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Comfortable In My Humanness.

December 16, 2013

Comfortable In My Humanness by Emily Beecher.

What Happened When I Went To A Retreat in Another Country With People I Didn’t Know….

I was, quite frankly, FREAKING OUT!!!!!

My normal hairdresser had left the salon so I was trying someone new. Someone she recommended. Someone who had just dyed my hair the completely wrong colour. It was too dark, too purple-y red, not copper-y and very much completely not me. I hated it. I hated the way it made me look. I hated the way it made me feel. In less than 72 hours I was getting on a plane to fly to Vermont for a yoga and writing retreat led by two incredible people I respect immensely. And my hair was ALL WRONG. What would people think of me? Would they think this is how I WANTED my hair? That this was the way I normally look? That this was the real me? There was only one thing to do. I had to cancel.

I mean it wasn’t just the hair – I hadn’t been away from my daughter for more than 48 hours since she was born (four years ago) and she’d JUST been up all night with a bit of a cough which was clearly going to turn into something like pleurisy if I went away, and really? What was I thinking? Me at a yoga retreat? With my fat post baby (ahem) body? Bending and stretching and being all zen and tree like surrounded by tall, long, lithe, young, obviously all blonde, glamazons who could do headstands for hours on their immaculate pony tails whilst I had trouble touching my toes because my boobs and belly created a formidable Berlin wall between my upper and lower body. And it’s not like I’m really a writer anyway. I didn’t even know I could write until a couple of years ago but I hadn’t written for myself anything more than a grocery list for months. What delusion had I suffered to make me book this retreat?

Actually, I knew the answer to that. Devastation. Five months previously a project I had been working on, a musical about the trials and tribulations of motherhood, had imploded. Spectacularly. I was betrayed by people I called friends, my professional reputation was tarnished, I lost my life savings and almost three years of hard, unpaid work, my sense of determination and belief in myself demolished. I was a wreck. I literally wanted to die. Broken, I had booked a trip back to Canada to spend time with my family and put some distance between the raw chaos of London and my wounded self. It was there, late at night, I read about the retreat. I fired Jen an email, essentially saying that I didn’t do yoga so how much of the yoga/writing retreat was about yoga. She responded saying its not at all yoga yoga-y, she thought that I was funny and she’d decided I was going. She thinks I’m funny? I booked it.

And now here I was, with hideous hair and a plague infected child and with some distance from the show’s collapse I could clearly see how I must have been delusional when I booked it.

I told my best friend that I was going to cancel it and he looked at me, shook his head and told me to shut up and get packing. Not usually one to do what I’m told, I’m so grateful I did.

My flight was the first sign that something was different. This was the first time in four years I was flying without a child attached to me. Anyone who has suffered the particular circle of hell that is flying with a child will understand what this means: an intoxicating freedom of choosing a movie you want to watch and not having to repeat “Please don’t kick the nice man’s seat” eight hundred thousand times. Just to make sure I didn’t forget how much of a luxury this experience was on all four of my flights the seat next to me was always empty. Just me and my phantom child flying 3000 miles to take a few days off, to do something for myself. Even if I didn’t look like myself.

Somewhere around 35000 feet in the air I made the decision that I would NEVER mention my hair while I was on the retreat. I mean if I was constantly apologizing for my hair I wouldn’t really be able to apologize for not being bendy or a good writer, which were, I figured, even worse things than my fucked up hair. I would just pretend that this was actually me and maybe they wouldn’t notice.

They all noticed my hair. In fact I think, over the four days almost every person at one time or another, whether in person or in creating our lists of Five Most Beautiful Things, told me how they loved my hair. The first time it happened I had to forcibly choke back the apology of how this wasn’t the way it was supposed to look. But then the magic happened. Or rather, twenty-two magical people happened.

I noticed it the first evening, in the hot tub, drinking wine (this really was my kind of yoga retreat!) when an absolutely stunning girl with a smile to rival the moon tried to tell me, through the guise of of an off hand appology/explanation how she couldn’t really be in her new relationship, couldn’t let herself be loved by this amazing man because of all the things that were not right about her. Things I couldn’t even contemplate seeing in her because all I saw was her beautiful smile and welcoming warmth.

As the hours passed I repeatedly tripped over the same message. These incredible people who shared stories of loss and pain didn’t see their own strength and beauty – only the reasons why they were never enough. They hadn’t tried hard enough, hadn’t given enough, weren’t nice or accommodating enough, weren’t beautiful enough, weren’t deserving, were too fucked up, too selfish, too hurt or angry or beaten down or useless. Given the way we spoke about ourselves you would have been forgiven for expecting the room to be full of broken, grey, miserable people. But it wasn’t. It was full of smiles and encouragement and hugs and a collection of the most brilliant laughs I’ve ever heard. Then a little tiny seedling planted itself in my brain… if these people were so wrong about themselves – could I be wrong about me?

As Jen repeatedly reminded us with the Marianne Williamson quote “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.” And Emily made us write our truth in feverishly bursts that forced us to pour our words out onto the page as quickly as possible so we could outrun our built in editors, that seedling thought started to flourish and grow.

I settled into myself. I dressed for dinner (I mean if there wasn’t a chance of a child pouring food all over me then dammit I was going to put something nice on). I didn’t put make up on to do yoga. (I know right?) I stopped prefacing every piece of writing I read out with “well this isn’t very good but…”

On the last night some of us had an impromptu kitchen dance party. I was still in my sweaty yoga clothes. My immaculate blow dry replaced by my crazy natural curls. My face bare. I didn’t think about it as we sang Call Me Maybe and danced and lassooed each other. Someone took pictures. A week or so after the retreat, when I was back to my old life, trying not to apologize for who I was, I received a facebook email telling me the pictures were online and I was struck by a lightning rod of panic. But, but, but I didn’t have make up on and I wasn’t holding in my stomach and I wasn’t trying to have my best side captured and my hair – oh god my hair was frizzy and that terrible colour and now someone has produced photographic proof of how hideous I am. (It doesn’t take long for all that good work to be replaced by bad habits!)

It took me over a week to look at those pictures. Over a week, and half a bottle of wine. Ready to be repulsed I hovered over the mousepad until finally, I clicked. Then cried. Then laughed. I didn’t see a hideous person, I didn’t see my belly or fat arms, I didn’t see purple-y frizzy hair or a lack of polish. I saw love. Big, fat, giant smiles of joy and play and LOVE LOVE LOVE. Love for each other, love for the opportunity to share, to listen, to be understood and even, maybe, a little bit of love for ourselves.

Opportunities like this are precious – even though we know we’re changing at the time, the true value of what we are experiencing is only truly shown in time. As Elizabth Kubler Ross once said “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.”

Our retreat was the proverbial bellows to my tiny light. Now, two months later I write this changed. Striving. Opened. Comfortable in my self. Comfortable in my flaws. Comfortable in my humanness. No longer FREAKING OUT. And full of love. Whatever my hair looks like.

Emily and some of pother retreat go-fers at Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp's retreat in Vermont.

Emily and some of pother retreat go-fers at Jen Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s retreat in Vermont.

Arriving at the airport in Vermont, waiting for the other retreat people ;)

Arriving at the airport in Vermont, waiting for the other retreat people 😉

THE RETREAT a poem by Emily Beecher

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we stand

tall

as the hours pass

we spill hot anger and resentment

forcing our hearts to sweat in stillness

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we cry

silently

touching the sweet earth,

our bodies bent like willows

surrendering to icy storms

We reawaken our passions

like buds opening to bloom,

slowly, carefully, then freely

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

we dance

loudly

to the songs of our youth

later, skinny dipping

under the ripened Vermont moon

Amongst the trees of orange and gold

We abandon our self-consciousness

replacing it with connection,

rediscovering our selves

before packing them away

Like antique cars restored to former glory

so are we

rebuilt anew

amongst the trees of orange and gold

Emily Beecher lives in London and most recently attended Jennifer Pastiloff and Emily Rapp’s writing retreat in Vermont. 

Emily is a film & tv producer, writer, actress and proud single mama to her precocious two year old daughter.

Her acting work includes the cult classic short film Making Juice: The Making of JUICE (Charlie Productions) as well as appearing in Coma Girl (Vista Films), The Power of Love (Script Stuff), The Paper Trail (Hot Little Biscuits) and presenting Plugged In! and Are We There Yet? for Rogers Cable in Canada.

She conceived and produced the documentary/concert series Voices for Bulembu which raised over $1 million for the Bulembu charity in Swaziland. She has created commercials for Hasbro, Activision, Universal, Nintendo, Warner Brothers, Mattel and Nickelodeon. Her corporate film clients have included the Labour party, Amicus, TUC, and Shelter.

A published writer, Emily helped with the creation of blush magazine (Canada) and has consulted on several video games, film scripts and the Patient Zero comic book series.

After stepping away from the world of media to indulge in all facets of motherhood Emily is incredibly thrilled to be back with her new baby, The Good Enough Mums Club.

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  • Reply barbarapotter December 16, 2013 at 11:10 am

    Love this wish I could have been there in Vermont too:)

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