Saturday, July 29, 2017

Sugar Ridge final reflections

Cats enjoying the Diva Den already
I'm home and had a great sleep.  I was so thrilled to see my husband, talk to my bestie, parents, and snuggle with my cats.  I feel amazing and have already instituted several changes that align with my learning.  The best coolest thing is that while chatting while my husband while I was away, he recognized that I needed a space for myself to do yoga and meditate so he moved his stuff out of a room we deemed the "man's room" and into our TV space therefore allowing me to move into his old space.  Not only did he move his stuff out, he moved a bed and desk into the space for me.  I shared this with the guests at Sugar Ridge and asked them to brainstorm a name for the space and of course my funny roommate came up with "Diva Den".  Not that I'm a diva but I love the name.  Today I moved some more photos in, brought my yoga/meditation stuff in, and found some of my favourite things to put in the space to make it special and to be able to be surrounded with awesome things.   I am going to order/purchase a couple of the special yoga pillows to keep my back in a good position and sitting more comfortable.

Reflecting on my time at Sugar Ridge I did wish many more people could go and experience the relaxation, peacefulness, and importantly, life lessons learned.  But, what I have also learned is that if you are not ready to attend and not chose to attend as your own idea then the program won't be as effective as it could be.  I was ready for this and sought it out on my own to be a more effective friend, daughter, wife, and leader for our school.

I joked that I wish I had a shirt that says "What would Liz say" to replicate the quiet voice of our leader Liz Frost.  What a gift she is to this program and all of us.  I did spend a lot of time journaling throughout the program and was able to record some of her best teachings.

I really appreciated that she did call me out on my BS as to why I do what I do and act the way I do. She is a tough cookie (and a therapist when not running these retreats) so is totally legit when she tells you that you are lying to yourself, being too hard on yourself, or using distorted thinking strategies. I was happy to hear and see alignment between some counselling sessions I have attended here in London and what she taught us.  Hearing from another perspective about my unhealthy thinking strategies made them even more real and importantly, needing to change.

This place was easy to attend if you are ok with bugs, living in a cabin without it's own toilet, sharing a restroom, walking around in slippers and dressing very casually (no one wore make up and still looked gorgeous), family style eating, participating in a group therapy type sessions, and meeting new people.  I really wish it was 2 weeks long to continue the daily yoga and to really master the meditation practice but, real life needs to be real and getting home to work on myself needs to start sooner than later.

Thank you Liz for all your wisdom...

"What is mindfulness? Training and controlling your mind to pay attention"

"Nothing lasts forever"

"Perspective is everything"

"The pain you know is easier that the pain of where you may go"

"Notice the thoughts you have and challenge them"

"How do you create your own suffering and how can you alleviate it?"

"Be careful of your ownership of your emotions i.e my depression' because when you are not 'depressed' you won't feel like yourself"

"Recognize what it is instead of what it isn't"

"Opportunities don't go away, they go to someone else"

"Yoga means...union of mind and body"

"Does it make sense that I am putting energy into this memory?"

"If you can't find a minute to meditate then you need an hour"

"Are you at work when you are not at work?"

"What does that thought say about you and is it true?"

"Your body isn't who you are"

"You can grieve more than death and dying, you can grieve the lost of an expectation"

"Feel the boredom and learn to live with it"

Day 6 - learner

Our final day together began with 7:00 am yoga and it was so peaceful.  Just like anything that you have stopped for a while but really love, this morning's yoga practice was the best one yet.  I felt so much more flexible, strong, and relaxed. It was a perfect way to set up our last day.

One of the things I did was capture this video of the studio from my perspective.  I thought that if I had this to watch every once in a while, it will help we get back to a place mentally that was so positive, happy, and helpful.  I loved where I sat for the week.

Breakfast was delicious and we finished our jigsaw puzzle.  I quickly showered and packed up all my stuff to get ready for our final practice and session at 10:00.  It began with all of us suppose to be in silence but everyone was in such a great mood Liz had to let us chat it all out.  We completed our check in sheets and met in pairs to debrief.  I got to chat with a guest I hadn't spent too much time with and of course she was amazing and I wished I had gotten to know her better. We did numerous practices and group discussions.  

Liz obviously has done this workshop many times and knew the right amount of questions to ask and activities to do to help us come to closure.  An important piece was when she had us get up and move from our week long nests to a new area in the studio.  We had all occupied the same space for so long, when we were forced to sit somewhere else, it helped us have another perspective.  Powerful stuff.

Our time ended with a candle ceremony in which we were asked to share 1 word to describe ourselves now that the program had come to an end.  Once we shared our word, we lit a candle and created a beautiful circle of light in the middle of the room.  I chose the word LEARNER because as the week progressed it was so nice to recognize that I was able to not have to be a leader of anything but just sit and be a learner.  Not being accountable for so much or for so many allowed me to find peace and strength I hadn't felt in years. I teared up quite a bit when we all joined hands and look at everyone in the eyes (like we did yesterday at the end of the silent practice).  I really loved these people and especially Liz as she is so freaking wise.  I want a shirt that says "What would Liz do?" to remind myself of all the lessons learned.

What was super special was the fact that my cabin mate had snuck a gift in my book but what she didn't know was that I had bought a card and gift for her and placed it in her luggage too. Then at the end of the circle ceremony she gave me a drawing she had made (a lot of people doodled or coloured during sessions) that I will frame and put in my new space in our basement. What a gift to have such a wonderful, patience, kind, and so freaking funny roommate for the week.

After the ceremony we ate a late lunch, packed our cars, said our goodbyes and all drove away.  Emotionally drained I got home at 9:15 and was happy to see my husband and cats and start to arrange how to incorporate all these lessons at home.

One of my favourite weeks ever.

Tomorrow I will summarize the week and post some poetry shared, the best Liz quotes, why others should really consider attending and how to make the most of your time there.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

Day 5 - silence

Today was unbelievable.  After 4 days of 8 sessions and many hours of learning we attempted a 6 hour silence session.  We didn't have yoga this morning but did get up, take showers, and eat breakfast.  Breakfast had eggs, fruits, delicious muffins, and oatmeal,

We all met in the studio and settled into our nests (our personal yoga spaces).  Liz then walked us through 10:00-12:30 of complete meditation strategies non stop and were not allow to speak.  We did a short sitting practice, then standing practice, walking practice, some yoga, then lying down and a final sitting practice.  It went really well and I was able to stay "pay attention" almost the  whole time.  I had a terrible sleep last night and was worried I would fall asleep today but I didn't.


We broke for lunch and continue our silence until the afternoon session 1:30-4:00 pm. Liz gave us lots of information about the importance of honoring our silence and to not make eye contact with others.  The reason for this was because I owe it to the others to honor their practice.  The staff had been advised that we will not be speaking during lunch and they didn't interact with us or expect thanks etc.

During lunch I sat outside in the sun and actually felt amazing.  I loved the morning and the extreme peace and quiet. I remained in practice the whole time and because of the yoga was able to sit crossed legged for the last practice.  Lunch was soup, amazing potato salad with greens.  When you are in silence it really makes you eat more mindfully because you are not engaged in conversation.  Some people walked, rested, but most people I saw were sitting in silence or journaling.

The afternoon session was tough.  We did multiple practices included lying down and I was very worried about sleeping but Liz told us if we were getting tired to keep our eyes open.  I worked very hard to complete all the practices but by the end I was pooped but very proud.  One of the practices was called "love and kindness" and it certainly made me tear up as you had to imagine someone who loves you unconditionally.  I thought of my parents then my grandmothers.  We had to imagine they were here and we were talking to them.  Thinking of sitting with my grandmothers was very moving as they were awesome ladies who I miss often.  Then we were to think about allowing that caring relationship for ourselves.  Turns out we are pretty hard on ourselves which definitely let me here.  Liz says that what we tell ourselves we would never say to anyone else and that we need to stop speaking so negatively to ourselves.  It was powerful stuff once again.

Once the afternoon session was over, Liz asked us to paired off and shared how we were feeling then did a large group debrief of the day.  We then formed a circle and reconnected by looking at each other eye and already starting to laugh and chat again.

Dinner was so good as they made a peanut African stew (something we ate when we visited Africa and loved it).  Another guest and I have been working on a jigsaw puzzle so we have been sitting and chatting while trying to get it finished before the retreat is over.  We are so close to completion.


After dinner we all met in the lobby at 6:00 and drove about 10 minutes to the Wye Marsh to go canoeing or kayaking.  We didn't know what to expect but we had the best time.  About 5 people kayaked and the rest of us all got into a huge war canoe and paddled around the marsh.  We saw frogs, birds, a ton of flowers, and fish.  The kayakers saw a beaver which was super cool for the guest from Australia.  The weather was perfect for us to see and hear about the local history and the swan's life in the marsh.  The area has amazing trails for the summer and winter and if I had a school around here we would visit often to see all the animal informational sessions.

After the canoeing we came back and a guest had made a fire again in the pit and the some of us sat in the lounge gabbing again.  Everyone is very tired from today and some of us have headaches from working so hard.  Lots of people went to bed early or started packing.

Tomorrow we have a session 10:00 - 12:30 then lunch with final discussions to wrap up.  I have bought a couple of gifts for me, Megan, and my roomie who has been so fun.

I wish it was 2 weeks long as I want to be able to really remember what I have learned here and transfer all the learning home. I love all the guests and am so happy I came.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

In my father's hands


I am so happy that I was able to capture these photos.  One of the things I haven't had a chance to share here is the completion of my doctorate and what it meant to our family.


As most people know, I had the wonderful opportunity to complete my doctorate of education at Western University 2013-2016.

Our program consisted of 10 courses and a full dissertation.  I was happy to complete the research and publish my dissertation August 2016.  When you publish your work you get it printed in these bound books and then you keep one and provide one to your supervision team that helps you through the whole program.  I had one printed and gave it to Dr. Pam Bishop my team leader and I also got one printed for my parents.

The day they were ready to be picked up from graphic services, I drove right to my parents house and presented it to my dad (my mom wasn't home).  This photo of my dad and his hands holding this book is such a proud moment for me.

My parents were a big inspiration for this work because my parents always encouraged my thinking about educational leadership.  My dad would suggest books, articles, and was fascinated about my experiences as a principal.

What a lot of people don't know is that my dad just missed out on completing his own PhD.  He attended the University of Michigan in the early 70s and had completed a couple of years of courses and work.  Unfortunately, at the end of his second year his adviser died and hadn't kept any records therefore, my dad lost all his work.  Never having an opportunity to finish, I felt my experience would help heal the feelings I know he has about his work being incomplete.  We often talk about his experience and how much work it was pre computers. Proud moment sharing the printed research for sure. 




Day 4 - inching forward

Well I missed yoga this morning.  I didn't sleep well and when I got up to use the restroom at 4:30 I knew I didn't have enough rest to be able to hit the class and have a productive day - so, I slept in till 8:30.  Breakfast was fruit, pancakes, yogurt etc and started our day off well.

This morning's practice started with our "check in" sheet that we complete every morning.  It gets us to set an intention for the day and to give some numbers to various aspects of our lives.  I have noticed that each day my percentage has grown slowly each day.  Once we have completed the form we sit with another guest and share.  Today, just as I started sharing I said that I am "inching forward" and it was a bit of an ah moment (hence the name of today's blog).

Image result for angry is just sad's bodyguard
As someone who likes to make huge gains quickly, I am proud that I am very content with slow progress.  Once we completed the check in we have group sharing and had a long conversation about anger.  It immediately made me think of the quote I share all the time "anger is just sad's bodyguard".

We moved into talking about mindful eating which resonated with me as I know that I don't think about what I eat and often eat way too much and not even notice.  We are so lucky that the food is so delicious here plus there are no "life" distractions allowing us to eat slowly and really enjoy it. Liz got us to ask while we're eating: do I really want this, am I even hungry, am I feeling sad or mad, will eating change my mood?  This ideas will definitely help me back home.

We talked a lot about grief today too and the different ways people grieve and how we can grieve not just for death and dying. I shared a bit about how I am working through accepting help from others and I am learning that people wanting to help you is an expression of love.  I continue to work on knowing my self worth and that I am worthy of others love and help.

Our meditation practice this morning encouraged us to use one of the learned strategies.  I used the "noticing" one as that really resonates with me.  I was able to feel and hear and stay in practice till the end. I also feel this strategy will be doable at school because it is such a busy environment and I will need to be able to be mindful able sights and sounds.

Lunch was make you own wrap with tempah and it wasn't too bad.  The salad was a curry dressing and so yummy.

This afternoon's session was so cool because we meditated for a solid hour but were transitioned from sitting to walking to lying meditation. It was very impactful to keep your focus while moving into a new position. We did have a long honest conversation about assertiveness.  We got some terrific ideas and hand outs regarding communication styles and understanding the difference between passive, assertive, and aggressive.  That led to further talk about receiving criticism.  We really got to responding and reacting thoughts. We talked about how to handle not sweating the small stuff. It was pretty powerful to really reflect on how our own multiple family and friendship relationships function. 

Dinner was various amazing India dishes.  I even ate lentils - if you know me, I freaking hate lentils but of course these were delicious with spices and mango chutney.  Dessert was chocolate peanut butter cookies soooo good.

Tomorrow we do not have yoga in the AM will be practicing silence for 6 hours.  Yes, silent meditation for 6 hours and will have multiple practices and a yoga session.  We are all a little freaked out as we sit and chat all day long now.  But, we do have kayaking tomorrow night and am looking forward to seeing the Wye Marsh.  

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Day 3 - emotional

Today I shed a few tears both from being emotional and from laughing so much.

30 seconds after I posted yesterday's blog a guest came to the lounge and was bleeding.  She has experienced a window falling in her cabin and by accident it hit her nose.  She was in a lot of pain so the team got her ice and me and another guest took her to the hospital as we thought her nose might be broken.  We arrived at 10:00pm and they shared it would be a 3 hour wait.  We are happy to say that our friend received some great care and we all arrived back just after 2:00am.  The old me would have set her alarm to ensure she didn't miss the 7:00am yoga but the new me knew to not set an alarm and to get the rest needed.

I woke up at 8:30, took a shower, didn't eat breakfast as I wasn't hungry and made it to first practice for 9:30.  For some reason during our first practice my eyes watered the whole time.  I wasn't sad just tired I think and a tad overwhelmed.  Happily, my practice was amazing.  We did something called "noticing" and we were asked to label our thoughts as seeing, hearing, or feeling.  It was powerful to focus on those senses the whole time.  I stayed in total practice right up to the bell.  Liz shared some great analogies again and continues to push our thinking about the amount of energy we put into unhealthy thoughts, the past, and things we can't control. We then did "walking meditation".  Liz got us to walk very slowly (intentionally) to feel our feet hit the ground and pay attention to our balance. I found it hard as our eyes were open and I couldn't help but look outside at the beautiful day and flower gardens. But, it was great to move and then to think that I could use the practice back in my job when I am completing my daily classroom walkthrus.

Lunch was so good.  Broccoli soup, hummus stuffed cucumbers, and blueberry kale salad.  It was amazing.  We had a big chunk of time before the PM session so we sat in the sun on the porch and laughed at our lives.

After lunch we attended our second practice where we spent a great deal of time talking about stress. We identified how it manifest itself in our bodies and wrote about 25 different things that we all experience socially, emotionally, physically, and importantly, behaviorally.  We then had the opportunity to hear from some participants and were able to provide some suggestions for them to think about when they return home. Liz gave another great analogy about watching a scary movie and how we know it is not real but we still get scared.  We need to step away, notice how we feel, and label it as not our reality.  Powerful stuff.

The important lessons today came when Liz provided us some "distorted thinking" strategies and we went around the room reading all the identified ones and people sharing a person example.  I got very teary for my turn as the strategy I had to read was a very relevant one that I use often.  I linked it to the fact that I am constantly worried about getting cancer again and that Crohns disease sucks.  I talked about how I am trying very hard to not have highs and lows and to remain neutral all the time so that the manic part of me is more under control. But, remaining emotionally in control and not feeling highs so that I don't go too low means I sometimes miss out on feeling proud, happy, and excited.  It was the most powerful part so far and some great discussions and hand outs provide us with so much knowledge.

Before dinner we all relaxed, read, played cards, chatted and laughed our lives once again. I think I might have fallen asleep on the couch for a couple of minutes.

Dinner was make your own rice bowl with a ton of grilled veggies and tofu.  Not a big fan of the tofu but Kurt made an amazing gravy to go over the whole thing which was pretty good.  For dessert he made pineapple upside down cake with whip topping.  The topping (believe it or not) was delicious and was made of .....chick pea juice.  You would never know as it tasted like cool whip.  These chefs know what they are doing.

Second best part of the day was after dinner several of us sat around in the dining room telling funny stories and playing "what's your favourite".  It got a tad naughty but allowed for everyone to laugh off the afternoon and I really hadn't laughed that hard for years.  I really love all the people here.  I did have a sad moment today when I was kind of missing my Fitness Ridge friends and experience as today was very similar to the types of fun and moments that I have had in Utah.  This is so similar but different.  This is truly shaping my thinking as Fitness Ridge shaped my physical self. Ironically, I have lost over 5 pounds but I think a lot of it is emotional baggage that I have dropped.

The best part of the day was that Heather (Liz's yoga friend) returned at 7:00pm and held a NIA class.  I was so excited to go because I heard she was awesome and I hadn't done the morning yoga session so wanted to do something physical today. Almost everyone went but we had not idea what NIA was but it was soooo much fun.  NIA is " a mind/body physical conditioning program that initially stood for Non Impact Aerobics.  Nia combines martial arts, dance and yoga in a workout to music.

It was hilarious as I don't think any of us are dancers but we all wished we were.  Heather chose great music and taught us all the moves.  Some dance, Tai Chi, martial arts kicks and yoga. We laughed and sweated a lot for an hour. We were happy to hear she is back tomorrow to do the 7:00am yoga class. 

After the class some people chatted, took showers or sat around the camp fire. Beautiful night outside - tons of stars. 

Today was good as I think we all felt a lot and moved forward too. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

Day 2 - delicious

Today's theme at Sugar Ridge falls under the 'delicious category'.  Not only was the food amazing today but the learning really got us all hungry for so much more.

The day started at 7:00 am when about 10 of us participated in the first yoga class.  If anyone has been a runner then stopped for a long period of time you know how hard it is to restart and you can't believe that you can't run the distances or times you did before. Yoga is the same.  I am shocked how I have lost my strength, flexibility, and stability.  After I got over the pity part of how far I have fallen, I loved the 75 minute class because Liz was a great teacher and went very slowly.

Kurt, Liz's husband, is working in the kitchen all week preparing all the meals.  This morning's breakfast was blueberry cornmeal pancakes, fresh fruit with nuts and yogurt, and millet (which I love since we ate a ton of it in Africa).  Kurt and his staff make sure there is a variety of milk, teas, coffee, and sauces for everything.  It totally set us up for an amazing day.

Our morning "formal practice" consisted of some sitting meditation and discussion.  Everyone is sharing how their practice is going and we were pushed to a 30 minute practice.  I lasted about 15 minutes then my butt was very uncomfortable and I needed to move but never found my quiet place again.  I was disappointed but realized this is just my first day learning how to pay attention to my mind. Our discussion lead to learning about various obstacles that will get in your way of meditation success such as: doubt, restlessness, drowsiness, desire, and a sense of aversion. I am so proud to listen to others share how they are feeling and thinking.

During our practice Liz is sharing poetry and even the names of some books that we can check out once our week is over such as Full Catastrophe Living by Jon Kabat-Zinn.  I really appreciate the analogies that Liz shares to help us understand what we are trying to achieve.  I makes me feel like I can understand before I am able to perfect.

Lunch was amazing.  Kurt made us rice salad, minestrone soup, and delicious salad.  Not going to lie, I had two helpings and 2 buns to dip in the amazing soup.

Our afternoon session started with a short practice and I chose to sit in a chair and it went so much better than past practices.  I was so pleased that I lasted the whole time without moving and rarely lost focus.  Then we were instructed to try a "body scan" which is a form of meditation where were instructed for 60 minutes to think about every single part of our body.  We were lying down for the practice and it caused a few of us to fall asleep with some snoring.  I then started giggling which threw my practice off.  Liz did incorporate another yoga session at the end of the afternoon and it was a great way to end our afternoon.

I really like that we have all created our "nests" and have lots of space to do our yoga and meditation.  We are all trying various positions and I have discovered that sitting in a chair is the best for me to be able to be comfortable and focus on my practice.  Tonight at 7:00 pm Liz has her friend Heather here to do another yoga class but I think twice in one day is enough and three times might be too much today since I have to get up at 7:00 am and go again.

Kurt's dinner was the best yet! Garlic green beans, pink salad which was their version of a beet Caesar salad, and 7 layer dip that was hot out of the oven.  Plus he made brownies!!! They were made with chocolate and raspberries.  Everyone went nuts.  I didn't have one as I am feeling very full and need to dial back the sweets anyways but I am so happy that if you need something sweet here you can have it.

One of the observations I have made the past two days is the feeling that we are at someones cool cottage.  The location really contributes to that feeling as we are in the woods and it is so peaceful.  The cabins and communal restrooms remind me of being at a camp.  The dining hall and lounge makes you feel safe and casual.  The furniture is "cottageie" and over sized comfy stuff.  You do not wear shoes inside and they have a ton of slippers to wear and everyone is make up free and in their workout clothes as we need to feel comfortable.  It contributes to my love for this experience as you have to be real.

I am excited to see what theme pops up tomorrow but I know that I have already learned a lot and feel that I am much more relaxed which makes yoga so much easier as you are not as tense.