If you have attended any of my week long Wild Heart Painting retreats you know that they always take place in some amazingly beautiful natural settings.
Nature is my co-conspirator when it comes to creating sacred healing containers for my work where creativity and intuition can flourish unhindered by the distractions that abound in urban settings.
Give me the red rock desert or a wind swept bluff overlooking the ocean or a redwood forest and I couldn’t be happier. And while I thrill to being in the mountains and the high places make my heart sing one of my favorite places on the planet is the expansive Death Valley Desert which is actually BELOW sea level in some places. In some ways it really doesn’t matter to me WHERE I am when it comes to being in nature. I love ALL of it. No holds barred.
There is something powerfully holy about being enveloped by the energy of trees, rocks, stone and water. It brings me home to myself and nourishes me on some incredibly primal, animal level of my being as well as opening me up to the wondrous expanses of the spiritual realms.
Not only do I offer my work in incredibly powerful and beautiful natural environments it’s also where I take most of my vacations. I’ve heard that Paris is pretty cool and I actually had a lot of fun the one time I went to New York City, but I will always choose the wide open spaces over concrete and museums and fabulous restaurants and cultural events ANY day of the week.
So it’s no surprise that one of my all time FAVORITE places to go on vacation is in my home state of California, a mere 5 hour car ride from where I live. This primo vacation spot is located in what is known as the Eastern Sierra Mountain range, The Yosemite High Country and the area around one of the natural wonders of the world, Mono Lake.
My husband and creative partner Tim’s father is a geologist and when his dad was a young father he did his PhD thesis on Mono Lake. Which meant that Tim spent many of his childhood summers camping on it’s shores and intimately exploring the whole eastern Sierra landscape and has always considered it a second home.
So when he and I got together over 25 years ago we began making a yearly pilgrimage where we camped, hiked and just all around explored this magical area. There were two mountain peaks, named Cathedral and Unicorn, that Tim felt were his spiritual guardians when he was growing up and the first time he brought me to the Yosemite High Country he introduced me to them and them to me as the love of his life.
I also developed a profoundly spiritual relationship with Mono Lake (who I referred to as Mama Mono) itself and would sit on her shore during these pilgrimages, praying to her for healing and guidance and asking her to absorb and compost my griefs and challenges and disappointments from the past year.
Because we loved this place so very much of COURSE we wanted to bring folks there to paint. The land itself is an incredible power spot and a physical manifestation of the divine face of creativity.
I also think of it as embodying the element of air which invites us into a direct connection with the spiritual and imaginal realms.
It always felt like the extraordinarily transcendent characteristics of these mountainous terrains …. from the massive tumbled granite boulders woven through with flecks of iridescent mica, to the multitudinously sparkling mountain lakes, to the towering Jeffrey and Ponderosa pine trees and the gnarled Bristecones that only thrive at the highest elevations, to the wild and aromatic sage that grows everywhere, to the otherworldly tufa towers surrounding Mono Lake, to the endlessly gorgeous cerulean blue skies… combined to form a landscape uniquely designed to foster creative inspiration and spiritual opening.
So Tim and I set the intention of conjuring a venue where we could offer our retreats.
It’s easy to find venues to host dance or meditation or writing retreats because all you need are rooms big enough for a bunch of chairs or open space to move. But when you ask about creating an art studio where there will be easels and water and PAINT most folks who run and manage these types of places get a horrified look on their faces at the mere THOUGHT of paint marring their beautiful and often pristine decor.
And finding a place in the mountains presented us with even greater challenges… the primary one being that even though there are a lot of hotels and motels in the area … and some might even have a conference ROOM as part of their set up… there weren’t any places that were designed to host spiritual or healing retreats. And no place at all to do art.
During our search, we discovered that there WERE some creativity based workshops being held in the mountains… primarily using photography because the scenery is SO jaw dropping gorgeous… some writing classes and one or two folks offering painting classes. But those were plein air painting workshops which by definition happen outside. So you don’t need an art studio. Just your own travel easel and travel paints.
Eventually we gave up looking because we kept hitting one dead end after another. And while the dream was relegated to the back burner of our minds we never gave up the HEART longing to bring our work to this amazing place.
And longing is a funny thing. It’s a living energy that has a life of its own. It doesn’t always operate in linear time. And it sends out its tendrils of desire to operate in the world in often hidden and mysterious ways.
A couple of years after we had consciously let go of TRYING to find a place to teach, we were in the mountains on one of our yearly personal pilgrimages. And we went to dinner at Tioga Lodge…a place we knew about but had never really visited before.
Our first meal there was AMAZING. The woman who runs the place, whose name is Gloria, had a passion for health and healthy eating. And so as much as possible her meals were made using fresh organic meats and produce… something that is kind of unheard of in this mountian community because it is so remote which means that organic is hard to come by. And as a bonus everything she made was also incredibly tasty.
We were so blown away by the food that even though we weren’t staying at the lodge, we found ourselves eating most of our meals there. And over the week began to strike up a pleasant relationship with Gloria. Through our conversations we discovered that not only were we all interested in healthy food and living but we shared an interest in spirituality as well.
Our last day in the mountains we had breakfast at Tioga Lodge and a final visit with Gloria. For some reason, we hadn’t really talked about our work with her. And she asked us what we did for a living. We told her about the intuitive painting classes and retreats. And then she asked us if we had ever considered bringing our work to this area.
And we were like HELL YES… we had considered it. But didn’t think such a place existed. And regaled her for a few minutes with our woeful tale of frustrated searching.
She then got the most impish gleam in her eye and a sly smile on her face, stood up from the table and said follow me, and then took us to a hidden part of her hotel complex , where she opened a locked door into a large light filled room overlooking Mono Lake, and said these six magic words: “You can do your workshops here.”
Our mouths and eyes were gaping open in astonishment at this potential treasure being revealed to us. And because we couldn’t believe it, we kind of tried to talk her out of it, saying: “ But Gloria… we will be painting here… and potentially making a mess…”
And she just smiled again and said again said yes… she completely understood. And as long as we made some accommodations by tarping the floors she had no problem with the painting idea and would love to host us there. She also agreed to provide the catering AND her lodge was made up of these totally cute and charming cabins dotted all around the property.
There were still a few more things to negotiate… such as needing a place where we could meet in a circle for morning sharing and group process sessions in addition to the studio space. But she had an extra large cabin with a living room that we could use for that purpose.
During our retreats we always lead 23-30 minutes of dance, movement and partner work to help people connect on a deeper level and get into their bodies before we begin painting. So we also needed a space where that part of the process could happen comfortably. But it turned out that we could walk to Mono Lake and move and breathe and dance on the shoreline, where we would be surrounded by sage and sea birds and the salt water breezes off the lake.
And finally, we needed storage space for things like our easels and some of the other supplies but according to Gloria that was no problem either.
Miraculously, all the boxes were being checked. We were still kind of stunned but knew better than to wait, so on the spot we scheduled a retreat for the following year and have been happily teaching there every June since 2013.
I learned a number of things about timing and longing and trust by going through this process.
Here’s a few of those teachings:
1.) Stay true to your hearts desires: Even though we gave up actively LOOKING for a place to teach in the Eastern Sierras we never gave up WANTING it to happen. We would often fantasize and daydream about what it would be like to have people paint with us there, even though on a conscious level we couldn’t figure out how it was going to work.
2.) Living in the mystery means that things have their own divine timing. You never know how spirit is working in the background helping you to manifest your longings and desires. I don’t know WHY it took us two years to find this place. It’s not like Tioga Lodge hadn’t been there all along. It just never occurred to us to ask about it as a potential venue because the studio space was hidden from view. But spirit had other ideas. This is where I have to always remind myself that I’m not EVER in control.
3.) Follow your intuition wherever it takes you… even if it’s guiding you through your tummy and your taste buds. I didn’t think about this until after the fact, but we were being LED to Tioga Lodge. The food WAS pretty great… and it still is… but we were kind of puzzled ourselves as to why we KEPT going back. It’s not like there weren’t other places to eat in the area. Apparently, there was more going on than we realized at the time. AND… even though it didn’t make total sense we kept allowing ourselves to be led.
4.) When synchronicity finally aligns you with your desires JUMP on it. Don’t waste any time second guessing the gift when it presents itself. Spirit doesn’t usually give you a heads up. It more often shows up like: “ Surprise.. You still want this? OK then… It’s time to act NOW.”
And finally… there’s no guarantee that you WILL always get what you want. In the way that you want it. But if and when it DOES happen, make sure that you act appropriately by jumping up and down joyfully in total unabashed gratitude.
If you would like to join us on our NEXT magical journey to this incredibly special place, we have an intuitive painting workshop scheduled in June.
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