10 Jul 2012, Posted by elizabeth in Blog, 22 Comments.
Some of you may remember that, last June, I set off on a big journey. Nine women, most of who had never met face to face, gathered on the Oregon Coast to connect for five days. We called ourselves The Tribe. I’ve struggled to define what, exactly, our group is, and the best way I can think to describe it to people is a creative women’s retreat. All of us are engaged in some kind of creative work (although few of us make our primary livings through our respective arts), and the retreat offers an opportunity to recharge our batteries, see our creative life from a new perspective, and gain insights from other group members on problems we’re struggling with. On paper, this is what The Tribe is about. But this year, as I sat surrounded by my Tribe sisters in the cozy living room overlooking the Pacific, it dawned on me that our common thread is much more than that. We are all bound by a desire to live fully and deeply.
When I reflect on where I was, personally, at last year’s retreat, I see a new mother struggling to come to terms with her new life and her new role, who was desperately seeking a quiet escape. I spent weeks pumping enough breast milk to leave with Maikael so that I could enjoy my first trip away from nine-month-old Abra. The time felt like an embarrassing luxury, and I savored every minute of it. Somewhere over the course of the year things have shifted. The luster of time away from Abra has faded, and most days I’m not madly searching for the escape hatch. In many ways I lead a quieter life and have grown to love the time I spend alone. I wasn’t exactly sure who I was going in this year, but as I set my intention on the first night of the retreat I focused on simply being present with these women.
We all knew going in that this year wasn’t going to be the same as the last one. Gone was the euphoria of meeting new people, the excitement of new beginnings, the thrill of being thrown together with a group of near-strangers in an unknown place. This year, when we walked through the front door of the weathered beach house, I couldn’t help but notice that there were fewer squeals. Although there had been zero discussion in advance about who would room with whom, everyone automatically returned to their old quarters. No one rushed out to the beach. Cameras did not immediately spring from their holsters. Instead, everyone put away the groceries.
As the weekend progressed a sort of melancholy – for I’m not sure how else to describe it – came over me. It rolled in like morning fog and settled into every exposed crevasse of my being. I felt moody and detached, and I wasn’t exactly sure why. While I listened intently to my fellow sisters recount their journeys of the past year and empty their hearts, many times I found myself on the brink of tears. On Friday afternoon we escaped into the local pub as the sky threatened rain. Sitting around the large oval table, awash in conversation, I started to feel as if I was shrinking into myself, which isn’t something I’m accustomed to feeling. As an extrovert I’ve never quite understood what people mean when they say “I just need to be alone,” but by the time we left the pub I could tell that whatever dam had been building was about to burst. So while the group turned left towards the bustle of town I turned right toward the beach.
I barely made it to a sandy alcove, sheltered by reedy ocean grass, before I started crying, the kind of wet, ragged, uncontrollable sobs that leave you gasping for breath. And it continued all the way down the beach as I walked at the water’s edge back towards the house. I felt like a tea cup that had been filled too full, a delicate, porcelain vessel overflowing with searing liquid. Although I’ve written in recent months about growing more sensitive to others’ emotional states, and at least part of it was a “venting” of the raw emotion that had been laid bare, it seemed to be more than that. Suddenly, I was flooded with the awareness that this must be what it feels like to be cracked wide open.
An image has been presenting itself to me lately. It is a towering tree with a canopy of fingered branches and a deep, sprawling root system. To me, this tree symbolizes growing both down and out into life, in equal measure. It is an image filled with a sense of rooting oneself firmly in place while continuing to spread one’s self outward and upward. It is the very balance I have struggled to adopt for the past several years. This image manifested many times over the course of the weekend. While receiving energy healing from Celina she asked me if I was having trouble “grounding” myself. The center of my “vision board,” a visual representation of how I’d like my life to look, has just such a tree planted firmly in the center. Sarah and I popped into a boutique and were charmed by a large bowl of tiny pins that were emblazoned with variety of different pictures, and as my fingers sifted through the pile I fished out a green pin with a spindly tree, roots and all. When it came time to paint a rock with something we’re looking to invite into our life, the image was obvious.
I struggle to discern in what ways I want to root myself and in what ways I want to unfurl myself. I struggle with wanting a life that “means something” and one that is perfectly ordinary (I am intensely aware that a perfectly ordinary life can mean a whole lot). I struggle to accept the parts of my life that are enough and to push myself to develop the parts that need work. I struggle with wanting to simultaneously live big and live small. On that Friday afternoon my tears were twofold: a genuine sadness for all the things my life will never be, and a genuine longing, in that moment, for my very ordinary life.
It is jarring to revisit a place and an experience that is at once so familiar and so foreign. It is not unlike meeting a former version of yourself on the page, or completing one more loop on the journey to the center of the soul: back in the same-but-different place. This year, while I felt a certain sadness for the loss of new beginnings, I also found myself acutely grateful for the many aspects of our time together that remained solidly intact: our beloved house with the Tiffany blue couch, beginning the weekend with Meghan reading David Whyte’s poem Start Close In, Emily’s official Tribe CD, opening and closing dinner at the Sand Dune Pub, lunch at Bread and Ocean, descending upon Moxie for an afternoon shopping trip, a group photo on the beach, Rebecca’s portrait session, Melissa’s video, each member providing a “small kindness,” Meghan singing softly to us in a teary huddle in the final midnight hour:
Mm-mm, I want to linger,
Mm–mm, a little longer,
A little longer here with you.
Mm-mm, it’s such a perfect night,
Mm-mm, it doesn’t seem quite right,
That this should be my last with you.
And as the years go by,
I’ll think of you and smile,
This was good night and not goodbye.
This is what it means to build a group, a relationship, a life. You journey beyond the excitement of the novel for the comfort (and sometimes dis-comfort) of the tried and true. Rituals become touchstones. You are at once growing and rooting, and when your grounding is solid, you are free to blossom into who you were born to be. It is then that you can be your deepest, fullest self: not just the good and the fun, but the flawed and insecure.
I’m still not entirely sure what my emotional watershed was about. It might take a while to fully unravel. Or maybe, as a fellow Tribeswoman who once had a similar experience shared with me, I’ll never quite figure it out. Not all mysteries need solving. But as I sat down to write this post I re-read my thoughts from last year’s experience and was surprised by what I discovered. Between discussing what fun I had I talk about a space opening up inside of me and being “cracked open.” I wonder if there isn’t a fissure in my heart where The Tribe lives, a sacred space I visit each year, waiting for me. I wonder if my time this June was simply about being pried open a little further and letting more light shine through.
Thank you, Celina, Emily, Meghan, Melissa, Rebecca, Sarah, and Sophia for letting me be my fullest, deepest self in your company.
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