Why I Travel Cross-Country Every Year For a Weekend at Adult Summer Camp

Photo by Stephanie Ryan-Savoia

In December 2016, I was feeling trapped by my day-to-day work and family obligations, even if I chose them and loved them (well, loved them most of the time–– looking at you, Work). I had long since passed the days of luxurious girls’ weekends that my single, carefree lifestyle afforded. Now I was in the trenches of familyhood, and I was having trouble carving out time for myself; while my husband had found ways to take time for himself, including weeks spent with friends away from home, I half-fumed, half-mused that I wanted to take a vacation for myself–– just for me.

A therapist friend of mine from grad school posted on Facebook about this adult camp where she’d be teaching in April. One hyperlink later, I was transported to a page all about “Camp Souldust: Magic in the Woods.” It described my rose-tinted memories of summer camp days to a T.

This. Camp. Looked. Amazing!

That very night, I committed to attending, even though it was a bit of a hike to get there–– like, a cross-country flight, to be exact; Camp Souldust is just outside Seattle, Washington, and I call Williamsburg, Virginia home. My husband was supportive from the start, but he was puzzled why I sought to go so far from home to go to camp, reminding me that there was a yoga retreat center just one town over.

 “I need to get the fuck out of here,” I told him, with an earnest vehemence he didn’t question.

Truth be told, I almost chickened out. Even after the plane tickets were bought and the non-refundable camp registration fee was paid, it wasn’t hard to imagine a scenario that kept me tethered to work and home, and all the responsibilities therein. In the end, though, I followed through, and damn, if that wasn’t the best decision.

The decision my routine-weary soul craved.

It took me getting to camp to realize that I set my course for one destination (alone time with myself) and ended up at a different port-of-call (a communal environment bustling with social interaction). Honestly, though–– to paraphrase The Rolling Stones–– what I wanted wasn’t exactly what I needed after all; the village of Camp Souldust was exactly what I never knew I needed. So much so that before I left camp, I vowed to myself that I would be back next year as a camp counselor. And so it was.

Staying in my comfort zone would not have let me live out the full potential of this experience, or opened me up to want to learn and experience more…

Once we shook off our preconceived notions and let our inner children unite, the result was absolutely healing.

Photo by Stephanie Ryan-Savoia

So why is it that I make the journey from Virginia to Washington each year?

Play is therapy.
Children have it so right: the best learning takes place through play.

It turns out that if adults immerse themselves in play, they too can find sweet release and even enlightenment through those experiences. It’s hard to imagine play without laughter, and the benefits of play and laughter are scientifically well-documented. Convening on the tennis court for ice-breakers in the first few hours of camp was initially and unsurprisingly uncomfortable at first, but not a person left without a smile shared at some point. Later during my long weekend at camp, I went to a session that included a fifteen-minute nap as one of its hands-on experiential ways of self-care. When in our adult lives do we get permission to take a nap in the middle of the day? For fun!? There was also a polar bear dip (yeah, that Washington lake water is pretty cold in April!), lawn games, spontaneous parkour, a talent show, s’mores by the campfire, and cabin skits, all of which we collectively, unabashedly enjoyed.

Once we shook off our preconceived notions and let our inner children unite, the result was absolutely healing.

There is such thing as magic, if we choose to believe.
I know this sounds a bit Josh Groban-esque, but there is something special–– something beyond special–– about this place, the time spent here, and the indescribably beautiful people. Maybe the West Coast “woo” mentality really got to me, but as each precious hour of camp ticked by, it became clear that this camp was designed to be more than archery, arts and crafts, and canoeing. At this camp, we are all authentically human, here to love and accept each other as we are. To enjoy this time with other like-minded people.

To experience our own magic.

Taking risks is essential to growth.
Perilously perched at the top of the tree line was “The Big Swing,” a thrilling, high ropes-course style challenge. First, I had to trust that the team of people below the platform on the ground would be able to physically pull me up to the height of the platform, and then I had to trust my safely-harnessed self to unclip a carabiner, which would send me swinging dramatically into the expanse of sky. Now, I’m a big fan of roller coasters, but this was still intimidating.

I could have said “No thanks, I’ll let someone else go instead,” but I accepted the challenge. Not only this challenge, this obvious act of bravery, but others not as obvious in their intimidation: striking up conversation at the adult coloring table, sitting next to someone unfamiliar at dinner, having my first Reiki session (while also only half understanding what Reiki was at the time), even hugging a tree as part of a flair dare challenge. Staying in my comfort zone would not have let me live out the full potential of this experience, or opened me up to want to learn and experience more of the things Souldust has to offer, which is exactly where I am now.

All this to say that before my camp experience, I generally found that it was too much effort to worry about getting myself dressed in costume for Halloween once I’d finally managed to get my kids into their costumes. However, as a cabin counselor at Camp Souldust, I had peacock wear (our cabin’s mascot) prepared well in advance for every single day of camp. That’s the kind of transformational experience I’m talking about: reigniting or finding the joie de vivre that we sometimes forget exists within ourselves and sharing it with others who love us however we show up on a given day. Though I’ve recently filled up my soul cup at camp, I look forward to going back to the well for more in the near future.

And my kids look forward to strutting our streets with their peacock mom this Halloween. That’s truly what this camp is about–– making amazing discoveries in who we are and what makes our hearts pound in our chests, and then taking it back into our real life. Getting away from it all to come back to center, and move forward with just a little bit more sparkle–– and s’mores–– under our belts.

Photo by Jennifer MacNiven Photography

To get started on your own Camp Souldust adventure, check out our upcoming events here!

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Lesley Henderson

Lesley Henderson is a native North Carolinian, licensed preschool and K-12 School Psychologist, and the Director of Student Accessibility Services at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. She is also the mother of three boys, two cats, and what might be the world’s oldest goldfish, and blessedly has a partner who supports her cross-country whims of self-discovery and adventure. She also loves the Oxford Comma but detests garlic (the latter of which she knows is blasphemy). You can find her on Facebook at lesley.j.henderson and on Instagram @herculesley.

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