When I think of February, I think of Valentine’s, and that means love. Usually, that love comes in the form of candy or cards from others, but more and more people are starting to understand that we need to be able to love ourselves before we can be stable enough to love someone else. So what does that even mean? Last year I wrote THIS article for basic self-love ideas, but this year I tried something different. I decided to go on a spiritual retreat, and this is how it went!
First, some background; I didn’t grow up in the most loving home. My role mainly became a caretaker of sorts because I was the oldest. So that means that the way I interact in relationships is more about what I can “do” for someone. This concept isn’t okay. It drains me, and I’m often left feeling neglected. In the past, I’ve often thought that this was because my husband wasn’t paying enough attention to me, but the truth is, I was neglecting myself! My therapist suggested that I might want to look into trying a retreat that enabled me to focus on just me and maybe learning how to release some of the anger I had accumulated over the years and learn how to forgive.
I’ve never traveled alone before, so I was a bit reluctant but decided it wouldn’t hurt to look into it. After all, this is supposed to be my year for great things to happen. I searched for retreats, and Western Spirit Ranch popped up. Usually, the retreat is located in Sedona, Arizona, but during January, they were going to be in Santa Barbara California right by the beach! I also liked how they offered a range of classes that you could choose from. I took the beach as a sign that this was the place for me and contacted them.
I specified that I wanted to take empowerment classes, among which were things like “Recognizing your Abundance” and “Healing Yourself Through Forgiveness.” I was emailed by Marian and Garrett, who host this. They were extremely kind people, and I could tell I was in good hands. They even booked my hotel room right in the heart of Santa Barbara about a block away from the beach, stores and fabulous restaurants. The hotel room was excellent with a king-size bed, jacuzzi, pool, and even breakfast in the mornings (any meal I don’t have to cook is terrific). They also greeted me at the hotel and had a talk about what to expect so I didn’t feel alone in the process.
I wasn’t sure what to expect. Part of me was nervous while another part of me was hopeful. I didn’t know if I would have a connection. I worried I might encounter a couple who wasn’t emotionally invested, and I’m happy to say that I was wrong on all accounts. First, I discovered that I was the only one attending, which upped my anxiety. As an introvert, I think I was kind of hoping to disappear into the crowd, but that was not going to be the case. In the end, I’m happy this was more of a solitude retreat. I was able to connect well with Marian and Garrett and have a lot of attention to work through my issues. Secondly, when I sat down with them and saw how they organized my classes and activities, I could tell how they put a lot of thought into what would be best for me and how the week should flow. I felt thought of and cared for.
Admittedly the next morning, I was still nervous and even ended up arriving late to my first class. I was expecting it to be like a therapy boot camp that can be incredibly deep and difficult to work through at times, but this was NOT therapy. They specified that in my orientation papers. Marian, who lead the classes, was very engaging (especially since it was just me). We talked and laughed, and it was like talking with a friend. She intuitively reached into my heart and could feel my feelings. She could tell right away that I’m a bit of a firey person, but that my anger was a shield for a lot of the sadness I feel about different aspects of my life. She helped me understand that when my anger comes up, behind it is usually a hurt I need to come to terms with and heal. Throughout the week, we focussed on things like having compassion for myself and others, watching negative self-talk, and monitoring how many times I said “sorry” (which was a lot!). The classes weren’t all about her just standing there talking either. It was a nice mix of conversation, and the time from 9 am to noon usually flew by!
Garrett was a wonderful guy too! He was in charge of the outdoor activities. On Monday, he had planned a hike to a place called Inspiration Point, which to be honest, I was extremely hesitant about, considering I’m about 90lbs overweight. I remember looking at this mountain and thinking for sure I was going to die. I mean, some days I avoid climbing the stairs in my own house! They both reminded me that I was in charge of my healing and that this was not a death march, but I signed up for this to set the intentions of this year, so I decided to give it my best. They also brought their service dog Bella which was nice too. As I huffed and puffed along, they often stopped so I could catch my breath and have water. Along the journey, we talked about how the mountain was like life, and that it wasn’t so much about the destination, as it was the journey. That hike brought up so much more than I would have been willing to talk about say over something easy like a walk around a park. The difficulty of the treck, coupled with their kindness allowed me to be honest not just with how I was feeling in the moment, but with how I handle discomfort throughout life.
Admittedly, I was pretty hard on myself. I had a lot of moments of wanting to quit and feeling bad about how out of shape I am, but Marian and Garrett were quick to be supportive and offer words of comfort and wisdom. In the end, I made it to the top of the mountain! The view was breathtaking and while I have included some pictures of what I saw I am sorry to say they do little justice. We were about 800ft above sea level. It’s hard to describe what that did for me except to say that it was profound. To know that I persisted and despite how tired I was and all the times I wanted to give up, I had made it. That set the theme of the week, though with the understanding that even though things might feel hard, it’s all part of life’s journey.
That wasn’t the only outdoor experience, either. Marian and Garrett had intuitively decided (before I had even arrived) that it might be useful to do a healing session with me on the beach. I naturally feel comforted by the beach, which you’d know if you’ve read my posts on my trip to Australia. Now I’m just learning about chakras and things like that, and having been burned by manipulative church experiences; I was a bit skeptical when they talked about playing the didgeridoo and meditation to clear my chakras. However, I signed up for this retreat to experience something new, and so I tried to maintain an open mind, and to be honest, it was healing. I laid there in the warm sun on a yoga mat they brought and tried to sort things out mentally as I listened to the didgeridoo. The truth is, even if you don’t believe in chakras or vibrations, I think the act of making an effort to heal what is in emotional pain and especially doing something outside of your comfort zone has a psychological impact! I tried to embrace the act of healing that was being offered, and for me, I felt like it made a difference! I could feel the care that both Maria and Garrett were showing for me and that by itself was comforting. To be a caretaker and allow others to take care of me was both extremely difficult and nurturing.
Besides the classes and outdoor activities, Garrett and Marian also gave a suggested booklist in my pack so if I wanted to continue reading healing books at home, I could. They suggested fun places to go and eat in town as well. I never had a moment of sitting in my hotel room bored, not knowing what to do. I actually had the opposite problem where I felt like there was so much I wanted to do, but Marian quickly reminded me to practice what I had learned in the “Living in balance and harmony” class I had signed up for!
So what’s the verdict now that I’m sitting here at the airport waiting for my flight? Would I do it again?: The answer is a resounding YES. It was one of the best ways to start this year off, in my opinion. I put myself first. I had people who took time to help me focus on myself for once, and nurture me emotionally, spiritually, and psychologically. I think it set the tone for this year, and I’m so grateful.
What was the most important thing I learned?: There was so much I learned, but I think the most impacting was the concept that when I feel angry, that covers for my fear, and fear is linked to feeling like part of me is in danger, whether that’s physical, emotional, or psychological. When I acknowledge and look at how I can help myself in those areas I’m able to release or control how I (not anyone else, but me) feel better. Of course, Marian did a fantastic job with visuals and really digging deep into examples from my own life and I’m sure whoever else goes will have a unique experience too, so I don’t want to give too much away. Now when I feel upset, I am able to pause and really look at it without getting stuck in ruminating (which can steal my days really fast!).
Would I recommend it to others?: YES. Especially if you’ve never traveled on your own before. They offer couples retreats as well, and while I think Amin would have benefited a lot from what happened, I’m happy that I went by myself. I was able to put myself first here. If you decide to go, I recommend that you go with an open mind. As Marian stated, day one, she’s going to introduce different things for me to consider, but I don’t have to accept it all. I would recommend if you decide to go that you go knowing that not everything may resonate with you, and that’s okay, and maybe it would be good to ask yourself why that is. Part of my being burned by the church and encountering other forms of people connecting to God scared me at first, and I wanted to write it off as weird, but that was my close-mindedness and expression of my hurts. It had more to do with my issues than theirs. If you go, be prepared to get curious about yourself and consider what being Spiritual means to you and know you’re in excellent hands to ask those profound questions!
Here’s the other thing. If the beach doesn’t sound like fun to you, Western Spirit Ranch is also holding retreats in Sedona and beautiful Italy, so take your pick!
If you’re looking to invest in yourself this Valentines, I would suggest looking into scheduling something with Western Spirit Ranch. I found I got way more out of it than if I had just decided to go on a vacation by myself. I was able to dive in and learn about who I am and what I need to love myself in a way that is impacting because sometimes bubble baths just don’t cut it. You can check out their main website HERE, view the different retreats they have to offer as well as classes HERE and read more about Marian and Garrett HERE. One thing I liked about these guys was that they were very straight forward about their pricing, which was something that seemed strangely lacking on other retreat sites. You can view their rates and what that includes HERE (the events like seeing a medicine man might change though if you like me aren’t in Sedona). If you have any further questions, you can either ask me in the comments below or contact Marian and Garrett directly HERE.
If you do attend one of their retreats and want to connect and talk about it, please contact me either below or on any of my social media, I love connecting with my readers. If you wish to be notified of future posts (made every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, don’t forget to SIGN UP to be notified by email! I hope as you venture into this month of Love that you don’t forget that you, above all others, deserve it the most. Have a beautiful day! -Heather Astaneh