When coming back from a trip, especially one as momentous as the Her Spirit Retreat in Santa Fe, New Mexico, I usually take a few days and then post a recap. I returned last Thursday and it’s taken me a bit longer to write this. First, I needed the time to process the experience and the next, to contemplate how and what I wanted to share.
I’ll start here. I officially heard word that I received a generous partial scholarship on 11/20/22. Her Spirit started on December 4th. I had little time to make plans, take the time I needed from work but I was determined to figure it all out. Hubby had just undergone a heart procedure to explore some unexplained weakness the week before my acceptance. I wondered if I should have been so determined to leave but my resolve strengthened a few days later.
As I have written here, I have been experiencing chronic pain for several months. I start going back to physical therapy at the end of October. I discovered a possible reason for this pain could be growing fibroid tumors affecting my mobility in my lower back. I set an appointment with a radiologist who confirmed my suspicions after reviewing an older MRI. Because of that and not wanting to live with large uterine fibroids period, I chose to move forward with a uterine fibroid embolization. Everyone in the clinic was kind and thorough which made my decision easy. After the appointment and in tears, my mind was made up to leave.
I no longer felt guilty about my husband because I could see he was fine, working and walking around. It was time to take myself out of my everyday, meet new people and open my energy up to this opportunity. I was at a dinner with a friend a few days before leaving and she encouraged me to make rest a priority as well. I took it to heart.
I booked tickets the evening of the appointment. I remember shopping and packing carefully, not wanting to feel rushed or overwhelmed. The flights were smooth and even though the altitude attacked my lungs as soon as I landed, I was aware of another scholarship winner, Catrice Greer, on the flight. We connected at the Santa Fe airport and she kindly offered me a ride to our hotel.
After checking in, I rested and got ready to meet the other winners on the rooftop floor. We sat in a circle with our chairperson Jane Sibbett, Chief Officer of Diversity, Candace Blust, faculty members Liz Hines, Rebecca Bloom and Rosa Salazar. We were lauded for our work, given thoughtful gifts and made to feel special. The other women were dynamic and from all over the country and across the pond in the UK. I also appreciated their attempt to make us aware that we would be the diversity in a group of over one hundred mostly white women.
I should be honest in sharing I was aware of this beforehand. Previously shared group photos of last year’s retreat on social media confirmed it and as a Black woman, I do feel the need to prepare myself for what I may be walking into to protect my physical safety and my mental health.
The mixer, the Native blessing, and the Zoom keynote speech by Friends and Grace and Frankie’s co-creator Marta Kaufman set the right tone. My intentions to connect and rest felt right after that night. I relaxed with some room service and although I didn’t sleep peacefully, I had no regrets and was ready to face my full Day 1.
I was comfortable enough to share vulnerable pieces right from the start. I learned about telling the truth and our faculty’s experiences in their respective industries. Even with altitude sickness, I could not ignore the beauty of La Fonda as I trudged up steps. This historic hotel was full of art, shops and pieces you could never find anywhere else. During dinner, I connected with more winners and other attendees, listened to the live country band and watched a couple of them grace the dance floor.
Later on that night, there was a diversity panel, readings, and another featuring documentarian Kate Blewet and director Beth Broday. During the diversity and inclusion panel, I leaned into my desire to affirm our need for well-written and acted representation. I have no need to shame anyone for their opinions or not articulating them well. I knew what was right and I am proud I spoke up. The rest of the evening brought us to tears as we viewed clips of Kate’s work that showed dying and impoverished children and the elderly from China and Bulgaria to the UK and Beth’s directed performance of Sting in Italy on September 11th, 2001. I stayed up late, in a few small circles in the lobby, cozy and curled up, decompressing from the evening, revealing dreams and laughing.
The next day I had the chance to sit in on my first table read and heard actors read from four pilots amogst other sessions. I took in the plaza outside of La Fonda’s doors and met artisans, perused art galleries and jewelry stores. That night, I attended a dancing hands meditation led by Jane Sibbett.
This is where it all changed. We were back in the rooftop room La Terraza. I walked up to the edge of my mat and within seconds, my calves and thighs quaked and I began crying. I sobbed throughout the entire hour. Within the circle, Jane approached each of us with direct eye contact, in her language inspired by Spirit but I could make out words like “love” and “hug.” The energy was thick.
We huddled closer together afterwards and upon my asking about what she felt or saw, Jane used the word ancestors. I had an intense need to remove my bra and sit in the moonlight. Instead, I joined a couple friends at the bar and as they snacked before dinner, all I could do was take breaths and drink water. I wanted nothing to do with food for a bit but eventually enjoyed a dinner. I spoke about the meditation, we mapped out a show for one of our fellow winners and headed to the open mic and to watch a Hallmark Christmas movie one of our faculty members wrote.
The next day I was drained. I honored the need to rest as long as possible before the first session. I did learn valuable tips with New York Times bestselling author Julie Cantrell about character development and bonded over our connection with one of my writing teachers Sadeqa Johnson. Brooke Warner gave many useful actionable tips for our author platforms. It was the last night and there was a beautifully lit final ceremony. The energy again was thick and as lovely as it was, I had an intense urge to separate myself from the ceremony after a few minutes. I left the room, sat in the hallway, short of breath and I let tears fall. I couldn’t go back. I retreated to the outdoors on the first floor and eventually to my room. I caught my breath, packed half-heartedly and sent some messages to make sure no one worried about my hurried exit.
I spent the last moments of Wednesday evening with a new friend, Babs and Liberty, an awesome young woman who has the capacity to make some real change in the world. I got the laughs I needed and the shared venting was absolutely vital. I woke up and got to breakfast early, a first for me. Our table got crowded as people said their farewells and we squeezed each other tight, almost hoping to take our essences with us on our flights home. I was encouraged, unexpectedly prayed over and walked back to my room feeling lighter than I had in weeks.
Catrice, Joany (the sweet mother of all Christmas movies) all said our goodbyes in Denver. As I walked away from our gate, I drowned the world out with the Lemonade album and started my trek to my gate which ended up being almost 80 gates away. My expectation was to have to stop for my back and hip, drenched in sweat every 5 minutes. That wasn’t what happened at all. I walked, only stopping once to check the gate change. I had to force myself to stop overcompensating by leaning on one foot. I didn’t understand what was happening.
Had I been healed?
I have been back over a week, in physical therapy twice and outside of a bit of tightness and pain my left hip, I can walk again. I have been hesitant to claim it because I have been living this way for so long now but I have to believe what is actually going on right now. My PT suggested there has been a reset of my central nervous system’s response to pain and my husband and parents believed I cried out the tension at the dancing hands meditation.
As for reflecting on the actual retreat, there has been enough time for me to say I would happily go again. I am also glad I went in with my eyes open about the lack of cultural diversity. I didn’t have to experience the burden of shock. And yes, there was a stereotypical statement made about Black people and a few could not tell the difference between myself and another Black woman although we look nothing alike. I was hurt and made jokes with a few who understood my plight. Although I didn’t love having to speak up about the need for quality representation at the panel, again I remain proud I did. I can report apologies were made to me and many privately told they were grateful I possessed the courage to use my voice. I was also offered opportunities to work with others and buoyed by an acknowledgement that I taught others in the room that night.
I will never be able to shed the challenges that come with entering these spaces in this skin but I would never want to be anyone other than who I am. I get to tell stories, love freely and passionately and proudly in this skin. I look forward to what’s next working and building friendships with these women as part of the Storyteller Foundation.
Special thanks to Alva for checking on me, to Freddie for your kind words, and Becky Strom for hearing me that very first day and blessing me on our final morning.
I want to say a special thanks to my fellow Rainbow Fund Scholarship winners: Catrice Greer, Babs Cheung, Shari Williams-Andrews, Sylvia de la Sancha, Ava Adams, Donna Pope, Tana Stephenson and Celeste Keplin-Weeks. Without all of you talented souls, I would have experienced an unwelcome loneliness I am grateful to have never felt. And to Jane Sibbett, Candace Green Blust and Liz Hines: thank you for your part in making our dreams closer to our reality.