It’s easy to think that travelling has to be into far away countries. But actually, this entire life is a journey. Just like on any other journey, you never know what life will bring you: surprises, disappointments, ups, downs, hellos and goodbyes. Travel is not a cure for anything (not even wanderlust – it just makes it worse!). I guess travel is my way to learn, to grow and to experience new things. That’s why, at the moment, being based in Helsinki, I try to fill the gaps between trips abroad with travel. How do I do it? I go to events such as World Village Festival, take a different route to work, try new restaurants, host Couchsurfers at my apartment and say yes to new experiences. It’s my way of bringing the world to me. It doesn’t make sense to dream about walking in a national park in a faraway country when I have nature at my door step. This doesn’t mean that I’ll stop travelling further away as well! It just means I’m right where I should be and happy about it.
When I found out that two of my favourite yoga teachers (and dear friends), Jack and Hanna, were organizing a yoga retreat an hour away from Helsinki, I knew I had to be part of it. The beginning of the year had been quite tough for me so I felt that this short holiday came at exactly the right time. Held at a Buddhist Retreat Centre on the shore of a serene lake, the retreat would include three days of yoga, meditation, healthy food and self-inquiry.
The last-mentioned scared me. Since the year had not been the best, it felt scary to plug out of the rest of the world and look within. For a long time I’d felt lost – to the point of googling the meaning of life (believe it or not, even Google doesn’t have the answer to everything). What if more questions would reemerge at the retreat and I’d feel even more lost? Since it scared me, I knew it would be good for me.
The retreat started on Thursday night with welcome dinner and yoga class. As the retreat centre is located on the shore of a lake, those who wanted could wind down with a swim and sauna. The next day we continued with meditation, yoga, good food, discussion and writing exercises.
On Friday night, after yin yoga class, we had to team up with a partner and share things that haven’t gone right in our life. After that a silence was announced. The loneliness of being left completely alone with dark thoughts felt overwhelming. I think some of us just felt ready to leave the whole retreat.
On Saturday I felt so annoyed, confused and just lonely. Yoga didn’t inspire me at all and the exercises we did writing or discussing felt totally pointless. The weird thing was, no-one was judging me. I was actually acknowledged for having the integrity to not participate in something that didn’t feel right and for having the vulnerability to cry in front of strangers. It felt refreshing to show your real feelings and still be loved for who you are. I have noticed that the truest of friends stay by your side even when you’re going through tough times. But how could every single one of these eighteen people, most of whom I had known for less than 48 hours, completely accept me for who I am?
I am especially grateful to Jack, who instead of defining me as someone who doesn’t participate, kept pushing until I did. Sometimes you need the help of other people to do something. And even though it was so hard to declare out loud what was hard in life, when I was finally able to do it (between uncontrollable sobs), I felt cleansed.
Every day, someone read a chapter from “Journey to the Heart” by Melody Beattie. It was almost scary how poignant a text that was chosen randomly could be. There were even word-for-word sentences about something that had been discussed prior. After physical and mental exercises that completely drained us, the book gave us hope and encouragement.
Like I said, you don’t have to travel to far away countries to experience a journey. But I never expected so much to happen in such a short time. I felt more emotions in three days than I usually do in three months. On Sunday night, before passing out after the most intense weekend of my life, my favourite quote sprung to mind: “The longest journey you will ever take are the 18 inches from your head to your heart”.