Doing this LIFE Project has sent me on a month of travels spanning 14 states (many of which we could only drove through on the way to other destinations) and most recently, to Mountain Light Sanctuary about an hour away from me.
I had no goals for the retreat, other than to spend some time each day writing (both journaling and novel-writing) and getting out into the wilderness.
The rest of the time, I just sort of “felt” my way into it.
If I was moved to meditate, I did, and if I was moved to draw or take photos, I did that, too.
Sometimes I read, and sometimes I just sat there and stared at the flittering leaves and bending trees, listening for the sounds of nature and beyond, to reach my ears.
We don’t do this enough in our daily lives. Even if part of this retreat was for my work, taking the time to do what felt right at that particular moment is a powerful thing to do.
I intentionally went solo. I went on a personal retreat last year and derived so much joy and benefit from it, that I decided to do the same this year. I might have to make this an annual adventure. Always to someplace new – I feel like that makes you a little more observant and a “student” again – and always a place that is known for being a meditative, calm space.
I allowed technology, insofar as it meshing with work and the occasional foray down to the lodge to get a wireless signal – the only one for miles and miles.
The sanctuary was pretty remote. It was nestled in the forest at least 5 miles from the smallest town. That smallest town had a gas station and a church. Then it was another 15-20 miles to the city.
A Short List of the Benefits of a Personal Retreat
But, what is it about doing a personal retreat that is so powerful? Thinking back to my own experiences, I have come up with the following:
- It puts you in a mindful state.
- You appreciate the solitude and quiet.
- You’re out of your comfort zone, meaning your senses are heightened. This makes for lots of learning and investigating this new world in which you find yourself.
- You meet new and different people.
- You become resourceful.
- It makes you get to know yourself because you are your only company most of the time.
- You can make your own schedule, or just wing it and do what feels right.
- Toward the end, you come to appreciate friends, partners and loved ones so much more.
- Life instantly gets simpler…and more complicated.
- You can have a moment of catharsis.
All these things happened to me in the course of the retreat. Take a look at these photos:
If you are not moved to mindfulness by this, then I’m not sure what else will do it for you. Listening to the running water fizzing and bubbling compelled me to take photo after photo because Mother Nature felt like showing off just because I was there.
Quiet hikes alone invited more contemplation and a little of “let’s see what you’ve got, Cynthia.” It’s quite the experience to go off by yourself and rely on your own resourcefulness should any issues arise.
For this photo, I just about fell in the watering hole behind it. I was climbing over a rock, thought I saw a big, dead spider (I know, I know…how unmindful of me), and hesitated enough to lose my balance and plunk my left foot deep enough that my shorts got wet. It was worth it though:
This was after I hiked nearly 4 miles and got to about 16,000 steps on my pedometer. What a sweet reward.
And, the solitude. I might be an introvert, and I know I still need a certain amount of people interaction in the course of a day. But when you know that you might not see another soul for miles, it makes you wonder what you’re capable of. What if I saw a bear? What if I twisted my ankle? What if…?
I intentionally pushed any thoughts of fear – especially being a gal – aside and enjoyed the moment. I enjoyed the solitude and put my trust in Source to make sure I made my way back.
…and it was a risk. I’m not going to lie. I looked at a hand-drawn map inside the lodge before I left and saw “4.4 miles if you walk Walker Creek Trail to Forest Road 87 back to Staire Creek Trail.”
I didn’t take a photo of that hand-drawn map because I thought I was going to do another trail before deciding on this one. That and the hand-drawn map was pretty much a triangle that gave the mileage.
This was another experience where I put my trust in Source Energy and envisioned myself doing the whole thing safely. All I knew was that the triangle formed by doing all three trails was 4.4 miles long.
I set my stopwatch on my pedometer and figured, mathematically (I can’t believe I just said that) that roughly Walker Creek Trail would be between 1.5 to 2 miles long, and the ridge top might be around that, and Staire Creek would be about that, too.
I had walked Staire Creek the day before (to go to these awesome caverns and leaning rock – more on that below), so I knew that it was at least 1.5 miles long.
I headed up the mountain. I had no idea quite where I’d end up, if there was anything to see, or how long this all would take. Walker Creek Trail was first and it was STEEP.
Here, I experienced trust. Trust in myself, but also trusting that The Universe would get me to where I was going. The trail was endlessly steep. It went on that way for nearly two miles. There were a couple moments where I thought, really? Will this end?
But it did, and I got to the road on the ridge of a huge mountain. All I know is that it was Forest Road 87 and that I was supposed to get to Staire Creek Trail eventually. I didn’t know if the trail was marked. I didn’t know how long – really how long – this was or how long it would take. But I had faith.
Good stuff. Quite the trail. And I was psyched I did the whole thing.
Scenery Conducive to Creativity
The scenery was so conducive to writing that it’s hard to capture the brilliant colors and Middle Earth-esque landscape and do it justice. From hundreds of black butterflies, to banana patch huts, to bamboo forests, one’s imagination could conjure up so many scenarios for fun little stories:
I realize I probably sound like an advertisement for Mountain Light. It’s not that it’s an advertisement, I swear. It’s that when you find a place that is as special as this is, one’s gotta share.
Life certainly was simpler here. I felt like I was transported to another era, in a time before modern life became “the norm.” I elected to camp because I wanted to be able to cook my own meals, and have more privacy than even staying in one of these shelters afforded – they were pretty much the same price, but I knew I wanted a fair amount of solitude.
So, up near the Rivendell shelter (yes, there was a Lord of the Rings theme throughout the whole sanctuary), was a camping area where I set up shop.
Given that I have some measure of social anxiety (as much as I love people, I am also a little freaked out by navigating relationships, especially when it comes to other personalities who don’t get the oft-misunderstood INFP), I knew that if I was off by myself and was able to utilize my own things (instead of the shared kitchen in the lodge), that I would be more comfortable.
See? You get to know yourself and what you’re comfortable with on trips like this. Because I had done these before, I knew that I liked my tent and my own “station.”
I know you’re probably thinking, “comfort zone, Cynthia, comfort zone.” Staying in the lodge itself would have put me out of my comfort zone even more, but in a way that I don’t think would have been as beneficial.
I mean, does anyone have to know that I jump up and down and say my daily affirmations aloud? Or that I might read a passage of literature out loud to see how it sounds?
But, a few more photos before I get into the highlight (well, the epiphany) of my retreat.
You can see through the pictures and videos just how spectacular this place was. Between all the creativity I was feeling and the meditation I was doing, I had an “a-ha” moment.
Up until this month, I was thinking I’d get my mindfulness certification. That I’d teach it – because I do have a teaching heart, too – and perhaps lead retreats and write books on that or something.
Turns out, that is not in the cards for me. At least not now.
Before I share about this epiphany, I want to say that I journaled – a lot – about this experience. I have decided that at the end of the month, I will begin editing and when I’m finished, I will publish the journal of these sacred travels here on this website – for free. I figure if this sort of thing can inspire others to live life at their personal best, then I have begun to change the world.
In any case, I woke up on the second morning I was on my retreat and began to journal. It was while I was writing that I felt a shift in my energy. I was in the flow. I can’t quite explain it.
But somewhere between realizing that I have at least half a dozen – probably many more; I’ve lost count, actually – novels that have 20K words, others with 40K words, others with nearly 60K words, plus poems, short stories, journal entries, blogs on over half a dozen now-defunct websites, I was born to be a writer.
I’d never given myself permission to fully explore this identity.
I realized I’d always dabbled in it, and then withdrew back into my comfort zone. Like someone who dips their toes into the stream, but doesn’t commit to throwing themself in, and stays on the riverbank, never to fully experience the glorious splashing water of Nature over their body and benefit from the cleansing that comes with it.
This analogy is perfect because although I love listening to water and being near it, I do not like to swim in it.
The comfort zone is an illusion, y’all. It’s the ego talking to keep us from reaching our full potential in the name of relative safety.
This concept was driven home when I was reading my book of the month, “You’re a Badass” by Jen Sincero. There was a whole passage in that book that I’d read the night before about, “you don’t get to stay in your comfort zone. You have to DECIDE to go for it and then let NOTHING stop you.”
Before, I’ve let the practicalities of “but I studied education and I’ve invested a lot of money in it” hold me back. Or that “I’m supposed to take the practical route. It seems ludicrous to risk it all for a dream.”
I had not yet decided. I have not ever committed to a life of creativity. I was and have been wishy-washy. Given into ego. Retreated from my dream as soon as I hit an obstacle.
Those obstacles are there to test our resolve. I know this now. It’s ego rising up to take us back to the Comfort Zone where life is easier (in terms of going with what’s familiar) and less scary.
If I am ever to realize the life I want for myself – one that gives me time freedom, schedule freedom, the means to see and take care of my aging parents, the means to have great health insurance, and to fix up my house responsibly (and go all solar and green) just the way I want it, to donate to worthy causes in my community and beyond, and to become a philanthropist – I have to jump.
I’ve only ever stood at the edge of the proverbial cliff and demanded a parachute, got all suited up to jump, only to walk back down the trail the way I came.
Friday, July 21, 2017, I decided. I decided that I am a writer and a creative (because art has to be a part of this, too). I am taking this decision and amending the LIFE Project intentions for August and I will become a publishing machine.
I have a published novel that saw a few sales and then…languished. I have another novel that just needs to be formatted for publishing. These were supposed to be under another pen name. But, both have elements of the supernatural, which is something all my novels have. All of them. All the ones that I’ve started and stopped, too.
This means I’m going to publish them under my Sageleaf pen name. This third one that was inspired by my trip to the northeast is the third I will publish under Cynthia Sageleaf. And the Tree of Life companion journal will also join the ranks of my published Sageleaf books.
I declare this today and now. You are all my witnesses. And because of that, I feel personally responsible to see this all through. BAM!