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