I Went on a Self-Care Retreat - Yes, Really

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

I'm not a woo-woo kinda gal. I don't, like... feel in touch with the universe, or whatever. I don't look down on people who do, it's just never felt like my jam. Sure, I bought sage to smudge my apartment, & before a recent doctor's appointment, I bought a crystal quartz to take with me, & yes, I recently bought the The Universe Has Your Back deck

And, um, OK, maybe I'm a little bit more into the universe than I thought I was - but still, I am fairly cynical & jaded & not really a sparkles-&-inspirational-quotes kinda gal or even, hell, much of a hugger.

That's why it's even more surprising that months ago, when I got an email announcing the first Soul Connect Retreat, something inside me said, "Sign up for this." It was described as:
A fall weekend escape to nourish your mind, body and soul right on the shores of Lake Erie. Disconnect to reconnect with yourself and like-hearted women.  
Super woo, right? Again, not my jam, on its surface, but somehow, it spoke to me, so I signed up - right away. Within 15 minutes of opening the email, I was registered to attend. 

And here's where the universe played an interesting little joke on me: The October retreat that I signed up for back in the spring? Well, it turned out to be in the exact same house my friends & I rented in Lakeside, OH, for a wedding weekend earlier that same month. I blogged about that, too - but I had no idea, at the time, that I'd be returning to that slightly haunted lakeside rental just two weeks later. What are the freaking odds?!

I arrived around 5pm on a Friday & was led to the third floor of the house, where I'd been assigned to share a room with three other women. Laid out on our twin beds (set with old-timey floral comforters, as seen below) were swag bags with welcome notes, a journal, a pen, a calming essential oil, & some other goodies. 

I was incredibly nervous to spend the weekend with 17 strangers, & I was even more nervous to share a room with three of them. I sleep a lot, & I sleep at weird times, so conferences & the like are always a little difficult for me - not to mention, like, standard anxiety at spending so much time with people I didn't know. But I settled in & tried to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.

This time around, the house felt much less haunted & much more homey. The house was decorated with a warm, welcoming, & cozy vibe - quite the change from a weekend of pre- & post-wedding drinking with 15 friends! 

Katie, who runs Soul Connect, had assembled a team of women to help her for the weekend, & before we arrived, they set up the house with all kinds of notes & signs & goodies to welcome us. So much love went into the preparation & execution of this retreat that, even though I still wasn't sure it was my thing, I knew I was going to appreciate the care & thoughtfulness of the weekend's activities.

So what was the retreat all about? It included two yoga sessions with Cleveland yogi Debi Darnell, but I've got to be honest: I slept through both sessions. I've never been much for yoga, if I'm being honest, so I thought my potentially narcoleptic self was better served by extra sleep! 

The focal point of the weekend was four sessions, or "connection circles." Indeed, we sat in a circle - wearing pajamas, notebooks & pens in hand - & just... talked, really. Katie, who is a licensed clinical social worker, guided the conversations, asking us questions about ourselves & each other & the world around us, compelling us to really think - about who we are, what we want, & how to get there.

There was also plenty of free time, which we spent hanging out, talking, journaling, reading, walking, exploring Lakeside, &, in my case, doing a little bit of extra napping. The Soul Connect team brought lots of books & various card decks for us to use for inspiration, & even though I'm not sure how I feel about "universe cards," I did get a kick out of doing a card-pull of my own (& promptly went home & bought the deck for myself, juuuust in case).

One of the most thoughtful aspects of the weekend was the envelopes hung on the walls to encourage us to write "love notes" to one another. It was such a lovely feeling to leave at the end of the weekend clutching a packet full of kindness from new friends. How often do we just, like, sit down & tell people nice things about themselves? We should do more of that.

Oh, yeah, & we ate a lot, too. Abra of She Said Celebrate & Lindy of A Linderella Story were on hand all weekend, working their butts off in the kitchen to bring us delicious, healthy food. Uhhh, who wants to come be my personal chef? Look at that milk-and-cookie bar below!

I really liked that we were encouraged to eat together as a means of fostering community & conversation. There was no dining space large enough for all of us, so we just plopped down with dinner plates & struck up a conversation with whomever happened to sit nearby. It made it a lot easier to talk to people & was far less scary than sitting in the middle of a crowded table trying to latch onto whatever conversation you happen to hear.

If I'm being honest, the Soul Connect Retreat was way out of my comfort zone, & I spent a lot of the weekend panicking - a lot more than I thought I would, & more than I even realized I was doing in the moment. I was constantly worried about what I said (did I sound dumb, was I talking to much, was I annoying, did that sound OK?) & what the others thought of me. Basically, I felt like a seventh-grade version of my current self, all my insecurities on display & all my nervousness ramped up. Not a great feeling, I know.

Why did I feel that way? Man. I... don't know, really. I've spent a lot of time thinking about it & trying to figure out what made me feel so weird all weekend. All I can come up with is that that was kind of the point, to make ourselves vulnerable & to be honest with ourselves & each other. That's all good self-work, but it doesn't necessarily feel good while you're in the midst of doing it, you know?

I was worried that I'd been so anxious all weekend that I hadn't, like, learned the right lessons in order to take anything substantive home with me, but in the week & a half since the retreat, I've found myself thinking about it a lot. I'm tapping into some of the tools I learned about (like writing myself a proverbial "permission slip" when I need to), & I'm just generally trying to channel the Zen that I left with - even if I didn't feel that Zen while at the retreat itself.

Incidentally, one of my favorite moments of the weekend came just before I headed home. I took a moment, by myself, to walk down to Lake Erie. It was sunny but chilly, & the water was calm but still noisy, & no one else was around - just me & the blue sky & the views, breathing in that freshwater air.

It was the first real moment of quiet all weekend (aside from my naps, but who can ever truly nap in peace with 17 other people in the house?!) I was able to take a breath, to feel like myself to again, to let go of my nervousness & anxiety but to feel armed with new hope, new inspiration, new energy, new friendships. I felt like me, but a better version of me - which is the whole reason I went, right?

I don't know what comes next for me & the universe, but I do know that I spent a whole weekend embracing the woo, & it felt pretty damn good. 

Have you ever been to a retreat? How do you feel about the universe? Let's discuss, please.

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