July 21, 9:30 a.m.

We ended the day yesterday with a relaxing evening of yoga.  It was soothing and a perfect end to the first day of the retreat.  My roommate and I wearily crawled into our beds and left the shuttered windows open to enjoy the cool Tuscan breeze.  We had been informed that we were very fortunate on our retreat timing.  The previous week was shrouded in an oppressive heat from which there was no escape.  An unseasonable rain swept through the countryside leaving it cool and refreshed just in time for our gathering.

As I gazed out the window into the dark sky, the clouds were briefly and sporadically illuminated by lightning strikes.  The countryside was quiet and peaceful.  I blissfully drifted off to sleep, only to be startled awake shortly thereafter.  I was wide-awake and didn’t know my way around the farm house well enough to be comfortable getting up without disturbing the other guests.  I always bring my Ann Albers meditation tapes with me, so I started listening to her guided meditations and waited for sunrise or sleep, whichever would reveal itself first.  I made a mental note to explore my surroundings so I could find my way around and discover a place I could curl up and write or reflect in case insomnia should strike again.   Fortunately, I felt refreshed when I woke up.

It was the first full day of the retreat.  I made my way downstairs to the serene yoga room.   Jade led us in a yoga practice combined with breath work.  This was my first experience with this type of breath work.  It was a three-part combination of quick, forceful breaths in and out, holding and fully releasing the breath.  During the third part of the breath work, I felt a powerful energy.  My experience of energy and being connected to a source often comes to me in the form of colors. This morning, I savored rich green and purple energy swirling in my mind behind closed eyes.  Green is a healing and loving energy while purple is inner vision and intuition.  This would guide my day and direct my energies during our coursework and interactions.

Our first silent breakfast.  While I had appreciated the concept when I learned of our morning ritual, I was looking forward to experiencing it to see how it would frame the morning.  I was delighted by the breakfast banquet – fresh fruit, meusli, home-made warm yogurt, fresh out of the kettle, toast with farm fresh jams and my latte.  While the stone house was rustic, it had one essential modern day appliance – an espresso machine!

First Breakfast – our stack of books at the end of the table. So excited to begin!
My morning latte looking out my bedroom window – a perfect view!

The morning breeze was cool as it softly blew through the patio’s ramada.   The sun was filtered by clouds that had clearly inspired the Renaissance greats.  The birds welcomed us with their morning chorus while the rooster was determined to make his presence known.  The donkeys brayed in the background as the cats and dogs meandered among us.  We sat at a long picnic table in silence, in appreciation. We savored our wholesome, flavorful breakfast. As I looked around me, the mood was filled with reflection, anticipation and joy.   I highly recommend trying this in your own life and see how it can transform your day.  When life begins this easily, in such a connected, peaceful, wholesome way, it sets the tone for what you can create in your life.  I realized this practice could easily be inserted into my daily life.

We finished breakfast and with great satisfaction, made our way to the clearing for our first meeting.  Our first exercise was a nature walk during which time we captured our experience by writing of our surroundings at various places along the way.  Given the manner in which we started our day, our senses were piqued and the descriptions flowed.

When we completed the walk and capturing our experience of it, Stephen asked us to list 10 things we are grateful for.   My list flowed easily:

1.  My health
2.  That I am in Italy
3.  This Retreat
4.  The developing friendships on this Retreat
5.  The wholesome food I’ve enjoyed
6.  The dogs here at Ebbio – I love them!
7.  My dog and cats in Napa
8.  My amazing friends
9.  My ability to powerfully choose and create the life I want to live
10. These forests and trails to explore.

After a morning filled with exercise, I looked forward to a hot shower and settle into my room to create a space to write.   My hope was not meant to be as I had to endure another cold shower.  I was getting very annoyed at having to take cold showers−I had yet to have a hot shower in Italy and was hoping that was not a foreboding of the entire 2 week trip! I was very aware that crankiness was setting in and I started to see all the things that were “wrong,” upsetting and annoying.  I recognized this mood-killer thought process and knew I had to stop it, regroup and turn my attitude around before it turned an amazing day into a gripe fest.

One of the best lessons I’ve learned over my years of life’s challenges is that I always have a choice how I want to view life.   I can let life drag me down, be defeated by the lessons, feel sorry for myself and complain, or I can choose to select an empowering attitude, look at the obstacle as an opportunity, find solutions and be grateful for all that is good in my life.  Every challenge I’ve ever been faced with has led to rewards on the other side that were commensurate to the challenge.   Letting a challenge take me down robs me of the magic of that moment in life.  I choose to enjoy each moment so the quicker I can turn around a bad attitude, or even a looming bad attitude, the more time I have to enjoy my life.  I’ve discovered many tools, exercises and resources over the years to help me stay in my power.

One of my favorite tools is a deck of Goddess cards from Doreen Virtue, Ph.D.  She has created a deck of 44 cards, each with a beautiful, artistic rendition of a goddess from a variety of cultures, including Celtic, Mayan, Egyptian, Greek, Tibetan and Buddhist.  Each goddess provides a message about how you can improve your life and there’s a booklet that provides more information about the particular goddess and her message.  I love these cards and regularly use them at home and I bring them with me when I travel.

So I pulled out the goddesses and asked for some support to turn my attitude around and get back into the joy of the present moment. Then, I pulled my goddess card from the deck:  Aeracura.   Aeracura is a Celtic and Germanic goddess who helps us put our goals and challenges into perspective so that we don’t needlessly stress ourselves. She is especially fond of assisting artists.  Her message, directly quoted from the card: “You are just getting started, so have patience with yourself and the process and do not give up.”   I smiled as I delighted in the perfect message.   I turned to the book to get the rest of the message:  In many ways, you are like a flower bud who is ripe and ready to open and grow.  Don’t try to rush this process, as it’s part of your beautiful path.  Enjoy learning new knowledge and skills. Take your time to gather few ideas.  Nurture your body with plenty of fresh air, sunshine, water and healthful food.  Soon enough, you’ll get the unmistakable signal that it’s time to put your learning into action.  Spend time among flowers, or work with flower essences and oils to support your growth process.”  The message: slow down; have patience; keep the faith.

How Perfect!!

I acknowledged that I am learning new skills and I need to be gentle with myself and have patience as I learn.  I’m a type A, driven personality who wants to get it right. Actually, I like to get it perfect.  So slowing down to take on something new and not be perfect while simultaneously being vulnerable to a new group of women who are experienced in the skill I am trying to learning, well, it was a bit confronting.  It was a good awareness to uncover-the ability to give a face to that which had only represented itself as annoyance a few moments earlier.  I took solace in the awareness and released the need for perfection and knowing to embrace the uncertainty of guaranteed growth and discovery.  This retreat could not have had a more perfect start.  And it was only the beginning.

Time for a painting lesson…

Jade Webber instructing

Me – Joan Jakel – playing in paint