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It’s been almost two weeks since I finished my yoga retreat along the Amalfi Coast in Italy, just enough time to come home, get settled a bit, and fly to Ireland to support my dear friend, Kim Dastrup on her retreat along the Cliffs of Moher in Ireland.
All the heavy work for the retreat happens the months prior to the retreat through bookings and emails and such but once we are all there, I can lean back and settle into that thing I truly love to do which is to teach yoga and meditation. There’s so much planning involved for every little detail of the experience. I really want everyone to feel nurtured for the entire event and provide the right conditions for them to touch that deep part of themselves that only yoga and meditation can. However, one thing I’ve had to develop is the skill in being able to learn to read the energy that is coming toward you and to go with the flow rather than trying to push the current. It was a lesson to learn to be spontaneous despite all of the planning and wanting to control things to be perfect. Somethings you simply can’t control and to try to do so will diminish the opportunity.
Every day on the retreat was excellent but one day was impossibly perfect mostly because of our ability to just go with the flow and accept everything that came our way.
We woke up for our early morning sun salutations, pranayama, and meditation session, had breakfast, and then did our mid-morning flow practice. I had a set plan for each practice but based on how people were moving, what everyone was feeling, I altered each practice despite my plans. For example, I intended for a long meditation in the morning practice but I could really feel the groups need to move. Still, I knew we’d be hiking later that day so I didn’t teach too many poses that cooked the legs.
After, our morning practice, we ate lunch then embarked on a hike for the afternoon with the possibility of a swim in the cerulean blue ocean of the Amalfi Coast.
Before we left for the hike, Franz, one of our Italian hosts, pulled me aside and quickly informed me that his cousin (he seems to have an entire country of cousins) was planning a “sunset concert and pizza party” and that it would cost about €15 per person but if we wanted to we could do that for dinner rather than having our regularly planned dinner at the retreat center. He gave me no other details.
This was certainly a deviation from our plan but something told me despite the relative lack of details, this was going to be really cool. So on a whim I made the executive decision that this is what we’d all do for the evening, despite the lack of details.
Molly, our other Italian host, left with us do drive a to where we would begin the hike. Again, we didn’t have all the details of the trip but knew it would be cool. People wondered how strenuous the hike would be, how deep the water would be, what the temperature would be, and honestly I didn’t know. Even with our host with us who had hiked this trail many times, we simply couldn’t plan for all the details of the rigor and temperature etc. but then again, nor could we plan for or expect the stunning beauty we experienced along the way.
We parked the van and began our long hike which we learned was a pretty steep downhill. It finished up at a tower overlooking the ocean, something which looked straight out of Game of Thrones or Lord of the Rings. To the side of the tower was a slightly sketchy path leading down to the ocean and some of our group decided that the hike was enough and hedged their bets and didn’t hike down to the ocean. For those of us who did, we found a 20-ft. cliff and further down a slight ledge from which to jump into the swelling, lapis currents of the ocean.
Each ocean has its own personality and this one was deep and blue and welcoming. Soon several of us were in the water and a lightness and gaiety took over the attitude of the group. People were laughing and jumping from the cliff. Even after a small jellyfish stung two of the swimmers there was a bit of hilarity examining the sting marks on one of the retreater’s butt.
After a good long swim, we got out, dried off, and made the ascent back up the hill. It felt much steeper on the way back, especially carrying my now sleeping toddler.
Panting, hot, and sweating (and some of us taking turns carrying a sleeping child) we crested the hill feeling exhilarated by the ocean and the hike. At the top of the hill, not far from where we had parked the vans, a few men, in typical Italian restaurant owner fashion, gestured for us to sit at an outdoor table, nothing more than a plastic folding table and some chairs, for a glass of water, limoncello, or beer. It took exactly no coercion for us to sit at their table and order their food and drink and we cooled off, laughing about the hike, the swim, and jellyfish.
Once we got home and showered up, we enjoyed a relaxing afternoon practice, with a much needed dose of Yoga Nida (guided guided meditation). Again, I’d planned a bit of movement for the afternoon practice but feeling the energy of the group, I kept it very chilled out and focused largely on the Yoga Nidra.
After practice we got dressed up for our sunset concert. I was expecting a garage band in noisy town square with pizza from a nearby mom ’n pops. But instead the van wound its way up the steep hills near Sorrento, latticed with vineyards and lemon orchards, only to stop at an majestic, private villa. We got out of the van and marveled at the stunning villa and walked its immaculate grounds overlooking the bay of Naples. The villa was hundreds of years old and restored to a stunning rustic elegance. We sat outside under a gazebo, sipping prosecco and watching the sun dip into the bay. Meanwhile my little guy instantly made friends with a few older Italian kids whose parents had brought them.
After a about a half an hour of settling in, happy to be resting our legs, sore from our hike, to our great pleasure, two musicians in tuxedos came out, took a graceful bow, and sat down and began effortlessly and flawlessly plucking away at the most sublime classical music for mandolin and guitar.
A collective smile spread across our faces as their music stirred our hearts, their perfectly harmonizing notes echoing off the hills. It all felt so perfect and impossible. After each song we erupted with applause and bursting with joy and happiness over the perfection of the moment.
After a few numbers, another man in a tuxedo came out and began singing Italian and Spanish opera selections with a powerful but smooth tenor’s bravato. Not only was the music enchanting, but the joy of the musicians as they played and sang that was positively contagious. After each number, we offered a genuine smiles gushing applause and the musicians beamed with smiles and laughter and the joy of it all.
Eventually, with the sun set and music done, we stood around and marveled at the surprise and beauty of such a fantastic evening. Soon, a beautiful old woman began bringing homemade pizzas from the kitchen, baked in its original wood burning oven. The pizzas were unbelievable and we all stood around sharing stories and laughing while night deepened.
Periodically, I’d meet up with Elio who had spent the entire night thrilled at running around with his new buddies. At one moment, Elio took me by the hand and led me away from the party to the dark edge of the property, intent on showing me something very important. He led me by the hand to the dark edge of the spacious property and pointed into a grove of lemon trees lit up by hundreds of miniature shooting stars, the fairy-glow of fireflies. “Can you see the monster eyes, Papa?” Elio said in wonder.
After the party wound down, we were still on a high and forced the van driver to stop off for some gelato in the nearby town next to the retreat center. We came home with our faces sore from smiling and laughing and marveling over the unforgettable day, everything from the yoga, the hiking and swimming, and then the unforgettable concert and party we had at the villa. None of it could have been expected or planned for. It all just happened and was beautiful and magical.
This experience clearly taught me how when you go with the flow rather than trying to control every aspect of every detail, you open yourself to things otherwise magical and unknown.
Tell me a story about when you were surprised by going with the flow.