Affirmation: I carefully choose my thoughts.
This year's 2013 Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended. It was our 9th retreat. You can gather more information about it from the web site, www.PinkRibbonYoga.org or you can find us on Facebook. The retreat provides women breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation. It is designed to be both nurturing and empowering. What happens over four days and three nights? Miracles happen.
This year 29 people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning and this year our intention for this year's retreat was "On Wings of Joy." We borrowed a thousand paper cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for everyone. She hand folded 5 paper cranes for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung. Along with Irene Talton, our gifted yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of each mobile.
We have a very specific format that the retreat follows. It's proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing environment for each individual and for the group as a whole. Over the years we've discovered that if we provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable speaking in our opening circle. This year we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing. We then left the mobiles hanging on the back of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle. I think only one person got the same word for both circles and that was me. It was "healing."
Healing is one of the miracles that take place during these four days. I know because I always come away feeling healed. I like to hope that it's a complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don't know that for sure. There certainly could be some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not. I do know, however, that I come away feeling rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered. I know too that all those positive emotions can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed. There is a difference and I know I am not alone. I know it because over the last nine years the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so. It is true.
The very first thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety. We encourage everyone to respect the confidentiality of any sharing that takes place. We ask that only one person speak at a time and that everyone else simply listen. We ask that each person use the word "I", not the third person "you" or "we." We let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only accepted but valued. Before the next person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are "complete."
We tell everyone that this is their time, all four days and three nights. We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that's what they should do. Of course, if they want to do yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in. One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment that permeates the event. For at least a short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in the outside world. With that, the women can simply be. There is no striving, no pretending. It's liberating. It's another modality that promotes healing.
One of our traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga. There's something very magical about floating on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends. One morning I was quite tired and I thought maybe I'd skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit just in case. The yoga ended and several ladies headed towards the water. I joined them. As I floated over and through the gentle waves, I couldn't imagine what I had been thinking that would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to join. Sometimes they involve big steps, like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and other times, they're small steps, like jumping into the ocean. Each time, however, I find myself wondering, "What was I thinking?"
Perhaps, if we paid close attention we'd discover that most of the time we're not very clear about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our best choice is. An example would be when we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but which is not good for us. How often have any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, "What was I thinking?" It would be wonderful to always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it's a practice, a life-long practice. We can only stay alert and be aware.
After the retreat is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, "What was I thinking?" What made me think it would become a reality? Did I believe that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many people? Where would the money come from so everyone could afford to attend? Where would we find a place to stay? Who would volunteer to be our teachers? How would we advertise? There were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality. "What was I thinking?" I was thinking this was a good idea and if I moved forward and it didn't happen, well at least I tried. It's better to try and fail than to never try at all but it didn't fail. It happened. It happened and it has provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had ever imagined. "What was I thinking?" I don't really know what I was thinking but I do know I'm really glad and actually very proud that I was thinking at all. I'm thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing, awesome experience. As of today it's been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still floating on the "wings of joy."