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Archive for the ‘Lessons Learned’ Category

Last night I had a moment. These moments happen from time to time, usually every few months when the buildup of the world’s news stacks on my heart and brain until I just cannot withstand it anymore. I don’t really know what true depression feels like, but in these moments I can taste what I assume it could feel like. Helplessness. And then I feel rage, true rage with the blood boiling and all. And then sadness that we live in a world so full of hatred, and killings, and racism, and selfishness. I lose faith in mankind, which is out of character for me. Part of me wants to completely stop watching / listening to the news or even looking at people’s comments about such on Facebook. I’m sure it would make me feel better. But then, if I’m not paying attention, if I am not participating, then am I turning my back to people who are suffering and if I were in their place would I want the world to turn their back on me? Or ignoring movements and decisions and votes that could potential directly affect me too? When in doubt, cry.

Yes, it was that kind of moment. They happen about twice a year. The kind that calls for chocolate caramel fudge ice cream and an episode of The Cosmos to put things into perspective again.

So I found it very interesting that at yoga tonight, my teacher opened the class talking about this great storm that is blowing our way (San Francisco schools are actually closing tomorrow, yep California). She then spoke about how the world and all the catastrophes (human, environmental, etc) are like the big storm. It’s overwhelming and powerful and we just have to ride it and respect it. Then she read this quote:

“PEACE. It does not mean to be in a place where there is no noise, trouble, or hard work. It means to be in the midst of all of those things and still be calm in your heart.”

She alluded again to the storm, and reminded us that in the middle of every storm is an eye. If we, as individuals, can find inner peace inside of that eye, inside of our storm, inside of our crazy Earthly horrors, then we are making progress. It doesn’t mean turning a blind eye. It just means that inner peace is the true struggle, and perhaps if more people in the world fought for that sort of peace, their own peace, maybe some of the fighting and seriously ugly side of human nature could stop.

So that is what I am going to try. To find the eye somewhere in this uncontrollable storm, and find calmness in my heart there. Hopefully that will somehow in the bigger scope of things and our cosmos, make a difference. At the very least, I think it will help me stay away from the ice cream aisle.

eye_of_storm

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snippetScribbled in various old journals of mine are the words I am Fortune’s fool. Not original, I admit, but my journals have the tendency to be melodramatic and what could be more melodramatic than a reference to Romeo’s romantic anguish? I have felt like a fool repeatedly in love, and until now, was not particularly happy about it. But I have experienced a synchronistic turn of events now having me think otherwise.

When I got my wisdom teeth pulled this summer, my wonderfully creative friend gifted me her newly printed zine called Snippet and a little black notebook to keep me entertained during the recovery. The theme of this first issue was “Journey”. A few pages into the zine I encountered a photocopy of the tarot card of The Fool, which I had never seen before. I was then prompted to locate and analyze the various symbols on the card and how that all relates to journeys.

tarot_foolThere is clearly the man walking towards a steep cliff, with his head held high and eyes closed, just one step away from falling off the edge. His posture shows no sign of fear or concern, and he does not pay attention to the dog next to him apparently trying to warn him of the potential danger ahead. The Fool carries a white rose in one hand, which I perceived as beauty and innocence, a ruck sack as he is clearly on an adventure, and the sun shines down on him from behind, illuminating his journey. It’s a bright, sunny day despite the looming threat of danger unknown to him.

I have since looked up the symbolism of this card, and it is more or less on par with this interpretation. But what I learned was that The Fool is an unnumbered card, or sometimes represented as a 0, either at the beginning of the Major Arcana or at the end. The number 0 being of unlimited potential. Anything could happen for the Fool, but only something can happen if he takes a step. He creates his own destiny. The Fool represents new beginnings and invites us to take a leap of faith and to trust in the Universe. He encourages us to believe in ourself and follow our heart, no matter how crazy or ‘foolish’ the impulse may seem.

All my life I thought being a fool was a bad thing. But now I was beginning to like The Fool.

At the moment of reading this zine, I was having a strong impulse pushing me towards San Francisco for both professional and personal reasons. I wrote in my journal mostly about how I wanted to be like The Fool on this new journey, this big move to San Francisco and everything it involved. I chose to trust in the Universe and focus on the beauty at hand.

I arrived and instantly headed out to the Burning Man festival, all full of excitement about my new life. There was a pending matter of the heart to attend to with someone out there, and I was looking forward to embracing that. Without going into much detail, I can just say that I didn’t see the precipice ahead, despite the fact there had been a dog beside me barking its warning for some time. Eyes closed, big smile on my face, white rose in hand, I took a leisurely step and suddenly there was no ground beneath my feet. I felt myself free falling off a cliff. I smacked the ground and it hurt. And, ironically, it happened while watching this beautiful sculpture called Embrace burn to the ground.

embrace_burn

I was, again, Fortune’s Fool. And there were ashes to prove it.

Later that afternoon I embarked on a different journey with my friends through a massive dust storm, in the hopes to reclaim my Burning Man experience and heal my fresh wound at the caring side of my lovely friends. The dust cloud was fairly dense, allowing just a few feet of visibility at times. There is something very beautiful and surreal about walking aimlessly through a dust storm. It’s quiet and calm and I am left with my thoughts. As I walked slowly through the whiteout, my mind returned to the events of the morning and the heartbreak. I kept thinking how foolish it was to open my heart and allow this pain to happen.

dust

Due to the lack of visibility we walked towards the setting sun that would eventually lead us back to our camp. The sun felt good on my skin, and I closed my eyes to soak it in. Since I couldn’t really see anything anyway, I kept my eyes closed and continued walking towards the sun. I thought about the Fool walking with his eyes closed, and I decided to embrace my new beginning. I broke off a bit from my friends and decided it was time for a self-love pep talk. Gripping the shoulder straps of my Camelback in each fist, I created a shield of armor over my chest and repeated to myself over and over again that I was strong. I envisioned my wolf-woman self, bringing me back to that centered, confident place where I sometimes find myself. My chin was up, eyes still closed, a smile finally breaking on my lips. I was a Warrior Woman, completely invincible.

And then, bang! I got side-swiped by a bicyclist. The girl he was doubling flew (safely) off the handlebars and both were quickly at my side, very apologetic. And I just stood there and laughed. I told them that I was walking with my eyes closed, so it was my fault. I told them about my Warrior Woman pep-talk and my invincibility, and we all had a good laugh. He brought out a bottle of tequila, and I took a swig. They told me a cute story about how they had just met thirty minutes before, and sent me along my way.

The Fool is not so invincible, as it turns out. That cliff edge is a real thing.

The next day my friends and I rode our bikes out to explore the artwork and came across an installation involving a bunch of old, differently colored doors attached to create a circle.

The Wheel of Fortune

The Wheel of Fortune

We parked our bikes and I walked right up to it, opened one of the doors and stepped through. The inside of this space gave me the impression of an old brothel, and as I turned around in the circle I realized that behind each door was a tarot card. I looked back at the door that I had walked through. And, no surprise, I had unknowingly selected The Fool, who this time was depicted as a masked woman in a beautiful black and white image spanning the entire door frame.

The_Fool_Wheel_of_ FortuneI remember unhappily muttering, “of course…,” and a woman inside the installation laughed at (or with?) me. I teared up a bit, just wanting to go home and crawl into my clean bed where I could close my eyes and stop walking and be safe.

Days later I was back home and reflecting on my week out in the desert. Suddenly all the different moments of synchronicity came together and I thought, perhaps there was something behind this Fool thing. I did more research into the card, and decided that I am not Fortune’s fool, but rather I am fortunately the Fool. I walk blindly and trustingly through my life and always have. And, for the most part, that has worked out for me and I have lived such beautiful and amazing experiences as a result. I would much rather trust people, and myself, than to live my life full of fear and doubt. I am the number zero. I am unlimited potential.

I was so afraid that this recent experience would make me question my judgement or lose my faith. But I am realizing that the Universe is indeed looking after me. I fell and it hurt. But it was the landing of a huge leap forward that I needed to take. The sun comes up each day and I have the ability to begin a new journey. Had I not trusted in my heart and followed an impulse, I would not be here in San Francisco finally moving forward in my career path and reconnecting with my family, old friends and new.

I am not invincible, especially when I allow myself to be vulnerable and exposed (or when I walk through crowded, whited-out intersections with my eyes closed apparently!). But I will not be afraid to close my eyes, trust, and walk steadily ahead. It may be foolish, but I love being a fool.

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Lately I’ve been speaking a lot about change, following signs, coincidences and things of this nature. To add to that, you could say that I’m a person that follows her instincts, or gut feelings. In general I would say that my instincts are pretty in tune. I’ve made mistakes and bad choices in my life, no doubt, but in making those choices I also knew it was probably a bad idea from the get go, and went ahead with it anyhow. Meaning, against my instincts. And, voila! That is how lessons are learned!

When I honestly listen to and follow my gut feelings, even when what they are telling me is a little bit scary, life tends to sort itself out in a very positive way and I become a better person as a result. So when my gut was telling me last month to take a big risk – to quit the job that has given me so much security over the past three years, and head back to the USA for a while – I listened. I gave notice at work, and suddenly realized that it was time to come up with a game plan. Luckily I have an incredibly understanding and patient boss (friend first) who did not seem to flinch at the news and sweetly replied that he was surprised I had stayed so long. We’ve had a great run, but both he and I know that my heart’s hopeful work is in birth and I was not going to stay in sales forever. As I began to tell my friends in Barcelona of this new plan, to my surprise, no one really seemed all that surprised! It was as if everyone had seen this coming and I was the last to find out.

October was a big month. I would like to give credit to the stars and planets, as astrology was saying that October was going to throw everyone, all signs, into a spiral and if changes were happening, that they would happen fast. Virgos not excluded! So much has happened in this past month. I’ve made a choice to quit my job and to take the harder path of following my dream to work in birth. I’ve made the choice to leave my easy Barcelona life for a while to head back to a place that until now has been challenging for me – home. I’ve made a choice to fully accept that love is stronger than attachment, and have worked really hard to let go in order for someone else to grow.

butterflies_in_my_stomach_by_bee_ee Not surprisingly, with all these major changes taking place my gut has been doing more than just prompting my instinctual intelligence. As most people, my digestive system is closely connected to my emotions and stress levels. The gut is sometimes called “the little brain”, as it’s the largest area of nerves outside of the brain and is hyper-sensitive. There is a reason we get butterflies in our stomachs when excited or nervous. For me, my gut is both intelligent AND extremely, perhaps overly sensitive to my emotional state. We have a love / hate relationship, me and my gut. Love for being so smart and guiding me along the way, and hate for slowing me down when I want to move fast.

For the past month my digestion has been all out of whack, and this week it has culminated to a point of being quite painful. I have tried over the counter products, and probiotic, doing yoga and exercising, eating healthily, etc. And my reward has only been heart burn, which I have never had before.

While seeking out some natural remedies for my belly ache with a midwife friend of mine yesterday, she got straight to the point –

“Regan, your body is talking to you. Go lightly and gentle. Don’t think of what you can take, but what you can change.” – Oh no, more change!?

“What do you think you are holding on to? Whatever it is, let it go.”

I went on to tell her about all my recent developments, all the ups and downs of this past month. Her response came to me like if Maya Angelou had appeared before me as a midwife –

“Worried you only just dreamed you could fly? Breathe and take flight. Trust Regan in true. Breathe and open, this is birth. Your birth.”

Okay, I can understand birth analogies at this point! So what am I holding on to? What is upsetting my gut? I guess it is hard to let go of the stability and the easy life that I have finally achieved in Barcelona. It is my friends and family in my home here across the pond that I will miss so much. It is fear of being able to take on the complicated path towards midwifery, and even if I want to go that route in the first place. It is fear of moving a bit into unknown territory.

Overall I am happy and super excited about this adventure to come, but I guess it is okay to admit that I am a bit scared too. This is scary! My gut is acting up to remind me to slow down, to feel all these different emotions swirling around, to accept them, nurture them, and once that is all said and done – I really just need to trust in myself. I can totally do this!

My gut feelings are wise all around the board. I should listen to them in moments of love, but especially listen to them in moments of hate when they are trying to settle me down. So for now, I am listening. Just breathe and open. Trust and …

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Peggy is a Whore

Peggy is a whore.

Peggy was that cute girl in class in the third grade whose decorated paper envelope hanging off the side of her desk, marked “Peggy” in red glitter and all my bitterness, was full of Valentine cards by the time the bell struck at recess. Jumping forward a few years, Peggy became that cute girl at the beach in a string bikini with all the surfers trying to catch the biggest wave while she looked on adoringly. At college, Peggy was that cute girl that … well, at college Peggy was actually just a whore. Moving into the mid-20s, Peggy was that cute girl that fell madly in love (probably with one of the surfers from her youth, where they met at their 10 year high school reunion). Peggy was then the cute girl who became a cute woman who then became a cute mother and … agh. Peggy is a whore. Go to Hell, Peggy. And take all your Valentine cards with you.

This is pretty much how I’ve felt about Valentine’s Day ever since the third grade. I was never without love, of course. My parents loved me. My friends loved me. But a candied heart with ‘KISS ME’ or ‘BE MINE’ just did not apply to them. Or to me for that matter. All the way from the third grade until I turned thirty years old, I never once celebrated Valentine’s Day (oh, except for that last-minute flight to New York with Anna and Ashley when we were 21 years old. Three bitter single college girls managed to sit in first class on a red-eye and polished off about 5 bottles of champagne before we even crossed over Colorado).

For the past few years I’ve always posted the Peggy is a Whore card on Facebook or in my Happy Valentine emails to friends. I gagged at the cheesy cards, and heart-shaped everythings, and wondered why is everything red when actually your heart is more like a blue color?

And then it happened. I started seeing hearts everywhere. It started a couple of years ago and has not ceased since. Heart shaped dog poo. Heart shaped cracks in the sidewalk. Heart shaped mountains. The list goes on, but in a way you cannot imagine. My discovery and consequential love for hearts has been an eerie but beautiful ride. In retrospect the I-see-hearts-everywhere phenomenon must have been the Universe telling me it was time to open my eyes and acknowledge hearts. First to see external hearts. Check! Then I started receiving hearts from friends, such as photographs of heart-shaped raw tuna in their skillet, or heart-shaped rocks brought all the way from Monterey to Barcelona. The Universe was telling me, okay, once you see and recognize them, they will come to you! And they did. People now tag me in photos whenever there is a heart in it. And it tingles my blue heart a strange shade of red. Slowly, painfully, I’ve become romantic against my will.

I do not find it a coincidence whatsoever that now the Universe has suddenly presented me with a real life beating heart. Perhaps it is a reward for not beating up Peggy. Or perhaps it was just time. This reward is not a photograph of a heart, as it’s 3D. I’m pretty sure it’s not a heart-shaped rock, because it breathes and holds my hand. And for the first time in thirty years, as I walk down the overcrowded bustling shopping street near to the date of February 14th, all I see are red hearts in the shop windows, and rather than wanting to throw up all over them, I stop and smile.

(This is so utterly disgusting. I can’t believe I am writing this.)

I don’t care if I receive a Valentine’s card this year. Peggy can have them all. Because there is just one beating, sweet candied heart out there that says ‘BE MINE’. And it’s only a quick bite (and bike ride) away.

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Roses

Long gone are the times when receiving a single red rose felt romantic to me. The single red rose always makes me think of my dad. He had a classic romanticism about him, very old-fashioned in that respect. He never gave us bunches of flowers or even a dozen. Just one red rose. Always red. Always beautiful. I would hang each rose upside down over the years to dry and save them, my own addiction to the romance of it all I guess. I would not be surprised if I actually have them in storage with all my scrapbook albums in San Diego.

Unfortunately, now when I think of single red roses I feel far from romantic. They seem generic and cheap. I blame the fact that I work, reside and party in the center of Barcelona, which has become this dirty circus of pickpocketers, street vendors and hookers. It’s not so far off from the Tijuana border when you are stuck in traffic and have people at your window every other second trying to sell you packs of chicle or huge ceramic statues of Bart Simpson. Those border experiences taught me well: roll up the window, put on the air conditioning and turn up the radio full blast. Do NOT make eye contact.

In Barcelona there is a huge market of selling obnoxious trinkets to tourists. Can’t blame them really, since the reality is that drunk tourists tend to get a kick out of the Mexican sombreros (ummm…should someone tell them they are not in Mexico?) and blinding shiny things that go round and round and round. It’s not just on the street that you are harassed, however. Mainly men, and the odd end woman here and there, follow you into bars and restaurants to sell you cheap fluorescent glow in the dark paraphernalia and naked women dancing on cigarette lighters. And roses. Single red roses wrapped in plastic. Single red roses have become more colorful cheap paraphernalia.

photo by Lorna Palmer

The roses in and of themselves are not what tick me off. I like roses. It is the persistent vendors that never give you peace who drive me mad. There is a game you learn here. It goes something like this. No, gracias. No, gracias. They leave one on your table and walk away. Un regalo para la mujer guapa. And then they come back. Of course they come back. Of course they are not out to gift roses to strangers. Again, you said, no, gracias followed by a firm No! And then you just stop making eye contact and ignore them until they walk away. Five minutes later a different one will approach you and the game happens all over again. It’s gets old real quick.

I’ve grown to despise the rose sellers. And as a result, the roses. Until…last night.

My friend and I were in Sugar, this dodgy red bar just behind Plaza Real, having the last drink of the night. We befriended an American guy who was sitting by himself at the bar, sort of staring on longingly at the groups of people laughing around him. He looked lonely. And more importantly, my friend fancied him. So being the good wing woman that I am, I called him over for a brief introduction. Turns out his friends were at the bar next door but the drinks were cheaper at Sugar, so he had come over to down a couple cheap drinks. Been there, done that. Totally not going to judge. After just a few minute conversation, his friends came looking for him and they took off.

But before he left, he did something that left a lasting impression. A rose vendor came into the bar and approached us. Following protocol, he shoved the bunch of single roses into our faces. Before he could utter a persuasive word, and much before I started the No, gracias game, this American boy grabbed the bunch of roses and shoved them into his nose. He closed his eyes, took a long inhale and then returned the roses to the man and said thank you. The vendor, totally confused, turned around and walked away.

Upon seeing my shocked response, the American boy explained himself. He said he too used to get angry with these guys, and he realized that pleading did not make them go away. So he decided to make their presence worthwhile. Roses smell very nice. As long as they stood there and shoved roses into his face, he would enjoy their beautiful aroma and therefore make the experience a pleasant one. And the extra bonus was that it scares away the vendor. With that, he smiled and walk away.

As the New Year approaches, I am keeping his advice in mind. Not only for the rose vendors, but for all the uncomfortable or annoying situations that life could throw me in the upcoming year. It is refreshing to remind myself that there is something beautiful in everything. I just need to find it, embrace (or inhale) it, and what then remains after the annoyance of the situation passes is just the beautiful bit.

Thanks random stranger for the great life lesson!

Photo by Lorna Palmer

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There is a new trend happening in my life, and it deals with accompaniment. For someone who really loves people, I am quickly realizing that accompanying another person, and perhaps more importantly, being accompanied by another person, is not as simple or natural as it seems. As if the Universe knew I was needing some help and preparation in the subject (it always does!) it simultaneously sent me both theory and practice in the form of a women’s circle.

I am in the process of training to become a doula, which is a woman who assists other women during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. The role of a doula is much more complex than that simple definition, and at some point I will write more about that. But for now the important thing to know is that the primary role of a doula is to accompany women (and often times her surrounding family) through the birthing process on a more emotionally supportive level, and to insure that the mother is in charge her own birthing experience.

The past couple of months I have been attending women’s retreats and getting more engaged in my doula studies. Slowly I am learning that a doula’s job is not to help women in as much as to accompany them. It is a two-way relationship requiring trust, love, support and understanding. In the course and trainings we listen to the speakers and read our workbooks about the major topics, but mainly we sit there in a circle on the floor and share experiences and thoughts, and we encourage one another. Because that is a large part of what it takes to be a good doula and a good companion. It is extremely uplifting and each month I become more and more excited about the idea of accompanying women through one of the biggest moments of their lives. And also for the day that I get to live that moment as well, hopefully in the presence of my own doula. I am understanding more and more the need to be accompanied, and seeing the beauty in it.

To continue with the accompaniment trend I am currently experiencing, about two months ago I attended a women’s weekend retreat, hoping to connect with nature, myself and other women on a more spiritual and holistic level. Surprise surprise, the focus of the weekend was accompaniment. The retreat was organized by a doula, and therefore it had an emphasis on how to accompany mothers and women in general. That said, the lessons I learned most definitely apply to everyone outside of that circle, mainly because the lessons were more within me.

It was a full weekend of very intimate, and at times uncomfortable, exercises and really honest conversation, while again sitting in a large circle. What came as a huge surprise was that I learned how much I fear letting someone step into my personal space. These strangers, these women. And then through them I came to realize how much I block out people wanting to get very close to me, with a special attention on men.

In addition, I realized that having many people around me didn’t necessarily mean the same thing as being accompanied. I’ve been living far from home and family for many years now, and have been single practically my whole life. So I guess you could say I’ve become quite independent. Perhaps too much. I do depend on my friends quite a lot, it’s true. But I’m talking about a different type of independence. One in which most of my actions are based on my own needs and desires. I hope that the doula studies and practice will help me overcome that, since it will require a lot of adaption to adjust to a mother’s needs and schedule. Just imagine a woman calling me in the middle of night with labor pains. I couldn’t really turn off the phone, or say I was busy!

I’m a people person, but I like my personal space. It’s like Johnny in Dirty Dancing, when he is teaching Baby how to dance properly and he grips her arms in such a way as to create a calculated space between them. He tells her, “Look, spaghetti arms. This is my dance space. This is your dance space. I don’t go into yours, you don’t go into mine. You gotta hold the frame.” I can’t think of any better way to explain it than this. I love to dance with people, but with a calculated space between us. And experience with dancing with men had showed me that whenever I went spaghetti on my partner, meaning I got soft and made myself vulnerable, then he stepped on my toes and danced away. Or vice versa. So I’ve been trying to hold the frame with more and more precision. Don’t let them in, keep it superficial, and you will be safe.

Now back to the women’s retreat. On Saturday night the organizers threw us a dance party. All the magical witch dancing instantly turned my strengthening frame into soppy noodles. I let my guard down in the presence and security of these 40 supportive (and topless) women. And right then, unannounced and arriving in a little blue convertible, waltzed right in…a man!

I just may be the only woman to meet a man at a women’s retreat. He was not actually part of the retreat, but had come as “entertainment” for the Saturday night, topless dance fever extravaganza. Imagine 40 hyper-sensual women feeling open and loose (I mean it more in the emotional way, but perhaps a bit in the physical sense as well). Then imagine three cute and fun guys showing up and being thrown in the mix. In the end I think they were more entertained than entertaining. To make an already long story just a wee bit shorter, after hours of dancing as a noodle, I somehow found myself curled up in a second set of big, strong noodle arms. There we were, laying on the floor of this old stone room decorated with colorful blankets and candles, with pictures of fairy-like women with flowing hair blue-tacked onto the walls. Next to us was a very endearing punki mother breastfeeding her adorable little boy, and on the other side a funny older women who laughed and mumbled to herself like a real witch in the dark corner. And we wrapped around each other for warmth on the cold floor under these colorful blankets listening to the pouring rain outside. I don’t know for certain what he was thinking, but I was thinking how comfortable I felt there in his arms, despite the strange circumstances. It just felt right.

Back in the reality of our non-forest-dwelling lives, nearly two months later, I am still feeling comfortable in his arms. But it’s difficult for me too. This whole getting comfortable bit. I am trying really hard to learn how to accompany, and to be accompanied, in this new and developing relationship. Each new step, each new emotion have me momentarily shaking from the inside out. What is particularly challenging is trying to find a balance between me, the independent girl I’ve been for so long, and this new woman I’m slowly becoming that now has to think about someone else all the time, whether I want to or not. In the doula course we learn that every woman is different and therefore it is important to allow each one make her own decisions, express her own thoughts and needs. One woman may prefer that her husband massages her back and another one cringes at the thought of being touched. And as a doula you need to adjust to her, to accompany the woman and her needs, and to be understanding. I think it is no different in a romantic relationship. Not everyone is the same, and I cannot expect this person to be like me, or to act or react in the same way as I do. Nor can he expect that of me. So we have to adapt a bit, and understand and respect each other’s needs.

I’ve surprised myself at how easily I’ve allowed this person to come into my personal space. And how much I love having him there. And he’s surprised me with his understanding when I suddenly freak out and straighten out my noodles into a tight frame between him and me when he gets too close. Space. And his understanding again when five minutes later I call him back in, slightly frenzied. He must get dizzy but he keeps walking towards me in a straight line. He’s cool like that.

It’s all a learning process I guess. I’m grateful for learning this new skill, accompaniment, which will not only help me to one day assist women through their pregnancies and birthing experiences, but that is right now also allowing me to experience something sweet that I’ve only seen in the movies or heard about from my friends. I guess thirty is better late than never.

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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.

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