Retreats & Magic & Pushing Off

On December 31st, I drove 4 hours to the woods in St. Louis. I packed yoga clothes and my mat, my journal, essential oils, Between Breaths by Elizabeth Vargas, hat and gloves for late night stargazing. The retreat center was off a windy road that headed into hilly country outside of the city. My first retreat. I was giddy with nerves.


Push Off From Here, the retreat was called. The agenda was full of discussion, yoga, meditation, food, quiet time, labyrinth-walking, a bonfire, setting intentions, and candlelight ceremonies. Laura McKowen and Becky Vollmer were our guides.


Any time a group of people get together with shared attention and commitment, magic happens. I’ve seen it in yoga classes, music concerts, in the mountains, writing workshops, cathedrals, sports arenas, on the beach. The sacred slips in when we turn our awareness to something bigger than ourselves and our collective breath steals away.


This was no different. And since there are no words to adequately describe an event like a retreat, and because to put words to it would blunt the gravity of the experience, I won’t even try. This is more about pushing off from there…


Looking back to 2016, there are a good deal of things many of us want to shed. Habits, patterns, rhythms. Maybe relationships, weight, debt. Possibly mistakes, inactions, regret. Politics! (#kiddingnotkidding) These things are worth putting a finger on and naming. Not to tear yourself, or anyone else, down, but to remind yourself of where you’ve been. And hey: where you’ve been is okay. It’s gotten you to here. And here is where we push off from.


The coming of a new year is full of promise and rejuvenation. The new year is also a time ripe with an invitation to accept. Can you accept where you’ve been? Who you’ve been? What you’ve done? Can you accept what’s gotten you here? In the wise words of Becky, “honey, we ain’t got no choice.” Because: we push off from here.


Look back to the things you want to leave behind, the actions you want to remain in 2016, the thoughts that no longer serve you. Use what you want to let go of as your jumping-off point. Considering the jumping-off point creates continuity when you look to the new year and what you want. If not *that* in 2016, then *what* for 2017? Through the lens of acceptance, the jumping-off point becomes, well, Hafiz says it best:

This place where you are right now
God circled on a map for you.
Wherever your eyes and arms and heart can move
Against the earth and the sky,
The Beloved has bowed there –
Our Beloved has bowed there knowing
You were coming.


So, from here…what do you want? How do you want to feel? Which version of yourself do you want to be? List out a whole bunch of stuff. Is there an essence to the catalog of things that you’d like to bring into 2017? Into your relationships and your work and your home? Into yourself?


When I boiled alllllll of my stream-of-conscious writing down, I had one word that grabbed me by the guts and shoved my eyelids open. One that hummed on the page. One that, quite frankly, surprised me but insisted. Root. For so long I’ve been taken by the notion of flying, freedom, a leaving behind. But a soft click in the woods in St. Louis on the floor of a cozy chapel surrounded by sweet souls turned my head around from flight to grounding. Stillness. Digging in. Rooting. 


When we push off, we need to give ourselves direction. We plan a trajectory. We put our intentions into a nugget big enough to hold what we need held, but also convenient enough to carry along with us. So a word or a phrase or a quote is a handy anchor to remind us, again and again throughout the year about what we’re up to. About where we pushed off from…and where our sights are set.


Wishing you a very Happy New Year. Acceptance for your jumping-off point. And clarity around where you’d like to head. We push off from here, folks.


Photo Credit: Laura McKowen