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On Retreat and Meditation

I’m not exactly sure when I received the email but when you see an email from Rebecca Powers, you open it.  She began explaining she had an idea for a small gathering for a meditation retreat in partnership with another woman I adore – Anne “Sussy” Sussman. I said yes even without much detail noted yet. 

There are not many people I would do that for without question but those two together make a “yes” very easy. Then I found out my bliss buddy was attending and I felt a big ‘take my money now’ tug. Fast forward months and many emails to when the date arrived. It is highly unusual for me to attend a retreat myself, let alone during the work week – I’m not in the season of my family life and work life where weekdays allow for much freedom but I made time for it.  

As I panicked when preparing for routine upheaval (like I usually do), I remembered something soothing and stabilizing. My word and phrase of 2023:

Feed the Stillness.  

At once I felt a strong knowing. This was right. All would be okay.  

And it wasn’t / it was. There was an unexpected snowstorm = no school. My support team hadn’t let my clients know their appointments were rescheduled to another day = texting frenzy. So, you can see that shit happened. That wasn’t fun but still, I knew I was supposed to be at this retreat.  

As me, Juliana. Not expert, Dr. Juliana – that is a rare space for me.  

I couldn’t WAIT to see my Bliss Buddy Babs at the retreat – we hadn’t seen each other for a couple months when we had a wild and wonderfully celebratory time together – one of those weeks I’ll never forget. And I couldn’t wait to see Rebecca and Sussy and meet the 12 other women. I couldn’t wait to immerse myself in the experience and to emerge differently. 

Now here’s some background:

I used to have a regular and robust meditation practice and it fed me deeply – it changed things in my soul. It felt like medicine, soul food… almost magical. I studied at the Chopra Center in California with Deepak Chopra and I was able to see Deepak, Dwayne Dyer and Eckard Tolle speak on the same stage and with each other. I was able to ask Deepak questions about meditation. I experienced The Gap the first time I meditated and well… experiencing The Gap is like no other. I received my primordial sound. I bought the beads. I did all the things.   

I was going to become a certified meditation instructor before life really hit me. I let my daily practice fall to the wayside. It became a luxury and something I didn’t have time for as time was shuttled to my kids and lawyers and work and rest.  Slowly then quickly, meditation was something I used to do.  

During this retreat, I had a really big a-ha. I had told myself that I dropped my cherished meditation practice because it was too hard with my move and divorce and the needs of my little one and her school routine, but this is only partly true. Logistically speaking. At some point in a meditation reflection, this realization raised its hand for me to pay attention to. 

I had associated the calmness that meditation brought me, the responsiveness vs. reactivity with a vulnerability that led a very toxic relationship to me, one I stayed in way too long. Subconsciously, I blamed meditation for the relationship ‘working’ because I had done the work and increased my state of peace on my own, instead of knowing when I needed to leave the relationship. None of this was ever conscious of course and it wouldn’t have come to me without meditating I don’t think. Until I sat in the meditation space feeling such familiar peace and wondered why I ever left the practice, I heard with a whisper from within “peace didn’t feel safe.” 

I explored it more as my meditation progressed, fell into “The Gap” and as I debriefed hours later, it was clear… and so much more. I knew I wanted to / must, find safety again in meditatio

n. I know the benefits of regular meditation, I know how it helps me feel daily, I know the basic science of how it helps long term.  

I knew also, at once, why it was so important to me to attend, why I felt the instant“yes” in my body and soul – I came to this retreat to find safety in meditation once again. It was time to rebuild a relationship with meditation on my terms, within a group of women I composed of souls I already adore or new ones seeking connection, raised consciousness, and a different way of experiencing the world… my kind of people.  

We wore athleisure wear all day, everyday. We had snacks and catered food. We sat closely on squished together couches and we huddled under blankets because of the freak storm that hit in those two days. Sussy led us in meditations, taught us different tenets of meditation, told us some of her personal stories. She guided us through some more meditations and we laughed, we were tearful, we got to know each other over meals and breaks, and we sat hip-to-hip sharing vibrational energy which is a different sort of conversational exchange.  

Let me digress to tell you a little bit about Sussy. I was drawn to her the minute I met her a few years ago through CamPOWERment. She had feathers in her hair, and beads all over her neck and arms, the coolest most colorful clothes and the best, most warm hug ever. Sussy opens her soul to others. I am drawn to nurturing women and Sussy IS this and more.  I went to any circle she was leading or conversation she was having when I wasn’t facilitating.  But I never was able to really sit and hear her teaching of meditation fully. This week I did and it was well worth it – I recommend her highly.

Yoga was woven throughout our meditation practice and learning, and we were guided by a gentle soul, Stefanie Haberman.  I have to admit…yoga isn’t my jam. I WANT it to be my jam. I believe in all of it, love what is shared and practiced and why, and  I know my body would benefit from it. I’ve tried tons of classes but never left one feeling on fire or filled up but rather with a sense of… well I did it. Good for me. I’ve now yoga-ed. I’m not bendy nor can I wait for most flows or poses to end (though I like tree pose and I love happy baby and child’s pose), I’m not a very “good” yoga person but my heart cheers for others.

So, needless to say, when I see  7am yoga at a retreat, I *know* I am sleeping through that. Okay actually, I love yoga nidra and restorative yoga for sure – for me, it is Pilates (my fav exercise by far) but on your back with soothing music and words and sometimes people snoring next to you.  

But something pulled me to Stefanie’s yoga – I’m here, why not! The way she talked about yoga and the poses felt different, it was so gentle. So individualized. So accessible. We have different bodies and different injuries, different levels of experience, different interest levels. Her voice was lovely, her flows were filled with ease, and she is the epitome of support. 

In fact, my two favorite moments with her were during restorative yoga. She had us place a pillow under our right knee and go into tree pose but on our backs. She said, “let the pillow support your knee and leg — it is rare we let others or something support us,” she encouraged us not to resist the support, and damn she was right.  

When I checked in with my body, I realized I wasn’t totally letting the pillow support me. A metaphor for my life for sure. 

The other moment was when we were doing a twisty pose with the pillow soon after. The floor was hard, I was cold and couldn’t get my blanket to warm me while we moved into the stretch. Eventually I said ‘fuck it’ to myself and just did the best I could. She came over and in the loveliest tone, asked me “Can I help you in this pose?” The first thing out of my mouth was “Am I doing it wrong?” She replied so gently, “Oh no, I just wanted to see if you could use some help.” It stunned me that I interpreted her offer to help as a polite way of telling me I was doing it wrong. That wasn’t her intent – she was just offering help as I wrestled with the blanket. That’s it.  

There are many more a-ha moments brewing, these are just a few.

Finally, I was able to be around more amazing souls – I LOVE being around others who are seeking. Seeking their truth.  Seeking connection. Seeking understanding. I love doing this with all genders but something very special happens when it is all women-identified folks gathering together. Wow, were there some incredible souls there. With such a small group, I thought I would have more conversations with more of the women but that didn’t come to be. We only had time to chat over meals, and when you are digging into soul stuff, sometimes the down time is needed for solo-download / integration time, and therefore the windows to learn more about people’s lives shrink even more. The stories I did hear from the women were inspiring and interesting and I’m always so honored to hear the stories of others – my whole career is based on that fact! 

One of my favorite moments of sharing was when Sussy asked us to introduce ourselves with the sentence prompt “If you knew me well, you would know this about me…”  and the answers were just so interesting. “I prefer to host a party rather than attend one.” “My favorite place is near the top of a mountain.”  To name just a few. I prefer introductions like this over labels of who we are and what we do – soul-to-soul talking nourishes me on a deep level. It’s the other thing I love about retreats and gatherings like this – you can cut through the chit chat and say more of the “real” things. I love asking and listening, being asked and sharing in this way. My work is mainly to hold space for others so when I get in a room of people who will willingly hold space for me, it is sacred and nourishing.  

I highly recommend going on retreats if you can. One day. One weekend. One week. One month – take the leap!! Go alone or with a friend. Take the time off. Put the money in. It IS worth it when you follow your heart.  

I started my year with this retreat and I will be closing it with another. This time a silent retreat. This one will be a little bit longer and over a weekend. I can’t wait. Well, actually, I know I will ‘regret’ signing up, worry about my daughter, fret over the time off of work and I will still do it anyway because I know things like this make me a better person, a better mother, a better daughter, a better therapist, a better human.

This year I am dedicated to saying yes to things that help me recalibrate and prioritize people and experiences that feed the stillness in my soul. 

What are you feeding this year? What are you prioritizing? What are your favorite retreat experiences? Whose retreat do you recommend attending? 

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