Finding My (Northern) Edge

Guest Post by Annie Bray

I have a life that I’m really happy and grateful for—despite mortgage payments and daycare expenses—but it’d be a lie to pretend that I never find it challenging. That when I’m lying on the floor surrounded by Lego and listening to recorded ocean sounds so I can feel soothed for five stolen minutes that I don’t sometimes wish to be lying on a real beach, listening to real waves, and not having to get up to fold the laundry.

On days full of responsibility, what helps is to remind myself that I’m not only a mom, a wife, a massage therapist, a yoga teacher, etc., but also, well, me. A woman with history. A woman who thrives alone in a cabin in the woods. Or is happy to make in-the-moment whimsical gut decisions that lead to things like house-sitting a small candle factory on a remote island in B.C.

Maybe that me doesn’t have the freedom she once did, but she’s still in there and she needs my attention too. Sometimes the best I can do is the thing on the floor with the Lego and the ocean soundtrack. But I also make a conscious effort to plan for true downtime to reconnect with myself.

I’ve been teaching yoga classes and workshops for more than fifteen years and in the fall of 2015, I led my first overnight retreat for women, just north of Ottawa. I loved and benefited from that retreat so much—and so did my students.

In fact, it was so fulfilling that I started planning another fall retreat right away for the following year. I wanted it to be in the wilderness at a venue that had experience hosting and supporting retreats, which led me to the Northern Edge Algonquin Retreat & Awareness Centre.

When you team up with the Edge as a facilitator to plan a retreat, they do this very generous thing and invite you to first come as a participant at a retreat yourself. Essentially, they’re inviting you to experience the magic firsthand—the ease, the belonging, the co-creativity. It’s a gift to facilitators to be able to spend that much-needed time refilling our wells, being supported, and dropping deeply into our own lives.(Physician heal thyself, right?)

When I arrived for my weekend, after a long drive into the woods, I instinctively knew this was somewhere I would be safe and cared for. My immediate sense was of humans and nature living together harmoniously. I started to relax and felt my feet on the ground.

The weekend program that I attended, Heart Flow, was part of an ongoing shamanic studies program, which is different than what I’m used to. I arrived with an open mind (grateful that there’d be no Lego) and the retreat proved to be powerful for me. It would take too long to describe the various experiences and interactions I had. What’s more important is to explain the way the weekend felt for me.

I felt a strong sense of belonging that was not specific to the group or the location (although it was deeply enhanced by both). It was the feeling of belonging to my own life—of knowing that no matter where I find myself, I belong there. That there’s no one I need to be other than my most honest self. This sense of belonging came less as a feeling of catharsis than as a very calm sense of relief.

The feeling of coming home to my own life, in such an embodied way, was encapsulated during our afternoon sauna ritual. I’m usually a fair weather swimmer. The air has to be hot, the water at least not frigid. But diving into Kawawaymog Lake on a cold April day, after leaving the heat of the sauna, I felt elemental—as though I was electrically connected with my body and surroundings. The pure pleasure and strength I felt as I ran out to the lake with snow falling around me, followed by the laughter and elation that came with jumping into the shockingly cold water, was enough to situate me at the very core of my own life and experience.

Photo Credit: Amanda Urbanski

Everything that happened at the Edge happened in community. They call it “the way of the circle.” This is how they put it:

The way of the circle is a strong and flexible framework, centered in the heart, designed for equality, harmony and balance. In a circle culture, we co-create an experiential learning environment supported through the sharing of everyone’s insights, dreams, gifts, abilities, and questions. Honouring the wisdom we each have to contribute to the greater collective, we empower ourselves and each other, engaging in the potential of what we can achieve together.

The beauty of working in a group is how each person can have such a unique experience, and yet all come away feeling deeply connected and having gained a clearer sense of awareness and compassion with which to inhabit their—as Mary Oliver calls it— “one wild and precious life.”

It’s so easy for me to imagine our circle of women coming together this fall now that I’ve experienced a weekend at the Edge for myself. It’s my life’s work to dream-up and create opportunities for others to find that same sense of support, community, and belonging that I am so grateful for.

In the meantime, I continue to look for and make room for the small things that nourish me—whether it’s a moment of quiet meditation on a park bench, or on the floor with the Lego and the sound of recorded waves lapping against the shore.

What would it be like if you gifted yourself this kind of quiet and stillness? What does claiming space and coming home to your own life feel like?

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