“But why do you have to leave California, your home? Why do you have to leave everything we have here?” he asked, his brow furrowed, twirling the end of his cigarette. He looked up at me like we were seeing each other for the first time seven years ago when our worlds first collided. He didn’t ask me why I was leaving him.
“Because I’ve lost myself. I have to find Julia again.” I said, as I swallowed the rising lump in my throat and fought back the tears. After months of ping ponging back and forth about leaving the man I loved and the life we built together, the future dreams I found myself holding onto, as I clung to the broken bits so desperately, I knew I had to listen to my heart.
I had to LET GO, I had to be BRAVER, and to move into the unknown, ALONE.
So, I packed up everything that could fit into my car, stuffing boxes into each corner, and blurry with tears, I waved goodbye.
As I settled into my new apartment and office in Portland, Oregon, everything reminded me of my comfortable life in California, the one where I could put on a smile even when I was hurting, where I would wake up very early for the 1.5 hour commute to San Francisco for my demanding corporate job. Going through the motions, valuing myself in my productivity - how many emails could I send out, contracts could I execute, people could I please? My soul started to ache, at first a soft prod, and then a deeper, aching throb.
Still, I kept going. I soon discovered that I had more time to myself. I started biking to work and becoming a regular at the yoga studio. Sometimes I would show up to yoga twice in the same day and with a timid smile, introduce myself. “I’m Julia, I just moved here from California, do you want to get coffee sometime? Tea? Lunch? Go to yoga tomorrow?” I just kept asking and asking, and was blessed enough to meet some beautiful people very early on, people that embraced me and invited me into their communities, people I write to regularly and sent love to, and yet, something was still missing.
My first Portland winter came barreling in, first mid fall and then the rain didn’t seem to stop for months. Where is the sun? I thought to myself. Winters are for hiking in the mountains and dipping a brave toe into the Pacific Ocean, eating oysters out at the coast with friends, snuggling around outdoor fire pits after dinner parties. Not for grey days and drizzle. Just keep your yoga practice, keep hiking those muddy trails. It’s just water, I would tell myself.
But the darkness started to weigh heavier on my spirits, until I dragged my feet into work one day and my co-worker taking note, advised, “This is your first year in the Pacific Northwest. You need to prepare yourself. You need a sunshine break. Book a flight!”
Pulling out my bucket list I started to skim. “Go somewhere exotic on a yoga retreat by myself” was near the top of the list. Travel by myself? But I’ve always done it with my boyfriend, my family, his family, during university, or with a friend. But alone? I don’t know. What if I got lonely or felt worse than I do now? What if I’m just escaping and trying to fill the huge hole in my heart where my old life existed? What if it was all of those things, and I still go?
A month later I found myself gazing into the crystal Caribbean waters in Tulum, Mexico. And was I alone when I started this retreat? Absolutely - perhaps for that first hour - and then I discovered myself among friends, others like me who were also seeking a sanctuary - a retreat from the cold and the emotional dip from the holiday season, a break from the monotony of office work and other obligations. Here we were, introducing ourselves, sharing healthy meals, and exploring our meditation practice each morning in yoga class. Watching the sunrise over the ocean waves, writing, and feeling more alive than I could recall.
How could one week reset me in such a tremendous way? How could it nourish me in a way that allowed me to return back to the cold with a warmed spirit?
And why isn’t everyone exploring the world like this? Why do we always think vacation is about drinking, sightseeing, and getting a tan? What if we went on a trip with the intention of rejuvenation, not more depletion? With a way to balance everything we desire - a nice glass of wine, a mindful conversation with a new friend, a rich meditation, quiet time to journal, a bike ride through the jungle, a float in the ocean waves, a hike through the pine trees...
If we can achieve this by traveling alone on a retreat, imagine then what we can do with our souls more awake.
- Julia, Director of Outreach | Travel Writer | Yoga Teacher