When a friend saw me dance for the first time since the Kiawah S Factor retreat she exclaimed, “Damn, those retreats really DO something!”
Yes they do! She knows from personal experience in Monterey. Still I adore that she can also see the change I feel.
First Bikini in 23 Years!
I own my first bikini in twenty-three years. It’s a gift for my body because my skin, especially my belly enjoys being tickled by the misty ocean breeze, warm water and brilliant sunlight. Why should I cover it behind thick, hot material because our culture thinks we should hide our imperfections from public view? Who made that rule? I was thrilled to discover the new line by Elomi sized for voluptuous women.
How about you? What rules are you following that your body might be ready to reject? Have you listened closely enough to hear your body?
That’s one of the things I value about the S Factor retreats—they enable me to hear my body’s whispers. And if necessary, our bodies get a megaphone.
Each time I come home, my body’s voice is stronger, clearer and more insistent. And my feminine intuition grows more honed. More able to hear the quiet nudges.
Somehow I knew it was important to bring a matching nude bra and panty set to Kiawah that I liked and felt good in. We were asked to bring them before, but I made do because I couldn’t find the right set. And we didn’t even need them for anything special before. But this time, I found my nude.
In the pre-retreat questionnaire Sheila asked, “What would you do in life if you knew no one would judge you?” I wrote a multi-part answer, but the key was:
I don’t know. I used to be extremely judgmental, especially of myself. That has changed dramatically over the years (even before S). Skinny dip, maybe.
Who knew that I’d be metaphorically skinny dipping and photographed while doing it? And more importantly, that it would trigger such an intense emotional (and life changing) reaction the day after.
When I posted the agenda from Saturday in Kiawah, I promised to share an in-depth version of my story. Here it is.
I felt sexy and proud—during (and after) our photo shoot. During, it felt like we were models on assignment for a special swimsuit issue of a glamorous goddess magazine. After, I liked several of the pictures Molly, one of my classmates, took with my cell phone. And felt courageous enough to post my favorite. Not surprisingly, I didn’t like them all. I even harshly judged a few.
Plunged into an ocean of unfulfilled yearning
The day after the photo shoot began with sunrise on the beach. I practiced dance-walking slowly in the tidal zone because I stumbled during the photo shoot when Sheila asked me to cross my right foot in front of my left and hold the pose.
After breakfast, my ‘deep soulful siren’ connected with Natalie during a gaze exercise we all did with Sheila. (Sheila introduced ten erotic creature icons at the Monterey retreat and referred to them again in Kiawah. They represent the emotional essences of most erotic creatures. It provides a common language and tool for discussion and exploration. Here’s a pdf of my notes.)
After the gaze exercise we broke up into our smaller movement classes. At the end of our Diamondbacks warmup, the fiery, volatile part of me was soothed during a conversation/dance with Tina. As we held each other’s gaze, I mirrored her super-slow, statuesque movements. After all these years, it’s hard for me to believe that I can surprise myself with my movement, slow it down, discover something new, yet it continues to happen, especially at the retreats and in the weeks and months after back home in my regular class.
By the time “The Zone” began, I was sobbing. The achy longing in my body felt like a bottomless abyss. I descended into an ocean of yearning like nothing I’d ever experienced before.
I understood that my body, my erotic creature, longed for answers to questions that had bubbled up during a visualization exercise we’d done the day before.
a) How can I earn money from my love of S/retreats/sensual movement (e.g. from my writing, research, teaching, etc);
b) Convince others to play outside with me; and
c) Discover more lust triggers/tools.
Beneath these longings was more. Something deeper, more painful, longer yearned for, fought for… My body, my erotic creature, ached for THE resolution:
How can I shed my excess weight?
I feared a lifetime of unfulfillment. What more could I do? What could I tweak? A geyser of tears threatened to overwhelm and drown me.
In that moment, my teacher, Susan, offered assistance, suggesting I slow my breath and make my exhale as long as my inhale. It worked. The tears continued to stream, but I didn’t drown. I danced.
I felt incredibly vulnerable and stayed ‘closed’ at the back of the room. I noticed Katie in the chair; it felt safe to have her there because she’d shed plenty of tears of her own already. I wanted to get there eventually and play with the gaze, be seen. But first, I needed to be alone with my angst. Feel it. Swim in it.
Susan (my teacher) engaged with me, “You have so much fire. You give and give and give… Sometimes you need to keep some for yourself.”
I wondered, How?
Susan asked me push against her as I moved, crawled and rolled. It felt like stories I’d read about contact improv. She danced with me through the space, nudging me like a living wall of support. This enriched my understanding of muscular exertion. I’d used this tool before, for example, by working extra hard in cat-cow rolls, abs or pushups to help me get out of my head when my brain latched onto something like a dog with a bone. But this was different. I could feel all my muscles engaging as we moved. I felt them burn. I felt the energy in my body intensify like an electric current igniting every muscle fiber in my entire body. It gave me conscious and kinesthetic awareness of how to tap into my own fire and use it for myself. I was learning how to turn up my own heat, turn it in and feed myself.
At some point (just like in the blindfold dance on day one) I opened my eyes because I needed to engage with eye contact. But I discovered I’d moved away from the chair to the back wall. Katie in the chair seemed miles away. But Molly was warming up at the back pole. I looked up at her. She felt my intensity and responded. She met my gaze and held me with hers. Her body responded with slow burning hip circles. She saw me and understood the depth of my angst. I could feel her support and love.
Eventually, as the music faded, the tears still gushed. I needed to keep moving. When I asked Susan, she responded, “Of course.” Two songs later, I had to stop before I felt done when my left contact fell out from all the tears.
Sometimes, it’s good to release the emotions in one big exhale, with one big sigh, especially if they’ve been stuck or trapped. But with the deep well of seemingly endless tears I’d tapped into, I breathed slowly all afternoon, focusing on my exhale. This enabled me to stay present and surf the intense, somewhat strange emotions. The tears came in waves, triggered again and again. I couldn’t recall ever feeling so vulnerable and exposed, yet still functional in a group setting. I felt safe and accepted to be, feel and cry and share as much or little as I wanted.
Still, by dinner, I was exhausted and over-sensitive. After requesting a vegan salad, (twice) I gave up and put the parmesan shavings on my unused bread plate. The overwhelming tears & emotion returned when they delivered a plate of pasta as my vegan-gf meal. I can’t eat gluten without suffering wheezing and/or digestive issues. (To Dana’s credit he went in search of vegetables for me.) I couldn’t sit still, so escaped to dance through the ache. As I moved, the melancholy lifted. I smiled and felt joy returning as I Shall Be Free by Kid Beyond began to play; I knew Alex, a teacher and our DJ for the night, had included it in playlist with me in mind. But then I let out too much fire and wrenched my back. I tried to stretch it out, but nothing helped.
I returned to my seat feeling defeated.
Through teary eyes, I took a bite of broccoli from the colorful bowl of veggies that had been delivered while I danced. But they were cold and salty. I put my fork down and considered returning to my room. But as I looked up, I saw Michelle, our photographer, delivering flat wrapped packages to our table.
Oh no! Not now! I didn’t want my photo. I wasn’t strong enough to handle it in that moment. I feared I would hate it, judge it (and myself) harshly and want to destroy it.
Sheila handed me my wrapped photo, refusing to let go until I tugged it from her saying, “Stormy isn’t going to let go until you take it.”
I wanted her to hear my silent scream, “But I don’t WANT it now!” The tears poured out of my eyes. Sheila didn’t seem to understand, but my friends Amy and Sherie did. If it weren’t for their support, I probably would’ve immaturely stormed to my room and cried myself to sleep. Eventually, after a hallway hug and conversation, I managed to open the photo, mustering a, “Well, I don’t HATE it.”
Thankfully, Mother Nature intervened with thunderstorms so the evening ended without a midnight dance under the Super Moon. I finally got to go back to my room collapsing into bed by 1 am.
The next morning I hoped to awaken feeling refreshed, but 4.5 hours sleep wasn’t enough. My eyes felt rested, but my back ached. I’ve already written about my soft sand play, so I won’t repeat that.
I’d felt drawn to play in the ocean the morning before, but since I didn’t want to get my phone nor my clean bra & panties wet I only got my feet and calves wet. On Sunday, I purposely wore the nude ‘bikini’ under shorts and tank I didn’t mind getting sandy and wet.
As I approached the ocean, I nearly stepped on jellyfish every few feet. I almost let my fear of getting stung stop me, but my desire to dance and play with the ocean won. I danced with the waves. Their push and pull gently rocked my body. Their warmth caressed my skin. The wet sand felt like a soft pillow. As I fell to my knees, I heard a friend say, “I wish I could be more like you.” I smiled at her wishing it for her too. It was bliss, to let go, give in, surrender to the ocean, the sand, nature.
At some point, the rising sun pulled me to my feet. I circled my hips while stripping off my tank top. My head fell back as my neck, chest and tummy absorbed the sun’s rays into my skin. My belly forgave me. I forgave her. Tears of joy trickled down my cheeks as the sun bathed me in radiant light. I felt the sun’s fire fill me to the depths of my soul. My muscles began to heat and vibrate as if plugged into the sun’s energy. My emotional exhaustion dissipated. The sun’s fiery energy fueled me. Every cell in my body began to tingle. My fire gauge felt reset to high. In that moment I felt inspired to dance to my ‘fire’ song at the EC Ball (unless my mood/energy shifted again; it didn’t.)
During my fiery sun dance and ocean play, I noticed several sisters nearby experiencing their own magical moments of healing and transformation. We are forever bonded by this shared, spectacular moment.
Every sunny morning since returning home, I have taken an early morning walk to enjoy the sun. I did skip the few foggy mornings, which I hope to remedy. I need to find a way to get out in the am light, even when the sun is hiding behind the fog. I knew I needed more time in nature before the retreat. I even knew I preferred early morning light. But feeling it so deeply in my body, kinesthetically and energetically, enables me to call on that ‘muscle memory’ to motivate me to get out of my warm bed when I think I want sleep more.
What about the picture from the ‘venus rising’ photo shoot?
Mysti, my roommate, helped me to begin to see the photo through non-judgmental eyes. The first thing she said when she saw it was, “Your eyes look so gorgeous.” She was right, they did. I loved my eyes.
I peeked at the photo a few times, liking it a little more each time, but kept it stored in its box. After a recent sunrise walk, I felt inspired to remove the photo from its box and found it a place of honor on my dresser.
The only place it fit is between two mermaids/sirens. I knew the ‘deep soulful siren’ was a key part of my erotic creature, even before Sheila introduced the icons. I’ve been draws to mermaids for as long as I can remember. And they appeared on the first ‘treasure map’ I did for my erotic creature.
Would my intense and life-altering dance have been possible without the string of moments leading up to it? Without feeling the ocean breeze on my belly and dancing on the beach in my nude underwear bikini. Without seeing photos on my phone. Without the soulful gaze Natalie and I shared. Or feeling drawn to move sloooower and then doing it, with both Tina and Susan.
Magical moments with the extraordinary women that attend the retreats get strung together enabling us to spiral deeper into ourselves. The bonds and feminine culture we create allow us to sink into our feminine in a way that is not possible in our masculine world. This is what the retreats DO. And the bonds and transformation continue long after…