If someone had told me that I would spend a weekend chanting and feeling other women’s breasts in the middle of a forest, I would probably have opted out on the retreat.
Luckily for me, however, I went blindly into the weekend and came out with a whole new perspective.
Returning to Barcelona after a week of spiritual and physical connections at Burning Man was difficult for me. Here in the city people stare at you at all the time, but rarely do they share a look with you, straight in the eyes, with purpose or curiosity. People just stare/glare at you on the metro, in the street, in the cafes. And rarely do they smile when you catch their eyes. It’s really disheartening. It feels very cold.
Barcelona feels at times very disconnected. People feel really disconnected. This whole past month, in post-Burning Man fashion, I have been longing to connect with people, with nature, and with myself. So when someone forwarded me information about a weekend-long women’s retreat in the countryside, I signed up before thoroughly reading what the weekend was to entail. A few days prior to the retreat, I received information from the organizer where she mentioned various items we needed to bring along: a ball of yarn of a color best representing me, beaded jewelry, a long flowy skirt, and a pillow case, amongst other things.
A sudden panic set in. I’m heading out to the wilderness with a bunch of hippies. We’re probably going to get naked, chant and dance in a circle. Oh geez. I read through the retreat information again and also noticed that there was a strong emphasis on mothers. I am interested in midwifery and working with mothers, but I am not a mother.
I called the organizer at almost midnight the night before the retreat and asked her quite frankly, “Did I make a mistake by signing up for this? I’m not sure this is for me.” I explained to her why I signed up (my need for connection with people, nature and myself) and she said yes, of course this retreat was for me. Just come. And don’t worry.
I packed my suitcase. Oddly almost everything I brought, including my ball of yarn, was purple. Like my bedroom wall and the scent of lavender, it is the color that relaxes me and makes me feel positive and sensual. And that’s how I felt all weekend.
We arrived to the old rural house in the Empordà and immediately I felt out of place. First of all, I was the only non-European there. Of the 40 or so women that attended, I was one of the youngest and definitely the poorest in Spanish language skills. Since I arrived with the preconceived idea of a hippie retreat, I also felt very ‘straight’ in the presence of such powerful, spiritual and eccentric women, adorned in their flowy clothes and braided hair. I felt like I was being judged just as much as I was judging.
Everything changed, quickly, once it was time to set up our circle space, this cold stone room where the 40 of us would open up and share with one another for the weekend. We cleaned the space, put down wool blankets on the floor and hung colorful material from the ceiling and walls. A group of women walked into the forest and returned with bundles of flowers, lavender plants and herbs to string around the place. In a matter of 2 hours, the room was warm and comfortable, incredibly inviting. And it was created by us together. As such, the connection began.
I had heard of women’s circles before but I didn’t totally grasp the idea. Common sense told me that we’d sit in a circle and talk, but it was much more than that. Drawing on the wisdom of ancient cultures in an atmosphere of love and support, women’s circles are a safe environment for nourishing honest and deep communication. The women’s circles also provide an opportunity to take note of new beginnings and journeys within our lives. Though the organizers had various prompts and activities planned, often times the circle just led itself. Apart from speaking, we also did various movement and interactive activities.
I was in the presence of such incredible and diverse women, all of whom shared their dreams and their nightmares. I watched, and participated, as 39 women joined forces to aid one woman through a difficult or beautiful revelation. I listened as women told secrets they had never shared before because there was so much trust and understanding hovering in the room. I shared my own experiences with them as well. We laughed and we cried. And we practiced yoga with the sunrise.
Saturday night was our party. We were told to dress like diosas and the organizer arranged for a DJ to come set the mood for our moves! And dance we did, most of the women topless, amidst a wild thunder and lightning storm raging outside. Oddly enough a few friends of mine from Barcelona showed up unexpectedly for what they were told would be a “witch party” in the forest. Ha! Upon seeing them, my initial reaction was one of shock and slight disappointment, since it was suppose to be a women’s spiritual weekend with strangers. Now there were men AND friends of mine? Soon enough I remembered that nothing in my world is ever a coincidence. Everything always happens for reasons. What could have been a big jolt in my women’s weekend in the end was a beautiful and unexpected surprise. The little bit of male energy presence was gratefully welcomed and, if anything, it only reinforced my new strengthened sense of femininity, which as it turns out is very fun to share 😉
Speaking of breasts, yes, we did massage each others’ boobies. After dedicating a good half hour to our own breasts with a homemade oil, someone suggested that we massage each other. A red flag went up for me and I almost jumped out of that circle immediately. But I did not. Because quite frankly, for me there was nothing sexual about it whatsoever. These were mothers and grandmothers. It was a powerful moment for me because I was paired up with an older woman who only had one breast, due to breast cancer. Earlier that day she told the group that she had no sensation in her removed breast for many years and only recently had she developed some feeling in it again. So imagine both of our delight as I massaged an area that once caused her so much pain and that she was only now starting to appreciate again. She almost purred and it felt so nice to bring joy to this woman in such a simple way. There were quite a lot of giggles and little jokes amongst the women. I don’t think this is something any of us had really done before and we were all clearly aware that it was half-amazing and half-strange. But I have to say, I have a whole new respect for my breasts now.
The focus of the weekend was about accompaniment. How to accompany someone else, and how to be accompanied. As the retreat was organized by women that aid other women through pregnancies and birth, this made sense. We did some interesting exercises. I always thought I was much better at receiving, but I learned this weekend that perhaps I’m actually more of a giver in certain situations. There were some extremely uncomfortable moments when I had to be passive and let someone give to me. I wanted to have control. As my partners in the exercises approached me, I felt a huge wall and would go rigid. And they could sense it and tried to respect my space. It was strange. I’ve always considered myself fairly open, but as I’ve been told by various strangers during my travels and by plenty of men, I am actually quite guarded. This weekend really helped me see that and, more importantly, taught me how to let down my guard and feel comfortable with someone crossing over my protective border.
At the close of the last day we performed a healing ceremony for a woman who has breast cancer. It was one of the most moving experiences of my life. The woman, a mother of two gorgeous children, sat in the middle of our circle with her shirt off. Two women sat with her, holding her hand, while the rest of us passed around a bottle of oil and ‘blessed’ it each in her own way. All the while repeating some sort of healing chant. It lasted a good twenty minutes. And I started to cry. And then I started to bawl. Whatever I had kept in during the whole weekend just started to flow out and I couldn’t stop! The women sitting on each side of just held my hand and let me cry. And it felt wonderful.
I am so glad that my own prejudices and preconceptions did not impede me from attending this retreat. I learned so much from these women, and about myself through their eyes, words and contact. This weekend has reinforced that I do want to work with women and mothers, and I do want to help people heal. It feels amazing to know I’m moving towards the right path and I am glowing from the inside out.