My new books, Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience, is available for “soft sale” via Kindle. It will be available for print once I’m able to hire a professional editor, but I wanted to release before my multi-month mostly off grid adventure this summer.
Description: “Pierre Teilhard de Chardin is credited for the famous quote, “We are not human beings having a spiritual experience; we are spiritual beings having a human experience.” But what is the human experience? Through Ray’s own life experience and her work guiding others as a psychotherapist, she came up with a simple definition: the human experience is the journey from darkness into light. While it’s a beautiful journey, it is certainly not an easy one, and that is exactly where we can find compassion for all humans. Everyone on this earth signed up for a hard job. No human goes without experiencing the pain and suffering of being alive. Yet, it is exactly that pain that can point us back to the light, back to remembering our true selves as spiritual beings. This book includes poems, insights from nature, essays, and journal entries on what it means to be human. Ray explores and defines each component of the human experience, traveling through darkness into gray and finally, back to light. Light & Dark: Reflections on the Human Experience is a lighthouse for spiritual beings who find themselves lost or stuck in the pain of being human and offers the hope and reassurance of a way out. The book is a reminder that you are not alone.”
A wanderer is willing to face death in order to be reborn. A wanderer respects the power of her emotions. A wanderer accepts her pain. A wanderer honors her healing.
Sometimes, a wanderer stands still.
A wanderer chooses the path of joy, knowing it will require great suffering. A wanderer enjoys good company, but loves her own the most. A wanderer knows how to befriend her fear. A wanderer’s path is a spiritual path. A wanderers best compass is her own values and her heart. A wanderer both awaits and creates.
A wanderer willingly steps into the unknown, but is rarely lost. [If she is, it is only for a moment, for she is guided by her dog. ] A wanderer stays true to herself in the face of doubt. A wanderer is led by her intuition, knowing light will always lead the way.
My then boyfriend, now friend, can tell you exactly how I looked when he dropped me and Pacer off to start the Colorado Trail, just a few months after moving to the state and having only done one very, very, short overnight backpacking trip on the AT. He’ll tell you that I looked like I was about to cry, that he could see the fear written around the worried lines around my smile. I actually didn’t know he could read any of my emotions in that moment until he repeated this scene to me a few months ago, because at the time, he knew what he had to do. He remained stoic, not allowing me to linger too long in our embrace, and sent me and Pacer off down the trail.
My tears are usually a mixture of emotions. Sadness, fear, and excitement all wrapped into a ball, moving from my chest to my throat.
The sadness is partially still from the ending that transitioned right into the beginning, but also a grief for the people I can’t take with my on my journey. It’s a love, really. The tears if sadness also mix in with tears from pure fear…a new beginning is stepping into the unknown. And, even while at this point in my life I know all will turn out okay, the fear of the unknown seems to be embedded into my DNA. Its grip has simply loosened. Blending in with the fear then, of course, is the heart of my adventurous soul singing out loud in excitement, for there is surely much beauty to be seen.
So is the cycle of my life. An ending, a beginning, and all the emotions in-between. Beauty in every step.
The old debate among the spiritual community revolved around the question: “Is the opposite of love fear or hate?
When examined closer, we realize there is no need for debate.
We only hate what we fear, and we only fear what we don’t understand.
The reverse is also true.
When we shine a light on what we don’t understand, we begin to know its truth, and we can only love what is true.
We find that to know the darkness is to know the light.
I can still remember the first time I heard the song “Accidentally in Love” by Counting Crows.
I can almost picture myself walking out of the movie theater after seeing Shrek with my dad and sister, when Parmatown Mall was still actually a mall and had a movie theater.
But the stronger memory is of the felt-sense I had of the closing song, how the high vibration of Accidentally in Love still reverberated throughout my body. The first Shrek was released in 2001, which marks the “post period” for me. Post death of my uncle (the firecracker of the family), post parents divorce, post Dad’s nearly fatal heart attack. Every once in a while, I still had the wild feeling of love, of zest for life still in me, when my mom let me wander through the trail-less woods alone or after seeing a movie in the theater, but for the most part, this light had disappeared. So when I heard Accidentally in Love for the first time, it was more of a longing that I felt within me.
Would I ever get that feeling back?
When I decided to take a deep dive into my healing journey a few months ago, I didn’t really understand what needed healing. I didn’t know something was missing. I didn’t know how deep I would have to go into the dark. I just knew I didn’t feel how I wanted to feel, and so it really was my emotions that pointed the way.
As it turned out, it all came back to returning myself, to the joy within me. To get truly excited about the little things, to the excitement of just being alive. Allowing my imagination to once again run wild. Getting back to art and creating, just for the sake of playing.
So when Pacer and I found ourselves at Great Sand Dunes National park, paws and shoes in the sand, without thinking about it, I just followed my urge to run. Then, on the drive back, I just started to sing to the songs on the radio, without hesitation in my untrained voice.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but this was me returning to my light. It really all happened accidentally. Falling back in love with myself and life.
By surrendering to my darkness, I was reunited with my light.
This feeling of joy, of course, isn’t constant. For like every other human on planet earth, I suffer from the collective amnesia. I still miss the man I fell in love with over two years ago, but simply because I miss his beautiful soul, not because I miss my own (insert Beautiful Soul by Jesse McCartney here). Sometimes I still wake up with a sense of unease, and not giving into doubt is still a daily practice. Yet I return to the knowing that I will always be okay. I look up and see the love around me, my sister and brother-in-partnership who let me join them on full moon skis, my dog, my Sunshine, who will follow me wherever I go, my dad in his willingness to fly across country, eat “weird” vegan food , and tells me and my sister that we are his “happy thoughts”, my mom who will text me jokes on a “FriYay!”, my sibling by magic (I’m a Gryffindor, they’re a Hufflepuff) in Denver…
…”You are immensely loved” the psychic told me. For the first time, I believed this. I felt it for myself. The more I come back to this feeling, the more I remember, and the easier it is to return to a state of joy. Of gratitude. Of love. Of light.
Pic 1: Me and Pacer (Sunshine) at Great Sand Dunes National Park Pic 2: It really is the little things…completing this puzzle with my family came with so much joy.
Not even 10 minutes into my Reiki session, I burst out crying “but why does it always have to be so hard?”
What I really meant was “why does it always have to hurt so much?” I felt like I had been cycling through periods of intense pain over the past several years. Even in just the last 7 months, I had been closely attentive to my body, battling to stay in it though I badly wanted to dissociate, and letting all my emotions arise as they came up. Yet it felt like it was never ending. And I was exhausted. While I never wanted to end my life, I had been ambivalent about living it. The voice inside of me that said “I don’t really want to be here anymore” was no longer unconscious. I heard it. Yet I quickly dismissed it with thoughts of Pacer, living in the mountains of Colorado, and having a loving family.
So, when at the end of the session my Reiki teacher told me the clear message that he had gotten for me was “Fight for Yourself”, I was confused. What did that even mean? I don’t even like using the word “fight”, anyway.
At my next session, two weeks later, even as he explained it again, I still didn’t understand. I would stand up for myself, I thought. I’ve fought against societal norms and resisted living a traditional lifestyle (not that there is anything wrong with that), and I had begun to actively speak my emotional and intuitive truth on social media. Somewhat frustrated, I said “I still don’t get it.” My Reiki teacher gently reminded me that I would, but that my focus should lean towards finding joy and not needing to having the answer. I left feeling somewhat better, less but still frustrated.
It was another week later, when I was listening to someone else tell their own story via a podcast, that I understood. It was that voice in me, that small, unhealed part of me, that didn’t want to live. That was my darkness. Could I fight for my light?
This may be confusing to some. For anyone who has followed me for some time, you’ll know I often talk about the magic and joy of life. And I 100% feel that that magic and joy. But I also can feel the contrast just as intensely (also finally understanding when Abraham/Esther Hicks talks about contrast).
Until that moment, I didn’t understand what a strong hold that part of me, even if small, had on my soul. How, sometimes unconsciously, it could stop me in my tracks. It could make me small and prevent my light from being fully expressed. Actually, I often hid between the shadows of my hermit archetype and introvert labels.
Yet, even as I understood that this was actually the part of me that needed the most healing, that I actually needed to fight to keep my light both going and growing, I didn’t know how. I still associated with this darker part of me. “How do I just make it go away?”, I wondered. I knew, deep down, I wanted to live and to live fully, but I wanted more peace and clarity inside of me too. Less pain, more joy. So then the question turned to, could I believe that was even possible?
It took me awhile to understand this part of me and how it showed up. In the morning, this was the taint I felt in my soul. In the previous years, it showed up as a heaviness in my heart and a shortness of breath that I described as “existential angst.” As I continued to heal and released some of the heart pain that wasn’t mine, it simply felt as if someone had taken a dropper, filled it with a dose of pain, and let it drip into my essence. Like a cloud inside my light, keeping it from shining at full capacity, from waking up in the morning excited about my day, even when I living a life I thoroughly felt grateful for.
Tracing this feeling back, I remembered the panic attacks I had in high school. Waking up early to run but not really wanting to face another day. The times I never felt good enough, the fear I held in my body at every basketball game, every social event. Luckily, I had a few good friends who never left my side and let me be me, but I still kept my pain away from them, and from my parents and my twin sister. We just weren’t a family who talked about these things. The one time, my twin sister, brave enough to say anything about her own pain, I clearly remember my stepdad saying “What do you have to be depressed about?” (I have so much compassion for my stepdad now and can see how he still holds on to and buries his own emotions.) And so, my pain became my secret.
Plus, even before high school, my pain was evident just by looking at my appearance. Anytime you see someone who is skin and bones, or becomes large enough that you can no longer decipher their true form, you’re looking at someone who’s “I don’t know if I want to be here part” has taken over. It may be unconscious, especially for a 13 year old girl, but it’s evident. And then, I was basically put on medication (that I would spit out), sent to various doctors, and a mental health therapist. All this told me, or rather confirmed, was that something was wrong with me. This was the belief I was already working off of and trying to cover up with perfectionist tendencies. (Obviously, I’m all for therapists now, but even if kind, the majority of therapists in the early 2000s were still working off of the disease model of mental illness.)
The origins of the pain were still somewhere underneath that. Contrived somewhere earlier on in childhood when I was punished or unseen, especially the part of me that has always been a sensitive, empathic soul. A gift my parents just couldn’t know was actually to be cherished, for their own world had been made up of harsh realities. They were simply trying to protect me from the pain. So my sensitivity became my kryptonite, a superpower better to be hidden.
The pain started to leak out in my late 20s, first releasing some of the pain I took on from the world. I’d see a video or get a piece of mail about the inhumane treatment of animals, and I’d soon be crying on my bathroom floor. I think it was easier for me to make visible the pain I saw around me than the pain within me. It seemed more acceptable, more honorable. And to be honest, my soul was truly confused and hurt by the created darkness of the world.
So, the battle in my 30s became the battle within.
My years learning to be a therapist, speaking to my own therapists, processing with my graduate school cohort, using my skills to guide others on their journeys… this all was a practice for my internal fight. Still, I hesitate the to use the word fight. With no offense to our military, I can only see the external wars in our world as nonsensical. How truly ridiculous that we kill each other over power, fear, and inflated egos? Yet defending beautiful, innocent people is another matter, and here I lean on the example set by Nelson Mandela and other great peace leaders. (This is too big a topic to dive into in this blog.)
The first part of my own battle was surrendering to my own pain. It felt insurmountable at times, as it had been built up for nearly 3 decades. Still, I continued to be a witness to my own suffering and eventually the edges wore off and I gained more compassion for myself. Yet even as the heaviness dropped away, the part of me that felt ambivalent about life still persisted. I didn’t know how to release that darkness, although meditations focusing on “breathing out clouds and breathing in sunshine” provided some relief.
Then, I had yet another opportunity to practice.
In many cases when I have a decision to make, I’ll stay stuck in a type of anxious freeze mode, and I have a debate in my head about my choices, over and over and over again, not making the final decision until I absolutely have to. Then, every once in awhile, I’ll rush into a decision… particularly around tattoos. It’s not that I didn’t want this last tattoo, I just agreed to a drawing that wasn’t exactly what I wanted before having it sketched into my skin. Actually, to make it worse, I only “semi” rushed…I actually had 2 hrs between seeing the image and agreeing to it, with a full opportunity to wait another week since the tattoo artist was heading out for vacation. For me, this was a perfect recipe of wanting to blame myself. While I’ve mostly trained myself out of negative self talk like “you’re stupid”, “I can’t believe you did that”, “why aren’t you better?”, etc., the internal feelings of shame that look like a panic attack on the outside were still very much prevalent. Could I choose to be kind to myself?
Could I choose to forgive myself for acting too quickly? (No wonder why the majority of time I can’t make a decision, if my other practice is beating myself up whenever I make the “wrong” decision.)
Could I choose, instead, to see the lesson?
This practice, too, was a fight. I wanted to go into self-blame. Being perfect and making the so called “right” decisions was what I knew how to do, how I had learned to protect myself from the fear of not feeling good enough. The hope, from my ego’s perspective, from this protection mechanism was so I didn’t make the mistake again, so I wouldn’t be the mistake.
Stepping away from the shame for a moment, I gave myself the opportunity to realize this was a lesson I had to learn. Humans, yes, are fallible. But is a person, a child, ever a mistake themself? Hell no. We simply become better versions of ourselves when taking the time to learn and gain meaning from our mistakes. The more simply stated, common phrase: sometimes we have to learn what we don’t want to know what we do want.
This tiny step turned out to be a big insight. It opened the door for me to forgive myself for a myriad of other poor (so I had deemed) decisions as well as times I had stepped away from opportunities and my own light for fear of being unworthy.
From this perspective, I could see my adult self giving a hug to the little me wearing a sunflower outfit (hat included) for her elementary school picture, who felt confused by the actions of adults in her life (as well a Catholic school that gave her the message that she was less than for being female). Then, to the high school me, who had learned to push so many people away because she thought her pain made her an outcast. I accepted these younger parts of me, showed them love, and brought them back home in my body.
In other words, I fought for them, and I fought for me. I fought for the part of myself that knew life was magical, a gift to be lived and expressed through my being. While pain, yes, may be a part of living, it doesn’t have to be carried with me on my journey. I was not my pain. I was meant to overcome my pain. To shine my light through it and to realize that my light was the only truth.
As I close, I can’t say the fight is over, the battle is just easier. The darkness is less powerful. I can see it for the fear that it is. I have more say in what I choose to believe and what I give my energy to. I can realize that my light, that I, Ray A. Nypaver, am worth fighting for.
May you always realize that your light, that You, are worthing fighting for.
“I’ve come to believe that there exists in the universe something I call “The Physics of The Quest” — a force of nature governed by laws as real as the laws of gravity or momentum. And the rule of Quest Physics maybe goes like this: “If you are brave enough to leave behind everything familiar and comforting (which can be anything from your house to your bitter old resentments) and set out on a truth-seeking journey (either externally or internally), and if you are truly willing to regard everything that happens to you on that journey as a clue, and if you accept everyone you meet along the way as a teacher, and if you are prepared – most of all – to face (and forgive) some very difficult realities about yourself… then truth will not be withheld from you.” Or so I’ve come to believe.”― Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love
In the midwest, we like to name the “fun” sections of our routes, like “The Stairway to Heaven” or “The Piano Keys”. If you’re not familiar with Cuyahoga Valley National Park, then you probably at least heard of the infamous “Heartbreak Hill” on the Boston Marathon course.
I like to call this section of the Colorado Trail/Collegiate West/Continental Divide Trail “Death by Switchbacks.” Now truly, this section of the trail is nothing short of majestic, but in these few specific miles, you drop down from alpine via what feels like 100 switchbacks, cross a short marshy section (pictured here- it looks much different in the summer!), only to return to alpine via another 100 switchbacks. If you’re already feeling tired, it’s nothing short of a struggle. The good news, however, is that once you make the death march (hike, run, or cycle) up, you meet heaven. (If headed southwest, towards the Alpine Tunnel and Cottonwood Pass to the northeast.)
The ego (how we feel about ourselves, our self-esteem) death uses a similar model as this section of the trail, although I’m going to offer a reframe that it is not necessarily about a part of us that needs to die, but actually about the part of us that doesn’t want to truly live, or “be here”, as I’ve written in previous post. It’s that part of us that says life is too hard, too painful. It’s the part of ourselves we try to numb and call it depression. The ego death is actually about bringing that part into Light and reigniting your own inner fire. It’s accepting that there is pain in the world but realizing it is not our own. It’s acknowledging that there is suffering, but it is not our truth. It’s reclaiming our authentic expression of self and believing in our divine right to live freely, peacefully, and joyously. This is “fighting for the Light”.
Again, the question is, will you choose yourself (Love) over fear?
Yes, I do realize it is February, almost March, and most people are way over Christmas. But I, the 7 year old in a 34 year old body, believes the spirit of Christmas lives on (after all, according to pagan belief, winter solstice is about the coming of the light). Plus, as I was doing this meditation for myself, which originally just started with a question, the name “Ghosts of Christmas Past Meditation” just popped in, so I think my higher self wants me to go with this name too.
First, a little more background.
Early one wintery and windy February morning, three questions popped into my head: 1) What am I resisting/not clearly seeing? 2)What lesson do I need to learn? 3) Where is my intuition wanting to lead me?
These 3 questions came to me after an already long journey of moving through pain and deep inner work. By then, I knew myself well enough that something was stuck and needed to move. The first question led me to both realizing I was carrying something (energetically) that was not mine and releasing a block, while the third question pointed an arrow to the direction my life was moving. The second question, however, was the key to unlocking an old pattern that was keeping me stuck, that I couldn’t fully recognize while being in the tiny perspective of my human self.
The funny thing is that I’m really good at doing this for my clients. One of my roles as a therapist is connecting the dots for a client, and then reflecting them back for a client so they can see it too. In my mind, I literally imagine a connect the dots coloring page, and we see the full picture coming together.
Yet when I started meditating later that evening on the question and wanting to see my past patterns, I quickly got stuck in my analytical mind. I wanted to go straight to my “trigger-> reaction ->past experience-> core wound” map, which is a handy journaling tool. Yet for me it was still too sticky for this moment, especially because I couldn’t see how several, quite different relationships all connected. I realized I needed to step out of myself. I needed to connect with my higher self, or what Lee Harris (and the Z’s) call the “Eye of Awareness” or what others call the inner observer or inner therapist.
In choosing to access my higher self, I shifted my energy (this can be just using your imagination) to just above my head. Some people call this the 8th chakra, but again, just do what works for you. Then, I imagined myself in a few scenes of the relationships I wanted to examine, but this time I pictured it as if I was looking at the memory as an outsider. Or rather, it was like I myself was the ghost of (Christmas) past and watching myself and the other person in the scene. (In EMDR, for particularly traumatic memories, we/trauma therapists will often ask the client to picture the memory as if it were on a TV screen, perhaps even making it a black and white movie.) From this perspective, I could see it. The people were all different, some with very good intentions and some with negative vibes, but I could see how I abandoned myself, playing out the negative belief of not being enough, with each person. Perhaps it was not speaking up for myself for fear of ruining a date with someone I really liked, or just accepting things as “not that bad“.
In doing this, in seeing things from a higher perspective, I gave myself the opportunity to stop myself from having to repeat the cycle and learn the same lesson again the hard way. Spiritually speaking, once we have actualized a lesson we came to earth to work through, we can move on and transform at a more enlightened level. From my core, I now know that I need to act on the inner knowledge (it was a lot of work just to start believing that deep truth!) that I am enough and speak my truth in relationships, even if I fear the outcome (whether it be a partner getting mad or a relationship, romantic or friend, ending.)
Okay, so here’s the short “how to”:
Ghost of Christmas Past Meditation (Aka Accessing your Higher Self to End Unwanted Patterns)
Find a time and space of at least 10 minutes where you will be uninterrupted. If it feels good, light a candle or put on some high vibrational music.
In your journal, write down your question. It might be something like “What is the pattern I am not seeing?” “What lesson do I have to learn here?”
Close your eyes and begin to focus inward. First, notice what sensations are in your body and if there are emotions that need to be released. You can do this by simply breathing into the spot where you are noticing the sensation. It’s totally normal if you need to cry for a bit.
Call on your higher self for guidance. You may intentionally shift your attention and energy upward, above your head, anywhere from a few inches to a few feet. (Again, if you can’t feel it but simply use your imagination, that is 100% okay.)
From this “distance”, lightly touch on and observe memories related to the pattern you want to see more clearly, end, and learn from. What are you noticing? If you catch yourself getting too analytical, just use this as a nudge to gently pull back and return to the higher perspective.
Write down any insights. It might be helpful to read them again the next day.
For what I am holding onto will not allow me to live.
The wounds of our past: slavery, separation, running from love.
Both Mother Earth and I know the depths of the darkness.
Wounds, resurfaced, by no other than a lover.
No longer buried deep, but instead, threatening to consume the light within.
The love within.
What choice will I make?
I hear my body groan in agony.
“Good”, instructs my Mother.
This is the release.
I can’t see the way,
but with signs, she assures me that she does.
My only job is to lean back,
to trust my fall into the night sky,
to trust the stars will catch me.
There is no doubt some type of death will occur.
In my sacred groan, I choose to release my pain.
I choose to let go.
My only chance to return to the Light.
If you are in pain right now, know that you are not alone. This is part of the human journey. To transcend our pain. Not to hold it in, but to release it. To let it go. Realize it is not a burden to carry but a path to transformation. This process of moving through pain often requires more movement of energy than journaling or meditating. I suggest first moving the body and inviting any noises…screams, groans, cries, etc to come to the surface to be released. Then you may find peace in stillness.
I believe this is the difference between suicide and ego death, which is, I know, a big statement to make. But when we hold on to our pain, internalize it, keep it inside, it can absolutely kill our light, our soul. On the other hand, if we choose to step towards the pain and allow it to move, to be released, whether it be by groaning and physical release or talking to a therapist or friend, it is simply the ego that dies so the flame within can burn brighter.
The opposite of the sacred groan is, yes, the sacred moan. I hesitate to write about the sacred moan, for lack of many people understanding. There needs to be some conceptualization of sacred sexuality, even if it is only resonating with the term. The sacred moan is the mirrored twin of the sacred groan. It is the orgasm between two divine energies merging together to create something so expansive that it cannot be held within. It too, must be released. Yes, it can happen during sex, but it can happen outside of physical intercourse too. For it is in the energy, the pleasure, the love, the intersect of two divine energies coming together to co-create something bigger, more expansive, that one could have ever done in singularity.
The more years I spend on this earth and the wiser I get, the more I understand how our own healing contributes to the healing of others and of the earth. Taking the time to heal is never selfish but always a worthy endeavor, based in service.
For me, healing often comes in the quiet time after changes in my life, be it subtle, personal and related to the ego (my insecure, wounded self), or after major events. I’ve also had the pleasure of healing in the support of a group, such as when I participated in a Rites of Passage journey during graduate school, featuring a 3 day and 3 night fasted solo, with my transpersonal wilderness therapy cohort. In addition, I listen to a lot of podcasters who have done vision quests, ayahuasca ceremonies, or week-long meditation retreats. The journeys are, almost always (if you choose ayahuasca, do your research), meaningful and healing. Yet, financially or time wise, these journeys remain inaccessible for many. Or, a long retreat may feel a little too scary or a person may feel unworthy of that kind of investment in themself (which is something to explore in itself, maybe during your at-home retreat).
While an at-home retreat may not replace a retreat with a group, or spiritual leader holding space and designing the schedule, I fully believe in its power. Intention is what is important.
Before I dig in, for any new reader, I have intentionally moved into a yurt, with my fur child, for 6 months to cocoon and aid in my own healing, which you can read about more here: https://adogandhergirl.com/2022/11/08/cocooning-yurt-life/https://adogandhergirl.com/wanderings/ However, I’m still working and I still have wifi and cell reception. And whew, let me tell you…social media can be one of the best ways to throw you off your healing game (although there are a great deal of spiritual teachers the various platforms now)!
So, even despite the intention for half the year being peace and healing, I realized I needed more of a deep dive into the intention after a podiatrist recommended I wear a boot for a few weeks to help my Achilles heel, heal. Between that frustration (really, fear and sadness) and the frustration (again, fear and sadness) of not aligning with a friend, I knew I wasn’t in harmony with myself or my intention to heal and find peace. Then, my Reiki therapist*, perfectly scheduled for the next day, also had a vision of me in this quiet space. I’m not sure if I needed the extra vote or not, but I was certainly incentivized to get all my work done by Friday evening so I could detach from my cell phone, emails, and social media the next two days.
*A quick note on guides and mentors: I, personally, am not one to go out and ask someone to be a mentor, although I’ve heard many others speaking about having these types of guides in their life, free of charge. For me, I’ve come to see the monetary exchange between me and my mental health therapist, Reiki therapist, etc., as energy exchanges. “Energy exchange” is also a helpful term for me as I’m continually working through blocks around money.
I’m not going to go too deep into my experience here and instead give an outline of how to create your own healing retreat, but I do want to normalize that there is no normal experience. While I do recommend a certain order to the day, any stuck or cloudy emotions may remain throughout a 24hr period, and the path isn’t always linear. Whatever happens, happens, and it’s all okay.
1. Set an intention
I’ve been overall generalizing this post as a healing retreat, but what does that mean for you? What do you want to get out of your time? What themes do you want to explore? For instance, I was seeking healing around my Achilles tendon, but what I was really working through were my emotions and thoughts my Achilles injury was a manifestation of.
2. Clear your space (schedule and home)
I recommend at least two days, at least for the initial at-home retreat. 2.5-3 days is great, because honestly, sometimes you just need to spend extra time sleeping.
This is obviously easier to do if you don’t have a spouse and kids, but it is still doable! Or, if you’re like me and work from home, you may often work on the weekends, and it’s really important you get all that done beforehand. Then there’s the roommate situation. Don’t let these situations be blocks. Again, if you are holding the intention to create this time and healing space for yourself, that matters over anything being perfect.
A few suggestions: As a therapist, I’m a big proponent of parents having at least a little time for themselves each week, and a longer solo weekend each year, if that is at all a possibility. While if it is in your budget, you could get a hotel*, but mainly, I would recruit your spouse, friends, and family for help and have them hang out with the kids as long as possible. (Different cultures have known for a long time that parents are not meant to be sole caregivers, and communities used to have several adults help out for each one child. Unfortunately, communities are not currently set up that way, but it’s important to remember that taking time for yourself to heal and rejuvenate is beneficial for the whole family). If you’ve got roommates, maybe you know someone who is heading out for the weekend and you could house sit. Or, just tell your roommates (or your partner) your plan and let them know that you are choosing to remain silent or keeping conversations short for the weekend.
If possible, do some light cleaning ahead of time. Yet, if this turns into an activity for the next day (as it did for me), make it a mindful activity and listen to some high frequency beats rather than a podcast. Although podcasts can certainly play a role (see Step 2).
Oh, make sure to get your groceries ahead of time too! A go to meal for me is the Ayurvedic dish kitchari. I use a recipe from Minimalist Baker that I “mostly” follow.
*My goal here is to make this accessible as possible, in all seasons. For me, this retreat came in winter, when I was healing from an Achilles injury, and I didn’t want to have to drive or plan anything elaborate. But of course, heading out for a few nights of camping is a great option. The trick is, if you’re an athlete, is not to turn it into a big adventure weekend. (I love the healing aspects of movement, but there is so much healing in being still, or at least still-ish, especially if you are a “mover”.)
3. Design a ( flexible) schedule
Again, this is up to you and your intention, and there is no exact right way. Personally, I still wanted to get in my morning dog walk and cycling session on my indoor trainer, which others may not advise. Yet these activities were important to me, so I simply made them more intentional than usual. For example, in the morning dog walk, I was grounding in my intention for the day. During my cycling session, I stayed off my phone and listened to a podcast that also provided a “teaching” (or morning class) for the day. Truly, it wasn’t unlike a monk’s life (which I read about in Jay Shetty’s book Think Like a Monk) where the mornings are usually structured with a meditation, a class, and Yoga. Others may choose to truly meditate and be in silence throughout the day.
My suggestion, more than anything, is to create a flow to the day or weekend. For example, if you’re trying to work through a feeling of resistance, negative thoughts or emotions, grief, etc, I like to put journaling time or meditations where you go into the emotions earlier in the day, which may or may not be morning. Personally, on my first day I allowed myself to sleep until 8, did my morning Gabby Bernstein meditation (I’m part of her Miracle Membership), walked Pacer, cycled, ate breakfast, read a little bit from Sacred Contracts: Awakening Your Divine Potential by Caroline Myss, did some tidying up and then took a shower. By that time, it was well past 12.
Here’s some ideas:
-Morning meditation. -Morning “teaching” (book or podcast). -Mindful movement (walk outside, Yoga, Qigong, dance, foam roll, stretch). -Journal on the current on the challenge you are working to heal (optional: listen to bilateral stimulation music). -Meditation, breathinging into the heavy emotions. -Read a book (already picked out) that explores your challenge or is spiritual in nature, taking time to reflect and maybe journal so you read. -Second meditation (Focusing on your breath and allowing for what comes in, or perhaps another guided meditation. I picked one specifically on healing.) -Channeled journaling. As Lee Harris prompts, at the top of the page simply write (I’m paraphrasing a bit) “Spirit, what would you like me to know today?” and simply write in free flow for a few minutes. (You’re logical brain may try to stop you here, but even if you feel like it’s just your imagination writing, keep going.) -Actually do the exercises from your self-help or spiritual book -Breathwork (I like the simple box breathing practice of 4 second inhale, 4 second hold, 4 second exhale, 4 second hold.) -Gratitude list: Either write down 3-5 things you are grateful for, or, let it turn into a 3 page journal gratitude flow. One of the keys is not just to write down your gratitude list, but to feel it as well.
*Flexible: Be mindful of distractions, but allow for some spontaneity.
4. Turn off or limit device use
The big one here is going to be a social media fast. I’d also try to stay aways from any internet searches, but notice the urge and allow it to pass. (This is a way to retrain your brain to be in charge of devices and not to have devices, apps, etc be in charge of you.). A big thing for me was not to use the intentional space to work on a book or write another blog post. While often therapeutic for me, I knew it could just be a distraction from looking into the thoughts and emotions I didn’t want to feel. I chose to turn my phone off, but check it twice a day for family emergencies. My sister, who lives 20 minutes away, also knew my plan. Obviously, I did use my computer, but I resisted temptation and only used it for podcasts (“teachings”), meditations, and healing frequency music.
When you decide to turn your phone back on and return texts, emails, etc., is up to you and your obligations. If it has to be Sunday (or whatever day you are ending on) night, that’s okay, but ease into it as much as possible.
Optional: Use candles, incense, crystals, etc.
I am not an expert in any of these and their healing uses. Once in a while I’ll use sage or palo santo to clear energy, and I have an Apache tear drops rock that I bought in Sedona, AZ that I like. Mainly, I like to use candles and incense to create a certain atmosphere that can help me get into a different state, a state that is outside of my normal human “do, think, and maybe ruminate too state”. Use what calls to you.
After you’re at home retreat, let your experience settle. If nothing felt “profound”, don’t judge the experience. What often happens is we peel back a layer and reset our baseline. After my recent “at-yurt retreat” experience, I emailed my Reiki therapist and wrote “…I’m finally, truly, understanding what it means to “trust the process”. In hindsight, I realize that without my Achilles injury, I probably wouldn’t have gone on such a deep, personal journey and I’m only beginning to experience all the interplays it has in my life. And, I fully believe I have and am doing everything I can to heal, and I really just trust my achilles will heal when it’s supposed to. ” I lost that feeling maybe a day later. Yet daily, I bounce back more quickly to the feeling of trusting the process. I think amnesia is simply part of the human condition, but the more we work through the fog, the easier it gets to remember and turn back to truth.
Bonus: Follow Ups
A few weeks later, I felt the urge for the quiet, solitude (plus Pacer) time again. However, there was no way I could get around the work that I still needed to do. So instead, I just put 8 hrs of no phone or social media time aside and was intentional with the time I did have. Because the timeframe was compact, I was just a little more focused with my time. This shortened retreat was healing too, and I think 4 hours could be as well. Again, it’s the intention that matters.
(This may seem like a lot of time for inner work, but again, this is part of the reason why I moved into a yurt with my dog for 6 months. I can’t say exactly why yet, but I know its an important part of my own journey.)
Instead, we’ve been trained to see it as “normal”. How the sun rise each day and the stars glitter each night. That I can give a friend a hug and feel a profound gratitude for their presence. How, as I type this, I can reach out my hand and put my fingers through the fur of a being who is pure, unconditional love.
I don’t care how well someone explains to me TVs, cell phones, and computers. I will always be amazed that I can get an “I love you” text from my dad 1,500 miles way in a matter of seconds. Or how I can get a live picture on my screen of a full movie, taped years ago, past appearing in reality as present. It’s mind blowing.
Or, that one time in my life, I was a mere egg, just a possibility. Then, a 6 lb baby, paired with another 6lb baby (my twin sister), who came out of a woman (my mother) who is more petite than I am. Now, I’m a full grown 5’4″ walking and talking adult. Bananas!
And, if you really want to talk miracles, what about the fact that we live on this sphere floating around in space, orbiting around the sun from just the right distance so we can survive, and that the moon affects the ocean tide?
That a human body, made of skin and bone, can experience the sensation of love. That be it physical, mental, emotional, or spiritual, we can love, and so deeply that it hurts.
When you think of life that way, when you can stare out at the mountains in the pink glow of sunrise or at the ocean as the sun fades in the horizon, it actually seems silly to believe magic doesn’t exist.
It may take some squinting at first, some fuzzy-ing up your vision as you did as kid to see the blackboard to prove you didn’t need glasses, this time to un-train your conditioned eyes, but I promise, when you look choose to look through the lens of awe, you will see it. Not only will you see it, you will realize magic has always existed, has always been all around you.
[I was recently asked by a friend if I’ve ever tried plant medicine before, as some of my writings seem to reflect as much. At the time of this writing, I have not, nor have I ever had any medicine much stronger than Tylenol, save for the local anesthesia when I’ve gone to the dentist or had my PRP injection. Still, I am certainly not against plant medicine and the beautiful “places” I’ve heard it can take you. (I am especially interested in using psychedelic medicine in trauma work by trained therapists.) Personally, what I have found is that the deeper I dive into my mental health journey, or inner work, and the braver I’ve gotten to be a witness to my own darkness, that only spirituality is left on the other side. This writing, in particular, was written during my “at home weekend retreat” where I spent much of the day journaling, meditating, and going out onto the land to walk my dog.]