Whenever, in the course of a visualization exercise or in a yoga nidra practice, I am asked to imagine a safe space that feels like home, I always picture an open field, calm and peaceful, surrounded by trees. And, this time last year, when I arrived at the Margaret Austin Center for my first weekend women’s retreat with Jenn Wooten and Angie Knight, I saw before me and recognized the field of my lucid dreams. And it was every bit as beautiful as I’d imagined.
I’d waited for years to attend this retreat: difficult years of childbearing and rearing, and of very painful personal growth. Last October, finally, my babies were big enough for me to sneak away for a much-needed weekend of solace and renewal under the guidance of two of my most beloved teachers.
Thirty or so women – of all ages and life stages – gathered on the beautiful grounds. We selected bunks, rolled out our mats, and settled in for three days of good company, good food, yoga, lounging in the sunshine and, perhaps, a few life-changing revelations.
If you’ve ever been in Jenn or Angie’s class, you know that they each possess a remarkable ability to hold space: to make you and your humanity feel seen and welcomed, even as you are held in the midst of a cohesive group of people. Their gift is to bestow dignity and compassion onto everyone who enters into their presence. Being on retreat with them felt like an extension of being in class: an invitation to learn how to bestow these gifts upon ourselves, and an offer of very practical tools to help us do so.
The theme of last year’s retreat was The Yoga of Being. We were asked to examine what it feels like to be in a state of doing vs. a sense of being, and how the many roles that we each play–mother, partner, wife, daughter, friend, colleague, teacher, writer, student, etc–can obscure our essence and prevent us from making an authentic connection with life as it is.
On Saturday morning, we did an exercise that had a profound impact on me. After our morning practice, Angie instructed us to take nothing but a blanket to sit on, go out into the dew-filled morning, and find something to give our full attention to. She read us this quote by Henry Miller: “The moment one gives close attention to anything, even a blade of grass, it becomes a mysterious, awesome, indescribably magnificent world in itself.” I walked to the mown edge of the field, put my belly down onto the earth, and put my nose down to the world. I lay transfixed for the whole allotted fifteen minutes, staring at a single blade of grass on which beaded a single fat droplet of dew, the sunlight shining through it clear and hard. When I heard the sound of the gong calling us back to the practice space, I put my face down to the earth and inhaled deep the clean, sweet green smell. I returned to the group utterly changed–an essential piece of myself having been returned to me.
Once we had gathered back together inside, Jenn told us how she watched us all venture out to find something to pay attention to. After making a joke about us all looking like slightly disturbed adults, standing confused and blinking into to the sun, she said: “You were each in your own field.” Each of us had left behind a life and its litany of roles to come, be seen and held in a safe place, so that we could find a way to return to, and learn to be in, our own fields.
We go on retreat not so we can escape our cares and our tasks, but to be reminded of who we are beneath the many roles we play. Spending time in a state of being, we can experience our essence. The, with that connection restored, we can return home and see our own life again with fresh eyes.
I’m looking forward to returning to the Margaret Austin Center this October 16th to 18th, to get replenished and refreshed by Jenn & Angie’s wisdom, compassion and humor. And to be reminded of what it feels to be in my own field, that I may re-enter the stream of my life and be more alive and present to its gifts.