One From the Heart

This past weekend I drove about forty-five minutes outside Austin into the countryside of Bastrop County for a day-long retreat called, “It’s Time to Shine Your Light." I had come across the retreat on Facebook, and admittedly didn't know much about it beyond the title. But there was something about the name that made it feel like I needed this… and I hadn’t gone on an official group retreat like this since college. Whatever it was, it piqued my interest and I was game.

If you’ve been reading my recent posts, then you know I’ve been working on healing myself this year. Whether through taking a look at self-care as an artist or exploring sobriety, I’ve been doing deep work on the recurring issues that I’ve struggled with most of my life and that have bubbled up lately like malevolent lava. In short:  they’re not problems I can just ignore, self-medicate, or hide from anymore.

This retreat about learning to “shine my light” wasn’t about feeling the need to get back up on stage anytime soon. This was about learning to show up again and be my true self in my own life. To not be scared anymore. While I thought moving to Austin would be a continuing part of my story as a musician and performer, it’s more so been a crucible or crossroads for my personal development, growth, and healing as an individual. Part of this process has been learning to see the signs and go with the flow of the bigger plan, instead of forcing things to happen on my watch. This retreat, coming out of nowhere and calling to me, somehow felt like what I needed.

I was nervous driving out to Bastrop Sunday morning—it was the same route I’d had a panic attack on just a few weeks before when I went to attend a Renaissance festival in the area with a friend. Still, I tried my best to stay positive, trust, and and be the flow. I started to see signs along the way, which I look for in these moments. Literally a roadside billboard reading “AD SIGNS,” and a gorgeous monarch that flew across the path of my car on the last stretch of highway to my destination. When I arrived and entered the event, the speaker Mary Halima was sharing about writing her “morning pages” from The Artist’s Way—a book which pretty much changed my life—and I knew then I was in the right place.

I felt anxious though about introducing myself and sharing with the group, but when Mary called on me I shared about how I saw the Facebook ad, etc. and felt called to be here, to which she said I had a “courageous heart.” I was flattered. Having a courageous heart was the last thing I’d felt as of late.

Little did I know, but the heart would be at the center of our focus that morning. Namely, removing blocks from our childhood and upbringing that closed ourselves to receiving love in our hearts. To feeling loved, worthy, and accepted in the world.

My “courageous heart” felt emboldened, and I shared about my own religious upbringing in Catholicism. Words and phrases that came to me imprinted on my being from these formative years included… obey. be good. be humble. guilty. wrong. shame. sinful. patriarchal. structured. hypocritical. just fit in. follow the rules.

Others shared about their backgrounds, too. Mary spoke of the “tribalism” of our religious backgrounds, and I thought of how learning to suppress our true selves to “just fit in” was a survival mechanism. How the tribe doesn’t like an outlier. 

We moved then from the head to the heart—the longest distance in the world, Mary said, quoting the old aphorism. She guided us into a series of Sufi meditations and chants, instructing us to say ahhhhhhhhh… ahhhhhhhhh… ahhhhhhhh… which reverberates in the upper chest and helps open the heart.

I felt a consciousness there start to awaken and open. And I realized I hadn’t consciously thought about my heart in a very, very long time.

What it made me feel is more like myself. And yes, actually braver. I felt less scared, and more childlike in a way. Operating more from the heart instead of the head truly started to ease my anxiety some. I felt more in my body, more whole. At lunchtime, I felt less shy and shared my story with others, about how I arrived in Austin when asked, and a little about my breakup, which in part had led me here.

Mary had gently instructed us to keep exploring what operating from the heart felt like when we’d broke for lunch. One of the women looked exhausted on the couch. Another went outside for a moment and cried. I felt myself gazing out the window at the sunshine and the beautiful countryside surrounding the rural home where we were gathered. My heart wanted to be out there. It wanted to explore and see and play.

So I helped clean the dishes after lunch, and quietly took my purse with me outside. I felt a tinge of guilt leaving the group, but knew I didn’t have to worry. I was listening to my heart again after all.

The day was so beautiful, and the quaint town of Bastrop nearby was calling me to go relax and explore it. I left the retreat in gratitude and followed my heart where it was leading me next.