The Left-Hand Turn: The Journey Into the Ranch

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The Feathered Pipe Ranch in Montana means the world to me. It has been an integral part of my spiritual journey: it’s influenced my life in more ways than I can count and continues to play a huge role in helping me to unfold into the truth of who I really am. Many of my most profound, life-changing moments of spiritual connection have happened at the Feathered Pipe Ranch; moments where I experienced, without a doubt, that there is indeed a loving Higher Power who not only has my best interests at heart, but is walking right beside me on my path and guiding my every step along the way.

For the past 15 years, every summer for a week in July, I have made the journey to the ranch. I was blessed to be Erich Schiffmann’s teaching assistant for 14 of those years. Erich has been my one and only teacher and those weeks every summer with him and my closest friends who I met there during those years were water for my soul. As the years passed and I started developing my own teachings and trainings, those July weeks assisting Erich at the ranch became even more sacred for me. They helped me return to the grounding element of service, which is how my work with Erich began, and kept me rooted in the place that has shaped and nurtured me into the person and teacher that I am today. This journey has become an annual pilgrimage for me.

This past year, 2017 the journey took a different turn. Erich had announced in 2016 that he would be taking a break from teaching and would not be back at the ranch. A core group of us decided to come back anyway in 2017, to be together at this crossroads and discover our new direction. (Incidentally, there couldn’t have been a more perfect place to gather for this reason, as this is precisely what the feathered pipe that the ranch is named for is all about. When native tribes were at a crossroads and needed direction, they would hang the feathered pipe in a tree, whereby it would be blown by Great Spirit, pointing the direction of the next phase of the journey.) I was honored to be the facilitator of our group, leading our morning sessions, anchoring us in familiarity, introducing some new ideas into the mix, and holding space for what was to flower from this giant change for all of us.

The pilgrimage continues this summer in a new way. I will be teaching my own week at the ranch during August 18-25, an offering of Freedom Yoga that I’m calling Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust. The week will be rich with all of the stories and teachings I have learned from Erich that color everything about the way I teach, practice, and live Yoga…and will also be infused with my own teachings and new discoveries that revolve around themes of authenticity, rightness, ease of being, inner listening, courage, and self-trust. I feel so grateful to have the opportunity in August to give back some of what the ranch has given me over the years. It’s going to be a wonderful week.

If you haven’t been to the ranch yet, it’s hard to understand how special it is. It’s not just another retreat center where you get away to feel better, do a bunch of yoga, and then go home, back to the grind. Feathered Pipe Ranch is a place of healing transformation that nourishes and fills your soul all the way up and overflows, so that not only do you feel amazing, but – and most importantly – so that you can take it home and begin to help nourish others and make a difference in the world. The spirit of the ranch will wrap its loving arms around you so that you effortlessly enter into your true essence. If you come this summer, you’ll see what I mean. The story of how the ranch came to be is nothing short of miraculous. It was birthed from deep intention, spiritual guidance and vision; you can feel that with every step you take and every breath you breathe while you’re here. When you come, you’ll hear the story for yourself and understand why, for example, there is a huge elk on the giant mantle inside our yoga space, presiding over all we do.

I love everything about the ranch and being there, but I especially love the process, the physical journey, of making my way there. The outer act of arriving always seems to parallel the feeling of inner arrival, for me.

My journey to the Ranch is a long one; Montana is a ways from Texas. For many years, I would get up at 3am, to leave at 4am to drive to Houston or Austin, fly to Salt Lake City, then fly into Helena. Now that I’m older, I leave later. 🙂 But because it’s a full day’s travel for me, I like to arrive a day early, Friday, and stay in Helena down in Last Chance Gulch. There are so many lovely memories I have of us gathering for dinner, reconnecting with each other, and of course, toasting my once-a-year martini with Anne, my bff who I met at the ranch maybe my second year there. After dinner, we’d walk down to the indoor carousel to get ice cream, and, inevitably, we would always seem to miss the closing time by about five minutes. So we would just enjoy the night air, talk about our anticipation of the week together, and marvel that the light at 11pm still looks like dusk. The next day we begin the wonderful drive to the ranch, usually stopping off at Real Foods – the sweetest health food store ever — and picking up a few necessary items, like the traditional black pepper kettle chips and dark chocolate. Then we’d hit the highway, enjoying the beautiful scenery, chatting in the van about the weather, how the year has been, how the ranch is doing, and if there have been any bear sightings yet.

Then we come to it – my favorite part about the trip: that hallowed left-hand turn off the highway that has become so very special to me that it brings tears to my eyes now just thinking about it. We turn left, leave the highway behind, and begin our inward journey to the ranch, into ourselves. The moment we turn left, I am aware of the holiness surrounding us all. I know that we’re embarking on such a special week – sacred, powerful, and meaningful – that I savor every moment of this drive in. I know that when I leave the ranch in a week, I will be radically changed.

We travel down this road for quite a while, through fields of beautiful green grass and tiny purple flowers. The gentle mountains stand watch for us in the distance, with their ageless strength. We wind around log homes dotted with wooden fences and granite boulders. After a while, we come to the fork in the road, with the hanging wooden sign that reads Feathered Pipe Ranch on the left side of the fork. I love this part of the trip. It perfectly illustrates one of the fundamental themes of Freedom Yoga: awareness of the ever present choice-moment that we’re always in. We come to a fork in the road of our lives and ask ourselves, “Should I go left or should I go right?” Instead of making the decision on auto-pilot, from past experience or our conditioned patterns, the practice is to pause and sense inwardly, and then dare to go with the choice that has the clear feeling of rightness about it. Left! Under the sign we go! Emotions swell into a crashing wave of joy and gratitude as I sink a little deeper into myself and exhale a few layers of tension.

We curve around, as the hills on either side of the road become steeper, lined with larger boulders of granite. I usually roll down my window and stick my head out of the car, like a dog in the back seat, so happy to be on this ride. I savor the smell of the piney air, the wind in my face and I smile with happiness too huge to hold back, knowing we’re almost there.

And then – and it always takes me by surprise — there it is on the right: the lake with the cattails, the grassy lawn with the picnic tables and Adirondack furniture, and the beautiful log lodge…all right there, all waiting for me for a whole year, just like I left them. We curve around the lake, drive past the dining hall and we’re here! Oh joy!! I jump out of the car, raise my arms overhead to the clear blue sky and thank God for allowing me to be here, yet again. I am home.

I can’t wait to make that inward journey together with you in August. You’ll see what I mean about that left-hand turn when you experience it yourself. We’ll all arrive at the ranch at various times on Saturday, August 18, get settled in, have dinner in the dining hall, and then come into that wonderful opening circle to begin our week. We’ll create a lovely space where we can let go of the defenses and pretenses we lug around, so that we can fully be who we are. The yoga that we’ll do every day — whether it’s asana, discussion, chanting, or maybe even some dance — will have a sense of ease and will be designed to cultivate self-trust and inner listening, and foster a deep experience of union with All That Is. There is nothing like sitting in the lodge’s yoga space, looking skyward at the incredible beams, looking out the windows to the mountains, and looking up at the beautiful, majestic elk who selflessly holds the space in the room for us. You’ll have time during the week to sleep and rest, get a massage from the healing body workers at the ranch, lay on the lawn, meditate amongst the prayer flags at the stupa, hike up to the ridge at Sky Farm, eat incredible nourishing food, have meaningful conversations with people, laugh like a little kid, and look at the stars that are unlike any you’ve ever seen before.

I hope you’ll join me. I really look forward to sharing the magic of the ranch with you, as well as the stories, teachings, and history that are part of my soul. If you have any questions about what we’ll do in our sessions together, or what the ranch is like, I’d love to hear from you.

Here are the details:

Be the Real You: The Art of Self-Trust

August 18-25 at the Featherd Pipe Ranch

https://featheredpipe.com/feathered_retreats/self-trust/

with love,

Carie

 

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Going Gray: A Spiritual Practice

“Don’t regret growing older. It’s a privilege denied to many.”

~ author unknown

 

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Last week, on March 7, I celebrated two huge anniversaries on the same day. March 7, 2010 was the day I walked into my first 12-step meeting and began a life-changing journey of recovery from codependency. These years have been a spiritual unfolding into profound sense of freedom and empowerment from within; such a beautiful parallel to the work I have done and continue to do with Freedom Yoga. I’ve learned to set boundaries, let go of people pleasing, and, above all else, be true to myself. This work has enabled me to become disentangled from who or what others say I should be, so that I can bravely reside deeply in my center point, the place of authenticity – the real me – where I find my voice, speak my worth and my truth, and let my gifts shine through.

Without these eight years of recovery, I know I would definitely not be celebrating the second big milestone in my life, and on the very same day, too: March 7, 2017 was the last time I had my hair colored. This is so huge for me. I can’t believe I’ve made it this far, actually. The decision to begin growing in my gray – and whatever color was actually present – was something that I had been agonizing over for years. With all the work I had been doing on letting my genuine and real self come to the surface with Yoga and recovery, I gradually began to experience more and more dissonance with continuing to keep my red hair as vibrant and gray-free as it was when I was in my 20’s.

Everything about the way I practice, teach, and live Yoga calls me to be as real and natural as possible and yet, coloring my hair felt like I was continuously rejecting who I am now, who I have become. I’m such a different person now than I was when I was 20, 30, or even 40. I’m 52 now, with plenty of lines etched into my face. I’ve had so many moments of expressions that this is how my face looks now. Why is the outer appearance of the gift of living for this many years and more considered to be something I should “fight” or not welcome? I love myself now and I love where I am now. Though my stylist is fabulous and I loved the way she made my hair look, the incongruence and inner tension of it being artificial was finally too much to bear. I was ready to really let more of the real me grow in and be seen.

It caused me to really do some serious pondering. What is beauty, really? Gosh, if I do this, what if I turn out to be ugly? Does beauty actually have to do with hair color? And what’s so wrong with gray hair, anyway? It is an outer sign of wisdom and experience, of a lightening that occurs as we soften from the hard edges of youth into a flowering of our true essence. Why is there such an obscure societal pressure for women to cover this up? Why is gray labeled as “distinguished” in men and when a woman goes gray she is seen as “letting herself go?” Why are men allowed by society to age, yet, women are expected to keep looking younger as they age? This is so very bizarre. And why is “young” considered to be a preferred state? Especially, as the quote above says, if age is a privilege denied to many, that means getting old is a privilege afforded to the very few.

So, one year ago, I decided to take damn scary plunge, stop fighting aging, and start embracing this privilege I have been given. Is it possible for me to welcome aging as an outward sign of the wisdom I have collected and integrated during my 52 trips around the sun? God, what if I look terrible, old, ugly, used up? I know, inwardly, I am none of those things, yet, will I be able to look in the mirror as the grays come in and see beauty in there somewhere? I had to find out.

This process of allowing and accepting who I really am has not been easy. This business of growing in my gray feels like a massive transformation that I am working hard to stay open and present to. Unbeknownst to me, I had so much of my identity wrapped up in being a redhead. Letting go of that has been really hard; however, it has been one of the most freeing things I’ve ever done because it has brought me closer to my real identity. Who do I say that I am? There are only two answers: 1) I’m Spirit embodied; the specific and unique self-expression of God/Source/The Divine; truly birthless and deathless…or 2) I’m something separate and apart from Spirit that is marching toward my demise. One answer is true and the other answer is illusion – truth looking like something else.

When I am rooted in my deepest truth (answer #1), I know that I am the Changeless One being this thing called “Carie” for a little while. And the Changeless One always and forever manifests Itself as what looks like constant change, impermanence, and ever-newness. My skin is different, my body is different, my inner world is vastly different, and, of course, my hair is different, too. It just doesn’t make sense to me anymore to chase parts of myself that have changed and are gone, trying to artificially re-create them, and yet be so resistant to embracing what is actually here, now.

Of course, I miss my vibrant red hair, but truth be told, it had lost its natural vibrancy a long time ago. It’s interesting to see a different me in the mirror with such a lovely softness around my face. My eyes feel brighter. I have grown to really love it, actually. My hair now feels like something of a crown, an outer sign of the inner work I’ve been doing for so long, and continue to do. I’m looking forward to it all growing in. It feels so good, like the real me is so much more on the surface of myself than ever before. But I have to stay with it, this process of allowing and acceptance. I do catch myself saying, “You idiot, what are you doing?” Then I smile and realize I’ve gone off to answer #2, take a few breaths, feel the truth, and get myself back to answer #1.