owlI am a firm proponent of the old adage: Bloom where you are planted.  I believe you should honor your spirituality in your every day life. Find the divine in doing the dishes. Grow your soul through meditating. Practice kindness and love in each day, every day. Do your soul work by seeing every obstacle as a lesson. Learn how to embrace the difficult people with whom you must connect. It is possible to walk your entire spiritual path without ever talking about it to another like-minded soul. The spiritual journey is mostly an interior one and we all have inside of us the tools to evolve and grow using only our own insight, intuition, and connection with the collective energy.

That said, I am a fan of gathering with like-minded people. That’s why I belong to a meditation group. It’s why I have joined an energy circle. It’s why I am still looking for a drum circle. People gravitate toward like-minded folks because we all want to experience the feeling, if only for a little while, of being within a group that really “gets” us.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATo that end, I had been feeling a strong pull toward finding a retreat and the more I researched them, the more I wanted to go. Of course, the first ones I found were those week long luxury retreats in Bali that costs tens of thousands of dollars and seem to be designed for the spirituality jetset. Why is it that so many of these experiences are so expensive? Is truth and soul growth restricted to only the wealthy? I am not fabulously wealthy – in fact, I am not even miserably wealthy. On the wealth spectrum, I am closer to the “Oh, crap, how am I going to pay for that oil change?” side of the spectrum than the “Hey, let’s whisk off to Carmel for some cleansing.” The more I researched these retreats, the more frustrated I got. Yes, I do believe that spiritual workers should be paid a fair wage for their service, but where is the line between getting value for one’s time and exploiting those who are looking for answers?
So, I put the retreat idea aside, but I set my intention that I wanted to go on one at some point. As always, the universe gives us what we need. Fast forward to a few months later and somehow, through one friend or another, I became connected on Facebook with Circle of Trees Retreats in Milford, PA. They have great prices, the grounds looked gorgeous, and the workshops sounded amazing.

I was a little nervous about the idea of going by myself, but, repeating that quote about life beginning outside of my comfort zone, I decided to go for it. Connecting with several women on Facebook before the retreat helped to assuage some of my nervousness.

I left my house at seven AM with the intention of arriving at around 3:30 in the afternoon. As I was driving, I was getting a little lovinganxious and kept trying to imagine what it would be like. After fretting for a while, I realized that I was wasting a beautiful drive on a gorgeous day, so I channeled my dog. Sitting behind the steering wheel, I let a big goofy grin cross my face and I just looked at everything with Brutus’ eyes. Squirrels, trees, butterflies, hawks, creeks, passing cars – they all got the same wide-eyed, grinning look. There is only one true way to delete anxiety and that is to surrender to love. I loved the scenery. I loved the sky. I loved my fellow drivers. Admittedly, there are probably some people who were driving Interstate 80 on Friday who think they encountered a raving lunatic, but it made for an incredible drive. You can’t continue to have anxiety when you are grinning like a dog. (And occasionally panting.)

When I made it to Milford, I easily found the retreat and drove up the long, wooded driveway to the main building. Several women were already in the lobby; one was playing guitar. She saw my drum and said, “I can’t really play guitar, but we can jam if you want.” I returned with, “I can’t really play the drum, and I would love to jam with you.”

Someone led me to my room. Someone offered to help with my bags. Women randomly introduced themselves. When I returned to the beautiful lobby, I sat down in front of the fireplace, where I was joined by several women. We fell into easy conversation and within minutes, we were all chatting and laughing like old friends or sisters.

Dinner continued the connections, and after dinner, we had a  raptor presentation by the amazing Hawklyn, a woman of such magnetism and magic that she needs an entire story of her own. Suffice to say that the love and fun continued through the night. I drummed in circle around the bonfire for a while and then went to bed. The last thing I remember was falling asleep to the sounds of women drumming. I slept in comfort and peace, though dreams wove through my head all night. I couldn’t remember anything specific.

womyn dancingSaturday was busy. I went to a dream catcher workshop. In typical Beth fashion, I walked in and announced to Ruth, the instructor, “I am not at all artistic.” She replied, “Can you tie your own shoelaces.” My response? “Sometimes.” She grinned, shaking her head and assured me that I would be fine. She was right. I made a beautiful dream catcher, woven with hematite, magnets, copper, silver, and small wooden beads. The colors are just alike enough to give it an intense, earthy look. I’m in love with it.

I had a private healing session with Hawklyn and she saw some things that I have not talked about with anyone. It was intense energy work and I left the session feeling vulnerable. It is important to understand that the point of spiritual work is not always to make you feel all happy and sunshiney, but to open yourself up to learning deeper truths. I was pleased and gratified that Hawklyn saw so deeply into my inner self, but it wasn’t easy being exposed like that.

After that session, I went outside to spend some time sleeping in the sun, where I was joined by a new friend. We slept together peacefully, soaking in the vitamin D. Later, I went to an owl and snake medicine workshop, facilitated by Hawklyn. The other women in the class were open and and accepting and everyone was willing to share deeper truths and fears with each other. It was a place of non-judgment and I felt free to shed some of my own fears in that loving group. However, on top of the intense energy work of the morning, the soul searching of the workshop, and the combined energies of all of the women working their magic all around me, I got completely run down. I was exhausted to the point of passing out and my head hurt so much, I was sure I was having a stroke. I wandered into the kitchen where Marjorie, the owner of Circle of Trees, took one look at me, and went out to find someone to give me some healing. In the meantime, Filomena, another new and dear friend, offered to give me Reiki on my head. Several people offered all sorts of help, without question. I could feel the care and concern of everyone in the room. Filomena took me to my bunk and put her hands on my head. I felt her energy pulsing through me at once and the stabbing pain subsided almost immediately. She was transferring healing into me. Healing and love. I could feel the energy wrapping around me, easing me out of my pain and panic.stars

Later that night, after eating, and resting, I sat with a group of lovely women and we finished making our dream catchers. We laughed, we made fun of each other. We talked about families, loves, dreams, pain. We told jokes, sang songs, ate cake. I fell in love with all of them. It was like a big family reunion, except that the family is all chosen, and, as one woman pointed out, we all spoke the same language. I listened to the screams and drumming and laughter that came from the dancing women around the bonfire, but I was content to stay with my little group, working our crafts and sharing our lives.

In the end, the entire weekend was amazing. Yes, I did get sick for a while, but I think that was to be expected with all of the deep probing I was doing into my soul. And that’s okay. That’s what a retreat is meant to do. I went to this retreat with the hope of making some new friends and getting some new insights into my journey. I came out of it with soul friends and a deep and abiding lesson about myself.

After the retreat, I went into hiding for a day. I journaled a bit, meditated a bit, ate a bit, and slept a lot. It was a glorious and exhausting weekend. Would I do it again? Without a doubt. I’m already plotting how to save up for the next one.

I haven’t completely reversed my original stance on blooming where you are planted. Some people don’t have the opportunity to go on retreat. Some don’t live in a place where they can find meditation groups or drum circles or women’s empowerment groups or spirituality classes. I still believe that everyone should try to learn as much as they can, and grow as much as possible with the tools that they have at their disposal. In my case, one of my tools was this incredible retreat where I was able to learn even more about the more thansubjects that interest me the most and gain exposure to methods that I had never encountered. It was challenging to be forced into looking at things that I can usually bury, but it was also a relief to be around so many women who were having conversations that seemed to be punctuated so often with the phrase, “Oh! You too? I thought I was the only one!” Perhaps that’s the most important part of a gathering of like-minded souls. That overwhelming sense of coming home, of falling into the embrace of your long-lost sisters. I can’t remember the last time I was in one gathering with so many lightworkers. I felt surrounded by love. I felt my own vibrations rising because of the positive energy of the group. I felt as if I could do *anything*…. anything.

I highly recommend Circle of Trees as a retreat center. They are a women’s retreat center, but they have some co-ed weekends as well. Marjorie, the owner, is a blessing, and will happily answer any questions you may have. If you connect with them on Facebook, you can make friends before you get there, which will ease the transition of going somewhere by yourself. The grounds are gorgeous and the accommodations are comfortable. The workshops are exciting and deep. The people are amazing. If you can make it happen, do it for your own soul journey.

If you aren’t local to the area, look for a retreat near where you live. If it is too costly, ask about sliding scales or scholarships or work exchanges. If they are truly spiritually-minded, they will want to help you get there, no matter what your circumstances. Set your intention. Do some research. Ask around. Word of mouth is a powerful force. If you can’t get to a retreat right now, think about joining a group. Try to see if you can find spiritual gatherings near you. Yes, the spiritual path is often a solo journey, but it doesn’t have to be lonely. There are others who are walking along the same road and many of them are willing to walk beside you for a while. Now, doesn’t it feel nice to know that someone is holding your hand?



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