How can I trust in the unknown?

We were walking along a trail in Rouge Park in early May. The park was buzzing with spring’s eagerness to emerge – ferns unfurling their fibonacci curves, trilliums driving home some Ontario pride, little green fingers stretching up through the soil. I spotted a tree growing sideways up the edge of a ravine, and I couldn’t help leaving the path to run along its trunk, balancing in the tangle of horizontal branches.

I was a month out of a relationship and a career, and I was as fragile as the spring buds. But something else was starting to emerge. Something that expanded my chest and sharpened my inner vision. I climbed down from the tree and said to my friends:

TypicThere is so much WILDNESS in me that’s busting to get out…

I didn’t really know what I meant at the time, but that word would not go away.  Wildness. 

It was more than climbing trees and foraging for fiddleheads (but that was part of it). When the word wildness popped into my head and wouldn’t leave, I decided to work with what it represented. As I read and thought and talked and wrote and meditated and danced with the idea of wildness, I began to realize that wildness is the ability to courageously express my authentic, soulful self.

I also realized that too many of us women are out of touch with our wild selves. Occasionally we get a taste of our wildness or feel a longing to rediscover our inner Wild Woman. More often we drown out the cries and cravings of our wildness with air conditioning, makeup, mind numbing routines, cycle controlling hormones, processed food, codependency, distraction…we slouch politely through our lives behind the socially constructed barriers that keep us from hearing the longing of the wild soul.

I decided to play with an idea: what if I created a retreat where the intention is to try to hear our wild voices again?

In order to do that, I had to really step back as a facilitator and make space for each participant’s’ unique Wild Woman to emerge. I set out to design a retreat based on a feminine paradigm that values co-creation, creative collaboration, and an open hearted trust in the mysterious unknown.

With a background in formal education, I am used to working with specific learning objectives and detailed lesson plans, so learning to let go was a challenge. But a knowledge that is deeper than my degrees kept reminding me that the greatest lessons arise from the white spaces.  

Rediscovering my wild soul

required me to surrender control,

to move beyond predictability. 

My mission was to create a container that would encourage people to open up and contribute creatively, take the lead, and expand their personal boundaries. My responsibility was to hold space that was stimulating enough to spark new ideas, yet safe enough to allow women to take risks. I also wanted to bring participants to the edge of discomfort, allowing each woman to question whether her comfort zone serves her or whether it blocks her wild soul from expressing itself. Finally, I had to be open and vulnerable in order to allow these women to reveal their own vulnerability.

The most creative things in the world

happen in the spaces between the

heads and hearts of women who just get it

I sensed that these wise women would find their way to my retreat. And they did.

SaraElisabethPhotography-WildnessWeekend-4704When the ten Wild Women who took part in the retreat first arrived on Friday evening, we  first took time to drop into our breath and our bodies, giving ourselves permission to leave behind the highway and the busy week of work and urban living.

We then started with an exercise around setting intentions, because intention is what separates sacred retreat time from our mindless everyday flow. It was a provocative activity, where rather than simply meditating on her own intention, each person was asked to look at a list of words that another woman generated through a free-writing exercise, and then create an intention for someone else – without even knowing whose words she was reading – and read it aloud to the circle.

The intention that each woman received was surprisingly resonant: testimony to the common emotional ground shared by everyone in this sisterhood. This opening exercise reinforced the appropriateness of my own intention:

How can I trust in the unknown?

As the co-created retreat unfolded over the next two days, I asked myself this question countless times, both to comfort and to inspire me.

I called on it each morning at breakfast, when we set an unconference style agenda for the day.

I leaned heavily on it on Saturday, when I stepped back to allow the participants to lead their own programs – some planned, and others completely spontaneous.

I repeated this question all the way to the closing circle, where I chose not to tie everything up in a neat, pre-packaged closing, but to open the circle again to whatever each woman felt she needed to share or facilitate in order to bring sacred retreat space to a close.

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It feels strange to reflect and evaluate my facilitation of this program. The metrics of success are less clear, because my role was so amorphous.

Do I measure it by the elated exhaustion I felt on Monday after holding space for nine others all weekend?

By the honest and gracious feedback that is trickling in from the participants?

By the fact that I was vulnerable enough to facilitate a tie dying activity in the midst of a full on ugly-tears breakdown (as promised: I’ll cry or your money back)?

By the sheer feat of turning a vague idea into a concrete experience in 3 months?

I still have a lot to process, but on the whole I think I did OK.

Ahem, we did OK!

So in the spirit of co-creation, I’d love to know what you kinds of events you would like to take part in in the coming months. 

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Dreaming Wildness Weekend into Reality

I learned a new word today: KOMOREBI – an untranslatable Japanese term that refers to the quality of light when the sunshine is filtered through a canopy of leaves. Last Tuesday I floated in this dappled light for a few hours, dreaming about Wildness Weekend.

Still buzzing from a full moon long weekend love-fest at my family’s cottage, I drove out to the venue to spend some time exploring and visioning, and the komorebi combined with a sprinkling of warm summer rain soothed and entranced me. I immersed myself in this daydream to give colour and texture to my retreat planning process. Walking alone through the tangled forest, gorging myself on wild berries (3 different species!), journalling on the rocks, the retreat started to come to life through my five senses.

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On this particular day, the part of my wild soul that was speaking the most loudly was more lily than lion: it was all about gentleness. Gentleness loosened my shoulders, softened my gaze and slowed my steps. Gentleness shushed my inner critic and allowed me to slowly, softly, move toward what feels right for this retreat.

I am thrilled to be partnering with Heidi Kutzelnig of Epicurean Wellness who will be feeding our bodies and souls throughout the weekend with her creative and nourishing food. Heidi is a Certified Holistic Chef and Nutrition Consultant, as well as a truly courageous and empowered wild woman. Case in point: when I called her to talk over the menu last week, she had to call me back because she was in the midst of rescuing a baby squirrel. I don’t know what I’m more excited for: her apricot gazpacho, her polenta bennies, or her presence in our circle!

And speaking of circles, the participants who have already registered for this co-created retreat are bringing a wealth of offerings to share with the group, from Wisdom Circles to yoga classes to theatre games. This is where it gets really interesting as a facilitator. Unlike my past life as a high school teacher, the goal is not for me to create a neat lesson plan with every minute accounted for. The goal is to build a skeleton and allow the participants to flesh it out with their intentions, their spontaneous inspirations, and their many gifts.

It is a challenge for me not to overplan, but I absolutely trust that the spaces I leave open will be filled with something more glorious and nourishing than anything I could plan on my own. That is the whole point of this co-created retreat. My personal challenge is to quiet down the perfectionist in me who craves certainty and schedules. It is about gently telling her to be open to the mystery, the richness of possibility, the spaciousness of the unknown.

I cannot wait to see what arises in the spaces between us.

Wildness Weekend is almost full, so if you are considering coming, register soon or get in touch with me if you have questions, ideas, or just want to go for a dreamy komorebi walk someday.

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