Where do I even begin; it’s been so so hard finding the right words to describe what I learnt, what I saw, what I dreamt and what I felt, over the weekend at Northern Edge Algonquin during the Heart Flow of Shamanism retreat that I had the privilege of participating in a few weekends ago in May, along with (and thanks to) my dear friend Courtney of CourtOutdoors. The intention for the entire weekend itself was “As we dance the balance between winter and spring, we sing the songlines, flowing with the wisdom + life force of all things, attuning to the resonance of the masculine + feminine home of our hearts.” The purpose of this retreat was to create community by the Way of the Circle – that is, recognizing the infinite potential of what we can achieve together as an empowered community – growing into facilitators of life, more intuitive leaders by remaining flexible and open while weaving together the contributing pieces each person brings to the circle. Ultimately these pieces (or sometimes lovingly called ‘gems’) that each attendee brings on such a retreat or workshop, influences how the days go instead of having a pre-planned agenda, allowing us as facilitators to better support each person’s needs for growth or healing, all while weaving together the bigger picture (or bigger dream). The belief is that we hold the answers to all of our deepest questions, within ourselves. The hardest part is allowing yourself to tap into that inner teacher and to listen long enough to hear the answers, or asking for help when we need it, specifically from our guiding spirits and ancestors that are constantly with us throughout our journeys. Or even taking the time to nourish ourselves, our minds, bodies, spirits and souls; retreating into nature and wilderness, eliminating the constant connection and plugged-in distractions we deal with in our day-to-day lives. Realizing that we have the greatest teacher we could ever hope for, right there within us can be an empowering epiphany and something that I know I struggled with understanding initially but is something that I find myself opening up to more and more.
The first thing I noticed when I arrived at the Edge was the sound of the wind chimes. Normally I don’t notice things associated with sounds, usually I find myself distracted by the light and sunshine (always looking for the light, to a fault sometimes haha!) but as time passed I realized more and more how prominently I could hear them the entire time I was there. It was a huge adjustment being unplugged from my phone and letting go of the fear that being unreachable, the world would some how implode or something terrible would happen (unbeknownst to me of course) and being completely new to Shamanism, I initially felt insecure that maybe the learning curve would be too great for me to catch up to. The style of teaching and guiding by the facilitators that were there with us was something I had never experienced before; being used to a top-down style of teaching, the teachers always being distinguished from the pupils, it was actually difficult pin pointing exactly who was who as we all sat together in a circle during our gatherings, eliminating any sort of hierarchy and allowed for a more relaxed environment to learn in. Hearing everybody’s pieces and stories was a humbling experience – sharing vulnerable parts of themselves and realizing how alike we all are, how much our fears aren’t so different after all – knowing I am not alone in my struggles was comforting. My favourite moment though had to be the sound bath. Being immersed in sounds such as the most beautiful crystal singing bowls, tibetan singing bowls, wind chimes, drums and shakers, while laying in Savasana in a circle with the entire group together was the most incredible experience and something that I hope everyone gets to try at some point in their lives. It was so moving and the unshakeable feeling of gratitude and peace was so overwhelming (in the very best way), it brought me to tears.
By the end of the weekend though, looking back on how I had felt when I first arrived – stressed to the max, feeling depleted, anxious and (as usual) like I was being pulled into so many directions at once – I couldn’t believe how different that person was. It is truly incredible how quickly the best and truest self of a person will surface when you immerse them in the most positive, non-judgemental, supportive and safe environment. Such a simple concept but to allow someone to relax into such a place where they don’t have to stress about cooking, while still sharing the most nutritious and delicious meals together with like-minded individuals, having some of the best conversations I’ve had in years over a meal, working together to tidy up, not having to rush anywhere, no agenda, no deadlines, no emails etc. being able to have a full TWO nights of uninterrupted sleep to nature’s lullaby of crickets, spring peepers and even loons. The stress of the need to take photographs, to document every little moment and feeling completely fell away. I allowed myself the permission to immerse myself into the entire experience, to live it right there in the moment and to trust that my heart would remember everything I felt later on.
Not having to juggle any of the roles that I do on a daily basis, there was absolutely nothing there to influence me in how to feel or how to react, in any way, shape or form. I was afforded a brief moment to just be myself, to be Amanda without any other identities attached. Funny enough, one of the oracle cards I pulled with Courtney the first night we spent at the Edge, to the question: what lesson am I going to learn this weekend or need to pay attention to, while at the retreat? And my answer was the Goose card and it said: “Take time to rest and recuperate rather then continuing your striving.” Pretty appropriate considering how I had been feeling previously, so rest and recuperate was exactly what I did. For the first time in 26 years, I feel as if I allowed myself to be seen; to make eye contact with the people around me, to step out from behind the scenes where I usually am so comfortably found, to step into the centre of this circle and instead of my usual fear of rejection, judgement and any sort of persecution, I was welcomed with open arms, love and so much faith and support. To be here exactly as I am, without the need to validate my existence or justify myself in any way. To just, be. It was the most terrifying, liberating and emotional feeling I ever experienced and it brought me to tears. I could feel myself gaining a small piece of my heart back, with the realization that I do have something to offer, that my story is worth sharing and that I am capable of teaching and guiding others. To understand that I have the answers to my questions and I don’t need to constantly seek out validation for them is completely empowering and motivating to keep looking deeper within myself.
For the first time, in the longest time, I feel like I am finally becoming the person I am meant to be, that’s always been there deep down inside but I just never took the time to see or allowed anyone else to see either. I am understanding pieces of myself and accepting and embracing them for what they are instead of constantly trying to change them, to fit them into these unrealistic moulds that just aren’t who I am, and that’s okay. I am seeing that it is okay to let people in, to trust others and to soften isn’t a weakness. To show vulnerability isn’t a weakness and instead of constantly stifling myself in fear of judgment, insecurity (or even pride) that my truest self might not be enough for other’s acceptance is an act of unnecessary suffering I cause myself because regardless, I am enough, I am worthy and I am here and in the grand scheme of things, at the end of the day we are all connected and our stories, those beautiful little gems, are all necessary for the journey to growth, introspection and most important of all, for community.