About a year ago, I was introduced to a fellow named Patrick who practiced at Yoga Passage in Calgary. Great guy – kind hearted, easy to talk to, always in a state of calmness, and had a background of success in business. With similar ambitions and working to realign some of my own values, I saw him as a great role model and potential mentor. He shared with me one of his current projects, organizing the Sheep Creek Yoga Collective, which ran Karma classes with volunteer teachers (some of the best in the city), and two summer events out on his farm in Turner Valley.
When I left the studio, just prior to quitting professional employment in Calgary, I remember feeling a pretty strong sense of loss. I had made a few connections there that carried on beyond departure, but just the ritual of sitting down in a room full of people with the same intention, either physical or mental development, and gave a strong sense of unity. A time to connect, absolving separateness for a short period of time.
Patrick asked me to lend a hand with the fall equinox event this year. At first, I was nervous. I didn’t know a single person who was attending, I hadn’t been to one before, and here I was going to be telling over 200 guests’ the ins and outs of the event? One theme that has continually appeared in past months travels is that the best experiences often originated from the most uncertainty about how they would go, the law of reverse effort on full display. The more we know about something, the more comfortable we are with it, the greater the expectation, the less room we leave to be surprised, and the less satisfied we become.
I said yes, and arrived at the farm on a crisp Friday morning to help get things set up.
We stoked fires, set up and decorated the various tents on the property. One hosting the kitchen and communal eating area, another on a forested plateau above the property. Stringing lights above, hanging nepalese flags and other sightly objects on the wall, creating shrines that carried significance to all. Maybe not in an religious sense, but simply serving as a reminder to simply be.
The afternoon came, and so did our guests.
Arriving at the farm, you are encouraged to find yourself at home for the weekend. There is ample room to pitch a tent, whether gathered close in with your neighbours, or in a more remote forested or river-fronting area for those seeking solitude. Have a camper or small trailer? Great. Lots of level ground, as near or as far away from the festivities as you’d like to be. It’s basically a big campground, little trails deeking in and out of the woods, open fields, a river running through. Everything to make one feel like a big kid again; a venue to bring us back to a time before certain social conditions onset.
Settle in, get registered, and make some new friends. In the barn, Brooke (@ombwellness) started the weekend off with an upbeat flow class to bring the Friday crew into the weekend, winding down the mind and gearing the body up.
Twenty classes and sessions run over the weekend, lunch and dinner is catered. Everything is optional, but you must try the curry. Opt in to what speaks to you, there is something for everyone. But be warned, you might get caught up diving deep into conversation, or lost (perhaps found is the right word) in the woods. Being somewhere at a certain time and place has great economic and social value, but give yourself the chance to let it slide here.
After dinner, Jenelle opened the evening with a Kirtan performance. I’d never sat down in a room with complete strangers and sang before. Didn’t know what the words meant, and was probably off tone for most of it. Did it matter?
It wasn’t really about hitting the notes like they do on American Idol. Here there was no judgment of the sounds you make. So, just go on ahead make some.
Wesley followed. He shared is own story prior to the guided mediation and I couldn’t help but draw parallels between similar personal challenges. It wasn’t just me, others in the room let out the final nodes of tension on this note with a big sigh. The drumming began; a vibrational orchestra. The kick of the drum coming from the ground-up, and higher notes rippling through the air.
Beasts entered the room, or so it sounded. With circular breath and his didgeridoo, Wesley circled, casting tones off the walls of the barn. They were dark, yet beautiful. They were sounds of war, battlefield preparations. But with no enemy in sight, where do we turn? Inwards? Creations of the mind can be haunting, but with little representation in the real world, maybe there isn’t much to be afraid of.
Saturday morning came early. Short on rest, but full of energy, the wood stoves were fired, and the sun slowly rose behind overcast skies.
Patrick and Cynthia opened with a warm welcome. How they maintain such a calm presence with so much happening behind the scenes is really beyond me. They are both service oriented folk and have worked tirelessly up to this point, but I think they fill their own cup here, too.
Caryn (@caryn.kilback) followed with meditation in the barn, full house. We our intentions for the day ahead.
Acceptance is a reoccurring theme as of late. Accepting of the self, of those you meet, removing the distance between entities. I spent the morning welcoming, and accepting, new arrivals to the farm. I was fortunate enough to catch up with Caryn between arrivals, and we ended up chatting at length. Her story and comfort with being open about her past, exposing vulnerability, was really refreshing to experience. Shielding our vulnerabilities is something I think we can all relate to.
In the afternoon, the sun emerged and the upper yoga tent completely lit up.
When you meet Denis, you quickly recognize that he sees things a little bit differently. I’ve never seen someone so excited about chocolate. “Wow!” he continued to exclaim, as if he himself was hearing the facts presented for the first time.
Rightly so, this stuff wasn’t just a nice additive to a wholesome diet, it’s as lifeblood. We’re not talking a nestle chocolate bar, Denis deals in pure cacao paste ground from the bean. And as he suggested, you can feel the energy it offers as the array of rich nutrients enter the bloodstream. Remedy? Drug? Why not both.
Caryn introduced us Vedic meditation, which is her to study of focus. From what I understand, traditional meditation is all about a meditation object; focusing on the the breath, counting, a visual object such as a frame, etc.
Her practice uses a prescribed mantra as a guide and lets you sit in a much more relaxed state. Forget the full lotus, straight back, finger to thumb posturing, and feel free to rest against the wall – ignoring those queue of guilt that, without perfect posture, you might be doing it ‘wrong’.
Dinner. The best indian food, from the cheeriest of people, in an incredible atmosphere. You can’t buy this stuff in the city, and if you could, they still wouldn’t let you sit on the floor.
At sunset, Cesar led us on a walk down to the sheep river for a ceremony. We celebrated the ground beneath our feet, the water down the river, the sky in the air, and the fire lit before us. We acknowledge the East, the West, South and North. The directions we come from, the places we will go. It is easy to forget what lies beneath concrete and asphalt, but we are never not in nature.
Over seventy drums and handheld instruments arrived and were hauled into the barn and we, the players, trickled in. The kids, the adults, found something for them, and we started to play. We played for an hour, or was it two? It is easy to get lost in something so simple, the rhythm as an undistinguishable guide. You stop thinking about hitting the drum, and you start feeling how the drum is being hit.
The sound bath began when a dozen of us took to the ground, lying on our backs, in the centre of the barn, the centre of the sound, and the focus of our collective energies.
I picked up a handheld drum, and like forty others, began to strike while circling our friends on the floor. We cast our sound, moving from foot to chest, and back to the toes, sending pressure and vibration throughout the body in a wave-like fashion.
Human touch, like a drum, is powerful force. From the acoustic height, we set down our drums, and gathered around the human pinwheel. Gently resting hands on hands, on legs, on temples, we embraced our friends and sent them whatever it is we felt they needed.
Reversing roles, I was part of the new group who took the floor; an opportunity to receive what is given. Shutting the eyes, the other sensations are enhanced. Air pressure changes along your body, the dynamic qualities of percussion, the beat echoing off the barn walls. The lack of sound between strikes. You hear, and feel, everything. “I felt completely loved.” one of the participants shared with me after the session.
A few of us gathered around the fire as temperatures dropped, resting states came shortly after.
Clear skies greeted the early morning so I snuck away from my volunteer responsibilities to take in the sunrise over Turner Valley.
Coyotes sang in the near distance. A thousand black crows flew east, motives unknown. Harvest is a time to reflect on the bounty of food available to us, but this event has revealed gratitude on so many different levels.
Grateful for (new) friends and family, for the earth beneath our feet, for the seasons that remind us of the impermanence of things. For the food grown far away, from recipes transcending generations, prepared by those within arms reach. For people meeting eye to eye, open to alternatives, unstuck in opinions, clear of judgement.
We filled the barn for the final practice. Emily brought the harp, and Catherine served as our guide. The live performance was, well, alive.
Kyle closed the circle in the late morning. He told us a story of one of his inspirators; a bold mountain climber dealing with adversity on Mt. Everest. That mountain is not one of my goals, but I can tell Kyle and I will be bonding over ascents in the near future.
We packed up, followed by alternating sits in the sauna and the river. A great time to reflect on the weekend with those who put so forward so much of their own resources. I speak for those organizers, the participants you’ll meet, and myself, when I say please consider the next event.
Having some idea and expectation about what the weekend might hold, I can safely say it was so much more than I imagined. This statement was repeated by so many others over our short time together. I’ve tried to put the feelings and emotions into words, but they fall short on capturing the experience as a whole. It is a very special state where you can look someone in the eye, and really see them.
Next year, clear the calendar on summer solstice. Bring yourself, loved one(s), and come as you are.
Please visit www.sheepcreekyoga.com for details on current initiatives and events.