I know myself well enough to know that if something is scary to me I should dive straight into it. In July 2015, I attended an exclusive retreat in Vail, Colorado held by the one and only Danette May called Elevate Your Life. I'd heard her speak at a Lori Harder event and attending one of Danette's retreats was definitely on my bucket list as a must do experience. So, I immediately signed up!
This was purposely a very small and intimate group of attendees. On the day I was supposed to leave, very early in the morning, I missed my flight and missed the opening dinner. I was horrified, embarrassed and disappointed all wrapped up into one huge fire ball of emotions. This definitely gave me the opportunity to put some of my new mindfulness tools to good use.
After a long day of travel and a few more of life's little tests, I showed up in Vail, CO at this amazing retreat. There were less than 10 of us and over the course of the next few days, between white water rafting, climbing a mountain, intense mastermind discussions, and a whole lot of fun, we formed a sisterhood I will treasure forever.
I write about my experience in hopes of encouraging women to think about attending these kinds of events. Large or small, mountains or not, they can be life changing. Talk about doing something outside of your comfort zone. I literally, by myself without knowing anyone else, signed up, got on a plane, disconnected for a few days and went on an adventure. I had never done anything like this, yet this experience was intensely pulling at me and something deep within was telling me I needed to go. Little did I know or understand at the time, but mountains can also exist within.
I remember my Dad, with a weird look on his face, saying "You're doing what?" I smile to myself as I write remembering the moment. Many of the things that hold us back in life have to do with fear. Fear of the unknown, fear of judgement, fear of not believing in one's self, fear of failure, fear of image, etc, etc. Whatever it is, we sit in it and stay stuck where we are, usually out of comfort, and limit our own growth because we let fear dominate our actions, or lack of. Or, maybe it's just easier to let fear win.
For me, this retreat was all about shaking it up and overcoming fear, although I don't think I knew or recognized it at the time. It sounded exciting and like an adventure of personal growth. Looking back, I now understand it was about getting past the fear so that on the other side of that fear, I could begin to explore who I really was and what my true purpose is. This is where growth really happens.
Life is busy! We get up at ungodly early hours of the day to get the kids up, ready for school, get yourself up and ready for the day, get the spouse up and everybody ready to get out the door. We work all day and bust our hump at work to grow our career so we can continue to provide for our family.
We hustle home from work to get dinner on the table, help kids with homework, go to activities and events, clean the house, do laundry and put the kids to bed. And...oh yeah...take care of ourselves too with exercise, a good diet and meditation (yeah, right). All to hit the pillow and get up the next day and do it all over again; with a big happy smile on our face. Anyone with me? Here's the kicker. We allow it. Wait...we create it...the rat race. Yep, we sure do.
It takes hard work and discipline to break life-long patterns and build new healthy rituals. It's hard work to find peace in the chaos of our world today. It's hard work to carve out time for yourself. Even though it's hard, it IS attainable and can be done. I showed up at this Vail retreat proud of myself for how far I had come over the past couple years. I have really learned some valuable mindfulness and meditation practices and tools. I understand so much better how to change behavior and manage emotions, which have all lead to a much healthier and fulfilling lifestyle. Yes, hard but very worth it for so many reasons.
I think I might have blocked out the part of the retreat that talked about climbing a mountain. I knew I needed to pack hiking shoes, but I thought that was for a nice casual hike that we might go on one day. When I got there, I met Dave Albano, our "Mountaineer". The sheer fact that we had a "mountaineer" guiding us made me instantly uneasy. It screamed "This is going to be really hard." As Dave began to detail out the day, my "holy crap" begin to sink in and fear immediately followed. And then the internal rant started...."No way. OMG. The elevation. This mountain is HUGE. I’m so out of shape. I’m so uncoordinated. These women are all so beautiful and so in shape…and I am so NOT. I did not dress right. Seriously, why did I even sign up for this? I'm way out of my league. Dave is going to be so annoyed with me. Quit. Go home.”
It all started to kick in. All the negative self talk came flooding in. Dave kept saying "We are only as strong as our weakest link." I remember thinking "OMG...hello...that is obviously me! Is he looking at me. Is he saying that to me? Why is everyone looking at me?" It was horrifying and scary and embarrassing and I can't ever remember a time feeling so insecure, unworthy and terrified. In retrospect, it's exactly what I needed to feel in order to get where I was going.
I remember standing at the bottom of the mountain looking up, saying my head back and forth and thinking "How the hell am I ever going to get up this mountain?" Luckily, I was with the best mountaineer and team EVER and they encouraged me every step of the way. The first 2 miles of the hike felt literally like it was straight uphill. It was the longest stretch of incline. I thought it would never end. I seriously struggled. Seriously...I struggled bad. I kept telling myself "One foot in front of the other." I couldn't get my air. I was gasping. I was at the back of the pack watching the other ladies in front of me thinking over and over "Keep going....you can't let them down."
First comes the embarrassment. "You don't even have the right shoes or hiking gear on. Look at everyone run up this hill" (no one was running). "Why didn't you bring your hiking boots? You look like a goofball.”
At some point on the way up, I noticed that in addition to all the negative self talk, I was catching myself and putting some of the tools in my new toolbox to use. Here's what was going on in my head:
STOP! - "You've got this. One step at a time. You can do this. Every single person here is rooting for you to succeed. You can do this."
Then comes the apprehension. "Crap, I can't breathe. There's no way I'll make this. I should have trained."
STOP! - "Concentrate, Tina. Dig deep. Focus. One foot at a time. You've got this."
Then comes the pain. "Oh yeah, you haven't really exercised in a long time and this really hurts. Why don't you exercise? Why are you so lazy? No more DVR! Why do you self-sabotage exercise?"
STOP! - "You can do this, Tina! You are strong. You used to be an athlete. That was a LONG time ago. It doest matter. Today is today. You’ve got this. Dig deeper. You deserve this. You deserve to be healthy and happy. Keep going!"
Then comes the emotion and the breaking point. "I am so mad at myself right now. This is YOUR fault. You should have exercised more!!! How old do you need to get before you do something about it? Why do you always put everyone and everything else first? You gotta start prioritizing more!!"
STOP! - "This stops NOW! It's time to make time for you! Stop making excuses. Excuses. All excuses." Breakthrough. Sobbing. "You are better than this! No more! You need to get up this mountain."
And, finally....commitment. "From today and forever after, I will make exercise a consistent part of my lifestyle. Because I'm worth it. I am strong. I am beautiful. I can and will do this."
It takes a long time to hike up a mountain. There's a lot of time to think. Time to think about work. Time to think about relationships and family. Time to think about the woulda, shoulda, coulda moments. Time to break it all down, let go and release. In the normal hustle of everyday life we don't take time to shut everything out and think about these things at the deep levels we need to in order to heal. This is why mindfulness and meditation are SO important.
I'm on this mountain and most everyone is ahead of me and they're all pulling for me to keep going. I'm pretty sure that I'm dying and starting to think of all the reasons that I should give up as I'm having a small meltdown. "My body just isn't made for this. My allergies are way too bad right now. I don't have on the right shoes. I'm just too heavy for this. My head is splitting. Do I really want to get up this mountain." This was a lightbulb moment for me on the mountain and it all started bubbling up they welling up inside me, filling me with just about every emotion possible. I couldn't suppress it anymore.
I stood right there, stopped in the middle of the mountain, sobbing. I didn't care who was watching or what it meant. I was releasing. I was finally letting go. I was letting go of being the victim. I was letting go of the abuse. I was letting go of the mistakes. The guilt. The bitterness. I will never forget Danette walking up to me. She wrapped her arms around me and gave me a huge long hug. She then put one hand on each of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eyes, paused and said "Oh....honey...you need movement in your life". It was a pivotal moment for me. There was no more hiding.
As I moved up that mountain, I could feel internal mountains shifting. There was magnificent beauty everywhere. I was opening up, releasing and processing as I fought my way up, both physically and emotionally. It took that mountain for me to realize all I was still holding onto. All I was still holding onto inside that I needed to release. It took that mountain to beat it out of me that it's ok to ask for help. I can't do it all on my own. I needed to let go of guilt about decisions I've made in my past.
It took that mountain for me to realize that playing the victim role had me stuck in time and that it was time to rise up and show up in every aspect of my life. To be better and to play bigger. It took that mountain for me to realize that me, and only me, is accountable and responsible for my own health and happiness. And that the only way to ever attain true health and happiness was by putting me first. Because when I am whole, I am able to serve on such a higher and broader level.
When we got to the top and we all sat there in silence and group meditation, it was the most magical place I had ever been. Not only because of earth's amazing beauty on top of the world, but also because of the shifts that had occurred within me, the special experience of who I was with, and what it meant to us as a whole. Personally, I felt stronger and clearer than I'd ever felt. Like I could do anything in the world. It began an amazing shift within me that is still burning bright, evolving and growing each day.
My message...take control of your own self. Be the CEO of YOU. Own your health and happiness. I conquered that mountain that day and in the process, I also made it up, through and past many internal mountains that had haunted me for years. That mountain, that retreat, Danette and those ladies....provided me the space to find me. I am forever in gratitude!
Find your space, dig deep, own what you own and find a way to move and shift your own internal mountains. It will clear the path for you to become who you are really meant to be, which leads to happiness.
Because these experiences have been so transformational for me, I'm hosting two retreats Choose Your Happy on August 27th and October 22nd at the Goodman Community Center in Madison, WI. For more information and to register, click here!
Create time to shut down everything else in your life, for just a short time….for YOU and only YOU! It allows you to focus inward and reconnect to your inner soul! It’s time to CHOOSE Happy!
I can not wait to create space in the Madison community and far beyond for women to explore their inner selves, dream big and strive towards inner peace and happiness.
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Love and Light,
True You, LLC