Two summers ago, I met a woman named Janet Dunn at a hiking spa in Vermont that my friend Robynn discovered. Janet did a cooking demo one afternoon, and her gentle, nurturing persona was as memorable as the yummy protein salad she taught us to make.
It turned out that she ran her own retreat center of sorts (Tao of Health VT) and I put myself on her email list. Last October I made a solo trip for a weekend of “detoxing” with a small group of like-minded women. Janet had this innate ability to conjure up an atmosphere of safety, support, and lighthearted camaraderie that I found irresistible. So when the invitation arrived in my Inbox for a “darkness into light detox” in May, I signed myself up for a return trip to her rambling, sun-washed house, perched atop a hill near the end of a long dirt road. And I invited my friend Maryanne to come along.The last time Maryanne and I shared a “health spa” experience, things didn’t go so well. She is a lover of abundance—so the concept of being restricted does not sit easily with her. (No coffee? No bread? No sugar? No way!) So I knew it was risky to ask her to spend 48 hours in the wilds of Vermont, cleansing her liver, avoiding caffeine, and consuming a strictly vegetarian diet. Instead of creating expectations, I decided to think of it as an opportunity to spend time with her. And maybe let go of a little stress.
Arriving late Friday night, we discovered there was a full house of 20-plus guests. But we were lucky to have been assigned to the “blue room,” one of the nicest in the house. We set the alarm for 7 a.m., fell into bed, and before we knew it found ourselves in the roomy kitchen with a bunch of yawning women. Everyone lined up dutifully for fresh-squeezed juice and Janet’s deliberate dispensing of the morning’s detox regimen: a customized combo of herbs, tinctures and essential oils designed to help our bodies rid themselves of the crap we shoveled into them all winter.
Instructed to drink plenty of water and specially brewed tea (we’re talking burdock root, not Spiced Chai!), we moved slowly into a day dedicated to relaxation, reflection and release. The hours unfolded like flower petals, each yoga session, massage and mindfulness exercise building on its predecessor. Each of us chose our own path, participating (or not) in activities that encouraged us to look inward and focus on refreshing our minds and spirits.
Maryanne replaced the walking mediation with a nap. One guest spent the afternoon in her room, laid low by caffeine withdrawal (a plight that plagued at least half of us.) Others shared goals, fears, laughter and tears in that amazing way women have of entrusting virtual strangers with their deepest secrets. I dove in with typical rule-follower enthusiasm (the Thai massage guru, Einat, dubbed it my “good girl” energy, much to Maryanne’s delight!) By sundown, the herbs, fresh air, massage, and dinner (spicy adzuki beans and kale) had rendered me comatose. I passed on meditation and went to bed.We slept with the windows open and awoke Sunday to the sound of wind chimes ringing like church bells. After breakfast, we did some stretching. As she had the day before, Janet asked us to think of an intention to hold in our hearts. Muddled thoughts swirled in my foggy brain. Then a lovely woman named Monica arrived to give the group an acupuncture treatment, placing needles in our ears and whispering something about “spring cleaning.”
Maybe it was because I expected nothing. Or maybe it was the culmination of Janet’s weekend master plan. Whatever the reason, I sank into a state of utter calm unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. My body was infused with warmth. My pulse slowed. I inhaled one long breath, belly to lungs to collarbones, then slowly exhaled. Suddenly, the intention that I realized had been forming all weekend bloomed fully into my consciousness: Make Space for Self-Expression.
This simple sentence encapsulates all of the work I’ve done on myself for the past seven months. When I mentioned it later to Janet, she said "Make space where? And I replied, "In the day? In my life?" She looked at me with her crystal blue eyes and said, "In your heart." And there it was. The real reason I needed to be at this retreat. In this moment. And Maryanne was there with me so that I could let go of my typical nervousness about going anywhere alone, and immerse myself completely in the experience.
Right before we said our goodbyes, Janet announced that this was her last retreat. She’s selling the house and planning to “take her show on the road.” She gave each of us the candle we’d lit to celebrate our bond as women in search of more fulfilling lives. It sits on my desk as I write this, a reminder of the enlightenment that took place in that magical house on the hill. And I light it, selfishly, with the hope that I’ll cross paths again with this incredibly giving woman.