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:

  1. It puts you in a mindful state.
  2. You appreciate the solitude and quiet.
  3. 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.
  4. You meet new and different people.
  5. You become resourceful.
  6. It makes you get to know yourself because you are your only company most of the time.
  7. You can make your own schedule, or just wing it and do what feels right.
  8. Toward the end, you come to appreciate friends, partners and loved ones so much more.
  9. Life instantly gets simpler…and more complicated.
  10. 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:

personal retreat

Seeing the garden of the four directions, offset by a gong used to announce any classes, I felt a sense of balance taking this in.

 

personal retreat

With the gong in the background, the foreground is the quartz garden, in which a quartz obelisk sits at its center.

 

hiking and mindfulness

Just up from the sanctuary was Staire Creek Trail. These little waterfalls were down from what they call the “Elf Poole.” The surrounding water made me feel like I was in a higher energy frequency.

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:

staire creek trail

This sweet little waterfall was worth the watery sacrifice I made…

 

waterfalls

…because there were also smaller waterfalls near the bigger one and such peaceful reveries to be had.

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.

personal retreat

Why is it that photos never capture the true depth and steepness of a mountain? It doesn’t look steep at all here, but there’s a whole mountain beneath the part of the trail that you see here.

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:

personal retreat

Coneflowers near the council chairs in the quartz garden.

 

personal retreat

Hundreds of butterflies congregate on the property. The owner said it’s because little elves sprinkle magic fairy dust. I’m serious – he said that to another guest and I overheard it. I loved that answer.

 

One of the walking paths to get to the main part of the property.

 

benefits of a personal retreat

Two of the five banana patch houses where one could stay.

 

personal retreat

A bamboo-laden path leading to one of the shelters that you can stay in.

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.

personal retreat

Had the tent, camp table, comfy chair, and all my tools for a self-sustaining stay.

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.

personal retreat

More butterflies congregating near the lodge. If you know anything about butterfly symbolism, they represent metamorphosis and transition. They also symbolize resurrection, hope, endurance, lightness and freedom. I was meant to see these delicate friends and ponder what it meant.

 

personal retreat

The view from my tent. It looked like Middle Earth. There’s even a “Gypsy Wagon” to the right. The only evidence of modernity here is the tiny solar cell attached to the wagon to give it a little electricity. And, I’m not sure if this was real or a vision (does it matter?), but the last morning I was there, I saw a man who looked like a wizard walking up the lane on the other side of the fence (which is tiny in this photo). He had dark brown robes on, and a walking stick taller than he was. His hair was white, long, and stringy. At one point, he turned at looked directly at me staring at him from inside my tent. He then turned and continued to walk. I never saw him again, and I walked all over the property that morning as I got ready to leave.

 

personal retreat

The Divine Feminine shrine on the property. You could tell, despite the owner being a male, that were was a health amount of feminine energy all over. This was refreshing, given that the modern world has too much masculine energy. Balance is good.

 

Flags representing the merging of all religions, creeds and paths – coexisting with respect and peace.

 

personal retreat

Peace flags

 

personal retreat

The lodge where there’s a shared kitchen, a common area, and the “Haiku Cafe.” They were kind enough to provide an electronics charging station and wi-fi access.

 

black bear

I was sitting in the Haiku Cafe the first evening I was there when a little black bear came up. He walked right into the cafe! My phone was charging and by the time I reached it to take a photo, I only got the back end of the bear. It’s not a great photo as I had to take it in low light and hastily…

 

black bear

Another photo of the bear. I followed him into the garden, while keeping a safe distance. I wasn’t nervous about him until I got back to my camp spot and he’d overturned my bin with cooking utensils inside! There wasn’t any food, but I know it smelled like food. Admittedly, that first night, I could only sleep lightly, wondering if I was going to have to scare off a bear from trying to come to the tent! The owner did say I would be fine as long as there was no food in my tent and everything else was in my car. I gallantly heeded his words.

 

personal retreat

These cliffs were along Staire Creek Trail. They were probably about 40 feet tall…or something like that. But, I definitely felt very tiny looking up at them….

 

personal retreat

These caverns were just off Staire Creek Trail. I had wondered what sorts of Native American Indians had graced this area and if they used them as some sort of gathering space or shelter.

 

personal retreat

A view looking out from the caverns. Evidence of recent human activity was present, especially with the fire ring. Humans will make their fires, won’t they?

 

elf poole

These little waterfalls were near the Elf Poole, as folks at the sanctuary called it. But, the pool was more difficult to get to. Carrying pieces of technology and already having nearly fallen in, I settled (if you can call it settling) for these beauties.

 

personal retreat

The “weak bridge” that I had to cross to get to my campspot. Admittedly, I had to take a deep breath and close my eyes to cross – nevermind that I saw other cars that had already crossed. Some folks didn’t cross, though. They parked .25 miles away and walked in.

 

personal retreat

The “rain shower” at the sanctuary. Most people showered here. I almost didn’t, because, you know…social anxiety and why would I go and do what everyone else was doing? But one of the awesome volunteers at the sanctuary said, “you need to treat yourself to that shower. I promise.” With a little gentle nudging, she convinced me and oh, it was an experience! Whoever built it, harnessed water from the nearby spring into a solar powered hot water heater. In the shower itself, there was no shower head. Instead, there was a metal plate coming out from the ceiling, that was either 12″x12″ in area or 14″x14″. Either way, when you turned it on, because the water came from the top l

 

An Epiphany

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!

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