At the beginning of October, I departed Massachusetts for a quiet town in Maine, just south of Bangor, for a yoga retreat. With a number of different things going on in my life, I felt that it would be a good opportunity to gain new perspective on where I am and where I’m going.
I drove up the coast and felt good as I pulled into the driveway of a quaint old farmhouse. The drive was beautiful and the foliage was vibrant. The farmhouse, though simple and rustic from the outside, had been remodeled to accommodate guests ready for yoga and mediation. As soon as I had arrived, it felt familiar and I was comfortable.
We had an introduction to the weekend. Cell phones were to be turned off, yoga and meditation were to be practiced, and words were not to be spoken. Yes, it was a silent retreat. At first, I thought I’d have no problem with it and I didn’t for a while. The night of arrival went well and the majority of the next day was quite pleasant.
There were ample walking trails to meander and walking them brought me into a damp, leaf filled wood that reminded me of plenty of other forests that had soothed me before. It felt so nice to be in that quiet by myself and be so present in every moment.
As the day wore on into evening, I got the bug to write so I did. (What else was there to do?) I scribbled out pages upon pages, seemingly emptying all of the thoughts I’d ever had. I wrote, smiled, felt glad to be writing so much, and kept writing. It turned into a writing exercise and I challenged myself to describe the kitchen in detail. I wrote about feeling like this flow of words was rare and how I needed to savor it. As I savored, words kept coming. The writing seemed endless. It could go on for days if I kept this pace! I could write a book!
And then it stopped. The words went silent. My pen stopped moving. As soon as the writing stopped, so did my joy. I didn’t know it then but my peace was breaking away from me and unrest was fast approaching. I put my pen and journal away as it was nearing the 9:30pm lights out and found my way up the unevenly crafted but sturdy old staircase toward the room I shared with two others. I tucked myself in and the lights were out. I didn’t have the trees, or wind, or notebook to help guide me anymore. It was just me.
I began feeling uneasy that night as I stared into the pitch black room. I know I was looking at the ceiling but I couldn’t see anything. I drifted in and out of sleep and in and out of nightmares. All of those nightmares centered around myself in my high school years when I was angry at the world for everything but couldn’t pinpoint a single bit of where that anger came from. I had visions of people I hadn’t talked to or thought about in many years, some even more than a decade. None of it was good. It felt horrible as I checked my watch every few hours to see if it was over yet. Is it morning? Can I get up? It wasn’t, and I didn’t.
I waited and finally the bell to wake everyone up at 7:30am sounded. I was finally able to get up and out of my head–except I couldn’t. I was still stuck there because I had no where to turn. The day that lay ahead of me was filled with more time in my head meditating, doing yoga, and staring out at the landscape as I tread through the paths of the grounds.
After breakfast, I’d resolved to break a rule. I was going to use my phone. I had to. I had to feel connected to something. It wasn’t the phone itself but who the phone could lead to. People I love are on the other side of that phone and naturally, when upset and scared, I retreat to my safe place: my husband. Only, it was 8:30am on a Sunday and there was no way he was awake. I felt even more alone.
I laid on my bed trying to write something but nothing came. I kept telling myself that I should stay and stick it out because I committed to doing this retreat (except I’d committed before I knew how terrible my brain can be to me.) That was challenged with how I thought my husband would advise me. I kept hearing him say “If you don’t like it, just come home.” He was asleep and I didn’t want to wake him but I know it’s what he would have said.
I toiled over this decision for a good hour before resolving that I would leave.
I packed all of my things, which wasn’t much, and toted my bags downstairs. I told a fellow participant I had to leave “for family reasons” and exited.
Walking to the car, I felt some guilt packaged with the wonderful sense of freedom. I’d let myself down for not staying and enjoying myself but I’d done myself a great justice by realizing when I’d hit my limit and leaving.
I drove and every mile that I traveled further away from the retreat and closer to home, I could breath more deeply and feel more comfortable. That day, as I pulled into the parking lot behind our apartment building, I was so grateful to be home.
Over the next few weeks, I recovered from traveling that deep within my thoughts. I’ve recovered and realized that as much as I did feel pain from all of those thoughts and nightmares, it helped me. There was some positive in it.
Since the time of anger in my high school years, I’ve always felt anger towards that time. The emotions that I felt then are the only bits that I could recall from that time so I ended up hating that time and those people. In reality, I was lost and scared and felt like the weirdest person on Earth because no one I knew was like me. No one I knew felt this way (or at least I didn’t know it if they did). I was angry because I felt alone.
Something happened on the retreat that allowed me to feel the uncomfortable emotions from high school and set them free. It was the exact same set of emotions that I had in high school and I didn’t even know it. I was at a retreat with some people who were probably really cool but there was a rule: silence. I couldn’t speak to them nor them to me and it felt so utterly lonely. Again, I became angry and upset because I felt alone.
The scale is much smaller (two days versus four years) but eventually, feeling the same emotions can help release some old but similar ones. I’m thankful for the retreat because it allowed that bit of unexpected healing. Those feelings have broken free–like I’ve managed to acknowledge and validate them and that’s all they needed to leave me.
But I’m not sure I’ll be going on another retreat anytime soon.