Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat
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Let Go

Affirmation: I let go of struggle.

 

IMG_2839-2The immaculate Conception parish in Durham, North Carolina held it’s annual woman’s retreat this last weekend. It was at the Baptist retreat center on Oak Island, North Carolina. Approximately fifty women attended. They were of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. There was one man, Father Jude Siciliano but as one of the women tried to explain to me, he was such a remarkable man that the women attending would be very comfortable with his presence. She was right, very right.

As you probably know if you regularly read this blog, I am very familiar with creating and presenting retreats. This year will be our eleventh Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat. At the time of this blog, our first planning session is about to take place. It takes a solid six months to get an event like ours together.

IMG_2830-2The committee for the Immaculate Conception retreat also works on their event for many months beforehand. It was very obvious. They didn’t miss a thing. It was everything I’d want a spiritual retreat to be. The design was very gentle with lots of free time. The rooms were comfortable and well appointed. The setting was originally Fort Caswell with remnants of the cement bunkers and walls in the midst of lovely houses and stunningly beautiful ocean vistas. We were able to watch the sunrise and the sunset. The theme was, Reclaiming the Gifts of Sabbath Living and we were encouraged to come with something written out that we wanted to eliminate from our lives. We were then encouraged to “take an intention” to help us accomplish our desire. I was right at home. I must admit I also felt a little smug; I mean I’d already looked at the year and I had set an intention. I was ready! I really was but just like all adventures there was so much to experience than I could even imagine.

IMG_2834-2We were a carpool of four. We were the only four from our part of the Triangle. It was a delightful ride to the beach. One of the other women took on all the driving and another coordinated our pickups. I was honored to be with these three spiritual sages. They had all worked hard at getting in touch with God, each in their own way. I couldn’t wait to see what I would learn from each of them. The simple fact that I was not in charge of any aspect of this trip, other than packing my own suitcase, was a gift in itself. What a way to start a new year, in the company of three very loving, wise women and then to share in the journey of several dozen other women all with the same desire to know God better, to find a way to be better connected to the Divine.

IMG_2836-2Father Jude led us in several ceremonies but for me the most meaningful were the two Centering Prayer sessions, twenty minutes of eyes closed and emptying the mind. How easy that sounds but how difficult to put into practice. I’ve meditated now on and off, mostly off, for over thirty years. I’m great at praying and of course, I always journal but being called upon to just sit silently, without going to sleep, for twenty minutes, twice a day, is simply something I haven’t made happen in my life, probably because I really don’t want to. I am a busy person. There is so much to do and to think about and of which to be in charge! I do fully realize, however, the multiple benefits of meditation, of resting the brain and in this case in finally being silent so that I can listen to God, not always be dominating the conversation. That’s what we were given, two twenty minute sessions to simply listen. Did God speak to me? Yes, She did!

During both sessions I received images that I cannot explain. I went into the first session with a question to which I could not find an answer and somewhere in that twenty minutes, an answer came and one I feel I never never would have arrived at using any other modality. I was actually stunned and felt a great sense of peace. During the second session I was prepared to simply sit quietly and repeat my word or “mantra” but once again I was visited with an image. It was a warm, comforting person and I was so grateful for her care. I might have stayed longer but the bell rang and she left. She left and yet I still feel her with me. I’m not sure if or when she will ever leave again.

Unknown-2I’m curious now, will each time in Centering Prayer bring a new insight, a warm feeling, a sense of peace and calm or was it the power of almost fifty other people sitting with me that presented me with these gifts? A few years back I took a ten week course in Mindful Meditation at Duke Integrative Medicine. I sat quietly in lotus position, crossed legs, on the floor twice a day for twenty minutes for ten weeks and then the course ended and so did my practice. I know all the benefits meditation presents. I’ve read about lowering blood pressure, increasing self discipline, improving concentration and about how the brain actually changes its state with ongoing meditation. This January there was a Sixty Minute episode that showed a computer scan of the beneficial effects on the brain during meditation. I haven’t read a self-help book yet that doesn’t at some point tell the reader to meditate. Presently, I am listening to Richard Rohr’s, The Art of Letting Go. I just began session four this week. Guess what the topic was? Contemplation or meditation and why it’s so beneficial not only to our bodies but to our spirits.

Am I ready? Can I do it? Even as I sit here and write I can feel the resistance. “Be careful what you pray for,” I’ve been told. So, I’m not going to ask God to help me with this intention. Instead I’m simply going to allow the time to unfold and present itself to me. My intention for the year had already been set before I ever got to the retreat, this is, The Year of Trusting in Christ. The quality I left behind at the retreat to honor Sabbath living was struggle. My affirmation is, I let go of struggle, even the struggle to meditate daily. I’m simply going to see how the days evolve and maybe this time, with God in the picture, my desire to sit quietly and discover His/Her message will come as a welcome gift.

Stay tuned. I’ll report back in a few months. Maybe you want to join me in this journey? I’d love to know what you might discover.

And Then the Wind Chime Rang

Affirmation:  When I practice an attitude of gratitude, I
let go of regret and disappointment.

My energy
was really low.  The house was in the
middle of a renovation.  We were leaving
for a trip that morning and I had received three calls from family members the
day before, each regarding a different issue and each presenting a fairly
serious, if not life threatening problem. 
I’d had a terrible night’s sleep. 
It had taken a long time to fall asleep and by 4 AM I was wide
awake.  I’d lain there and said the
Rosary and all the memorized prayers I knew and I think I dozed on and off but
by 6 AM I was wide awake.  I silently
slipped out of bed because my husband was still resting peacefully, grabbed my
daily meditation book and my journal.  I
put on my slippers and a cover-up and made a cup of tea and headed downstairs
to the sun room but it looked like a beautiful warm morning and so I chose
instead to sit on the patio. 

At the
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat the month before this particular day, we were led in a
guided mediation by TJ Martin, one of our dedicated founding yoga teachers. Our
intention for our yoga-off-the-mat was to help the participants find their
heart space, that place where they felt safe and calm.  Once they were able to visualize it they were
then encouraged to draw it and finally to paint it.  Irene Talton, our yoga-off-the-mat
facilitator and TJ Martin showed us how to use the water colors to achieve our
goals, or at least to come close to them for those of us who didn’t have a clue
how to paint.  The guided meditation led
me to my back yard patio.  It wasn’t the
first time I was stunned by the place mediation had taken me.

One time
many years ago I had been invited by a doctor friend to come to his home and to
do some “imaging.”  Once I was
in a relaxed state he too had me imagine a safe place.  Whoosh! 
There I was sitting on a bench in front of the Eseeola Lodge in
Linville, NC.  We had visited there many
times with very dear friends but I had never considered it a safe or sacred
place.  I was so surprised to
“be” there that I gave a small gasp. 
I can still remember that session with Dr. Telfer.  It was in 1999 but every time I recall it,
it’s as clear to me now as it was then.

 
Now I was
“on” my patio.  We had lived in
this particular house for a little over six years.  It isn’t my dream house but it’s a good
house.  It’s spacious and I’ve had it
painted lots of bright colors, yellow being the primary one.  We’ve spent a lot of time and treasure spiffing
it up and making it the way we’d like it to be but I still missed the house I
had left, my former dream home.  It was
not an attitude of gratitude and I knew it but I was still lacking in
thankfulness.  Now here I was at the
retreat visualizing my sacred space; it could be anywhere in the world or
anywhere in my imagination and where was I, I was on my patio!

As I sat
down this morning with my tea and my journal I felt blessed to actually be in
my sacred space.  It was coolish but I
had my hot tea and my cover-up so I was comfortable.  I opened the journal and began to write.  I noted I wasn’t well rested and then a stiff
breeze blew and the wind chime in the tree rang out.  The sound went right into my chest, my heart
and reverberated up and out all of my limbs. 
I was stunned by the feeling.  I
stopped writing and listened.  There’s a
small waterfall off to the side of the patio and it was rippling joyfully.  The birds were waking up and their chirping
was lyrical.  Then I heard the young
children who live behind me talking with their parents.  They were giggling.  Tears sprang to my eyes.  Thank you I wrote.  Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!

The day
before this epiphany I had walked the local lake with a neighbor friend.  I always wondered why she didn’t always
understand what I said to her.  I had
decided it was my NY accent and her foreign ears but this morning she shared
with me that she had been very ill as a young woman and had lost half of her
hearing.  It hadn’t slowed her down and
she went onto a very blessed life but as I sat there on my patio this morning,
I was even more aware of the gift of my hearing. I have continued the practice
of listing each morning three joys from the day before.  On this morning I listed the joys I had
discovered at sunrise.  The joy of waking
to a new day.  The joy of having a sacred
space I could actually walk onto.  The
joy of being married to a man who supports me and my dreams, no matter how
daunting they may seem.  The joy of
taking time in the morning to pray and write. 
The joy of being the person her family turns to when they need
support.  I know that’s more than three
joys.  Most mornings there are way more
than three.  This morning I also listed
the joy of the gift of my hearing.   My
attitude of gratitude had finally overtaken my thanklessness and that sound of
the wind chime had pierced not just my chest and my heart but it had pierced
and healed my soul.

What Was I Thinking?

Affirmation:  I carefully choose my thoughts. 
 
This year’s 2013
Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat has just ended. 
It was our 9th retreat.  You can
gather more information about it from the web site, www.PinkRibbonYoga.org or you can find us on
Facebook.  The retreat provides women
breast cancer survivors with support, coping skills, and relaxation.  It is designed to be both nurturing and
empowering.   What happens over four days
and three nights?  Miracles happen. 
 
 
This year 29
people attended the retreat. We always take an intention to guide our planning
and this year our intention for this year’s retreat was “On Wings of
Joy.”  We borrowed a thousand paper
cranes from the Duke Cancer Patient Support Program and hung them from the
rafts and Nancy Soho, one of our committee members, created mobiles for
everyone.  She hand folded 5 paper cranes
for each one and then added a hand cut card from which they hung.  Along with Irene Talton, our gifted
yoga-off-the-mat instructor, they crafted inspirational words on the top of
each mobile.
 
We have a very
specific format that the retreat follows. 
It’s proven to be extremely beneficial for creating a healing
environment for each individual and for the group as a whole.  Over the years we’ve discovered that if we
provide a single meaningful word for each person they are more comfortable
speaking in our opening circle.  This year
we used the words on the mobiles to initiate sharing.  We then left the mobiles hanging on the back
of the chairs and reused them for our closing circle.  I think only one person got the same word for
both circles and that was me.  It was
“healing.”
 
Healing is one of
the miracles that take place during these four days.  I know because I always come away feeling
healed.  I like to hope that it’s a
complete healing from all my ailments: mind, body and spirit but I don’t know
that for sure.  There certainly could be
some rebellious cells floating around inside, although I hope not.  I do know, however, that I come away feeling
rested, valued, calmer, centered, nurtured and empowered.  I know too that all those positive emotions
can lead me, my body to a place of better physical health and even if I am not
cured of all my ailments, I know I am healed. 
There is a difference and I know I am not alone.  I know it because over the last nine years
the women, who have participated in the retreat, have told me so.  It is true.
 
 
 
The very first
thing we do when the retreat starts is to provide an atmosphere of safety.  We encourage everyone to respect the
confidentiality of any sharing that takes place.  We ask that only one person speak at a time
and that everyone else simply listen.  We
ask that each person use the word “I”, not the third person
“you” or “we.”  We
let everyone know that sharing is optional and that silence is not only
accepted but valued.  Before the next
person begins speaking, the last person must declare that they are
“complete.” 

We tell everyone
that this is their time, all four days and three nights.  We have all sorts of wonderful offerings but
their first responsibly is to take care of themselves and so if they need to
take a walk or a nap or to just have some quiet time, then that’s what they
should do.  Of course, if they want to do
yoga on the beach, try creating a water color of spirit, participate in yoga
dance, eat ice cream with the group, try the meditation sessions or experience
laughing yoga, they are welcome to join in. 
One other thing that quickly becomes apparent is the lack of judgment
that permeates the event.  For at least a
short while no one has to hide whatever might cause one to be embarrassed in
the outside world.  With that, the women
can simply be.  There is no striving, no
pretending.  It’s liberating.  It’s another modality that promotes
healing.
 
One of our
traditions is to jump into the ocean after the early morning yoga.  There’s something very magical about floating
on the warm waves early in the day with a group of friends.  One morning I was quite tired and I thought
maybe I’d skip the swim and just head back to breakfast but I wore my swimsuit
just in case.  The yoga ended and several
ladies headed towards the water.  I
joined them.  As I floated over and
through the gentle waves, I couldn’t imagine what I had been thinking that
would have kept me from this amazing experience and then I realized, I often
find myself in really neat situations that I was initially hesitant to
join.  Sometimes they involve big steps,
like when I joined my daughter-in-law and traveled with her to Ecuador and
other times, they’re small steps, like jumping into the ocean.  Each time, however, I find myself wondering,
“What was I thinking?”
 
Perhaps, if we
paid close attention we’d discover that most of the time we’re not very clear
about what we really want or what will make us really happy or perhaps what our
best choice is.  An example would be when
we choose to have that second helping of something that tasted really good but
which is not good for us.  How often have
any of us done that and then shortly afterwards wondered, “What was I
thinking?”  It would be wonderful to
always be clear about our decisions, to always be mindful but it’s a practice,
a life-long practice.  We can only stay
alert and be aware.
 
 
After the retreat
is over I find myself asking that same question about having this idea of a
yoga-beach retreat for women breast cancer survivors, “What was I
thinking?”  What made me think it
would become a reality?  Did I believe
that it would turn into such a powerful, healing experience for so many
people?  Where would the money come from
so everyone could afford to attend? 
Where would we find a place to stay? 
Who would volunteer to be our teachers? 
How would we advertise?  There
were dozens of questions and challenges to making this a reality.  “What was I thinking?”  I was thinking this was a good idea and if I
moved forward and it didn’t happen, well at least I tried.  It’s better to try and fail than to never try
at all but it didn’t fail.  It
happened.  It happened and it has
provided comfort and healing, support and respite to more people than I had
ever imagined.  “What was I
thinking?”  I don’t really know what
I was thinking but I do know I’m really glad and actually very proud that I was
thinking at all. I’m thrilled that the retreat exists and that because of the
work of so many wonderful people, we achieved the creation of such an amazing,
awesome experience.  As of today it’s
been over a week since the retreat began and I am pleased to say I am still
floating on the “wings of joy.”

Why Be Vulnerable

Affirmation:  By going outside of my comfort zone I empower
myself.
When I first
moved to North Carolina in 1986 my young neighbor invited me to walk with
her.  I’d always been physically
active.  I skated as a child, both ice
and roller.  I climbed trees, jumped
rope, played ball and rode a bike to name just a few activities.  As a young adult I played tennis but I had
never exercised for the sake of exercising. 
This invitation was inviting me to try something new.  She also wanted me to walk with her three
mornings a week at 5 AM.  I love the
mornings and I’ve always risen at a fairly early hour but to get up when it was
still dark and to be dressed and out the door and walking the streets was for
me quite a challenge.  We were to walk
several miles and initially I was not physically prepared.  I needed to ice my shins after each walk
because of shin splints, sharp pains in the front of my calves.  But, after a couple of weeks, the shin
splints disappeared and I started to look forward to our chats.  After a short time, a few of the other
neighbors joined us and now we were not only exercising our bodies but building
our community.  I moved from that
neighborhood in 1990 but walking has become an essential part of my quest to be
optimally healthy. I do not, however, walk at 5:30 AM.  I now have the luxury of heading out after
the sun has risen. The decision to say “yes” to my young neighbor’s
invitation was a life-changing experience. 
It not only opened my world to the importance of exercise but it
empowered me by allowing myself to see what I could accomplish if I decided to
unite my mind and my body. 
I had stepped
outside of my comfort zone.  It may seem
like a small step but for me, it was a giant leap.  It was the beginning of a lifetime pursuit of
staying strong and healthy.  It certainly
wasn’t the first time I had been outside my comfort zone.  When I arrived here in NC I was already 40
years old.  I’d moved many times, had 3
children and had taught for several years but somehow this was different.  Accepting and meeting this challenge was life
changing.  Perhaps, I didn’t think I
could make such a commitment, but I did and once I allowed myself to be proud
of this feat, I found myself wondering what else I was capable of.  I guess, looking back on it, it was one of
the most empowering decisions of my life.     
Every day we are
faced with decisions, small and large, important and trivial but each decision
shapes our lives and shapes our future. 
Certainly, I can look back on my life and see how some choices enhanced
my life and I can see how if I had chosen differently how very different my
life would be today.  Right now I’m
reading The Time In Between by Duenas. 
It’s a marvelous example of how choice colors our life.  We are not only charged with making choices
that will enhance our lives; we are then charged with making a conscious choice
to mentally frame that choice in a positive light, to make sure that the
consequences of that decision enhances our lives.  It’s easy if it was a choice that easily led
to some perceived blessing but when the decision led to a struggle or perhaps
even a disaster, reframing it can prove to be extremely difficult but with
practice, it can be done even if it’s simply to use the experience as a lesson
which empowers us going forward.
The second focus
of Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly is vulnerability.  (The first focus was about shame and I wrote
about it in the blog, Shame on You!) When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable
we open ourselves up to making mistakes but we also open ourselves up to
opportunity and growth.  One must walk
the fine line between humility and foolishness if one is to embrace the quality
of vulnerability.  What Brene Brown is
talking about is the opportunity to live a full, rich life because we are not
afraid to try something that makes us uncomfortable, to try something at which
we might fail.  That behavior not only
takes us outside of our comfort zone but it encourages the virtue of humility. 
What would one
try if one wasn’t afraid to fail, if one was willing to be vulnerable?  It’s not only what one might learn but who
one might become.  I have some of the
most amazing friends.  People who are not
just willing to try something new but look for opportunities to do so.  My only concern is that sometimes they don’t
see what remarkable things they are doing. 
They don’t or won’t take credit for their awesome spirits.  Sure, there are historical accounts of people
whose humility changed the world, people
like Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi.  I, however, love to look at those heroes who
are in my immediate life and relish their virtues.  There are so very many. 
There are the
writers who open up their lives to others. 
The painters who display their work. 
There are those who start their own businesses.  I have friends who have done mission trips to
all different parts of the world.  How
about those friends who begin a new career in their retirement years?  Some of the most remarkable women I’ve ever
met are the ones who attend the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat every year especially
the ones who come knowing no one and without a clue of where they are going or
what they’ll be doing.  I’m sure you can
think of many people in your life who step outside of their comfort zones.  They may not initially think they can but
that doesn’t stop them; they do it anyway. 
They know they might fail but they also know they might succeed.  It doesn’t matter one way or the other
because just by saying “yes”, simply by being willing to be
vulnerable, to be humble, their lives will be richer and more rewarding.

Yes, it was a
small step to agree to walk at 5 AM three mornings a week.  We need not take huge steps to initiate
change in our lives.  The little
“yeses” are the beginning which empowers us to one day take a giant
step and maybe not only change our world but The world. 

May All Your Dreams Come True

Affirmation:  By pursuing my dreams, I help to make the world a better place. 
The newspaper article was about an organization called Wish of a Lifetime.  It explained it isn’t the only organization of its type.  There is also The Twilight Wish Foundation, The Bucket List foundation, Forever Young Senior Wish Organization and S.H.O.W. (Seniors Having One Wish.)  They all have the same goal; to grant a wish to an elderly person who is in desperate need of a morale booster.  The article’s photo was of centenarian Miriam Krause.  She was shown in the basket of a hot air balloon.  She had requested a ride for her 100th birthday.
 
 How do you feel about seeing dreams come true?  One of my prayers for my children is for “true dreams.”  My husband’s philosophy regarding a parent’s happiness is, “On any given day most parents are as happy as their unhappiest child.”  When he first shared this with me our children were teenagers.  Now, they are adults and that philosophy is as true today as it was then.  Therefore, it is my best interest to pray that their dreams come true.  Now, I have added my grandchildren.  Actually, my daily prayers request God’s “favor and blessings” on everyone I pray for, those I pray for by name and those in the world “who most need Your mercy.” 
Do you have a bucket list?  In case you need help putting one together there are all sorts of web sites that have lists on them to help you along.  One such site is Bucketlist.org.  It actually offers “10,000 things to do before you die.”  The first time I became familiar with the term, Bucket List, was from the 2007 movie by the same name starting Jack Nicholson & Morgan Freeman.  As of this writing, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman are still going strong and I would imagine there isn’t much on which they have missed out. 
I was surprised that it’s fairly common for teenagers to have bucket lists.  My granddaughter has one.  So far, I think the fun for her is discovering those things she wants to add to the list.  Certainly, I hope she has as long as Jack or Morgan to work on checking off her dreams. 

Our dream list can be very different at different times, just like our prayer list.  In times of peace, our dreams can be very specific, like a new house or a vacation or perhaps time to enjoy our favorite activity.  When my husband and I went on a tour of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville we were paired with another couple.  The Ryman is the original home of the Grand Ole Opry.  As we were escorted into Johnny Cash’s dressing room, I noticed the gentleman on the tour with us became very quiet.  He almost looked like he couldn’t catch his breath.  I looked at him with concern when his wife spoke, “This is his dream come true.  He has always wanted to see the Ryman and where Johnny Cash had his dressing room.”  I loved being in this place with this man when he realized one of his dreams. 

In times of strife, our dream list can be more universal.  Our dream may be for a world filled with peace, good health and safety for all.  For me, the greatest dreams are those that will improve the world’s conditions.  Of course, one cannot deny that when an individual makes his or her dream come true, the world does become a better place.  But, when I see and read about those people who dream really really big and bring them into reality, I am awed.  In the same newspaper issue that had the Wish of a Lifetime story, there was also a story about Hunger in the USA.  It highlighted several organizations that glean food. “Volunteers descend on farm fields and reclaim some of the estimated 7 billion pounds of fresh produce left in the fields or sent to landfills each year, recovering it for the plates of millions who can’t afford it,” according to Chuck Raasch of USA Today.  Many of the volunteers are school aged children.  Gleaning is not something new.  It was practiced as far back as biblical times.  I like to imagine, however, that the modern creation of gleaning was someone’s dream.  They saw the waste and decided to gather it up to feed the hungry. 
My church, Saint Michael the Archangel in Cary has a sister parish in Honduras.  Each year we contribute to the needs of the people in that parish.  We provide books and clothing for children, build buildings, provide medicine and the ability to acquire clean water.  A team of parishioners travel there each year to do whatever they can for the sister-parish.  My daughter in law, Belen Baca Costa and her family have an organization that raises money for the poor of Ecuador so the children will have presents at Christmas time and those families, therefore, won’t be forced to beg on the streets (http://hotelcotopaxiecuador.com/NoBeggingProject/tabid/333/Default.aspx)  When I was at the John C Campbell Folk School, my teacher, Patricia Sprinkle, author and creative writing teacher, shared the story of her journey to India to teach creative writing to the “untouchables” and of her work in the Church of the Brethren with whom she had recently led a group to help children in Louisiana after hurricane Isaac.   Thank God, these are just a tiny example of the good people who are doing by pursuing their dreams.
Of course, one need not look to or go to a foreign country to make a positive difference.  Every day people walk out their front doors and head off to help others.  Our volunteers can be found in hospitals, homeless shelters, food banks and schools to name just a few.  I myself had the dream of creating a yoga retreat for breast cancer survivors and from that dream came the Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat (.org)
Organizations that are born from the dream of someone who wants to make a difference in our world must also be part of God’s dream.  End abuse, cure cancer, bring solace to suffering, food to the hungry, shelter to the homeless; the dreams of a higher order and each individual who steps out to add to the comfort, to bring “favor and blessings” to another are part of the vision our world so desperately needs. 
There are so many dreamers in our world.  What’s one of yours?  So many dreamers have made their dreams reality.  Whether it’s a trip to a far away place, a new charitable endeavor or a ride in a balloon, it’s important to pursue our dreams. Yes, each time a dream comes true, the world becomes a brighter place and isn’t that exactly what the world needs, more joy and more light?

Miraculous Happenings

Affirmation:
My
life is Joy filled, Miracles occur, Love surrounds me and permeates every
aspect of my existence.

We all know that
in the classic Alice in Wonderland, Alice jumps down a rabbit hole into a whole
other unknown, full of adventure, self-examining world.  Sometimes we are pushed down that hole and
sometimes we choose to jump but either way, we get to decide what we’ll learn
and what we’ll take away from our experiences.


After being
treated for breast cancer in 1999, I was left feeling very unsure of what I
should be doing for myself.  During the
intense treatment, which for me lasted almost a year, I was well cared for and
in constant contact with my doctors and other caregivers.  Then the day came when I was
“released.” I had had my last radiation treatment.  We, the family and I, actually threw an
“end of radiation celebration.” Sure, I was scheduled for follow up
mammograms and yearly checkups but other than that I was on my own.  Yes, in many ways we are always “on our
own” as we go through cancer but for me, being released, while a reason
for celebration, was also very scary.  I
began looking for those things that might help me feel supported, educated and
uplifted.

As a long time
yoga practitioner, I turned to the yoga world to see what might be out
there.  It was in 2000 that I made my
first trip to Kripalu Yoga Center in The Berkshires of Massachusetts.  It was there that I had the thought about
creating a yoga retreat for breast cancer survivors.  I envisioned several days at the beach,
yogaing, resting, swimming, talking, and breathing!  In 2005 the first Pink Ribbon Yoga Retreat
for women breast cancer survivors became a reality.   My jump down the rabbit hole had taken me to
one of the most amazing, fulfilling adventures of my life.

As of this writing
here in 2012, a few hundred women have experienced all the things I envisioned
and so much more than I ever imagined. 
This retreat has been Spirit Driven and Divinely Blessed since its
inception.  Have you ever been involved
in something like this, something that takes on a life of its own, something
that comes together and blossoms with a miraculous aura?

I have never
approached an individual or an organization that has not generously agreed to
help us in whatever way they could.  The
first person to say yes was Rhonda Bailey, a yoga instructor and friend.  She set the standard for everyone else.  After that, with the support of The Duke
Cancer Patient Support program, we were ready to go.  Our teachers generously volunteer their time and
talent.  Our friends and family come
forward every year to help defray the costs and to provide scholarships for
those who are unable to pay. One woman took it upon herself to buy cushy beach
towels for everyone.  We had homemade
biscotti and pound cake.  A local
ice-cream shop donated sundaes for everyone and one of our committee members
made the supreme effort to go taste several of the flavors beforehand.  Every year we raise enough money with the
efforts of my husband, Sandy, to help pay for anyone who wants to come on
scholarship.  It’s phenomenal how it all
comes together and it’s obvious to all of us there that the success of this
event is beyond anything most of us have ever experienced.  It has to have the hand of God in it.


Who comes to a retreat
like this?  Well, obviously, women who
have experienced breast cancer. 
(Although we have many people who want to come but don’t want to qualify
to come.) But, really what type of individual attends an event like this?  I am here to tell you, they are amazing
individuals.  They come from all over the
country.  Most of the women have heard
something about what goes on but it really is an unknown entity.  Many have never practiced yoga; many come
without knowing anyone else.  Some are in
the middle of treatment others have been out of treatment for years.  They don’t know what the accommodations are
like, who their roommate may be or what the food is like but they come
anyway.  They are the type of person who
isn’t afraid to jump down the rabbit hole. 
They are amazing, brave, adventurous human beings and when we gather we
get to share the adventure.
The focus of the
retreat, believe it or not, is not breast cancer.  Yes, we all have that in common and yes, the
subject comes up and people share experiences and more often than not, they
share what worked for them.  The focus of
the retreat is living life to the fullest. 
Each year, as in most yoga practices, we take an intention.  The first year the intention was that “it was
a joyful experience for Everyone involved.” 
One year we focused on an “Open Heart.” 
We also took the intention to “Stay in the Moment.”  In 2008, our intention was to “Marvel in the
Mystery.”

The retreat
provides multiple healing modalities. 
Besides yoga, which in itself is multi-dimensional; there’s the ocean,
art-therapy, massage therapy, silent walks and Yoga Dance.  Some people relate to some and not to other
modalities.  Other people need a little bit
of all of them but either way they all lead to an increased sense of well-being
and support. 

We begin and end
the retreat with a Sharing Circle.  I’m
sure there are many such rituals involved with other gatherings but I was
introduced to this ritual at Kripalu. 
There are many guidelines.  The
first, of course, is confidentiality.  We
go on to talk about using the “I” word, not the community “we.”  Only one person is allowed to speak at a time
and it’s highly recommended that everyone actively listen and not plan what
they might want to say.  In between each
speaker we take a collective in breath and sigh it out.  We imagine clearing the psychic white board
in the middle of the circle.  There are
other suggestions but these are the main ones. 
What happens during the circles? What happens during the four days?  Miracles occur.

Miracles, you say? 
What is miraculous about ice-cream and beach towels and homemade
goodies?  Well, for one thing they simply
appear, like the manna in the dessert. 
We never ask for these treasures. 
But, what is really miraculous is what happens to the mind, body and
spirit of each of the ladies and our one man (He’s the breast cancer counselor
for the DCPSP.)  by the end of the four
days.  A light comes on in each person.  There has been healing; there’s been a
renewed sense of hope.  The women have
found camaraderie and acceptance.  We
have laughed, cried, played, swam, created, danced and done yoga.  We have found power, the power in each of us
and as a group.  The event is laced with
miracles especially the overwhelming feeling of love that permeates each person
including me, as the retreat comes to a close.
 

If you’re interested in attending, you can look us up on
PinkRibbonYoga.org.