This past weekend, I was blessed to spend three nights at Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in the beautiful Berkshire mountains with one of my closest friends. There is so much to love about this place. The view of the mountains and lake. Dancing to live drums on Saturday (my very favorite thing). Yoga and more yoga. Time for hiking in the woods, sitting at the lake, journaling, and reading. The fourth floor sunroom, the labyrinth. The little things, like filling my water bottle with the herbal iced teas that are available 24/7 and the blankets in the bin on the big front patio, in case you forgot to grab your sweater or want to spread out on the lawn. Oh, and the beautiful, amazing food.
It’s a big place that draws 40,000 people per year. At this point, after half a dozen trips, I feel very much at home there, and at the same time, completely anonymous. It’s a strange yet comforting combination.
I had come with several other beloved friends on previous trips, but this was my longtime friend’s first time there. We’ve wanted to plan a Kripalu trip together for the last couple years, and we finally did it to celebrate our 20-year friendversary. We travel together like an old married couple—at ease talking or not talking, doing some activities together and going off on our own. She is the sweetest, most caring and loyal of souls and while our friendship has grown and evolved over the years, it’s one of the handful of things I’ve been able to count on remaining pretty much the same—a steady constant in a world that’s always changing, for better or worse. I’m especially grateful for the freedom we have to totally relax, knowing we accept each other completely. I can only hope I’ve brought half as much to her life as she has brought to mine.
I love that this is her place now, too.
There was a time when I would have viewed yearly trips to a place like this as a radical luxury. Even now, on occasion I have to shush a little voice that says, “Who do you think you are, taking off for a whole weekend, just for yourself? Selfish!!” Besides trying to be kinder to myself, it has finally sunk in that caring for myself is caring for my family. You know the metaphors—put your own oxygen mask on first, you can’t give from an empty cup, and so on.
Our culture is not set up to be supportive or nurturing to families raising kids. For too many women, we are talking about the systemic cruelty of basic necessities being denied, like being forced to go back to work still bleeding from giving birth—something I see all too often in my work. That’s a whole other set of political issues and a whole other post. But even for those of us who are not living in survival mode, we raise our kids in relative isolation, punctuated by specially arranged social get-togethers. We don’t tend to spend many of the mundane moments of our lives outside of our jobs with anyone other than our nuclear families, and shared work between families only happens via occasional special favors, not as an integrated matter of course. In short, there’s nothing resembling a village in sight for most of us.
Self-care ironically becomes part of the necessary work we do to avoid burnout. Along with the many ways to do that without leaving home, after my first trip to Kripalu, I decided one weekend of renewal per year is not too much to give to myself. I committed to doing it, and saying no to unworthiness and mama guilt.
That first trip was five years ago, when my kids were 5 and not yet 2. Sometime during the previous year, I had begun a slow, steady decline into depression. Because it was gradual, I kept habituating to the new normal and didn’t recognize it, even though I had been there a few times before. One day, in the dead of winter, it dawned on me that I was actually depressed, not just more irritable than usual. The tip-off was a surprise sob fest in the car triggered by a Taylor Swift song, of all things.
I did two things: found a therapist and booked a weekend alone at Kripalu. I arrived with a sense of desperation, hoping I would experience some sort of seismic internal shift and get some quick relief. That didn’t happen, exactly, although I believe the dance experiences in particular shook loose some stuck energy and got it moving again. Mostly, the time alone and away from my usual daily responsibilities, journaling, reading and doing lots of yoga brought me in touch with how far down I’d slipped and gave me some idea of my next steps. Slowly, I started to feel better.
Subsequent trips didn’t carry the same weighty expectations, and each time I’ve gone, there has been less a sense of barely keeping some black cloud at bay, and more a sense of maintaining my current state of relative happiness and wellness. And yet, both before and after I quit drinking, I went with some sense of escape from normal life, with a “fixing” attitude toward myself, however subtle.
This time, as I was walking up to the front door, I smiled, noticing that I wasn’t coming to save my ass or attempt any major repairs. I was simply coming to spend a weekend with a dear friend and practice some self-care in more than the little snippets of time here and there I can grab at home. Instead of being such a big deal, this trip felt integrated into the rest of my life, and I showed up as my usual self, a flawed yet whole human being.
As I have each time, I came home with renewed commitment to my mindfulness/wellness practices. My journal pages have some fresh and remembered insights from speakers and readings, and even a few of my own.
I got myself a tune-up, but this time there was nothing to fix.
*Side note on the financial accessibility of a Kripalu retreat experience: While a Kripalu trip may be out of reach for people with no funds, transportation, or childcare, it is accessible for more people than might be assumed. There are several types of accommodations at different price points, all of which include meals. Kripalu also gives $500,000 a year in partial scholarships for many programs. Apply for it if you need it, and consider donating to it if you’re able to go on your own resources. You can find more info here and here.
© copyright Camille Williams and Wake Up, Mama!, 2017. All rights reserved.