Reflections from Costa Rica
Last summer I led a yoga and nature retreat with Beck Shatles and Wanna and Toby Johansson. I’ve been home for just over 2 months and as I begin to plan for our next Costa Rica Retreat in May, I am asking myself, what made it so magical? And more importantly, what magic am I still carrying with me? While a retreat can be an incredible experience in the moment, it should also nourish, support and inform our lives moving forward. So how did it change and grow me? Was there a magic ingredient?
First, the embodied experience of being in my parasympathetic nervous system for days at a time (with no trace of the fight-or-flight response) left a deep impression that I can call back when things get intense (which they will and have). It’s not just a reservoir of energy or relaxation to pull from but an imprint that I can recall bodily and tap into to cultivate a sense of peace. The last couple of weeks, I have needed to call on that imprint. I’ve felt my stress level rising and was able to understand my stress patterns more clearly and take some tangible steps to address them.
Secondly, for me, it is essential to return to a deep connection to nature (which slips away when I’m not nurturing it). This requires extended time in wild places. And the Osa Peninsula is wild! Each day, I had a different “conversation” with the animals: whales, dolphins, monkeys, macaws, kuwatis, and anteaters were a few of the creatures that gifted me with their stunning presence. Being able to engage with the non-human world left me feeling more connected to the world around me. Now add the presence of a group of wonderful people, each having a similar experience with their own special sauce. Together, we practiced yoga while listening to the surf crash and the macaws squawk, galloped on horseback, rappelled down waterfalls, and shared incredible gourmet meals together. The feeling sense I internalized was belonging.
And finally, the quality I am still nurturing is a huge feeling of aliveness. And what I see now, is that when I relax deeply, I let go of fear and anxiety and come into a space of possibility. I don’t have to be vigilant or protect myself or use words like but and should. In that space, I am not worried about the past or the future. Instead, I am absorbed in my present moment experience. And when that experience includes a wild vibrancy that inundates my senses with the other-worldly sounds of howler monkeys, macaws, under the water dolphin whistles and the above water sound of a whale expelling water from her blow-hole, my body responds. My awareness expands and the outer landscape floods my inner experience. Having the space to practice this deep embodied presence brings me alive.
That peace, belonging, aliveness and connection continues to feed me. We live in a time when the images around us can be very disturbing. When the climate we live in leaves us feeling scared and disconnected, we get anxious, we get depressed, and we lose presence. In these moments calling on experiences of deep connection and peace are essential. When I need a reminder that people are good and the world is full of overwhelming beauty, I need only return to images of flying fish, dolphins playfully racing our boat, deep authentic conversations, and the feel of a wave beneath my surfboard. When I feel these images in my body, I am restored. Ironically, sometimes it takes reliving a powerful experience to bring me back to the present and the always-available opportunity to notice the beauty that is right in front of me. (Click here for a guided meditation that will help you practice just that.)
And what about you? What remembered experiences elicit peace, connection and a sense of belonging? What brings you alive? What magic might a week in Costa Rica have to offer you?