The Balanced Life Retreat that took place at Stoweflake in Stowe, Vermont, in May was a profound experience for me, because there were so many lessons, because it was a journey that a group of women went on together. The terrible, the unexpected, the wonderful all went on, and because we were working with prana, which is energy or life force, we were able to make it through together.
The first night Dr. Claudia Welch started developing the theme of "neutrality" that would become so important as the five-day retreat unfolded. Neutrality is not something that our culture celebrates. We tend to think our lives must be splendid, or something is wrong. We have to be deeply satisfied in our work, happy with our family life and relationships, feeling good, feeling great, making lots of money -- enough to satisfy all our desires right now and that fantastic retirement near the ocean that awaits us. We're slim in our seventies. We look like models. We smile. We radiate energy and vitality.
This is what it looks like on TV (and even on spa websites). And yet....when we look at our own lives, or those of us around us, how many people are really living like that? Is there room for suffering, for setbacks, for illness or untimely death in this sunny scenario? One of the secrets of spas is that many people go there when they're hurting. Life has dealt them a blow and they need to be taken care of.
Most of us don't have the lives that reflected to us in the media. Not only are we not "neutral," many of us are depleted, especially as we get older and find our youthful energy flagging even as we run harder and harder.
"Being productive is the be-all and end-all, and relaxation is frowned upon in our culture," Claudia said. "This hasn't always been the case." She said that before he became president, Warren Harding went to the J. P. Kellogg sanitarium in Battle Creek, Michigan five times to recover from nervous breakdown (more commonly known as depression in our day) and rest. That would be a career-killer these days. "Taking time away is the problem, in our mind. If you have cancer, you can rest."
Historically, spas and sanitariums were where people went, often for weeks at a time, to restore their health or just relax. Claudia said Russia still makes it part of an annual health treatment (in addition to vacation time) because it makes people more productive. They tend to be in rural places. People have to walk to take the waters or dine, so the exercise and fresh air is built in.
Annual visits to the spa or sanitarium aren't part of the American medical system. "Honestly, you have to have money to go to a spa," Claudia said. But if we can make our health a priority, through lifestyle, diet and a healthy daily routine, it will help us get to neutral. And if we come to a women's retreat in Stoweflake, where we are inspired, cared for by spa therapists, and learn how to care for ourselves better, that will help get to neutral and a little beyond.
Claudia's daily routine ideally takes two hours in the morning. Everyone says they don't have time for it. "You want me to what??" But Claudia says it takes time to get to neutral. Her recommended routine is something that I am trying to gradually implement, and while it might take a while, I've at least started with the daily morning massage.
It's a relief to not believe everything has to be splendid, all the time. It's just not realistic! And neutral doesn't mean I'm not feeling anything. It means I'm right there in the center, able to deal with what comes up without running too high or slipping too low.