Things I’ve generally felt confident in calling myself: a writer, a friend, anxious, a camp nerd, a spouse, a proud puppy parent.
Things I wouldn’t have even thought to call myself before last year? Intuitive.
Amid a particularly rough year in my mental health, I was more on the “AHHH!” end of the emotional spectrum than the calm and tuned in one. Panic attacks plagued me daily. My physical health was poor. I was waking up with headaches.
Slowly, I was feeling better with the help of therapeutic measures, but I needed to get out of my element, since that element had become “freak-the-F-out.”
One of the things I love most about Souldust is its initiative to create sacred experiences both locally and outside our own neighborhoods. My first experience of Souldust’s sparkle was in Longbranch, Washington last year for Camp Souldust 2017, but my first experience of Rachel’s own signature sparkle was in Manzanita, Oregon, this past September, at her Everyday Alchemy retreat. Simply getting out of the neighborhood for a few days sounded like exactly the vacation I needed.
The concept behind the 3-night experience is essentially to awaken intuition, creating a personal awareness of the vast number of connections between ourselves and everything else, and to explore methods of tapping into that internal wisdom.
Who couldn’t use a little bit of that?
Not really knowing how I might relate to the weekend’s events, or if I’d be in any way chill, I did what I always do in times of doubt: I said yes. Bags packed, I headed to spend the weekend with a group of mostly strangers and my boss. You know, the usual. Low-key. Relaxed.
As is always the case with Souldust events, the group that gathered in September was diverse in several ways. Not only did we have people from Seattle and Portland, we also had attendees from Canada and the east coast. Everyone had a unique lifestyle, age, and personality, but connections were just as easy to come by as they’ve always been. I bonded with our Portland attendee over her home being my hometown and our shared family dynamics. My fellow camp alums and I talked about our happiest memories. Our east coaster and I laughed at the shared childhood experiences we had around religion, and discussed with refreshing candor the pieces that set our experiences apart. We were all different, but we were all together for this moment, and that was easy.
I relaxed into the experience at once.
The sense of community was strong, and Rachel lead the weekend through some laid-back (but informative, juicy) exercises in intuition while we all enjoyed the massive historic house we were staying in, right across the street from the pristine, sprawling beach.
If you ever have the opportunity to stay a few nights on the Oregon coast, don’t miss out. It’s salty, crisp, and gorgeously uncrowded most of the year.
The first day, after Rachel had saged the property and we’d set up oil and gem stations, a tarot table, snacks, and a community altar, I set up my room with an altar of my own for the weekend. Soon after, people were filing in, checking out their spaces and treats, and we began to gather. By nightfall, you could have mistaken us all for old friends.
It was a truly supportive space that I felt so honored to take part in.
There were many moments that felt like gifts throughout the weekend–– shopping and vaguing with a fellow camp alum, getting to see my friend-mentor-boss do her thing, playing with new magical items (quartz pendulums Rachel had included in the goodie bags she left on our beds), and plenty of time spent with the ocean–– but the thing I kept returning to was the quiet space between myself and the floor as I constructed an enormous “dream body collage.” This was a project Rachel had us begin on the first night. Everyone in the group used a different colored marker to help trace one another’s bodies on a huge roll of butcher paper. Once we had our nearly-eight-foot tracings, we were to fill them in intuitively over the course of the weekend, as we felt called.
I spent at least eight hours of my weekend kneeling on the floor, tearing, cutting, pasting, and sitting back, admiring the gigantic thing, watching it transform from paper to art. In the belly, a burning stick of incense smokes over a shell. The head is made up of eyes, skull fragments, butterfly wings for ears, a lunar eclipse over the third eye, and bull’s horns coming out of the crown.
For me, the goal of the weekend seemed to be to switch channels from my usual hyperactive mindset to a quieter, more tuned-in one, and focusing on a simple (but gargantuan) art piece was just what I needed.
Perhaps one of my favorite moments was when Rachel had us play with flipping a coin with predetermined “yes” and “no” sides, and asking a question we already knew the answer to. She asked us to pay attention to how our bodies reacted to the sensation of it being right, and the sensation of it being wrong.
Immediately, I felt the sensations in my chest. When it was wrong, my chest felt like a tight ball, or a fist. When it was correct, though, it was like a fluttering open of my heart. An exhale of relief.
Suddenly, the tight chest of my chronic panic attacks seemed like something new. Like my anxiety was smothering my intuition.
Rachel told us to keep our coins. This was the first special altar item I found over the weekend.
As I worked my way through my dream body collage, it became more and more real. I filled in every nook with animal faces, paintings, and words. I felt my heart flutter open several times. I created boundaries for myself–– something I’m notoriously not so good at–– and rested. I found a beautiful knot of driftwood for my altar and traded the beach a poem that I buried in the tide as a token of my gratitude.
And also, I ate.
I ate so much delicious food–– every meal, all of us were moaning with delight over the asparagus, the salmon, the potatoes, the homemade focaccia, the cake. Oh, the cake. Our caterer, a local personal chef in Manzanita, made everything with locally sourced ingredients, many from her own garden. Several people asked if she’d come home with them. She politely laughed. We politely ate everything she cooked, excitedly heating up the few and far between leftovers as soon as we had the slightest bit of hunger.
On the final night, my dream body was nearly done, but it wasn’t there yet. I could feel it needed something more. I knelt down on my bruised knees–– the hardwood floor of the historic house was gorgeous, but not so forgiving to joints–– and spent a few late-night hours finishing my piece. Around midnight, I completed it, took it to my room, and performed a little ritual with it before laying it beneath my bed as I slept.
In the morning, I showed Rachel. We were running slightly behind, and she told me that despite the fact that we needed to pack up and get going, she wanted to take the time to show the group my collage so I could receive intuitive feedback–– basically, hear what others noticed about my piece, things I might not have noticed yet myself.
On the sunny upstairs deck, I held my collage as everyone offered their thoughts. My very favorite feedback, though, was Rachel’s.
“You really created a living thing here,” she said, “this is a being.”
We completed our closing rituals and loaded up the cars. When we were about to say our goodbyes, we looked at the time.
There was plenty to spare.
“See,” Rachel noted, “we made time for our ritual and even added in something extra, and the time was there.”
And it was true. All of us, with our various lifestyles and personalities, had set aside the time to go invest in something important, nourishing, and beautiful. Despite taking three nights away, our lives were still waiting for us at the end of the experience. Except they were a little bit lighter, a little more in-tune, and several friends richer. Our respective vehicles were packed with things, but we also brought a new awareness of our bodies, our habits, and our intuitions home with us.
Everyday Alchemy in Manzanita was a whole new way to experience the magic of Souldust, and my belly wasn’t the only thing that was filled with deliciousness all weekend long.
My entire soul was fed.