Last week I went on a beautiful retreat, with beautiful women, in beautiful middle-of-freaking-nowhere. On our retreat we did yoga, wrote in our journals, meditated, laughed, cried, shot things, built big fires, and ate really good, really healthy food. (Picture Girls’ Camp on steroids with full-grown women from all over the country, who all want a little more zen in their life. Also one of which who has two kids and inexplicably knows every single word to “Ice Ice Baby.”) It was the best kind of reset, and so empowering. It was really out of character for me to sign up for something like that, and I totally freaked myself out beforehand about the idea of spending so much time with so many women I didn’t know from Adam. Real talk, I almost bailed approximately 2-27 times after registering. You know how it is. I’m not bendy enough at yoga, I’m not good at making new friends, I suck at meditating, it’s selfish to spend money on self-development – I’ll just pin something wise on Pinterest instead, the activities on the itinerary scare me, etc. etc.
But I showed up anyway. And it honestly changed my life.
One moment I want to write about today (there were so many moments I want to write about) is when we did our silent meditation to practice listening. At the risk of sounding like a total hippie, I think this is important to write down for my someday babies. And maybe someone else. Maybe no one else. But it is very important to me.
After some silent time at the house, we got in the car and drove (silently… :/) to a little valley of red dirt and green weeds and vivid yellow wildflowers.
My first thought out of the car was, “Holy CRAP, it’s cold!” Normally, I think I’d say that out loud and it would become my focus. Since I couldn’t verbalize it to change it, I just observed it, acknowledged it, and let it go. It was still super cold, but it went from being pain or discomfort to neutral fact, which was a very cool experience. MEDITATION AND FOCUS, guys. It matters!
Next, our meditation leader motioned for us to put journals in her backpack and follow her into the little valley. She came to a stopping place by a red rock face and motioned for us to take our shoes off, our socks off, and root our feet into the cold, red dirt to really be there and be grounded and present. We sang together a meditation for the heartbeat of the Creator as our only verbalization. “Aum, aum, aum!” (My favorite meditation!!! Ask me about it, I’ll gush about it, weird you out, and make you feel real sorry you asked). We reached towards the sky and did salutations toward heaven with intention and reverence.
Then our group leader told us to put our shoes back on and blindfold ourselves. Which, in a stormy valley I’ve never visited presented a rather daunting, somewhat fearful prospect. I knew we’d have guides nearby, but we wouldn’t be able to see them, and they’d only intervene in situations of certain danger. We were supposed to walk toward the sound of the drum in the distance and think of our intention. (We had been talking about intention the whole retreat – about how we wanted to feel and intentionally creating a life around that. Using our agency to proactively create our lives rather than just succumbing to the circumstances of our lives. Because that part isn’t always our choice, but how we feel can be, if we know our intention and work accordingly.) I started walking as soon as I had my blindfold steadied, but I heard no drum.
Uncertainly, I looked back where the group stood, shimmying my blindfold up and wanting to go back. But I knew the drum wasn’t that way. So I turned away, covered my eyes, and listened. I stood still, hands outstretched to greet the cold wind.
After a few silent moments, I heard a beat. At first, I didn’t trust that I was really hearing the drum. Then it came again, and again.
So I took another step into the dark, and then another, and then another. When I was uncertain of direction, I would stop and listen for the drum, recenter, sometimes changing direction, and walk on.
Unconsciously, rather than feeling out in front of myself for obstacles, I moved my hands to hold each other over my chest. I felt my own heart beat almost in time with the drum I was approaching. Then, because I have nieces, Moana came to my mind. (Because come on, if Moana isn’t about knowing who you are and want you are capable of, what is? I have watched it approximately 502 times between the nieces and I cry every dang time.)
“The call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me.”
I walked forward, trusting that call in my chest as much as the drum in the distance. I knew the way.
I could feel when the terrain sloped, or when my foot landed uncertainty on a loose rock, and I kept myself steady. When I was my most uncertain, I’d look down my nose at the crack of light beneath my blindfold, seeing just where my feet were, and a few inches ahead. And that was enough.
A few times, I caught among fallen trees, having to detangle myself before my hands could return to hold each other over my heart, and my ears could strain again for the drum. It became louder and louder until I felt a hand on my arm and heard a voice say, “You made it.”
I took off my blindfold and saw that the drum was the bucket where we’d been asked to write the words that described each other and our own intention/where we wanted to go in our life. I watched one of our leaders beat the drum and looked across the valley at the ladies trying to reach the drum. Some walked confidently. Some fumbled. Some were crawling, genuinely feeling around on their hands and knees. Others required the touch of someone nearby, someone no longer blindfolded, to guide them. But however slowly or quickly we moved, we were all moving toward that drum – who we are and what we want.
So our group leader could keep beating the drum for those out in the valley, she asked me to be the one to touch peoples’ arms and hands and say, “You made it.” It was the most humbling, beautiful feeling to touch them and see them drop their blindfolds and see just exactly where they were and how far they’d come. One by one, they made it. The wind blew harder and harder and the rain began to pour, but we all stood together in the storm.
One of my favorite women was the last to make it. Our group leader, who’d been walking next to her the majority of the way, let her finish the last bit up the hill and into the trees to the drum on her own. But when she made it, our group leader just held her. And she, with her blindfold still on, just collapsed crying into those familiar arms.
And standing shoulder to shoulder in the storm, we all did too. There was just so much divinity and symbolism in that journey to find the drumbeat – in the valley and in ourselves – that reminded me of our lives. And on that hill, in icy wind and pouring rain, I caught a glimpse of the gates of heaven. All of us, moving at our own pace, but progressing forward so long as we trust ourselves and listen for that divine drumbeat of direction and passion and intention. All of us standing shoulder to shoulder in the rising storm, all of us waiting and watching eagerly for our very last friend to make it, incomplete without them, strangers and siblings wholly interconnected, falling into each other with tears of relief when the last one of us was home.
We still stood in silence, holding eyes and weeping openly at the journeys we’d just taken, which while collective were so intensely individual that it was best we didn’t have to try to language them. We all understood each other. Staring silently into the eyes of these strangers, women from all walks of life, my heart swelled with love and gratitude and strength and connection. I felt I was truly seeing their light, my fellow warriors, and I could not get it together. It was absolutely sacred.
“The call isn’t out there at all, it’s inside me.” At different points in my life and again lately, I’ve started walking without hearing anything in the distance, unsure of direction or intention, cynical, afraid, unwilling to trust that I knew myself or my Heavenly Father as I walked a difficult path. Many times I’ve wanted to turn back, like at the beginning of this walk, to what’s familiar, to what I know, though it isn’t the way forward. Sometimes we need to stop, get grounded, get our bearings, and hear our heart again, in order to trust it to guide us on any terrain, in any storm.
There’s a saying my yoga teacher likes to share sometimes: “I live my life in widening circles.” It’s a whole poem, but that line in particular reminds me that life experience, the drumbeat, the call, it’s circuitous. There are times we are close to the drum, hearing our hearts, standing shoulder to shoulder, connected and cheering for others to heed its call. There are times we stumble forward blindly, feeling utterly lost and alone, unaware of those guides nearby, hoping despite all the doubt piling in our chest that that distant sound in the wind is any kind of drumbeat at all. Sometimes we will be at the top of the circle, connected and on top of the world, and inevitably, we will dip down again. But so long as we continue forward, stopping to recenter, remembering to listen to ourselves and to the Divine, we will never be down in the same way, in the same place, again.
We will continue in widening circles, with increasing knowledge, with a refined ability to pick out the call in our chest and in the distance in the divine. We will have increased resiliency to continue onward. And when we need it most, we will be given just a sliver of light, just a few visible steps forward, like the inch of ground visible beneath my blindfold, and it will be enough. We can walk on, certain there are guides around to keep us safe, certain of what we want and what we’re moving toward, and unequivocally certain of the sweet reunion and familiar arms awaiting us in that best and final circle.