Over the course of five days in Big Sky Country, I was fortunate to ponder the questions above. Because of the WYLD leadership retreat and the support and encouragement of eleven other incredible women, I have now started dancing, singing, storytelling, and embracing silence again.
To capture this journey in words and pictures here is a difficult task. I experienced more enlightenment in those few days than I have in years of education, and expressing that has been challenging as I have returned to reality; especially because I am, without a doubt, different. I have been transformed by this incredible time in nature, realigned with my true self, and re-energized in my purpose and direction.
Warning – not all of you are going to resonate with this, and it is a long post: a deep soul-sharing conversation that I have needed to have with myself and others. I choose to share it here with you in hopes that you might do some of the same kind of discovery in your own life.
I’ll start this effort with a little background. Many years ago when I was obtaining my certification in strength-based education through Gallup, I was paired with a remarkable strengths coach. Kristin helped to affirm my newly discovered strengths language and reminded me at one of the most difficult times of my life all that was right about me. Our spirits seemed to align and I knew I had found not just a gifted coach, but a soul sister for life. Kristin is one of those unique people in the world who sees talent, nurtures it, and encourages a person to truly shine. Her individualization talent makes strengths spotting easy, but her hope, energy, intuitive sense, and belief in others is a true gift, rare in our world today. I feel lucky to know her wisdom, and when I learned about a professional development/leadership retreat she was leading, I was intrigued.
The more I learned about WYLD, the more I knew I needed to go. The more my calendar fought me, the more I knew I needed to go. The more I felt selfish for doing something like this for myself, the more I knew I needed to go. The more out-of-comfort-zone I felt, the more I knew I needed to go.
And oh, I am so very glad that I did.
The days that led up to my quiet drive time to Buffalo, Wyoming included an obstacle or two, and I could feel the pangs of guilt, self-doubt, and to-do lists creeping in. Fortunately, we were given some pre-work: learning more about nature from Louie Schwartzberg, the four fold way (wisdom from Angeles Arrien), Iaian McGilchrist’s brilliance in neuroscience, and my favorite of the homework – the biology of belief podcasat with Bruce Lipton. I made the most of my drive getting centered in this learning and anticipating what was to come while driving through South Dakota.
As I was driving from the main roads to the Gregory ranch, I kept thinking I must have missed a turn – the beauty of the Bighorns was incredible, the peaceful isolation of the quiet hills felt as if I had landed in some far-off photograph I have admired. I had a hard time believing this is where I was going to be attending a leadership retreat.
It wasn’t a requirement, but I chose to disconnect – turning my phone off for the next five days and intentionally focusing and centering myself; without the distraction, as well as granting myself some space from my family, work, and friends. That in itself turned into a great lesson – but more to come on that in another post. Today is all about WYLD.
After gathering and getting acquainted with my new roommates (yes, I shared common space, bunk style sleeping, and bathroom time with nine other new-faces-to-me women), we were quickly introduced to reflection time in nature – dining alone at individual secluded locations around the ranch with no sound but our own, and a beautiful sunset view of the landscape. Experiencing the color, taste, and nourishment in meal time was emotional for some, a few commented later that they rarely dine alone. This is a frequent experience in my life, one that I pushed myself to do after I got divorced, and one I have come to enjoy. What I found in that first evening’s dining experience however, was a surprising reminder of how often I rush through food intake, rarely pausing to enjoy the aesthetics in eating – the color, the variance of flavors, the consumption and feeling in my body – more than just my tummy – nourishment for what my body needs for a day’s work. It also reminded me of the love of cooking and how many in my life love this way – by feeding much more than an appetite with their gifts in the kitchen.
As a person who loves structure, routine, and schedules, the element of mystery and surprise in each day (we were never given any more of an agenda than “dress warm” or “bring your notebook”) pushed me outside my comfort zone and into the arena of true discovery learning. Leading with the strength of input often leans to a need to know, constant-pursuit-of-more-information method of thinking and planning for me. While practicing and learning more about my strengths were a constant in this retreat, learning when to rest them was just as much a critical part of the experience for me. The retreat honored a strength-based focus, giving time and intention to the strengths language. For some, this was brand new, and for others, it was a continuation of coaching education. What I’ve learned about strengths is that it is an ever-evolving learning – that my experience and education is endlessly enhanced by the discovery and learning from others in their description and utilization of their strengths. I believe we are all strengths coaches if we just practice the art of good listening.
Learning about life’s containers – home, workplace, relationships, even your own body, was so insightful but also in sharing space with others during this retreat.
The Container Principle is essentially a reminder of our environments. For me this was best explained by considering how a frame can change a picture. Your container is wherever you are, whether physically or mentally. Looking at these containers in your life with kindness and honesty can help to determine where you are growing, or where you need to change that container for improved growth. We were taught the unpredictability of this by having our container shift and change – on day two we moved from the Gregory ranch to HF Bar – a rustic guest ranch – and moved into simple creekside cabins. Although our rooms and space changed, we gathered together in cozy spaces (and thankfully warm cozy – it was cold!) for group activities, learning, and reflection. This group of women was becoming a new container for me, a new tribe.
HF Bar was a wonderland for creative thinking and writing, I spent time with my journal, and took every opportunity to utilize my new favorite creativity tool – a Canon Rebel T6 camera. Finding joy in nature both aesthetically and mindfully was captured through my pencil and my lens. The entire week was a practice in mindfulness, whether we were doing a group activity, reflecting in our notebooks, quietly mediating, or moving our bodies through walking or stretching. I gave my body a rest as far as reducing my cardio and weight workouts, yet each day I ate as if I was famished, and fell into bed as if I’d ran a marathon. I believe the heart work I was doing pushed my body, mind, and spirit to it’s limits and it felt good to truly be at rest at times – without the to-do list, skipping the phone checks, just being instead of doing. And the being was just as tiring at times – it was essential growth work.
Those days were full of clarity for me. Learning about the neuroscience of the brain, the right and left hemispheres, as well as being above and below the line. Hard to describe without a visual aid, I found this animation to be helpful. That learning was like a light bulb turned on after years of stumbling in the darkness. All the things I can now point to and name, being aware not only of when I am in the zone of productivity and bliss, but also the times my courage lacks, and I fall into the low areas – the anxiety, despair, sadness, and negativity. Just being able to name that, to own it and realize it, has already provided great relief and understanding.
Each day provided new learning and challenged me outside my comfort zone – particularly in working with horses.
Growing up, we had a horse on the farm. Patches was my dad’s horse, and after his death she became more part of the farmstead, and less a part of us. My guilt in that has never really left me. Animals instinctively know and sense much more than we realize.
Dad’s dog Horace died a few days after his accident; seemingly knowing his best friend had left the farm permanently and deciding his work was done as well. Patches remained, living a lonely life in the quiet cattle pen. I never once saw her gallop, trot, or whinny – I never once rode her, or even got near her. She was simply a chore in my day – going to the barn, getting her hay and occasionally a bucket of oats, and making sure her water trough was full. I have so much regret and sadness for our disconnect with her, and it points to a deeper pain in the way that we lost a connection to my dad after he died – everyone around us stopped speaking about our dad. We not only lost him physically, but in memory, in legacy, in love.
The most difficult part of my time at WYLD was our intuitive work, particularly with the horses.
I am grateful I was not given time to dwell in preparation too much, but to go into the pen and experience the emotions that followed. I stayed back, hoping the horses might just plain ignore me, and immediately feeling gut wrenching guilt and tears coming to the surface for that awareness – they might ignore me the way I ignored Patches. The way we ignored my dad’s memory. Not out of choice, but out of empathy for my mom’s pain in losing him, the horror of his accident, and her unprocessed grief.
The emotions were overwhelming – that word ignore – it stuck hard in my heart and throat. My own unprocessed grief of being ignored, rejected, abandoned over the years, particularly by my parents. Standing back I tried to keep those emotions tight and close, not wanting to be exposed for the child-like guilt and sadness I was feeling.
As I stood back, I watched someone else doing what I was fighting against, I watched Sandy opening her heart to that emotional exposure and from afar, watched a letting go of emotion that at first tore my heart right open, and then quickly made me feel honored to have witnessed. It was forgiveness and gratitude in full heart sense.
I let go a bit, stepped forward, and allowed Bud Light, a horse that looked remarkably like Patches and gave off the Father Figure energy from the start, to come directly to my torso, face, and most importantly heart. I was within breathing space close to a giant animal who was giving me face to face reminders of the enormous hurt I was holding onto. To be able to speak “I’m sorry” from the heart to a representation of so much of my childhood was a great release. A few short minutes that I will never forget.
Forgiveness was a key learning throughout the retreat. Learning the ancient Hawaiian practice of Ho’oponopono and visualizing the actual gift of forgiving someone, asking forgiveness, and forgiving myself was a moving experience, one I’ve practiced almost daily since.
Ho’oponopono: I’m sorry, please forgive me, thank you, I love you.
While HF Bar was a new place to me, I looked for places of familiarity and joy, finding a piano on the porch (a rendition of Tesla’s Love Song happened late one evening) as well as discovering little reminders of my heart – heart symbol – everywhere.
I took my journals, and my daily readings, finding so much meant-to-read in Grief and Gratitude and Simple Abundance. My morning reflection time has been enhanced by these for days and days, but experiencing my morning rituals in a sacred space added a new level of connection.
One morning while herding cattle on horseback (yes, you read that correctly!) I was faced with reminders of two of my most constant struggles: lack of assertiveness and being stuck in my head. I had to name those (with a little help from Coach Kristin) and get real with my intent. When I was actually being instead of trying to do, I made progress. This concept probably doesn’t make much sense to many of you reading, but if it does, I hope you practice more of it. Being versus doing. The progress often comes in the being part.
There were moments throughout the retreat that I felt the same joy in learning as a college kid in the cultural anthropology classroom, discovering the medicine wheel, what it means to find my true north, learning about the intellectual, emotional, and physical centers of my body. FYI – I lead from my heart, my brain is my trap, and movement heals me.
Connecting with incredible women on their own path to authenticity and purpose was such an important reminder of the value of encouragement. We learned about the support circle of 12: love, knowledge, compassion, mentor, beauty, child, humor, discipline, anchor, healer, enlightenment, and muse. It was a testament to the value of every single person in my life who has or currently holds one of these roles for me, including my kid’s dad who continues to bring humor into my life, even though our marriage ended years ago.
Our friendship has evolved to a deeper place, one I appreciate more than I could find words for. Forgiveness and unconditional understanding has led to a better relationship, one that matters most for our kids.
I was reminded of my many tribes – my families, my friends, my coworkers, my teammates. I am beyond grateful for people who support me through the stages and seasons of my life.
Within this tribe of women at WYLD, we had the opportunity to be honest and real with each other, giving and receiving feedback for each individual; where you shine as a leader, and where you fail as a leader. For those of you who know me well, this was both exciting and poop-pants level nerve wracking for me. I was excited to hear of my star-shining pieces, but petrified to hear my flaws. This experience was one of the greatest gifts I’ve ever received – hearing honestly where I need to improve from a place of respect and love. Not in anger, but in grace. Not in frustration, but in seeing me as I am – fully and wholly. Things that I knew, but was afraid to own myself. Things you all would probably love to say to me, and I wish that you would.
As much as I would love to tell the stories of these remarkable women (and believe me when I say their journeys are incredible), they each have their own story to tell in their own voice. I could only hope they might be willing to guest blog here and share their brilliance.
I developed my alchemist skills by trying so many new-to-me things. Firsts. In addition to riding horseback, I fired a shotgun (never getting close to the target, but being brave to learn of a gun’s power), I dove a little deeper into mystic awareness, nature’s lessons, Native American wisdom, and how to be more in tune with my body’s messages.
I found captivating learning in mystic mystery and utilization of new instruments like horse and animal cards, the ancient talking stick, release methods, body scans. I learned of the medicine wheel and it’s compass. All things I cannot wait to learn more about.
It is impossible to capture here the meaning of these days – this was time well spent. Some of the most incredible learning of my lifetime. An opportunity for redefining myself and what I need to thrive, renewing my intentions for an authentic life, the whole reason I started this journey (and blog) in the first place. Learning how to be through a different lens and unearthing some of the most remarkable parts of me.
I returned home using the theme medium to slow, little by little – poco a poco – taking time to drive through the Black Hills via Spearfish Canyon, experiencing sunrise through the grasslands, knowing a different me was returning to her home container. I did my best to prepare my family (and myself) for this, but found myself dancing and singing in the long drive home; pausing for reflection, nourishment, and gratitude for my newly found WYLD tribe.
“We need the tonic of wildness…At the same time that we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be indefinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature.”
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