~Josephine Demott Robinson
The retreat was led by two of the most inspiring women I’ve met in a long time: Suzanne Kingsbury, founder of the Gateless Writing method, and Nicole Birkholzer, founder of Mindful Connections, a technique that helps people reconnect with their inner self through connecting with horses (and a goat, as it were).
At the beginning, I was kind of skeptical. I wondered if this would be the kind of woo-woo New Age nonsense that I experienced sixteen years ago in Sedona and that was so flaky that even being a New Ager myself, I just couldn’t stomach it. As in, “Oh, sister, I feel your spirit guide telling my spirit guide that this horse is your long-lost brother-in-law from a former lifetime.”
I was the rebel in Sedona. I was the one with the sarcastic bumper stickers that said, “My spirit guide can beat up your spirit guide,” or “You’re just jealous that the voices talk to me.” Thirteen years in Vermont, dealing with all those wonderful salt-of-the-earth people, have made me even less inclined to tolerate any kind of crap… though I also don’t dismiss anything off hand. I’ve seen too much for that.
Thankfully, the four-day retreat was nothing like what I’d feared. But it also was nothing like I’d expected.
Second, Nicole, our mindfulness coach, was not only a lovely woman but also refreshingly down to earth. Happily, there was no riding involved in the equine-to-human connection. I felt I had dodged a bullet. It was amazing what the horses picked up on, though--at times it seemed as if they were reenacting our own stories and dramas, at other times they were right there in our faces, comforting and nudging and providing a strong back to lean on.
Third, I hadn’t expected how quickly and deeply you can bond with people you write with. It’s such an intimate activity, like making love to each other’s minds and souls. We connected with the horses—or better, allowed the horses to connect with us—and we wrote. And we talked. And laughed. And cried. Especially me.
That was another thing I hadn’t expected, namely how emotional an experience this would be. I had assumed I would get a chance to work on the YA story I had started in Annalisa’s Gateless Writing Salon—something safe, a first-person other, the voice of a fourteen-year-old girl. Just have some fun with it.
I started writing and reading out loud about myself and heard the other women write and read about themselves. I think I cried for three days straight, which is great because now I look like fucking Rocky Balboa after the third round in just about every picture Nicole’s husband took. (Please do not show me any of those pictures, guys—let me remember this retreat as the Me who didn’t look in the mirror for four days.)
My perimenopausal hormone levels have turned me into a total crybaby anyway. I cry at crappy school concerts. I cry during touching scenes in movies. I cry at the sad little faces of dogs and cats in ASPCA commercials. I even cry at the pompous voiceover in the ad for the Law Offices of John H. Whatshisname, “Do you think you may have mesothelioma?”… just because someone, somewhere might have a horrible disease.
But these four days took it to a whole new level. I cried for lost opportunities, for lost friends and lovers, for bittersweet memories of little children and long-gone pets, and most of all, I cried for myself. I noticed how all our stories, all our lives were connected, and through our sharing they turned us from a loose gathering of strangers into family, a tribe.
It was an unforgettable experience, and I’m grateful to Suzanne Kingsbury and Nicole Birkholzer, and all the strong and beautiful women who shared their indomitable spirits in their writing and interactions with the horses and each other.