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This one time at a life coaching retreat… (Part 1)

It’s early August, 2018. I have a trip to Los Angeles planned, on which I will meet, learn from, and dig deep with my fellow life coaches during a retreat that our certification company JRNI hosts every year. In theory, I’m thrilled. In reality, I’ve spent the last two months buying a new car, adopting a rescue dog, quitting my job, renting a new apartment, and starting a business. I’m freaking exhausted.

I strongly consider bailing at the last minute because it seems stupid to spend money traveling to the other coast when I’ve just left my job and don’t yet have a steady stream of income on the horizon.

Not to mention that I’ve held exactly zero mental or spiritual space for retreat mindset preparation. I haven’t journaled in weeks. I’ve been ignoring the retreat Facebook page because it’s too overwhelming. I’ve muted the Facebook messenger group those staying in our vacation rental are utilizing to plan ahead, share their excitement, and make last-minute arrangements for airport pick-ups and drop-offs. In fact, I’m actually angry at their oppressive over-messaging. How dare they interrupt my day to talk about how they can’t wait to see me? Pfft. I’ve left unread all the emails from the event organizer, so I’ve missed out on workshop and on-site lunch sign-ups for whole weekend. How am I going to show up for this — I mean really show up, be present — ready to be vulnerable, and social, and do the work?

In spite of all this, I know I need to be at this retreat. I’ll be surrounded by my tribe, my people, and I so desperately want to feel a spark reignited within me to continue building the wellness arm of my business. I just have to get through the days and hours leading up to the flight. And oh boy, do I wait until the very last possible minute to change my attitude.

The night before my Thursday evening flight, true to form, I procrastinate by chatting with my next door neighbor, a very wise former war journalist who at the age of 61 has been married and divorced twice, has two teenage sons, and has traveled the world and seen just about everything. I like talking with him because he gives me perspective that I can’t often arrive at on my own. He pushes me to think differently.

Now here I am on his front porch, stressed out, taking frequent deep inhales and heavy exhales. Not true to form, I am worrying about everything on my to-do list for tomorrow: pack (haven’t even made a list let alone pulled out a suitcase), laundry, pick up dog food, buy a gift and some provisions for the dog sitter, and write out instructions for how to care for the dogs in my and my roommate’s absence.

Thursday morning, I get up early. I start tackling my to-do list by throwing in a load of laundry and heading out to run a few quick errands. They take way longer than I anticipate and when I finally walk back in the door, I open the giant 40-pound bag of dog kibble I’ve just bought only to realize that it doesn’t have any mechanism with which to reseal it. And my new puppy is smart and resourceful, so this isn’t going to fly. Fuck.

Back out I go. First to the grocery store, thinking they’ll have some sort of large-ass Rubbermaid container I can make do with. Nothing. I drive about ten more minutes to a pet supply store and find I have a choice of four containers — not four styles of containers, just four containers. I pick the cheapest one. It’s covered in dust and the wheels are missing. I eventually locate them inside one of the other bins and haul my purchase to checkout.

There are exactly two people working in the store today and the one on the register is having a conversation that can only be described as lackadaisical with the customer in front of me. When they finally wrap it the fuck up, I put my bin up on the counter and the cashier begins searching for a bar code to scan. Of course I grabbed the one bin that doesn’t have sticker. He very professionally yells across the store for “Scott” to do a price check. An eternity later, Scott returns with a bar code and the cashier performs a poorly executed bin dust removal process with a dry paper towel that I’m not even sure was clean to begin with.

Seven hours later, I am back in my car and finally heading to the house. It’s well after 2:00 PM and I need to leave for the airport by 4:45 to beat traffic. I still haven’t packed a damn thing. I haven’t even taken a shower.

My wise neighbor offers to drive me to the airport and kindly brings me a coconut water so I can hydrate on the road. I find myself being annoyed that it has pulp in it — big chunks of coconut that you have to chew before you can swallow the liquid. Seriously, I am being one hell of a brat with a capital B.

He can sense the tension but he graciously lets me behave like a jerk and doesn’t hold it against me. And in return, I don’t tell him that his driving scares the shit out of me.

I have a smooth check-in and security experience (as smooth as that can be) and I wander around my terminal in search of a healthy snack because, oh yeah, I’ve barely eaten today.

Once I grab some food and much needed caffeine, I plop down at my gate. I shovel my fruit and cheese plate into my face and guzzle my latte. I take a deep breath and prepare myself for the mental calm that I’m sure I am about to manifest.

And this is when the woman across from me starts playing a horoscope video on her phone with the volume all the way up so her boyfriend can also watch and listen. What is most shocking about this scene is not the aggressive auditory disruption but rather that the fact that during this entire 12-minute video, the boyfriend — who is slouched way down in his seat, mansplaying in a full spread-eagle of stained sweatpants and body odor — is picking his nose and teasing the boogers out of his finger tips one by one right onto his belly.

I execute an emergency search for my earbuds in my backpack front pocket, but I‘ve forgotten to bring the iPhone adapter. Fuck.

We board the plane right on time and I skip ahead to a better boarding group because fuck a system that says an aisle seat boards before a window seat. It just doesn’t make good sense, people. And the gate attendant never notices. The trick is to keep it at a humble C group attempt. B group is risky and if you’re going to attempt A group, I hope you dressed the part because it’s all middle-aged white men in blazers and loafers who have casualed the fuck down by pairing those gems with blue jeans and foregoing socks. But I digress.

I climb into my window seat, put on my noise-canceling headphones and settle in for the flight. I read about 20 pages of my book before realize I’m way too braindead right now to absorb the brain science of human trauma, and I instead browse the movie selections on the large seat-back touchscreen entertainment system. I settle on Red Sparrow because who doesn’t relax to violent, sexually explicit murder stories?

I decline all beverages because I’m not going to wake up the handsome 20-something man next to me or the dad-of-two who just got a moment’s peace so I can pee. Taking one for the team here. After movie number one, we still have two-plus hours of flight ahead of us, so I find another flick. I decide on Game Night because Jason Bateman, and let’s be real, also because Rachel McAdams.

After five and a half hours, two feature-length films, no liquids and no bathroom breaks, we land in the city of angels. I begrudgingly agree to share an Uber with another housemate who lands around the same time. I meet her (she’s lovely, by the way, but I am still being a brat) and we make our way out to the ride share area to summon a driver. We get one right away and he’s only half a mile away! The estimated pick up time is 29 minutes. Welcome to LA, baby.

On the drive to our house, I realize I’m so tired that I’m not tired anymore. It’s only 11:00 PM PST, but according to my body, it’s 2:00 AM. We pull up to our Pacific Palisades vacation rental and haul our luggage up the long walkway to the house on the hill. It’s hot and it’s muggy. I’m still being a brat.

Everyone is so nice and welcoming. I’m meeting people that I’ve taken a 16-week online intensive with and others who have done the same but in different cohorts. None of us have ever met in person but we exchange warm embraces nonetheless. We are bound by a common experience that changed all of our lives for the better.

Before I even walk into the house, I’m told there are two rooms for me to choose from. I’d been one of the earliest people to commit to the house and paid my dues right away. My only request had been that I get my own room. I even offered to pay more for that luxury. So, I am prepared for two exquisite options.

The first room I’m shown is not even inside the house. We walk through one bedroom to a door that dumps you out into a dark back alley between the house and the woods behind it. From there, we use an iPhone flashlight to find the wooden stairs that we then climb to make our way to my first choice of rooms. It’s a one-bedroom wooden shed on stilts with a twin bed and nothing else. Without even putting one foot inside the doorway, I decline option number one.

The next option is a room that also requires entry by walking through someone else’s bedroom. Neat.

This room has got its own door and a door to the creepy back alley, so at least if I need to escape, I don’t necessarily have to wake everyone up. Two of the four walls are entirely glass and inside, there is a twin bed that is situated right below one of the largest and scariest paintings I’ve ever seen. Some sort of UFO is abducting an angel (or is a mermaid?) and I get to sleep half an inch from all five-feet-by-five-feet of it. But don’t worry because the frame is snugly covered in plastic wrap.

The rest of the house is just as weird, if not weirder, but it’s now almost 4:00 AM by my internal clock, so I brush my teeth and cozy up in my alien aggressor themed fish tank and I fall asleep.

With the new day comes a new mindset. I sleep in until 4:30 AM, which is a solid three and a half hours of sleep. I lay in bed for another hour and a half, not wanting to wake anyone up and hoping maybe my brain will let me go back to sleep. No dice on the extra snoozles, so I wander out into the common area.

One of my cohort members is already up and she’s made coffee! My hero. She warns me that it’s really strong and I bless her for making this “mistake.” I pour myself a full 8 ounces into a mug that features Jesus at the Last Supper. I’m not surprised by anything in this house anymore.

With my holy caffeine in hand, I grab my journal and take a seat outside, overlooking the ocean from high in the hills. I start to do some pre-work for the session we have tomorrow and a wave of gratitude washes over me. Suddenly, I’m able to smell the flowers, appreciate the birds, and feel a deep love for everyone around me.

This simple act of cracking my heart open the tiniest bit has caused light to pour out and shine into every dark part of me. Everything in my soul is drenched in golden rays and I feel warm and ready for the weekend ahead.

And damn if it wasn’t one of the most wonderful, emotional, transformational, amazing experiences of my life. (Stay tuned for Part Two for details.)

It’s astonishing how often we get in our own way. I managed to give myself an attitude adjustment, but it wasn’t easy (or even very timely). Just being aware of my bad attitude and knowing I needed to make a shift — that’s a place at which most people struggle to arrive. Beyond that, I had to take action to force a change. Journaling is one thing that always helps me to come back to the present. So does hiking or just going for a long walk in nature. Next time you’re feeling overwhelmed / tired / cranky / discouraged / annoyed / whatever, I challenge you to take action to come back to the here and now. Otherwise, you might miss out on your very own wonderful, emotional, transformational, amazing experiences.