I just returned from another mind-blowing week of teaching intuitive painting at the Mountain Home Ranch resort in Calistoga California.
And as usual, what I call the predictable miracle occurred.
Which means that a deeply creative, sacred circle of community organically evolved, authentic creative expression unfolded in a seemingly effortless manner and transformative heart and soul openings happened without fail for everyone who attended the workshop.
I’ve thought a lot about what it is that allows my retreats to be as powerfully healing as they are.
And I have come to the conclusion that it is the daily creative practices that we engage in during the retreat that cradle, support and inspire me and my students as we engage in this sacred process of personal growth and spiritual awakening.
When doing any kind of deep transformational work it’s also tremendously crucial to consider “set and setting” and how it impacts the effectiveness of these practices.
What is essential for any healing modality to work its magic is the creation of a safe and nonjudgmental energetic container. Anyone engaged in a serious spiritual or creative practice needs to know that they will be responded to with kindness, compassion and respect as they dive into the courageous work of exploring their inner worlds.
The container is NEVER separate from the practice and it’s something that needs to be taken very seriously when offering these kinds of transformational teachings.
These transformational containers get created in various ways. The intuitive painting process itself is one very potent container. As well as the practice of getting connected to our feelings and our bodies through expressive movement and daily dance parties. We also make a practice of sharing honestly and openly in a witnessing circle where we get the opportunity to be seen with love exactly as we are.
But another container that is critically important… and one that doesn’t get acknowledged very often … is the physical place where the retreat is held.
All of my retreats happen in incredibly beautiful natural environments that infuse the retreat itself and the workshop participants with the power of the land. I have three different venues where I teach… Mountain Home Ranch, The Ghost Ranch Conference Center, and Tioga Lodge in the High Sierra Mountains.
Each of these places carries an elemental energy that influences what unfolds during the workshops. Mountain Home is the energy of earth. Ghost Ranch, fire. And Tioga Lodge embodies the element of air and spirit. I’m still looking for a place near the water so that I can round out the elemental wheel!
But since I just returned from Mountain Home I’m very aware of other aspects of that particular place that help to make a strong and secure container.
The food is incredibly delicious and healthy and homemade… often times we are eating dishes made with fruits or veggies that have been recently harvested from the ranches garden or the surrounding forest, like kale salads, chanterelle stews, portobello mushroom steaks or plum sorbets. The food is so palpably ALIVE… which always feels deliciously nourishing on ALL levels.
John and Suzanne, who own and run the ranch, simply ADORE animals and the ranch has become a sanctuary for critters of all shapes and sizes … from kitties and dogs to goats and horses and one VERY tame but huge bull. These lucky animals are for the most part rescues, and subconsciously remind my students to lovingly reconnect with the rejected and abandoned parts of themselves.
They are also very dedicated and committed stewards of the magical redwood forest that houses the human structures on the ranch property and do whatever it takes to keep the land wild and free and in its natural state. Which encourages me and my participants to stay connected to our own natural wildness and innate redwood wisdom.
And finally, they are both full of integrity and profound trustworthiness. They walk their talk, tell the truth and do what they say they will do which makes all of us who are at the ranch feel incredibly cared for in a safety net of responsiveness and support.
Their down to earth values allow me to do my work with a greater sense of flow and ease, for which I am profoundly and eternally grateful.
And the nurturing and vital container that THEY provide is reason that I continue to come back there to teach again and again and again. And plan on doing so for many years to come.