By: Kat Kocisky, 2010 Sedona Retreat Participant
In Sedona, there was time to step back, sit still, reflect, and focus on the things that normally get pushed aside during everyday life. The retreat offered a respite from the usual routine of rushing to get up in the morning, eat breakfast, catch the train, get to work, then rush home. Instead, it presented a more appealing routine of meditation, presentations, hikes, discussion, and yoga: an agenda focused on personal transformation, understanding the divine essence, and learning about the unique energy and vortexes found in Sedona.
Among the red rocks and a group of retreat participants searching for a similar tranquility, escape, and a chance to be outside, it became easy to relax at once and really breathe. Although the quiet and isolation felt when meditating on the side of a mountain sometimes became overwhelming in a way that accentuated the absence of a schedule, many of us gradually became accustomed to being alone with our thoughts, and were forced to confront our own beliefs and intentions.
Before leaving, I hadn’t had any expectations of the retreat, but hoped that it would offer a perspective check and the chance to meet and spend time with others who enjoy nature, hiking, and yoga. Being a skeptical person, the kind who’d like to believe in magic and miracles, but can’t stop disproving them in my head, Sedona succeeded in opening my mind, and it didn’t take long. One memory stands out more than others.
Just before dusk on our first evening in Sedona’s countryside, our group met Vernon Foster, a Native American leader, lecturer and teacher who welcomed us into his modest home, decorated with feathers, animal skulls, and wooden carvings. He wore jeans, a red bandana around his head, and white running shoes. He spoke of love in terms of actions rather than words, asking for things when we really need them, respect for our relatives, and not feeling bad about getting annoyed or angry at the little things in life.
It wasn’t until crossing the little wooden bridge over a soft stream into Vernon’s backyard that I instantly felt something. A strong sense of inner peace and a sudden feeling that everything would be okay made my overly rational brain search for explanations: it was just the weather, the chance to stretch my legs after sitting for a long time, or first-day-of-vacation bliss that made a rush of positive energy and clarity seem to sweep through my entire body. Something told me that it was more than that, something that I couldn’t fully understand, at least not on the first day of the retreat, or even the last.
The air seemed to settle comfortably in Vernon’s backyard forest circle which displayed the willow branch ribs of a sweat lodge held together with red scraps, colored flags symbolizing direction, stone circles, and a quiet pond. In this space, time seemed to stop, the sinking sun being the only evidence of its continuance, which had made the stones on the ground warm to touch. Vernon instructed us to find one as a tangible reminder of our connection with the natural world, and to hopefully bring us back.