Retreats come in many shapes in sizes. At its core, the purpose of any retreat is to set aside time and space from our day to day life to be intentional. Retreats may focus around different areas such as self-development, spirituality, yoga, meditation, nature and more.
The concept of retreat was not created by new-age westerners. For centuries, humans have been taking time to withdraw from their daily lives for periods of reflection and contemplation.
Each year, my brother and sister-in-law take solo 2-3 day silent retreats. Despite busy schedules and having two little boys, they take this time and state that it is one of the most restorative and life-giving things they do all year.
I had thought about attending a retreat for quite some time, but unfortunately, retreats can be a bit cost prohibitive when you're a full time grad-student.
As serendipity would have it, I had the opportunity to connect with an incredible woman who recently opened the retreat at Indigo Nature Retreat, nestled in the Blue Ridge Mountain’s Pisgah Forest in western North Carolina. She graciously invited me to attend my first ever retreat this past Saturday, and it was an incredibly enriching experience.
Driving into the retreat center, I was instantly struck by the beauty of Pisgah National Forest and the majestic Blue Ridge Mountains. I drove down the path, winding next to the beautiful Newberry Creek, and could feel myself exhale as I breathed in the chilly forest air.
I drove up the drive and saw the gorgeous retreat center. As I parked and exited my car, I inhaled the glorious mixture of pine, wood, fire, and stream. The smell is similar to the feeling you get after it rains in the summertime.
As I entered the retreat center, I received a warm greeting from Lisa “Momma Bear” Garcia. I was welcomed and encouraged to enjoy the beautiful breakfast spread that was before me, and to get comfortable. Coffee, tea, cucumber infused water, the freshest fruit I’ve tasted, yogurts, figs (real figs!), nuts, and so many other delicious and nutritious options laid before me.
I settled in around the fireplace, with my steaming cup of coffee and plate of fruit, and I began talking with some women I had never met before. It was an interesting kind of talk, not the obligatory small talk one often encounters when meeting someone for the first time, but instead, the conversation flowed easily, and there was a warmness and richness among these women that I hadn’t felt for a long time.
The retreat space itself was stunning. Beautifully crafted, with every detail carefully designed. The great room had a magnificent cathedral ceiling and stone fireplace. The furniture was comfortable, and we had plenty of space to spread out.
As everyone arrived, we gathered in the comfortable great room where we had our official welcome and overview of the day’s activities. Not wanting to waste time, we dove into getting in touch with our hearts and spirits. It was energizing to be around women that were open, fun loving, and genuinely warm-hearted. Our group ranged in age. Some of us were in our late twenties and thirties, launching into the world of career and family, and others were newly retired, figuring out what the rest of life has in store. The range in ages created a surprisingly balanced dynamic, with each woman eager and willing to listen to the perspectives of the other.
Momma Bear, who spent a career as the vice president of human resources for Ritz-Carlton (yes, that Ritz-Carlton) has studied leadership coaching, nature retreat leadership, self-compassion, forest bathing, yoga and a host of other practices. In between her years at Ritz-Carlton and starting the Indigo Nature Retreat, she and her husband owned and operated a successful outdoor recreation facility in the Blue Ridge mountains. Momma Bear has found a way to combine her love of the outdoors, natural gift of leadership, and passion for inspiring others to develop their full potential to create a one of a kind experience.
I’m not sure how she found the talent she did, but Momma Bear partnered with two other incredible women who led us through the day. Annalise Kolterman, is a teacher, coach, meditation guide, and yoga instructor. In what can only be described as a gift, Annaliese had this way of nudging us to dig a little deeper while simultaneously being gentle and offering a container to hold space for all that came up throughout the day. Carlyn Waller is a gifted musician and board certified music therapist who led our expressive arts journey as we created art and music.
One of my favorite moments of the retreat arrived during our drum circle. As Carlyn said, “if you’ve got a heartbeat, then you’ve got rhythm.” This was a novel concept to me, as I’ve long considered myself rhythm-less. The woman I sat next to, a retired speech pathologist, tentatively picked up the tambourine. She whispered to me, “I always wanted to try this.” Holy smokes, did she try it! I don’t know if I’ve ever seen such unbridled joy and freedom in a woman’s face as I did when I looked up and saw her, eyes closed, head bobbing, tambourine slapping. She was in her element. It was glorious.
And I think that was the beauty of the retreat. It offered each one of us something. We all connected to something on a deep level, throughout the day. Whether it was in guided meditation, sitting around the fire, or on Shinrin-Yoku (also known as forest bathing), every one of us was moved.
For me, there were two specific moments in the day that spoke to me on the deepest level. The first occurred during Shinrin-Yoku. Momma Bear, paused at a powerful fallen tree. The tree had a massive trunk. It had cracked in half and the end of it was shattered. The wood splintering off at the bottom was becoming one with the earth. Pausing to take in this tree, something majestic and powerful, now shattered hit me in a way I didn’t anticipate. As Momma Bear pointed out, there is beauty in the shattering and the re-birth. The shattering of this great tree was not for null. New growth and life was springing forth out of the shattered wood chips as they re-joined the earth and created a new richness to the soil. Something beautiful was being created and growing out of the shattered pieces.
The other powerful moment came in our guided meditation with Annaleise. I won’t go into the details of the meditation, but reflecting on the beginning and end of life has a way of clarifying the important and creating perspective.
Each of us emerged from the Forest that night taking something with us. Perhaps it was a greater understanding of our purpose, a renewed sense of possibility, or maybe a deep sense of grounding that has been missing. I think each one of us found something in Pisgah that we will not soon forget.
I felt immense gratitude for having the opportunity to attend such a beautiful and restorative retreat. So much of my gratitude came in the knowledge that many of the women whose souls could most use time to retreat are not able to do so, largely because of responsibilities, finances, and socio-economic constraints. I thought about how the single-mom, or the man working multiple part-time jobs just to get by, don't have the luxury of taking time out for retreat.
I also realized the level of introspection and willingness required if one is to truly drink in all that retreat has to offer. The work is not easy, and you may leave feeling tired from the internal work that has occurred. If you have the time, the fiscal ability, and the willingness to drop your defenses, I will assure you that a retreat will never dissapoint.