REMEMBERING HOW TO SAY "YES": My Spain Retreat
We interrupt our normal Izzy broadcast to bring you this update: My World Has Changed.
It’s so huge. Too huge to even begin knowing how to answer, “So, tell me all about your trip to Spain!” Ummmmmm… The only way I can ever approach it is to have people ask me specific questions. The other day I at least was able to jot down a list of all the significant events that took place so I would have reminders as time makes things fuzzier.
I opened up that list today, closed my eyes, and pointed. The one that came up: the cat that crawled up to vibe on my belly and chest when I first landed, sicker than a chihuahua on chocolate. So I guess that means I’m supposed to start at the beginning.
But to tell you about the cat, we have to go back to the pre-retreat video call I had with one of our amazing presenters.
This entire experience has felt like Mercury Retrograde on steroids. (I actually have a wonderful relationship with our wing-footed-friend-in-reverse--thank you, Elizabeth Peru!! And my Lisa, of course!) All the places where my life needs an upgrade have come up for review. In fact, every facet of my life has found its way onto the desk to be analyzed, scrutinized, and put into one of three boxes: Keep, Chuck, Further Review Needed.
Video chat technology is just one of those places that has needed an upgrade. For many years, my computer has hated Skype. Even their tech people can’t figure out why I have so much trouble with that program, so I just stopped trying to use it. I also seem to have frequent difficulty with other programs like Zoom, Hangouts, etc.
I did eventually wind up connecting with the amazing Tess and we had a lovely chat. From her website: "This is where I get to help you create and experience the life you so long for and turn your dreams into reality." And she is masterful. They all are. All the retreat leaders, their support team, and the paradisal site. Well, in this preparatory conversation, she invited me to consider the miracle of air travel, the wonder of such an ability, and the unique opportunity to give my attention to being suspended between worlds--the old world I was leaving behind and this new, unknown place.
The deeper invitation was to consider the person I was leaving behind, because this retreat has changed me forever. I knew it would. I knew it the first time I looked at the website, which is why I applied.
The final leg of my trip was from JFK to Malaga, over seven hours. Before that, I had a layover in Atlanta. Knowing that I was about to walk into a resort that served the highest quality, organic, vegetarian cuisine, I gobbled down one last nasty, tasty slab of pizza. Nommm... While I enjoyed it (with my elbows avoiding the layer of grease coating the counter, left over from the paper plate I used to mop up that which had pooled on top of the gooey cheese), I journaled pages of what I wanted to leave behind.
I then flew to New York City, exchanged some currency, and had a wonderful chat with the lively young man pushing my wheelchair.
Oh yes, that’s right. I did this overseas trip in a wheelchair. Not the entire thing, just the parts that made me nervous with my knee. That chair was absolutely imperative on the train in Atlanta, and I gave praise every time somebody rush-darted around us and bumped my chair with their luggage in passing. Maneuvering my luggage off the conveyor belt was also something I was grateful to have assistance with.
And I had a lot of luggage.
Part of me felt guilty about that. But that was one of the things I was leaving behind: the chronic guilt I live with for being disabled and taking so long to wrangle back the life of a fully functioning, responsible, reliable adult.
In my application to this retreat, one of the questions asked was, “What is the single most important thing you hope to take away?”
This was mine:
“I have learned high, bristling fortress walls around silent temple sanctuaries that allow me to close my eyes, take a deep breath, and let down my guard—
I have learned home-spa-retreat-temple self-care, and I have learned
I have learned to grow my own luscious groves of nourishing food and succulent blooms with a magical spring in the center.
I have learned armor and shielding like casts around a wound that needed to be protected
while it healed.
I have learned moats and labyrinthine mazes and ornate gates with access codes that allow entry in stages, or immediate transportation to the rose-and-tea garden that dwells
at the center of the fortress.
There I have learned circle dances and sacred dances, dances of sisterhood and fraternity with carefully chosen invitees.
I have learned eviction notices and eject buttons.
I have learned parachutes and jumping off cliffs although I don’t have wings because
I’ve proven that I can take life’s punch.
I have learned spears and arrows and swords and axes, piercing into truths, slicing away that which does not serve, glinting in warning for protection and defense, demolishing bullshit—
incoming and indwelling both.
I have learned RAWR and inferno and hair flinging in the moonlight.
I have learned creeping through the forest undetected with one snaggle-fang bared in
I have learned NO: how to speak it clearly, directly, firmly,
with only as much force as necessary—
and I have learned how to mean it.
Now I live it.
What I need to learn is how to remember YES.”
As such, my first YES came with simply accepting the gift I had been offered — going to this retreat — in spite of the fact that, when I received my invitation to it, I couldn’t walk.
I said YES anyway, and trusted.
My second YES came with packing. I had been given another unexpected gift — the single piece of free checked luggage that came with my international flight. I don’t remember how many years that it’s been since I had a piece of free checked luggage. That meant I also had a carry-on and a personal item available, free of charge.
My original packing job included a lot of leggings, sports bras, and tank tops—what had become the mainstay of my customary clothing, considering that I call my martial arts gym with its open back room where I choreograph, rehearse, and do PT my “second home.”
The counterpart mainstay had become fuzzy pants, fuzzy socks, and sweatshirts.
And yet the four sliding doors of my closet open into a glorious playland of color, flow, and succulent texture. A feast for the skin. A feast for the eyes. I have a MF fabulous wardrobe, so as I stood looking at the mix-and-match collection of workout wear neatly rolled on my floor, something occurred to me.
This spandex-sporting facet of myself, while it was something I had put in the Keep Folder … it wasn’t the facet that would dominate this adventure. In fact, it's the uniform of my entire paragraph of NO.
Into the closet I went. Including the costume closet.
The first thing I pulled out was a white and gold scarf with huge pink roses that I had bought when I was a baby belly dancer. Lisa added twenty-inch gold fringe to it, transforming it into a piece of luxurious sway and opulent weight.
I didn’t put it on my hips. I wrapped it around my rib cage, crossed it over my heart, and tied it behind my neck. All that fringe dangled down, hugging my torso and providing sneak-peeks of my belly as I moved. I paired it with the Thai wrap-pants I had bought in Italy.
The palest pink.
Mint green that matched the unintended and fortuitous hue of my hair.
I felt like a goddess-in-the-making in that outfit.
Now there was a sensation I hadn’t felt in an age. But I was going to a goddess-centered retreat, so I figured it was time that I dressed like one.
Other outfits dashed forward to be chosen. An immense pile of clothing ensued. Pieces were rolled, mix-match pairings were laid out on the bed, and my old fight gear was replaced.
After all, I am the writey-FIGHTY-dancer, and this was by no means a facet of myself that had gotten chucked into the Purge Box. It simply needed an update, so I did pack some of my favorite gym outfits.
Then we received the request from our retreat leader: to bring a white and a red dress if we had them. I did. But my white dress is long and heavy with embroidery. My red dress is an extravagant, full-length, velvet number with several pounds of fringe. The already precarious weight limit popped over the redline.
So I made the decision to stop saying NO. To stop getting by on the barest minimum possible. To stop reducing, shrinking, eliminating, and saying, “You can’t afford that,” and “That’s too much—you’re too much, so be smaller, less intrusive—you know what? Why don’t you just stop breathing air and taking up space that could be better spent on somebody more worthwhile, huh, Sparky? Yeah. Thanks.”
I hauled Baby out of the corner, along with the rolly suitcase carry-on. This extra space allowed me to say YES to the accoutrements to care for my bum knee and my spine: My 3 pound neck pillow filled with seeds. My wooden neck pillow that is starting to restore the natural curve of my damaged neck. Ice packs, in case I needed them. And hiking boots, in case weather happened and I needed extra stability on the mountain slope I would have to traverse four times a day.
Once packed, I felt like an overblown diva. There was no doubt in my mind that I would be amongst women who had been trekking the world with nothing but a ten pound backpack.
I didn’t fucking care.
I mean, I did, but I made the decision to do it anyway. That choice took half a day. I debated and gnawed my lower lip. I drummed my fingers on my knee. Finally, that injury looked up at me and asked me to take care of it. So did all the other injuries, especially the one that had called me to this retreat in the first place.
I spend so much time and energy dulling my shine. It may not look that way on social media, but spend just a little bit of time with me in person and you’re bound to see it. Often. Heck, just look at my dancing. Sometimes you can even see it in the type of shine I do share. Armor is shiny, too.
There’s a reason why I have immense trouble standing up straight and opening my chest and shoulders, and it’s not the reason everybody knows about. That big car wreck and the resulting wad of scar tissue in the middle of my spine that makes it hard to straighten it, much less arch backwards … that wreck was simply the final nail in the coffin.
We’re talking ollllllllld shit here. The very oldest.
I just spent a week dancing with it and its siblings, cousins, ancestors, minions, partners, and offspring. It’s the infiltrating root system of everything I yearned to leave behind.
I scribbled ferociously in Atlanta. I slammed the journal shut. I flew to New York and boarded for Spain. I then spent six of the seven hours trapped in a metal capsule over the ocean next to a pair of tantrum throwing toddlers. I got no sleep. Instead, I got to practice the skill I would utilize over and over in the retreat: focusing on what I was doing, no matter what was going on around me.
This time I journaled and meditated about what I wanted to bring into my life. They served us a wonderful supper. I chose the ravioli — ricotta cheese and spinach with pomodoro and alfredo sauces. Nommm… As I ate, I enjoyed the heck out of How to Train Your Dragon. Toothless is one of my spirit animals. Probably no great surprise there. A devious little dragon with feline tendencies, a goofy personality, and a gimpy tail? Come on! ;P
But that meal sat heavily in my guts. I could still feel the weight of it when they served us an equally wonderful breakfast. As I took my last bites, my guts gave the warning tremors. We deplaned. I passed through customs as easily as breathing, and was deposited by wheelchair in the arrivals area that would give me access to boredom-relief during the five hours I had to wait before my carpool ride would take me into the mountains.
I did not spend five hours in the shopping area.
I spent 10 minutes there, followed by four hours crammed into a tiny Spanish bathroom stall, with my diva-luggage Tetrissed chest-high around me, face down over the toilet.
I horked up breakfast. I horked up my snacks with their still-whole nuts. I even horked up my dinner—woooow. That’s spinach! Yup. That’s definitely my undigested dinner…and what’s that distinctive taste? Oh! The layer of orange juice from breakfast that filtered down because it’s liquid.
Vomiting is actually a rare thing for me. I get that from my dad. I can count on my hands the number of times I have ever puked in my near half-decade in this body, and most of those were because I was an asshat with alcohol. For me to throw up like that?
Something was afoot at the Circle K.
Miraculously, I felt safe enough to abandon the stall in time to get my wheelchair ride over to the taxi. The difficulty I had acquiring this wheelchair just added to the flavor of that bathroom stall, but I managed to make it there on time, and was met with the shower of generosity, kindness, and support that would be the hallmark of my new sisterhood. Equally miraculous was the second Tetris job of getting all of us and our luggage (divas included--ahem) into the two cars and up the mountain, sans horking.
I skidded into the resort, forewent dinner in exchange for the triumph of keeping water down, and crashed out on a lounger in the sun at the edge of a breathtaking valley.
The careful pad of paws on my thigh startled me awake.
I opened my eyes to find the most glorious tabby cat making his way up my body to deposit himself on my tender belly and heart. For a long time we just stared at each other, doing that slow blink thing. Cats always know. I thanked him with petting and purrs, and he helped purr me better.
I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect journey, discomfort, squick, and seeming “fiascos” included. In hindsight, I am certain that my subconscious and my body understood--with everything I had journaled that I wanted to leave behind, and with everything that was about to be fire-hosed into me, there was simply no room at the inn.
Mass Purge: Activated.
(Talk about the Chuck Box…)
I eventually dragged my carcass into the picturesque haven they had generously given me in the main house, so Gimpy Girl wouldn’t have to traverse the hills at mealtime, too. It was called the Zen Room, and it was that!
After crashing out for most of the afternoon, I slept through the night, obliterating any vestige of jet lag by dawn.
I was ready to begin the retreat.
THE ZEN ROOM: MY SANCTUARY WHERE I CRASH-LANDED.
CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE:
--OR UP IS DOWN- One of the most powerful moments from this retreat