This past weekend was a powerful one. Back in February or March of this year, Tina and I talked about “kicking off our fall wellness challenge with a retreat.” Somehow, between then and now, we managed to create a very cool retreat schedule and 23 incredible friends actually signed up!
I describe these lovely women as friends because that is exactly what I feel they are to me. In the 48 + / – hours we spent together, these women shared so much of themselves with one another and with me and Tina that I truly feel like they are each one of oldest girlfriends.
On Friday night, we met for a “mocktail party” which was super fun because we got to meet everyone and share raspberry mojitos! Saturday morning, we worked out together very early and then kicked off our festivities with a presentation that Tina and I delivered. We shared that the theme we’d chosen for the weekend was Harmony. We shared some definitions of that word and talked about how powerful it can be to understand embrace the harmony between tension and relaxation in our lives. Somehow, as we each introduced ourselves to these sweet friends, we BOTH cried! I had no idea why I was even crying. I’m still not sure but I know it has something to do with the magnetic, supportive and strong feminine energy in the room. We all seemed to have come into the room with an unknown intention to be real. Tina and I solidified that notion by posting the Ground Rules for the Weekend:
1. Be nice (not a snarky pants)
2. Respect confidentiality
3. Seek authenticity
4. Build intimacy
I’m not sure we even needed to say those things because they seemed to flow naturally out of each woman in the room!
After our chat, the second session was lead by Tina’s sister-in-law, Stephanie Dodds. She’s a Holistic Nutritionist and all around bad-ass. She told us some of her personal story and more tears were shed. She then talked to us about Superfoods. She told us that if we want to improve our health RIGHT NOW we could start doing 3 things. I almost rolled my eyes because I always see / hear those same words in magazines and on TV and every time someone says them, the 3 things usually involve spending a bunch of money on a product who’s benefits have not been scientifically proven or approved by the FDA. I’ll share one of Stephanie’s tid-bits with you (but you’ll have to join FFF to learn the rest!). 🙂
– Chew Your Food
Stephanie explained to us that many “super foods” come in the form of nuts and seeds. Both of these, seeds in particular, are packed with so much nutrition because they are the sources of life for the organisms/plants from which they were harvested as our food. Given that, all that nutritional value is tightly stored inside that little seed and can’t get out to your body if you don’t chew it up! I didn’t need that little nugget of information to have been approved by the FDA to believe it. It’s simple, obvious and truly genius.
Our next speaker-lead session was with Naema Ray. She’s another powerhouse of a woman. She’s an artist and a teacher. Professionally, she teaches art to a small group of 1st graders. The kicker is that each of her little students has severe autism or emotional delay. She teaches them to express themselves and get out some of the fear and confusion that they carry each day. It breaks my heart to even consider the hardships those little people have faced but it warms me to know that she’s in their lives. Simply put – I would like to have more of her in MY life. She’s a joy.
Naema (pronounced “Nigh – EE – muh”) is anything but muh or meh! The art activity she lead was brilliant. Her session kicked off with a few diad warmups where our courageous ladies sat in groups of 2 while 1 shared deeply intimate thoughts for one minute while their partner listened in silence, responding only with body language and facial expressions. Afterwards, my friends used magazines and glue sticks to create collages depicting their own moment of harmony…a magical moment, positive or negative, where all the chaos and the stillness meshed with the tension and relaxation. They concluded with a second set of diads where they shared their collage descriptions and their partners listened in silence.
Throughout those activities, the room was full of women holding one another, crying together, laughing together, and supporting one another. It was an indescribably precious moment for me to observe.
After dinner, we had a campfire. I suddenly got overcome with anxiety that the activity I had planned would push us across the thin line separating intimate / inspiring and cheesy. I was so convinced of this, in fact, that even as I introduced the activity, I shared with the group my fear that they would all soon be rolling their eyes and wondering why they’d left their families for a weekend of corny campy activities. I am not sure I’ve ever prejudged something more wrongly in my life. What followed was so powerful that I’ll be thinking about it and processing it for years to come.
Because Tina and I are moms and all of our combined 4 children have gone through phases of obsessing over the Frozen movie soundtrack, we teasingly titled the activity, “Letting it Go.”
I started us off. I told the group that I have spent my entire life, starting from about the age of about 5 1/2 hating my body. There have been parts of my body that I’ve liked and moments when I felt pretty great about my figure, but generally, I believed that it was my job to hate my body and to take out every negative feeling I could on my body with tools like laxatives, binge/purge cycles, exercise or self-deprecating comments. I have ALWAYS believed that if I had a flat stomach, my life would be better.
I’ve never thought I could be memorable to strangers or lovable by another person without a flat stomach. I’ve never been “hot enough” because of my bulging tummy. In spite of my adoring children and unending compliments about my thin body from family and friends, I never let myself really hear those messages because my stomach is too round.
In front of that supportive and loving group of friends, I pulled an index card from my pocket with the words “belly hater” written on it. I told my friends what the card said and said I was going to try something. I was going to drop the card into the fire and see if I could “Let It Go.” My experiment was to see if I could wake up the next morning and appreciate this body for all that it is and that it has given me. I wanted to burn the notion that I’m not good enough because I have an extra pouch of fat in the front of my body, in a similar space to where a pregnant woman carries her baby. My beautifully forgiving body has given me 2 beautiful children. It’s allowed me to push it to extraordinary lengths in 10 triathlons, 6 half marathons and 3 weeks ago…my first FULL MARATHON. Without this body, I would not be who I am. My body is a beautiful treasure and I was ready to start giving it and myself some of the love I deserve.
I dropped the card in the fire and watched it burn while my amazing new friends cheered and hollered.
I returned to my seat as Tina invited them all to write something on their cards and do the same thing – with or without sharing publicly.
After a somewhat long and definitely awkward pause during which my heart raced with fear that I would be the only one to bare my soul next to that campfire…I was moved to tears by the deeply intimate, universally applicable and profoundly courageous baggage my new and old friends dropped in the fire. As much as I appreciated the many cards that were explained before they were torched, the ladies who silently burned a folded card opened my heart almost more profoundly. The mystery of the pain they burned left me wanting them to wake up renewed even that much more.
Yesterday morning, the ladies yucked it up like children in the “Fierce Games” that Tina lead. She split the group into 2 teams, had them choose names for their teams and then lead them through a series of very active and sweetly competitive team building activities. It was down right hysterical to see how these women competed like football players, only to cheer like cheerleaders…even when the other team won. In the end, I’m not sure whether the A-Team or the Fabulous F-Bombs won the competition. After the final game, “tree game” was over, no one even cared about winners. The bonding that we all enjoyed through that experience was worth more than any bragging rights could have given!
This morning, Tina and I finally got a moment to read the feedback forms each participant completed before leaving yesterday. My fear about the campfire Letting It Go activity was enormously unfounded. Nearly every form commented on how nice that activity was. Our 2 guest speakers each took away MAD PROPS from the lady crew, which did not surprise us at all. And of course, unsurprisingly, my beautiful friend Tina stole the show. Her energy, her vulnerability and her beauty brought us all to our knees and to tears multiple times. In the end, it seems like the rough idea Tina and I had about a women’s wellness retreat was a really good one. I will never forget FAB Camp 2014. FAB Camp 2015 is already on the books for September 11-13, 2015 and we’ve already got some cool ideas.
If you’d like to join us, all you have to be is a woman and over 18 with a willingness to let your guard down and let in the vulnerability that can come from a group of women who want to love you. Click here to register!