Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Miraculous Happenings

Affirmation: My life is Joy filled, Miracles occur, Love surrounds me and permeates every aspect of my existence.

We all know that in the classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice jumps down a rabbit hole into a whole other unknown, full of adventure, self-examining world.  Sometimes we are pushed down that hole and sometimes we choose to jump but either way, we get to decide what we'll learn and what we'll take away from our experiences.

After being treated for breast cancer in 1999, I was left feeling very unsure of what I should be doing for myself.  During the intense treatment, which for me lasted almost a year, I was well cared for and in constant contact with my doctors and other caregivers.  Then the day came when I was "released." I had had my last radiation treatment.  We, the family and I, actually threw an "end of radiation celebration." Sure, I was scheduled for follow up mammograms and yearly checkups but other than that I was on my own.  Yes, in many ways we are always "on our own" as we go through cancer but for me, being released, while a reason for celebration, was also very scary.  I began looking for those things that might help me feel supported, educated and uplifted.

As a long time yoga practitioner, I turned to the yoga world to see what might be out there.  It was in 2000 that I made my first trip to Kripalu Yoga Center in The Berkshires of Massachusetts.  It was there that I had the thought about creating a yoga retreat for breast cancer survivors.  I envisioned several days at the beach, yogaing, resting, swimming, talking, and breathing!  In 2005 the first Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat for women breast cancer survivors became a reality.   My jump down the rabbit hole had taken me to one of the most amazing, fulfilling adventures of my life.

As of this writing here in 2012, a few hundred women have experienced all the things I envisioned and so much more than I ever imagined.  This retreat has been Spirit Driven and Divinely Blessed since its inception.  Have you ever been involved in something like this, something that takes on a life of its own, something that comes together and blossoms with a miraculous aura?

I have never approached an individual or an organization that has not generously agreed to help us in whatever way they could.  The first person to say yes was Rhonda Bailey, a yoga instructor and friend.  She set the standard for everyone else.  After that, with the support of The Duke Cancer Patient Support program, we were ready to go.  Our teachers generously volunteer their time and talent.  Our friends and family come forward every year to help defray the costs and to provide scholarships for those who are unable to pay. One woman took it upon herself to buy cushy beach towels for everyone.  We had homemade biscotti and pound cake.  A local ice-cream shop donated sundaes for everyone and one of our committee members made the supreme effort to go taste several of the flavors beforehand.  Every year we raise enough money with the efforts of my husband, Sandy, to help pay for anyone who wants to come on scholarship.  It’s phenomenal how it all comes together and it’s obvious to all of us there that the success of this event is beyond anything most of us have ever experienced.  It has to have the hand of God in it.

Who comes to a retreat like this?  Well, obviously, women who have experienced breast cancer.  (Although we have many people who want to come but don’t want to qualify to come.) But, really what type of individual attends an event like this?  I am here to tell you, they are amazing individuals.  They come from all over the country.  Most of the women have heard something about what goes on but it really is an unknown entity.  Many have never practiced yoga; many come without knowing anyone else.  Some are in the middle of treatment others have been out of treatment for years.  They don’t know what the accommodations are like, who their roommate may be or what the food is like but they come anyway.  They are the type of person who isn’t afraid to jump down the rabbit hole.  They are amazing, brave, adventurous human beings and when we gather we get to share the adventure.
The focus of the retreat, believe it or not, is not breast cancer.  Yes, we all have that in common and yes, the subject comes up and people share experiences and more often than not, they share what worked for them.  The focus of the retreat is living life to the fullest.  Each year, as in most yoga practices, we take an intention.  The first year the intention was that “it was a joyful experience for Everyone involved.”  One year we focused on an “Open Heart.”  We also took the intention to “Stay in the Moment.”  In 2008, our intention was to “Marvel in the Mystery.”

The retreat provides multiple healing modalities.  Besides yoga, which in itself is multi-dimensional; there’s the ocean, art-therapy, massage therapy, silent walks and Yoga Dance.  Some people relate to some and not to other modalities.  Other people need a little bit of all of them but either way they all lead to an increased sense of well-being and support. 
We begin and end the retreat with a Sharing Circle.  I’m sure there are many such rituals involved with other gatherings but I was introduced to this ritual at Kripalu.  There are many guidelines.  The first, of course, is confidentiality.  We go on to talk about using the “I” word, not the community “we.”  Only one person is allowed to speak at a time and it’s highly recommended that everyone actively listen and not plan what they might want to say.  In between each speaker we take a collective in breath and sigh it out.  We imagine clearing the psychic white board in the middle of the circle.  There are other suggestions but these are the main ones.  What happens during the circles? What happens during the four days?  Miracles occur.

Miracles, you say?  What is miraculous about ice-cream and beach towels and homemade goodies?  Well, for one thing they simply appear, like the manna in the dessert.  We never ask for these treasures.  But, what is really miraculous is what happens to the mind, body and spirit of each of the ladies and our one man (He’s the breast cancer counselor for the DCPSP.)  by the end of the four days.  A light comes on in each person.  There has been healing; there’s been a renewed sense of hope.  The women have found camaraderie and acceptance.  We have laughed, cried, played, swam, created, danced and done yoga.  We have found power, the power in each of us and as a group.  The event is laced with miracles especially the overwhelming feeling of love that permeates each person including me, as the retreat comes to a close.
If you’re interested in attending, you can look us up on PinkRibbonYoga.org.

1 comment:

  1. Jean, What an awesome post! Thank you so much for capturing the magic. I'm going to suggest my husband read it, so he can understand more about our time. Thank you for not only having a fantastic idea, but also acting on it and seeing it to fruition and sticking with it all these years. It is such a blessing to so many...