Bringing Bliss Home
Last week I participated in one of the most remarkable retreat experiences I've ever had—and I have had many. I'm going to try not to gush in this post, but it will be hard. The seven-day retreat took place on a small island off the eastern coast of Nicaragua, and was facilitated by the beautiful Grace Van Berkum, the glorious soul behind a variety of yoga and super-food retreats she offers through Gracious Living Lifestyle in Nicaragua, the Bahamas, North America, and Europe. Grace is a skilled and motivating yoga instructor, a trained expert in nutrition, a woman guided by a powerful vision, and an inspiration to all who want to live life fully, passionately, healthfully, and graciously. She lovingly orchestrated seven days of delicious vegan eating, invigorating yoga, calming meditation and restorative relaxation, and more heart-warming sun and clear blue water than anyone deserves to have in a week. (OK, maybe she can't take credit for the sun and the water. . . ) Guided by Grace, the remote jungle of Little Corn Island offered a level of equanimity and clarity so much more profound that what I experience only periodically in my busy life. And that's just what a retreat is all about, right? It's an opportunity to experience the feelings that we strive to build into our lives through our daily practices. On retreat, though, most obstacles are removed allowing gentle entry into a space of openness, clarity, surrender, peace.
But even on Little Corn Island, obstacles exist. We brought them with us, because they reside, of course, in our own minds. So by day two, as I began to let go and surrender to the warmth, the silence, the restfulness, the renewed energy, I still found resistance arising within. Old stories, fears, doubts, assumptions about who I am or have been, about what is possible for me. And I recognized the need to pay attention to the habits of mind that inhibit me from "experiencing my experiences" fully through eyes of truth. Even in paradise this is a practice.
As we practiced yoga together, ate nutrient-dense foods together, and were lead into deep relaxation by the talented Rebecca Gonzales, all of us became tender around big life issues. We grieved losses; we sat with disappointments; we recognized our unremitting capacity to falter in our commitments; we struggled with our resistance to change. We were pure, raw, open, thoroughly human beings on a tiny spit of land in the middle of a huge turquoise ocean.
We were also embraced by a life-affirming hope and sense of possibility. And on our last night together, listening to water slap the shoreline, warmed by a great fire, it was so easy to bow down with humility and gratitude to honor our precious selves.
We carried all of this with us as we reluctantly boarded a cargo ship for the mainland on February 27. The conversation on the taxing 24-hour trip back to Orlando revolved around how to hold on to the lessons, the practices, and most importantly, the feeling of bliss. How do we go home to busy lives and duplicate this?
I guess the best answer to that question is you can't duplicate it. That's what retreats are all about—giving you something you can't duplicate at home. They remove obstacles so you have a fighting chance to release old baggage—to feel bliss. And that's the gift. For seven days, we found bliss.
As we waited for one flight after another, we discussed how we would incorporate our new experiences into our lives, but deep down, we knew it would be hard, and of course we also knew there was no way to sustain bliss in our home environments. Yes, we can eat more veggies—greens, greens, greens. Yes, we can add a few supplements—moringa and noni juice. Maybe I can find a yoga nidra class at home, one participant said. I'm going to ramp up my yoga practice, another professed. We all re-dedicated ourselves to our mediation practices. I'm pretty sure we'll find small patches of bliss again.
But ultimately the blessing of a retreat is that it is place-specific and time-determined. Under very refined conditions, we experience a feeling we've yearned for all of our lives. Those feelings were called by many names in our group—openhearted, grounded, aware, light, energized, joyful, creative—each of us offering a different label for our unique experience together, but all of us agreeing it was bliss.
And the hope now is that we live slightly different lives for having experienced Grace Van Berkum's brand of "island bliss." We live healthier, happier, more purposeful lives. We commit ourselves to being of benefit. We accept the gifts that already exist within us. We wake up every day and kiss the earth in gratitude.
I know how difficult it is for most of us to take 7 or 8 days away from family and work, make a fairly challenging trip to a foreign country, and fork up a chunk of money that might be put to seemingly more practical uses at home. On one hand, it seems outrageously indulgent. On the other, it seems like the only thing to do. Listen closely, and you’ll know when retreat is right for you.
And when it is right, I encourage you to consider the value of deep retreat like this one. Imagine the version of yourself that returns after being dedicated to a set of transformative practices for seven straight days—or two or three days! The benefits of retreat are immense, maybe even life-changing.
So here’s a nudge: Grace returns to Little Corn Island on April 9-16 with another Gracious Living Lifestyle Retreat, reprising her collaboration with the remarkable Rebecca Gonzales, and showcasing international author Howard Falco. Howard is a spiritual teacher and self-empowerment expert, and author of I AM and Time in a Bottle. In a recent interview with Deepak Chopra, talking of his own spiritual awakening, Falco says the emotional intensity of bliss diminishes eventually, but the wisdom does not.
This may be your time to capture your own bliss. And if not now, when?
Tell Grace I sent you!