I started this blog with a view to using the time spent in New Zealand to begin to write about both my general observations of travel and life in New Zealand, but also about how I’ve been trying to unravel some of my own inner workings, habits and thought processes in order to move towards recovery from ME/CFS.
Last weekend I was lucky enough to travel to Tyburn Monastery, a wonderful Catholic retreat centre run by cloistered nuns. Tucked away in the hills, Tyburn has the most spectacular scenery and views. I joined a very welcoming group of my sister’s friends who have been coming regularly to the Monastery to have some much needed quiet time, away from the busyness of their daily lives. Staying in comfortable en suite single rooms, as this was not a guided retreat we were able to choose how we spent our time. I took advantage of the stunning scenery to take gentle walks and practice my photography skills. I also attended the beautiful small chapel and spent time in quiet meditation in the wonderful rosary garden. With good home cooked food provided by the nuns there was nothing that we needed to do, except to find ways to let the peace and tranquility of this place sink deeply into our souls. And it did. There is something very special about a place that is set aside for prayer and quiet contemplation.
As I spent time in this restful space with more opportunity than usual for reflection and introspection I realised that this blog site is not the first time I’ve combined the inner and the outer journeys in writing. Once I was back in Hamilton, with time available to read through some of my older pieces of writing I came across one that seemed relevant to share on this blog. In May 2014 I travelled to Sweden to take part in a Yin Yoga teacher training course. Taught by a wonderfully wise and humble teacher, Biff Mithoefer, and supported musically by the equally inspirational Prema Mayi the week’s training course was both challenging and transformational.
In the following piece of writing I attempted on my return to Northwich to convey some of the experiences of the retreat experience – which is, of course, very much an inner journey. As a little side note I should add that although I talk about discomfort whilst in the poses it is important to understand that I would never advocate pain in a yoga practice.
If you’re interested in reading see below:
Musings on Sweden, Yin and Beyond – 2014
I fly geographically North to meet the warrior inside me who defends my light. Across the wide ocean to a verdant land. Emptying roads. Dirt track. A final path through the forest to a lake. Arrival.
The water is tree-lined and reflects the evening light. A tepee with smoke gently rising nestles in the green grass. The sound of a song carries on the still air. I crouch down to enter the womb of the tent. A small campfire, guitars, skin-‐covered drums. Song. Open-hearted joy. In a matter of a few hours I have been transported from 21st century time-bound Manchester airport to a place that feels almost mythical in its timelessness. My tears begin to flow. I have arrived.
Morning sun is mirrored on the still lake. Birdsong fills the green depths of the forest and the tang of pine gives a freshness to the morning air. A small, white artic starflower glows shyly against the soft moss of the forest floor. I hear the steady rhythm of my feet as I step forwards on my path.
A light-‐filled room prepared with love. Candles. Flowers. The smell of incense gently rising heavenwards. I see my fellow travellers and observe. What judgments I make about them as I tell myself their stories before they have opened their mouths to speak. Inside I am vulnerable and fearful. Drawing back into the armour of my conditioning – my throne of condemnation and isolation.
The yin yoga practice begins. Our bodies are guided into familiar positions that we hold for extended periods of time. In this immobility we are asked to find rest.
Song. Drumbeat. Heartbeat.
Body and mind are wracked with pain in the stillness. A slow deep ache in the joints mirrors the anguish in the spirit. I observe a rising sense of anger, of frustration – a desire to jump up, to run away – to do anything that will take me away from the discomfort in the body and the mind. I long for the ease of movement, of chatter, of distraction – of turning anywhere at all but into the agony of right here. Right now.
The breath is my guide. My lifeline. The safety-line to help me plumb the depths of this inner journey. Breath by breath I begin to be soothed. Drawn into the pain and then beyond into the spaciousness that exists when we can let go of the fighting, the fear, the fury, and the fables. Drumbeat and song, heartbeat and breath; poetic gems of timeless wisdom spoken into the silence. All these gradually filter through the walls of my resistance. My armour begins to loosen and I drop inwards towards the ease.
Day after day we open our hearts and challenge our bodies and minds. We peel away the layers that separate us from ourselves and from others. In this space we remember how it feels to fully be ourselves – to be heard, to be exposed, to be real. To be alive. In stillness and movement, in silence and in song, though solitude and community we watch one another slowly emerge from our self-imposed cocoons and begin to stretch our fragile and glorious wings of individuality and difference.
The judgments and criticisms fall away. When my fear, tension and insecurity dissipate I can see through calm and loving eyes. I am struck by the beauty of our differences and awed by the profundity of our similarity.
And it is in this place that I am able to reconnect with an often forgotten part of me -the fierce and strong inner warrior who sees the light of my passion and uniqueness and defends it with courage. Who recognises that the strength of my emotions is a gift to be embraced and not a curse of shame; that my own honesty can encourage others to speak their truth; that my love of both the sacred and the irreverent has a valid and valuable place in this world; and that my voice was designed to be heard and my truth expressed.
So – here I am now. Back in my home setting, away from the heady combination of joyful freedom and deep internal voyaging. I have a notebook full of insights and a heart full of memories. I have returned home not only with the frightened barefoot girl who sang tearfully in the dreamlike tepee, but also with her strong and passionate warrior sister who I pray will daily remind me that my light is precious and help me to keep it burning bright.