over me without fighting it or sinking into it. I simply acknowledged the feeling and just sat quietly with it, observing. It is not an easy thing to do, to sit with difficulty without judgement and without trying to “fix” it; but it worked.
The more I sat with it, the more I began to actually piece together what it was that my spirit was trying to tell me. In the months leading up to this retreat, I had been navigating some intense work with my goals, my work, my purpose, and my place in the world. I had also be delving into work and education around social justice issues and broadening my awareness of world issues. I had taken on so much information that I had lost a vital connection to who I am at my most base level; the “me” that is. During that particular yoga class, I had suddenly reconnected to that core essence of who I am, completely and fully. I embodied myself as I am without judgement or outer influence; and the power of it scared the ever living shit out of me…so much so, that I spent the next three days trying to deny that I had just experienced what I had experienced. I spent three days vehemently denying that my connection to the universe and the world around me comes from within me (and the enormous power and potential within me). In denial, I repetitively attempted to find the source of connection outside myself. I kept trying to “plug back in” to the universe, when the outlet itself was inside me all along. I kept repeating the damaging phrase, “I don’t belong anywhere” without realizing it was because I “belong everywhere and to everything”.
I suppose this is what I mean when I say that “Healing is not linear, and doesn’t always feel good.” The healing I did on this retreat was absolutely and undeniably needed (likely long before it actually happened), however, the road through it was uncomfortable and at times painful. The ups and downs as I navigated the winding journey were all a part of a meaningful process, but it really didn’t make them any more pleasant.
As I sit here writing this, I feel reconnected again. It wasn’t through sunsets, or bare feet, or even lengthy conversation; but rather through a long and uncomfortable silent refocusing that took place entirely within me. I was the teacher, the student, and the observer; and while this is no means the end of my healing journey, it is certainly a notable moment of clarity along the path.
I also have to take this final moment to extend my gratitude to Jessy, Erin, and Jen of VentureWell Yoga for creating spaces like this for adventure, healing, and exploration. You three are beautiful and empowering examples of love, light and soul work.