When I thought about what a retreat was, I thought of it as an individual endeavour, where one went off on ones own, sat in silence away from the world and came back with some answers or a better understanding of things as a result of that time away. While the building fires retreat was indeed away from the hustle and bustle of the city and the demands of our day to day lives, it was not as solitary as I imagined a retreat to be. Together, there were 21 of us: a handful from Queen Street Yoga, and an equal number from a studio in Toronto known as Kula.
As transformative as a solitary retreat may be, the time with these people was no less so, if I may offer, as this being the only retreat I have ever been on. I should have noticed that something special was going on, on the first night, when after a long traffic and accident riddled drive, we sat together in the practice room at Harmony Dawn retreat and shared our stories of why we were there. There was a common note in what was said: life was busy, and hectic and there wasn’t enough time to just breathe. There were also personal challenges of children getting older, lives changing, jobs being stressful and the like. What could be noted about the stories that were shared, was the freedom with which people told them, and the willingness to which they were listened to. There seemed to be little reservation with honesty, as well as little impatience to move on to the next story or to tell one’s own. I could feel myself being pulled out of the story that I had wrapped myself in, that my life was difficult, that I had challenges no one else understood. Hearing the stories of the other people there, not as complaints, but as something that they were just being honest about, as something that they wished to work on during the retreat started to break the bond that my story had on me, and helped me to connect with their own to remember that we all have our crosses to bear.
On Saturday I struggled with the morning silence that had been proffered the night before. I wanted to get going, to chatter and discuss the amazing breakfast smells wafting through the air, the vistas before us, the woodpecker on the suet. I felt odd that I struggled with being silent for just the morning, given that much of the work I do everyday is in silence. As we began to seat ourselves to eat, the openness of the individuals who had sought out this retreat showed itself again as people readily sat at tables with those that they hadn’t known the night before and chatted readily about their lives, and of course our common love of yoga. Again and again the friendliness of the blossoming community showed itself as people opened themselves up not only to the pain that they had been shielding themselves from, but also to that of others. Mothers whose children were moving on discussed the challenges that, that brought, while others discussed painful breakups and the lessons learned there. It also showed itself in the acceptance of solitude as some people sought the peace of the woods and fields or their mat to ‘digest’ the stories they had also wrapped themselves in. It could be seen in how the group accepted those acts of solitude as readily as they accepted their return, which was quite simply, with an open heart. These hearts truly sparkled deep into the Saturday night as camp songs were revived and old pop songs renditioned, before a quiet fire, and amidst modest complaint from passing coyotes.
Sunday morning, no longer struggling against the tight bonds of the story I had wound around myself, I sat happily in silence and enjoyed my sweet breakfast in peace. When it came time for closing ceremonies it was obvious that people were struggling with returning to ‘the city life’ with one person comparing her feelings to a cartoon she had seen recently where the protagonist, surrounded by an angry mob of spears, suggested to his sidekick that they start singing kumbaya. No one was sure what going back to their lives would be like now that they had been away, but certainly they would try to face those spears with the peaceful glow that had been fostered by our time at Harmony Dawn.
While it shouldn’t be surprising that I didn’t find the answers I had hoped for, as how can you ever place any expectations on time alone with your untamed thoughts, the honesty, kindness and acceptance that was given during that short time provided more transformative power than I ever could have had from those answers I had hoped for. It was a gift to see the blossoms that sat before me on that rainy afternoon where there had once been only hardened seeds. While it was difficult to leave that peaceful place, I am heartened to know that there are people out there, my retreat companions included, that like embers given enough chance to breath, will flicker alight ready to spread warmth and happiness to the lives that come across their flame. It was a privilege to be in their presence.
If you’re ever in Toronto and looking for a place to roll out your mat you might want to check out our friends at Kula: http://mykulatoronto.ca/
Queen Street Yoga and Kula will be hosting another retreat at Harmony Dawn on February 7-9th. Registration will be opening in December for the Mugs and Mittens: A cozy yoga retreat so keep your eyes peeled if you would like to attend.
If you’d like to know more about the absolutely lovely retreat center, Harmony Dawn, you can learn more here: http://www.harmonydawnontarioretreat.com/
This post was written by Tegan, QSY’s social media coordinator. When she’s not keeping up to date on the latest Yoga news, Tegan can be easily tempted away from her computer with the ofter of a long walk in snow covered woods, and the promise of a warm cup of hot chocolate afterwards.