My greatest fear is to stop thinking.
This was the profound discovery I made on November 16, during my first-ever yoga retreat at Harmony House Yoga in Pismo Beach, CA.
Not spiders, not public speaking, not cancer, not even death.
I realized my greatest fear is to let a moment lapse where I am not actively thinking about something…planning, reconsidering, judging, musing, creating, analyzing, generating. And while this makes me an excellent PR/social media agency Accounts Manager, it makes me a very, very poor yogi.
There is no mental quiet, no inner calm, no inner “blank white nothing” that I can easily fall into nor scavenge for. There is only color and sound and thoughts tangled with loose threads from other balls of thoughts.
Why is this?
Why is it that even if I don’t have time to think about something to the extent that it deserves, I actually write it down so I can think about it later when I do have time?
It’s like I’m afraid I’ll miss something…overlook something. Like I’ll forget something important, suffer a missed connection, bypassed opportunity or underprepared attempt.
Overcoming This Greatest Fear
I strongly believe that people should try to overcome fear. Not all fears, as some fear is not only acceptable, but also essential. It keeps us grounded, realistic and human. It keeps us relatable and humble. No…I just believe we should try to overcome our greatest fear, for that is the one that stands in the way (usually) of true happiness, contentment and peace.
So, to try to conquer my fear of ceasing my thoughts, I decided to attend a two-day yoga retreat…complete with morning, afternoon and evening yoga, meditation, camaraderie and…where lack of camaraderie…the bliss of solitude. This solitude being, of course, the elusive, magical goal of my experience since I have not (thus far) ever been able to manifest it internally.
The dawn paddle-out, and my inside-out self.
Gray mist still hung low in over the Pismo Beach coastline as several other early-rising yogis and I made our way out to the sand for the morning (7AM on a Saturday) paddle-out. There was Ryan MacDonald (Irish, by name and by beard), Kelly Metcalf (the studio owner), Claudia (the more tenured yogi of the bunch), Summer (with fiery red hair), a girl with dark hair (who emerged from a nearby beachfront apartment) and a girl with a really cool surfboard (see photos).
We first formed a sort of prayer circle right there on the sand. And as the wind skipped around our faces, throwing loose strands of hair this way and that, Chris played the bagpipes and Kelly led us in a morning meditation.
As I looked around the circle at everyone else with their eyes closed and smiles on their faces, I noticed very blatantly the key difference between me and them:
There they were, sinking into their own inner peace of this gray, quiet morning, eyes closed and trusting, uncurious about anything else around them…able to FOCUS.
And there I was, finding joy in THEIR expression of peace…finding my own mirth in watching the waves lick the sand, and the seagulls pretending to be untethered kites over our circle, and finding awe in staring wistfully at surfers interacting with the ocean in a way I’m fairly certain I will never have the skills nor gall to.
But in that moment of reconizing this difference, I made peace with it. PEACE…that thing I can never find. I made peace with the fact that I want my eyes open. I want to absorb everything and everyone else. I want to be the sponge of the nature and souls that surround me in order to give off their vibrant energy in return. And maybe in that osmosis of all life surrounding me, the tiny pieces of my environment that I take in and hoard for a lifetime, maybe that IS my “self.”
Maybe my “inner peace” is different in that I both find it—and wear it—on the outside.
But one thing I did NOT have on MY outside…was a wetsuit. So at the end of the meditation, when the bagpipes fell silent and the other yogis ran towards the waves with their surfboards, I gleefully watched. I sent my camera lens and hearty grin in their direction to show my support from the dry (and only slightly warmer) beach.
The Afternoon Beach Yoga and Tiny Joys
The day was beautiful, sunny and warm (hello, Cali). It was dappled with tea at Honeymoon Cafe with Chris Assaad, Summer (from the morning paddle-out) and Ryan, during which I discovered that Yerba Mate is divine with a little bit of honey and nutmeg in it; a brief peek-a-boo session with Chris Buschard’s baby from behind a newsstand; and yoga on the beach with three women at least 20 years my senior…and another tiny, joyful realization…
When these three other women and I finally settled into Sivassanah on the sand, I realized that the sand has the exact same muffling effect as a Midwest snow. If you lay down in even the smallest groove of it, it sounds like you’re miles away from everything else. For a moment, despite the warm temperatures and sounds of the surf, I felt as if I was packed into a neon snowsuit in mid-January…bundled up by my mom so thickly I could only move like a robot…nuzzled into the quiet of a snow-fort in the backyard of our Illinois home where I grew up.
And right there in that moment, in my sunny new home, I became ever-so-slightly homesick.
An Evening Conversation (Talk) With Chris Assaad
Along with a fairly large group of other yogis, I rang in the evening with a low-lit, calming and very unifying talk by Chris Assad.
The story he told began with how he had just gotten into music when he started losing his hearing. He thought he was bad at music. He had surgery on his ears, and within a year and a half, he got his hearing back. When he turned on the radio after regaining his hearing, he became on fire for music…because he finally had sound…something he didn’t think he’d be able to have. And along with music, he gained spirituality.
He began to go to school during the day, and to play music at night. And once he was fully launched into his law career, he ended up turning down a six-figure salary to focus on music…to put something more into his life than the 9-5 chatter we all live with.
“If you were God, why would you give someone a gift that requires something great of them, then put them into a condition that prevents them from doing it?” he asked us. And what I thought in response was that…well, he doesn’t. I think we put ourselves into those conditions that we feel are restraining us. Perhaps we are righteously misguided, if that makes sense. We are making good decisions, but are doing so in a way that ignores the inherent compulsion we feel to pursue our true gifts. So…we are not in the wrong, we just aren’t headed in the right direction for ouselves either.
He asked us to take out the crayon and paper in front of us and write town dreams we have realized, dreams we have given up on, and then the reasons why we’ve given up on those dreams.
Here’s what I came up with for myself:
Realized dream: Marrying a good man and living by the beach. And more importantly, outgrowing my adolescent self. (Not like I wouldn’t have—you can’t stay 12 forever—but you’ve been there and know adolescence feels helpless and eternal).
Dream given up on: Having my family and my husband’s family live close to one another.
Why did I give up: Washington and Illinois are never going to be closer to one another, and both families are settled in houses they built themselves. So we will either have to choose a family, move every two years to remain fair, or live precisely in the center…thereby never being close enough to either family to just drop the kids off on particularly busy days.
So even though I ultimately have little decision in this situation, I’m sure many others in the room came to some profound (and perhaps even solvable) realizations in that conversation and time of reflection
Chris did leave us with some profound words:
“Fight or flight does not know the difference between real danger and perceived danger. Therefore, we need to take action in the face of that which makes us uncomfortable,” he said. “If you take even the first step today that leads towards your dream, then you are living your dream.”
When I Almost Went Raw, Buuuuuuut…Didn’t (photos to come)
After morning beach yoga, which was delightful, I made the point to attend church in a nearby Catholic church I would walk to (yes, I’m Catholic). The mass started 20 minutes late, was half in Latin, and 90% of the women and girls had lace atop their heads…aka, not the best mass to be at in a tank top in yoga pants & flip flops. I was wildly out of place, but the people there were friendly enough. So yeah…church and yoga in one day. Some sort of saintly feeling to that…
So raw food chef Betsy Asmus gave a seminar at the retreat, which I was excited to attend. I’ve always wanted to hear more about going raw, and perhaps even go raw myself. Why not. I love anything that could make me healthier, have more energy and live longer.
Before she went raw, she was 45 lbs heavier and was on nine medications at age 55. She would get up at 4:30AM to work out every day, would work 12 hours as the dean of a college, but it wasn’t enough. When she finally went to the doctor and lined up all of her drugs to inform him that they weren’t working he said, “Oh, you’re not supposed to be taking this with that, or that with this…” and so on and so forth. Being a woman who has previously worked in Medication Therapy Management, this aspect of her story hooked me, and I wanted to hear how she moved forward from this all-too-common (and unfortunate) dilemma in the human healthcare system.
Her first step was to go to Whole Foods and check out Ani’s Raw Food Kitchen book. From that point on (according to Betsy), she had no more allergies, is on no mediations, she sleeps with a cat now (in fact), she has lowered her bad cholesterol and blood pressure, she has a freedom from food (rather than an addiction to it), she does not bloat (no wheat), she does not have mucous (from dairy), and more. Her first clue that going raw was working was that she didn’t flat-line at 3PM like usual. Her extra weight started melting off, and her skin tone improved.
In the middle of her story, she fed us an oatmeal raisin cookie that was made using persimmon as the liquid, and which was dehydrated instead of baked. It was unreal delicious. Like, seriously.
So my first question to her was which dehydrator she used. (That’s me…if I like it, I want to learn how to make it too…NOW.) She said she uses an Excalibur 9-tray with the 14”x14” trays, which runs around $250. She said to make sure the temp gets down to 105 degrees on whatever machine you purchase, because otherwise (any hotter), it takes away the foods’ nutrients.
On dehydration of food, she says that YES…it takes longer, but it maintains the minerals and enzymes in the food and prevents them from deteriorating.
On her other dietary habits, she said, “If it comes from something that has a face, I don’t eat it.” (This made me chuckle.)
Next, she prepared us a pumpkin pudding with ginger spice cream. How? You can soak cashews to make creams and cheesecakes! (OMG, who knew?!….more like, who knew and DIDN’T TELL ME?!) You soak them overnight, using the hottest filtered water you can (which speeds it up). And you blend them to make the cream.
FUN FACT: Cashews are fruits. (?!?)
Also, apparently…don’t eat peanut butter. This is because bacteria often grows between the hard shell and the nut, which is not healthy to consume.
GOOD NUTS: cashews, almonds, walnuts, hazelnuts, pecans and Brazil nuts.
GUIDELINE FOR FOODS:
– Must be labeled “raw” AND “organic” to ensure it hasn’t been heat-processed or radiation-processed. Sprouted is even better.
Finally, she won my heart with a “fudge ball.” This wondrous little morsel was comprised of almond butter, dates and cacao and strawberries (whaaaaat?). It was delish.
To make, simply puree the strawberries, chop the other half of the ingredients and blend with the dates, add lemon juice as a preservative and a raw vegan “binder” substitute. You can also make sunflower seed flour and pumpkin seed flour, just be sure to use a dry container when “blending” and DO NOT overblend…or you will get a substance that has a very peanut-butter-like consistency.
I decided, as I left, I was going raw. And I also knew that, as a woman married to a “comfort food” guy and also being a woman who loves all things that can be hunted and cooked on a grill (i.e elk), I would probably go through life continuing to eat foods that came from something with a face. However, I love the idea and think that there are likely a variety of nutritional routes a person could take to obtain what they felt was their optimum regime. I think it works much the same way as exercise does….there is no perfect form of exercise. The best form of exercise is the KIND THAT YOU WILL ACTUALLY DO. So with a diet, the best kind of diet regime is one that is actually PLAUSIBLE and ENJOYABLE for you to stick with.
The Yoga Retreat Finale
There were no fireworks, no weeping goodbyes, and I had made no new best friends. However, I had learned, I had practiced great yoga all weekend, I had spent my days filled with the joy and light of a variety of vibrant and inspiring individuals, and I would definitely go back again. I loved the studio (and the beach), I loved the people, and I loved the time the retreat forced me to take out of my usual monotony and actually ENJOY the sea, sand and sky I’ve been blessed with living in the midst of since October.
I ended the day with another amazing yoga session, some tea and healthy treats with the other students, and then I headed back into my busy life to talk about what a great time I had.
I met my pals at Phantom Rivers Winery, not far away at all, where I ate some food that had come from something with a face, drank wine, and made a little bit more peace with the fact that internal and external zen doesn’t have to be a perfect art acquired by intense meditation and a flawless sense of self.
Sometimes zen is just a little bit of dusky sunshine, a little bit of a rich Mourvedre, and a little bit of acknowledgement to oneself that you are ever-so pleasantly always on that delightfully thin line between all stereotypes.