Reflection on a Nature Retreat 

08/11/2023 08:45 AM Comment(s) By Jburns

When your “Aha” moment is more like a running into a wall head first 

than a lightbulb over your head.

A while back I chose to test my comfort zone and sign up for a Nature Retreat at the EcoDharma Center.  I have always thought it might be cool to do some solo traveling outdoors.  I thought this would be a great opportunity to get up close and comfy with my inner and outer self, immersed in the natural world.  While I’m comfortable being outdoors in nature, the catch was that it was a silent retreat embedded in Buddhist teaching, of which I wasn’t familiar. Suffice it to say I was a fish out of water.  Not sure what I was thinking…being a professional speaker at a silent retreat is kind of like a NASCAR Driver on a pedal bike turning just ain’t natural.

I knew that part of it would be silent…I just didn’t realize the majority of it would be.  I felt lost. The connection I desire with other people started off ok the first day slowly engaging with the other participants and then it was cut off after the fire that night.  I became a mixture of thoughts, emotions, and discomfort.  It was so foreign to me.  The most difficult time was meals when we all would go to different places outside to be with nature and look at each other’s backs. Ugh!! This was so difficult.  We silently bowed to each other with prayer hands as we walked by and would semi acknowledge each other.  I could tell the other participants were in their element. They all seemed to be so comfortable.  I was not comfortable being fully out of my comfort zone.  I fully cherished the moments my group would hike and then gather in a circle at lunch and share experiences.

What this experience did require me to do was dig deep into who I am on an emotional level. Examine the thoughts, feelings, challenges I was currently experiencing around becoming an empty nester, shifting roles in my personal and professional lives, and choosing what was next for me as a business owner/operator. 

Spending multiple minutes, hours, days sitting in a meadow at one with your own self is intimidating, frustrating, and overwhelming, especially if your meditation skills are mediocre at best.  Surprisingly I found myself settling into my chair and my moments in the meadow with the wildflowers calming and even comforting at times, despite the biting flies and mosquitoes.

Physically my body went to crap after a couple nights of no sleep in the tent, back pain, elbow pain and a terrifying possible animal encounter.  I think I actually had an anxiety attack in my tent – the full FREEZE experience while wondering if there was a bear or a moose outside my tent next to the river.  I practiced my breathing, acknowledging the fear, everything I had ever learn to calm myself down and I would wake up again only to hear the same noises and start the same process over again.

Eventually the physical exertion and emotional exhaustion became more than I could handle and I chose to go home to sleep, be with my family and reflect on what might be considered a failure. End the end it was anything but...

The best thing that happened was I chose to do a solo hike up to a knoll high on the rocks that overlooked the forest and put you front and center with the continental divide and the glacier in RMNP.  I allowed myself to lose my proverbial $h!t and dig deep into where all those emotions were compounded in layers, some compounded in new and old feelings. They came out in tears, snot, yelling and crying with mother nature.  I let myself surrender to it all in the beauty of nature and the messy nature of emotions. It was very cathartic and provided great clarity to what was happening in my inner nature.  Even though I cut my experience short to preserve my sanity I found a sense of peace I had been craving, just not where I thought it would be.

I can safely acknowledge that I am a social person a bit of an ambivert, the whole silent solo thing is not necessarily my jam. Being in nature with people I can connect with on multiple levels (physically, emotionally, socially and spiritually) is where I want to belong. 

Is there a time when you have set your sights on something to help you grow and then received something totally different and unexpected?  I’d love to hear about it and hold space for you.


PS.  I am grateful to the instructors for their compassion, care and understanding working with me through this difficult and deeply emotional experience.  You embody metta…loving kindness. 


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