A few weeks ago I headed out to Port Dover with my friend and her mum to attend a Moon Retreat organized by Moonshine Juicery. If you aren’t familiar with Corina and her business (which is really a means of spreading love in the world), I wrote about it here. There were thirteen of us in total who spent a magical weekend at Clonmel Castle (coolest place ever) exploring our minds and our hearts. Amidst meditation, yoga, journaling, candles, sage and hot cacao, we escaped the hustle and bustle of the world and spent three days looking inside ourselves to nourish our hearts through human connection, the release of fears and living life through love.

For the past few weeks, I have been slowly processing what I learned and experienced, as well as working at applying some of these notions into every day life. Since the retreat, I’ve been struggling to find a way to share these thoughts with you (my apartment is so clean from procrastination) because emotions are tough to put words too, but I’m hoping that it will all come to life as I sit down and write.

To begin, I have a bit of an obsession with the mind. I am constantly analyzing and processing my thoughts and emotions. I think this began in my youth. I struggled with mental health from a fairly young age and was fortunate to have supportive parents to help me. I remember getting workbooks from my mum (she’s a medical doctor) that were to teach me to be mindful of my thoughts and how they affect my emotions. Through this kind of behavioural therapy, I didn’t necessarily “fix” my mental health problems, but I did learn how to cope through some awareness and understanding of my mind (emphasis on “some” because the mind is not a simple thing).

When I finished high school I moved to Thailand where I ended up living for six years. During this time I continued on my mindfulness journey amidst a culture that thrives upon Buddhist values and practices. Although I wasn’t always in the best mindset during my time abroad, there were periods when I did find peace through the practice of mindfulness meditation, a lot of lessons in buddhism and a really cool app called Headspace.

I’m sharing this backstory because I believe that it’s relevant in explaining what I experienced during the retreat. I consider life a constant transformative process of the mind and heart which affects how we experience the world. I believe that even the smallest of actions, whether it be sitting down to meditate or simply choosing to see a situation with love instead of fear, is a process of metamorphosis in how we perceive life. With this in mind, embarking on a whole weekend of transformation was both exciting and a little bit scary. I had no idea what I would uncover.

Let’s start at the beginning. Located in Port Dover, our B&B was an old heritage home built in 1929. Rich in history amidst the peaceful countryside, Clonmel Castle was the perfect setting in which to immerse ourselves in a weekend of wellness.

My favourite room in the house was the library. With a fireplace, endless old books and an organ built into the wall (literally) the atmosphere was wonderfully calming. Whenever we had free time, I would sit down in the library and write down all my thoughts. This was my first time doing “stream of consciousness writing” and I loved it. I often struggle with understanding and organizing my thoughts, but through this practice I could extract things from my mind without the burden of trying to analyze and critique them. Finally, in reviewing all the often non-sensical things I had written, I could see patterns of thoughts and emotions which actually brought more clarity than ever. Seriously so cool!

For the first evening of the retreat, we spent some time learning about setting intentions. I spend to much time thinking about my physical goals: whether they be career oriented, financial or simply trying to workout more. Choosing to think about what I wanted to achieve emotionally was surprisingly difficult. Shouldn’t my emotional needs be at the top of my list of priorities? I came to realize that the best way to help achieve my physical goals was to nurture my emotional ones. This is lesson number one that I took away with me: by focusing on my emotional needs, I’m not neglecting my physical goals, I am in fact helping them. 

After a few exercises, conversations and some meditation, I set an intention for what I wanted to focus on. I wrote it down on a card so that I could refer back to it often. This is what it said: “I am willing to see and experience life through love”. Sounds simple, right? For me, it’s not. My mind has a tendency to go straight to the negative. I am always extremely critical. This also results in an internal battle where I’m being critical about being critical. I constantly put myself down for seeing the world in this way and it’s exhausting.

I went to bed that night feeling frustrated with myself. Why am I so judgmental of everyone and everything around me? Why can’t I just enjoy life for what it is and see love where it is present?

The next morning consisted of yoga, a visualization practice, walking in the woods and some delicious food. The meditations and visualizations were to help us process and build upon some of what we had uncovered while setting our intentions. We were also working to identify thought patterns and feelings that might be holding us back from accomplishing these intentions. The plan was to identify what we needed to let go of and burn it in the fire that evening. So witchy, I know.

I had an extremely uncomfortable experience during one of the day’s meditations. We travelled to a dark pool of water where we were to submerge ourselves and leave behind all the regrets and fears that we wanted to let go of. This should feel wonderfully light and calming. Instead, I felt physically ill. It was the weirdest thing and something that I had never experienced during meditation before. I couldn’t remain calm, all I wanted to do was be sick. As you can imagine, I came out of this mediation more confused than ever. Afterwards, I wrote the following phrases in my journal: “The pond was scary, heavy and dark. I am in pain. I turn away from darkness. Going into the pond will only bring more pain”.

At this point I had no idea what was going on. Once again, I felt frustrated. I sat down with Esther and Corina to talk about what I had experienced in hopes that they could help me understand. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that I had a bunch of baggage that I wasn’t ready to let go of. There were things so deeply buried that I hadn’t even begun to accept them let alone confront them head on and release them. At the time I didn’t know what to make of the whole visualization, so I simply tried to focus on figuring out that one notion which I would be burning in the fire that evening.

I expressed my concern to Esther and Corina about my constant judgement of everything that was going on around me. I was desperate to leave this behind at the end of the weekend, but I still didn’t understand where it was all coming from. It was then that Corina said a simple statement which brought me so much clarity that I cried. She said, “how you see the world is a reflection of how you perceive yourself”. I had heard many variations of this statement before, but had never truly understood how it could relate to me so closely. Every judgement of a situation or analysis of someone else’s actions is directly related to something that I am critical of in myself. It really has nothing to do with them, but everything to do with me. This was the second lesson that I took away from the retreat: it is only through experiencing myself with love and compassion that I will perceive the world this way too. 

That night I burned the words “self-judgement” in the fire and went to sleep feeling peaceful. I was happy to know that I hadn’t actually been living a life of strictly judging others, but had instead been far too critical of myself.

I slept better that night than I had in a long time and it felt wonderful. I woke up to find that a physical weight in my body had lifted that I hadn’t even realized was there. I smiled constantly.

That morning we had a women’s circle where we each shared a little something of our experience throughout the weekend, what we had been through in our lives and when we truly felt our best. I am terrified of speaking in front of people let alone about my feelings, but I was trying to keep my lesson of releasing self-judgement in mind. Everyone here was my friend, so there was no reason to be afraid.

I had no idea what I was going to say. As we slowly went around the circle, each woman sharing a truly powerful and inspiring story, I still wasn’t getting any internal inspiration for what to share myself. It was stressing me out! I had just learned these wonderful self lessons, so why couldn’t I think of anything to say? Note: to be fair I’ve been working on this blog post for three weeks and only really figured out these lessons now…

When there were about three people to go until it was inevitably my turn, I began to lose my ability to breathe. I was having a full blown panic attack. I had no idea why it was happening, but it started in my chest and it just wouldn’t stop. What surprised me the most was that in this discomfort was where I found my voice. Suddenly, I knew what I wanted to say and I spoke without thinking. The words spilled from my mouth without fear or worry. I can’t remember the last time I expressed myself so vulnerably and freely.

To be honest, I can’t remember exactly what I said, but I know what I realized while sharing it. During this panic ridden few minutes, I came to an understanding that this was a continuation of what I had experienced during the visualization the day before. I came to the conclusion that during the lifelong process of trying to understand my mind, I had completely forgotten about my heart. This may sound silly, but the implications are huge. I had virtually trained myself to never truly feel anything by constantly worrying about how it would effect me emotionally. My youth wasn’t an easy experience for me, so I had deeply buried the emotional side of myself out of fear of returning to that out of control place. I had essentially disconnected my mind from my heart as a mean of coping with the parts of me that I was afraid of. This was the final lesson that I took away from the weekend: by closing my heart to the hurt, I also closed it to love. If I want to truly feel the good things, I must explore, forgive and release the parts of me that I fear. For my hear to be open, it must be accepting of both. 

I want to say a big thank you to Moonshine Juicery for this experience. You have taught me so much about myself. I can’t wait to continue experiencing life with the lessons I have learned.

I also want to say a big thank you to YOU for getting all the way through this very long blog post lol! I hope that at least something here resonates with you and that it can make your mind just a little bit lighter. I would also love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Share anything you are thinking because it just might feel good to talk about your feelings! 😛

Moonshine, I’ll be back for another retreat soon.