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retreat

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Mount Shasta Part 2

Wispy clouds crown the blazing cap shading the collective eye of Lumaria. We drink huckleberry honeywine on the train tracks underneath the stars. Between handstands and backbends, we run barefoot through the dark corridors of the old, Western hotel to pee. The light is perfect for writing in the White Mountain Cafe, where Grease Lightning plays while a young teenage boy with slicked dark hair and pristine eyebrows stands behind the "U" of the counter eating a piece of toast with both hands. This is Mount Shasta, where two years ago I began my yoga journey with a simple intention in a ballroom. This weekend I went back for some more magic. 

Highlights include talking dreams with Nick, playing countless singing bowls at The Crystal Room, getting smoothies from Berryvale Groceries, hiking from Castle Lake up to Heart Lake, befriending a pilot and a Polish Buddhist, finding my serratus muscles like never before, and sleeping in a haunted room with doors that lead to nowhere and too many corners. Here are some of my favorite photos from the weekend:

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Trailer Dreams

It's Sunday. I'm lounging in a hammock on a farm in Sonoma County. I slept inside a cozy Airstream last night and woke up at the crack of dawn to meditate underneath a passionfruit vine and the California sky beyond it. Bees buzzed around the vine as cows om'ed with us from somewhere far off in the distance. Meditation was followed by an outdoor yoga class (focused on aura expansion) and then a "farm-to-table" brunch. I'm dangerously blissed out right now.

This space (the site of an old Indian burial ground) is enchanted. There are trees and hills in all directions with the ocean in sight beyond them to the west. We eat outside at a long wooden table that could comfortably seat eighty people. Strings of golden bulbs are draped on beams above. Our weekend homes, the accommodations in which we sleep, are each unique. In addition to the trailer, there are both round and cone-shaped tents. Some are equipped with their own bathrooms and claw-foot tubs. The shower is a communal, outdoor, spring water shower, built directly around a tree. And let me tell you - using it was a treat after sweating through two yoga classes and a day by the pond in 100 degree weather.

My only complaint about this retreat would be how hard it has been to sleep (what with the animals and sacred spirits floating about). The first night I lay awake for at least in the hour in the middle of the night convinced someone was outside the trailer contemplating coming in. (I later discovered it was probably a fox.) But I am thankful even for the erratic sleep this weekend, because it brought me a long and eventful lucid dream in which I succeeded with "asking the dream" for and receiving something unexpected...

Below is the dream as I recorded it on my phone when I woke up. I made only grammar edits and included takeaways at the end. Enjoy!

 


I'm walking down the street singing a classic rock song. I think "Hey - I didn't know I knew the words to this!" and realize I'm dreaming. My first instinct is to take flight and immediately I find myself flying over a gloomy ocean. It's suddenly very dark. I try shouting "Brighten up!" at the sky but this doesn't work so I accept the darkness and try to adjust to it. It's bright enough to see my hands, which is what really matters. As I fly, I look at my palms frequently to stabilize and prolong the dream. 

I recall my intention of meeting a personal guide and call out to the dream, "I want to see and talk to one of my spirit guides!" Nothing obvious happens, but I keep flying, searching the boats below for such a being. 

I stop to land on several boats. Unfortunately nobody I meet seems to fit the bill and when I ask directly ("Are you my spirit guide?"), everyone says, "No." (Daniel Radcliffe tries to seduce me in one of the boats. Why he popped up in my dream I have no idea but I find it rather amusing.)

"What do you represent?" I ask a handful of dream characters I encounter. A few say, "Nothing." One asks, "What do you mean?" which I don't bother answering. I think only one gives me an abstract concept. It comes from a punk rock office guy and though I don't remember what he said he represented, I'm pretty sure it was sarcastic in tone. (Dream characters aren't always the friendliest.)

After failing to meet my spirit guide, I experience a false awakening in the trailer at the farm. Alissa is in my bed with me. I find this strange and concentrate on falling asleep and going lucid again. Next thing I know I'm back in the dream world - lucid again, this time with Alissa at my side.

On flying skateboards we explore a funky, punky town chalk full of dream characters and 50s diners. I keep trying to shout up to the sky, "Show us something amazingly beautiful!" (another pre-intended experiment) but nothing happens. 
We fly into a window, into a room empty but for a tall mauve curtain. Despite having a bad feeling about the space I announce, "When we open this curtain we'll see something amazingly beautiful behind it." I tell Alissa (or whatever combination of people she has turned into by this point) to pull back the curtain. She rips it open to reveal a bed with a person lying under a sheet. We pull the sheet back and out crawls a bald demonic ghoul. As he starts to reach his bony hands out to us, spit flying from his foul toothless mouth, I tell Alissa instead of fighting him we should project love and kindness onto him. We do, but only halfheartedly. Our fear outweighs our love. We say, "We love you," but then we hurry back out the window and into the air, shouting, "Just kidding bitch!" (I regret this as I was probably talking to an aspect of my own self.)

Somehow we end up standing in a lake in a beautiful valley. Then the finale comes. Again, with conviction I yell up at the sky, "Show us something amazingly beautiful!" I keep chanting this, and as I do rainbows appear across the sky -upwards of ten of them. Every time I repeat the request, thunder cracks and then the sky scene becomes more clear. More rainbows emerge and move in full circles around the sky. I throw pieces of dried mango (a snack I enjoyed during the retreat) to everyone around us in celebration. ("The dream responded!") Then I take a quick sip of someone's iced coffee and wake myself up to end on a good note. The dream has already been going on for such a long time and I don't want to forget any of it.

Things that stood out to me about my experience:

  • My palms looked incredibly accurate in my dream - both engraved with hundreds of lines
  • Throughout everything that happened after Alissa joined me I was convinced that it was a second lucid dream. I didn't realize I had had a false awakening until I woke up.
  • I've never seen so many dream characters at once! An entire busy city of them! Could my mind really be so cluttered?


Things I'd have done differently if given another change:

  • I should have asked the dream characters what I should do next in the dream. 
  • I also should have been more discerning (based on appearance and demeanor) to decide which dream characters to talk to. (I think I wasted my time "talking to" a lot of thought forms.)
  • I should have also tried to find out where we were. (A specific part of my subconscious maybe?)
  • Finally, I should have been more persistent in projecting love onto the "scary" dream character, and I definitely shouldn't have tricked him!


But wow. After months of no lucidity, this was my longest lucid dream yet! Still, much more progress to be made. Time to sign up for a few more yoga retreats...

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All you have to do is...

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All you have to do is...

Your vision will become clear only when you look into your heart. Who looks outside, dreams. Who looks inside, awakens.
— Carl Jung

It first clicked for me during a three-day "inversion immersion" retreat in Mount Shasta. (Mount Shasta, for those of you unfamiliar, is a small California town about halfway between San Francisco and Portland inhabited by a host of New Agers and believed by many to be a spiritual power center.) It was my first yoga retreat. I had never done a handstand before and wasn't sure I'd ever be able to, thanks to a lifelong fear of falling on my head and damaging my most precious resource. (My sister and I both practiced gymnastics when we were younger. When it became time to learn backflips, I gave it up in exchange for ballet where I knew my skull would be safe.) Still, I had been studying yoga with my teacher for about a year at the time and was ready to deepen my practice by attending a retreat, inversions not withstanding. Little did I know I would return to San Francisco with the intention of becoming a teacher myself.

It happened in the last few minutes of the last night of the retreat. Our teacher had finally cut the lights after an hour of sweaty flow followed by an hour of inversion-strengthening exercises, and we were in the dark but for a few candles in the middle of the hotel ballroom that served as our studio. We were already at the walls of the room where we had just been practicing supported handstands, headstands and forearm stands. He guided us to our backs and instructed us bring our legs perpendicular to the floor against the wall, sacrums pressed into the ground. "Close your eyes," he said. "Just be."

I was still worked up, heart pounding, still sweating. But then he turned on the song he always played for savasana, the one which evoked a vision of horse hooves, clouds and wet pavement for me, and, like a charm, the knuckles of self-control relaxed and my heart rate began to return to a place of calm. He let us lay in meditation for about five minutes before he spoke again.

"Bring your awareness back to your breath and to the sound of the breath of your friends to the left and right of you. Now," he said, "this next part is important so listen close. I'm going to fill you in on a little secret. All you have to do is..." He paused for several breaths. "Nothing."

"All you have to do is." He could have said anything. I loved that he said "nothing." It made all the sense in the world.

I got a taste of it then, with my legs resting against the wall of a ballroom in an old hotel in Mount Shasta. I got a taste of Self. Not the ego self with all its wants and needs and judgments and fear, but the Self with a capital "S," the higher version of who we are, collectively. The God Self within each of us, pure prana, or energy. The Self that can just Be. The Self I am now learning how to connect others to, within themselves, through yoga.

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