On January 1, 2019, I embarked on a year-long journey to evolve and explore options for the next step in my life. I am a certified massage therapist and craniosacral therapist from Oakland, California. As every bodyworker knows, you can only help others heal to the extent that you have healed yourself. If you are not working on yourself, how could you ever be a good therapist for others? With this intention in mind and like a walking cliché, I hopped on the plane to Bali—the place where all yoginis seeking spirituality and self-transformation end up one time or another.
Costa Rica was my fourth stop on this journey. I took craniosacral therapy courses in Bali, did a yoga teacher training in freezing cold New York City, survived my third Vipassana near Yosemite, and off I went to 90-degree weather again with a one-way ticket to Central America. I had a volunteer gig lined up at the healing sanctuary of a so-called "transformational festival" in Uvita. I then hopped onto a bus to make my way to Guanacaste and do a month-long stay at Peace Retreat, recommended to me by a yoga teacher friend, who had done three retreats there. My goal was to learn yoga from the Swastha Yoga masters and hopefully learn about the retreat business, chill on the beach, and scribble in my journal.
On the bus, I felt a bit nervous about my commitment. A month was a good chunk out of my sabbatical year. The place was off the beaten path in a small town. What if I feel isolated or unsafe?
My uncertainties disappeared as soon as I stepped onto Peace Retreat. As the name suggests, the place had a calming energy, and you can tell the place was built with love. Small stones with inspirational messages, a cute yoga shala, beautifully maintained gardens, shady palm trees and hand-painted signs greeted me. It felt like a little oasis here, and I felt at home right away.
My month stay was like a shamanic soul-retrieval journey. What I thought would be just a chill yoga retreat and internship by the poolside turned into an introspective month where I got the chance to face some old fears in a safe environment, explore old patterns from an objective distance, and empower myself by discovering the values that aligned with who I truly was.
Similar to a meditation retreat, what happens at a place like this is that every thought becomes amplified, and insights become easier to attain. Every time I had an interaction with another person, I can clearly see how that person’s words or action affected me. Sometimes, it triggered old insecurities; sometimes, it brought out emotions that I did not enjoy; sometimes, the person reminded me of my mother or father. Because there are no other distractions during the retreat, I was able to just observe myself from an objective distance and see how different circumstances brought out different feelings and aspects of myself and figure out what I need to work on if I wanted to evolve.
Peace Retreat offers their guests many tools to support the self-transformation process. The Swastha yoga practice fuses Ayurveda healing principles with various yoga methods and cognitive psychology. Every morning, I would have daily “check-ins” with Kevin McQuillan, the retreat owner. In those meetings, which were like hour-long therapy sessions, he taught me the vocabulary and the tools for analyzing myself at a deeper level. This would be followed by a yoga practice, during which time Kevin would cater the asanas to help promote my alignment, not just of the physical body but of emotional and spiritual. The sequence was created to help one answer the question that haunts just about everyone in today’s disconnected world: Who am I? Encouraged by the support and the life coaching, I found it easy to be disciplined and be focused on my journey. I ate healthy meals, eating lighter at night, and I maintained my Vipassana practice, which undoubtedly gave me the additional boost for retrospection.
What gifts did I receive at the end of my journey? Insight and a new understanding of who I was. I felt like this portion of my trip was perfectly timed. This was really the beginning of my vagabonding—traveling by surrendering to the universe to guide me instead of planning anything in advance—and it showed me exactly where I was in my self-evolution journey and what issues were the most vital for my transformation. It taught me what values were at my core: courage, compassion, authenticity, creativity, and openness. I learned about the positive power and the negative possibilities of those core values—the light and the shadow. The retreat educated me about how to remain aligned with those values and the behaviors and triggers that often took me away from them if I lacked awareness or discipline.
On one of my last days, I opened my cabin door, and to my surprise, there was a beautiful baby snake on my porch, resting in the morning light. It slithered away shyly as I stepped out. The next day at sunset, I found a snake skin along the road. I took it back to my cabin and placed it on my altar. The journey here became more and more symbolic as it went along. With these occurrences and synchronicities, I felt guided by the universe and connected with her. The message by the end was clear: I needed to shed my old skin and embrace the new. And with the newfound determination and understanding I received here, I shall.