Group Hike


South River Falls

South River Falls



I adore all the options for outdoor adventure that Central Virginia has to offer but often lack the time (and patience) to round up friends and organize an outing.  Thank goodness for the Charlottesville Hiking Group, a nice collection of people from varying backgrounds who I discovered on Meetup that like to hike together.  Following a simple registration process (approximately 5 mins) I became a member and now am alerted by email of hikes ranging from easy to difficult.  It is perfect for people like me whose energies are scattered amongst many things and suddenly find myself with a little time without having made any plans.

All I had to do was click “yes” on a hike that looked interesting that fit into my schedule and – presto- I had an instant group of people with whom to enjoy said hike. Today was my first CHG hike.  Our wonderful guide, Jody, led us on a hike to South River Falls in Shenandoah National Park.  A moderate hike, I was a tad nervous due to the unexpected lingering snow in the higher elevation.  But the trail was in good shape and Jody was ready with aide when a member of our party slipped resulting in a gash in the leg.  (Everyone was able to complete the hike.) The group was friendly, the hike was good exercise while boasting beautiful scenery- everyone seemed to enjoy the morning thoroughly including our injured friend.

I will definitely go on more hikes with this group.  It is a fantastic way to learn about more hiking options in a safe, group atmosphere.

Plus Jody recommended a Mexican restaurant that I will try out tonight.  Will let you know what I think.

Half spring, half winter, the trail alternated from sunny to slushy in the early spring morning.

Half spring, half winter, the trail alternated from sunny to slushy in the early spring morning.



Henley Street High: Internship Program Offers Many Lessons


Collection of Henley Street Interns for Julius Caesar.

Collection of Henley Street Interns for Julius Caesar.


In the world of arts “on-the-job” experience is as important (if not, sometimes, more important) than a degree in the field when one is being considered for a job.  The catch is how to get experience if you need it to get a job in the first place?  Henley Street Theatre Company helps young people solve this problem by offering an internship program for high school students. “It is our responsibility to nurture and educate the next generation of arts supporters,” explains Managing Director, Jacquie O’Connor. “We believe that by offering programs such as these, we will not only generate interest in what the Richmond theatre community has to offer, but also stimulate learning about the power of theatre.”

The program sponsored by the Moses D. Nunnally, Jr. Charitable Trust allows high schoolers to explore career options in live theatre. “Henley Street really believes that live theatre is a wonderful way to excite young and old minds alike! Getting a taste for the “realities’ of theatre (which are not as glamorous as one might think, but joyful beyond measure) really helps students decide if this is the path they want to take,” says O’Connor. Students can apply for internship positions in acting, stage management, costumes, set design and construction, lighting, sound and properties. As a bonus a $100.00 stipend for their time – which might cover the cost of gas going to and from the theatre on most week nights and weekend days for the four to eight weeks required depending on the choice of internship.

“By working on a theatrical production students are learning how to work as a team and how to look at a task and problem solve how it gets done- really important life skills in addition to specific job skills,” says O’Connor.  Some of the interns come with professional goals in mind while others just want to learn more about how professional theatre works. Ben Fox, a 16 year old tenth grader who attends the Steward School is enjoying an acting internship for Henley Street’s upcoming production of Julius Caesar. He is playing Brutus’ servant, Lucius and is part of the ensemble. “ I love Shakespeare, and I have always had positive experiences watching and working on Henley Street shows,” he says. “ I am gaining connections to fantastic Richmond area actors and learning from James how a professional show is put together.”

Sixteen year old, Kennedy Lorenzen, a tenth grader at Deep Run High who interned on The Search for Signs of Intelligent Life in the Universe has returned to the program to work with costume designer, Margarette Joyner. Though she plans to be a restauranteur later in life, she believes that interning has given her a different perspective on how live theater happens. She says, “I can now admire everything in a show.” Her return costume intern friend, Charlotte Adams, a 16 year old junior at Collegiate, who aspires to be an actress/costumer hopes the internship will help with her career. “I want to be an actress, but I also have a passion for clothes, so I would love to pursue a career in both of those,” she says. “I was a costume intern at Henley Street Theatre last year for their production of Lord of the Flies and really enjoyed it, so when I saw that they were offering costume internships again this year, I jumped at it. This year I am gaining experience in the organization and production of costumes for a period show.”

“I wanted to try doing a Shakespeare show because it looked like a lot of fun,” says Diego Salinas, a 17 year old junior from Atlee High School who is playing Trebonius in Julius Caesar. “I am learning a lot about acting from this internship. I’ve seen characters portrayed in a very realistic way in this show and it has given me a new perspective on acting and interacting.”

But the life lessons learned are not always about theatre or team work. Lorenzen recalls a “running with scissors” moment behind scenes. “The other day I was helping with costumes, and I decided to work and watch the cast perform. Right when I finished, I picked up the seven long shirts, grabbed my scissors, and the pins. As soon as I started to walk up the marble stairs, I began to fall. I threw the scissors across the hallway and the two actors who were Julius Caesar and Brutus were right there and helped me get up. I was so embarrassed.”

Regardless of the types of lessons learned, their work with Henley Street is an important stepping stone for their futures. Says Fox of his ambitions for acting, “My next steps are to continue working on plays and making connections with people who will help me experience the art of stage performance to its fullest.”  But the interns are not the only people gaining from the internship experience. “The most rewarding  thing that we gain from the interns,  something I hear from every mentor that works with them, is that these kids come to the table with fresh, bold, unaffected ideas.  They remind us that its OK to be daring and take a leap of faith in our work.  They keep us young.”

And that is what makes good theatre.


Emily Dickenson Party at the Bridge

This looks like a fun event organized by C-ville’s poet/playwright/all around fun guy, Browning Porter.  This info taken from the FB page for the event:

Poet Paul Legault has translated all 1,789 of Emily Dickinson’s poems into modern English one-liners. The funny, sexy, profound results make up The Emily Dickinson Reader, published last year by McSweeney’s Books.

Come celebrate this fine achievement, not only with Paul, but with Emily herself, along with a bit of her entourage. Paul and Emily will trade verses and meaningful looks. Now is your chance to request your favorites. Then we dance! Paul himself deejays. Victorian dress is optional.

Poet and storyteller Browning Porter hosts the evening. Mendy St. Ours will embody our Emily, and Dee Dee Stewart will be her Sue. Sponsored by Tupelo Press, Four County Players, and The Virginia Festival of the Book.


Sad to miss it as I will be out of town. But you guys should go and have a blast!

The PCA notes some cool stuff around C-ville

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Paul Legault
Poet Paul Legault
For more LITERARY events, click HERE!
Emily Dickinson Afterparty
Friday, March 22, 8:00pm
Poet Paul Legault has translated all 1,789 of Emily Dickinson’s poems into modern English one-liners. The funny yet profound results make up The Emily Dickinson Reader, published last year by McSweeney’s Books.
Come hear Legault read from his book along with Emily Dickinson herself (performed in costume by local actor Mendy St. Ours). Poet and storyteller Browning Porter will host.
Immediately after the reading, Legault himself will deejay a dance party for all attendees.
This event is FREE and open to the public.
209 Monticello Road
Charlottesville, VA 22902
Natasha Trethewey 
Saturday, March 23, 2:00pm
U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey reads from her latest collection, Thrall, at the recently opened Jefferson School African American Heritage Center.
In 2007, Trethewey won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book Native Guard. Her two previous books are Domestic Work, selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the Cave Canem Poetry Prize, and Bellocq’s Ophelia.
You can watch an interview with Threthewey on PBS here and learn about her creative process in this article from The Atlantic.
This event is FREE and open to the public.
233 4th Street NW
Charlottesville, VA 22903
(434) 409-5424
Natasha Tretheway
Natasha Trethewey
For more LITERARY events, click HERE! 
Dana Tanamachi
Dana Tanamachi
For more VISUAL ARTS events, click HERE!
Artist Talk & Workshop
Sunday, March 24, 2:00-4:00pm
In partnership with PCA, New City Arts hosts graphic designer Dana Tanamachi for an artist talk and hand lettering workshop.

In 2012, Tanamachi had the honor of creating custom cover art for O and TIME magazines. You can watch a video of her at work here.
Tanamachi will share stories and images, followed by a Q&A. Afterward, participants will take part in a short chalk exercise at The Community Chalkboard outside CitySpace.
The cost of this workshop is $10. Advance registration is required. Please email Maureen to reserve a seat.
100 5th Street NE

Charlottesville, VA 22902

(434) 971-2787
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Monday, April 1, 8:00pm
The Carolina Chocolate Drops burst onto the national scene in 2010 when their debut album won “Best Traditional Folk Album” at the Grammy Awards.
The trio proved that the old-time, fiddle and banjo-based music is an ever-evolving sound. Their songs highlight the central role African-Americans played in shaping our nation’s popular music.
The New York Times has declared their concerts to “an end-to-end display of excellence.”
Tickets cost $22 in advance ($25 day of the show) and may be purchased online.
110 E. Main Street
Charlottesville, VA 22902
(434) 245-4980
Carolina Chocolate Drops
Carolina Chocolate Drops
For more MUSIC events, click HERE!
Brutus in Julius Ceasar
Rene Thornton, Jr. in Julius Caesar
For more THEATRE events, click HERE!
Julius Caesar

Thursday, April 4, 7:30pm
In this profound tragedy, William Shakespearedramatizes the conspiracy to assassinate the Roman dictator Julius Caesar in 44 BC.

Read a glowing review of the American Shakespeare Center’s production of Julius Caesar in the C-VILLE Weekly.
Following the show, audience members are invited to participate in a TalkBack with the actors.
Tickets cost $16-$40 and may be purchasedonline.
10 S. Market Street
Staunton, VA 24401
(540) 851-1733


Cafe 007 Surprises



Part of the eclectic culture of Central Virginia are the diverse educational opportunities.   Thomas Jefferson obviously thought a good education was important by virtue of creating a fine University.  But there is another school in Charlottesville practically in the shadow of Monticello (OK, it is across Rt. 20 but within a mile and a half) that would probably please Mr. Jefferson just as well via its commitment to infusing creativity with nurture of the intellect and stewardship for the earth.  I refer to the Tandem Friends School.  Tandem or just Tandem, as it is lovingly known, used to have a reputation as a place where rich hippies sent their kids who didn’t fit into mainstream educational institutions.  It is different now in that it is more a place where independent spirits collect and though there is still an air of crunchiness to it, there is a diverse mix of kids in attendance who somehow peacefully meld into a cohesive, self-governing student body.  It is a very cool place. It is where my daughter has chosen to learn.

Never more exposed to the Tandem magic was I than last night at the 7th grade’s presentation of Cafe 007, a live production of original skits, musical performances and songs.  I have often wondered how Tandem, a small school of about 200 students scattered across 8 grade levels, boasted so many talented students.  Most  Tandem students are involved in the arts in some major way. They act in local theater companies, make their own films, play musical instruments, write and direct plays, sing in regional choral groups and win national recitation competitions. It is INCREDIBLE how creative these kids are.  At any rate, last night I got a peek into why…

The arts are given as much weight in the curriculum as anything else.

In the middle school there is a cracker jack artistic team and in the case of Cafe 007 it is the formidable Lydia Horan who brings out the gifts of each student with a steady stream of positive energy and a knack for recognizing how best to display each student’s talents.  She takes a bunch of hormone crazed 12 and 13 year olds and channels their energy into something truly entertaining. (I am not being nice because this is my child’s class. If you are familiar with my work as a theatre critic you know how merciless I am when it comes to quality performance – I take no prisoners and no one has asked me to give my opinion. I simply want to share how utterly impressed I am.)

The theme of the show was Freedom, Friendship and Foolery.  It opened with a riff on the popular Gangnam Style dance in a number titled Freedom Tandem Style in which the kids were introducing a new student to the different aspects of Tandem life that are representative of the looser feel of the school than traditional institutions.  It was hilarious!  A raucous opening to the show that set the tone for the  high-caliber  humor  these kids produced throughout the evening which gave an interesting perspective into the collective tween life perspective.   There were funny spoofs on insider things like the Wild World of Meeting for Worship, (Meeting for Worship being a Quaker tradition regularly practiced at the school) in which various behaviors of students attempting to sit quietly are described by a biologist type character as though he were explaining the behaviors of wild animals. There were skits mocking icons of current popular culture like America’s Got Talent, Honey Boo Boo, Epic Rap Battle and Cups.  There were skits about other things dominating their world like teachers, identity (nerds, superheroes, what it is like to be old) and life experiences such as going on a family vacation. A couple of student made short films were shown.  Several kids played musical instruments. Poems were recited.  Two pairs performed numbers from classic Broadway musicals (Friendship from Anything Goes and Anything You Can Do from Annie Get Your Gun).  Monty Python characters and an original character called Grandpa Calder were running themes – a classic comedic device. One student performed an original song a capella and another read an original short story. Both were quite impressive displaying knowledge of structure and story arch.

It was never a dull moment! I was particularly struck by the quality of the show.  These kids are sophisticated and funny I was surprised.  Honestly, going into the show I thought I would just be playing the role of supportive parent but I really had a great time.

My one regret is an obligation to see a different show tonight meaning I will miss the second and final performance of Cafe 007.

Cafe 007 plays at the TFS Community Hall tonight at 7:00pm. Tickets are $8 for adults and $6.00 for students and seniors.


The Richmond Men’s Chorus under the direction of Tim Gillham will be presenting this amazing concert on March 24th at 4pm in Richmond. The music is all related to bullying and positive youth image. Among the selections are Randi Driscoll’s marvelous “What Matters” featured in The Matthew Shephard Story and Steven Schwartz’s haunting and uplifting “Testament”, with lyrics drawn from the “It Gets Better Project”.  Also, The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington DC’s incredible acapella ensemble Potomac Fever and Slam Richmond (a youth group of slam poets) will be joining the chorus.

A Concert in Support of the
“It Gets Better Project”
Video 5 of 6 – Sean


(Click image to see Sean’s video)

The Richmond Men’s Chorus will present EVERYTHING POSSIBLE: A Concert in Support of the “It Gets Better Project”; with special guests, Potomac Fever, Slam Richmond – Youth and Q94’s Jackson Scott.
Directed by Artistic Director and RMC Director, Timothy Gillham, EVERYTHING POSSIBLE: A Concert in Support of the “It Gets Better Project” will be performed Sunday, March 24 at 4:00pm at VCU’s W. E. Singleton Center for the Performing Arts, 922 Park Avenue, Richmond.

Discount advance general seating ($15, $10 senior (55+) and student) can be purchased online at Brown Paper Tickets or at the door ($20, $15 senior/student).

For more information, please e-mail or call 804-241-0446.

Monument City Music
PO Box 14523
Richmond, VA 23221-0523


Our Mission:  Musical excellence to inspire, entertain, educate, and unite our communities.

For more information about the choruses visit!

In the Next Room (the vibrator play) as reviewed by novelist Sophie Couch

A Review of In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)

Interesting that the titillating subject matter – the vibrator – receives all the attention. Because truly, this wonderful play was about so much more than the “devices”. For the most part a comedy, IN THE NEXT ROOM, was at moments heart wrenching and heart warming.

The production, written by Sarah Ruhl and currently running at Live Arts ( in Charlottesville, VA, under the direction of Julie Hamberg, takes a look at the dawn of electricity, the dawn of a sexual revolution, and the dawning intimacy between a husband and wife, previously constrained by the social conventions of the Victorian era.

A cast of talented actors bring the play to life with immaculate timing and chemistry. The Live Arts’ team of volunteers continue to raise the bar with regard to sets, props, lighting, sound, and costumes. (Oh my. The costumes which are donned… and peeled… as needs demand… on stage!)

The final scene elicited a collective “awww” from the audience, which so well summed up the production. We can giggle at the subject matter all we want, (and this is a VERY funny production with some great sight gags), but in the end, it’s the story of a couple discovering an intimacy in their staid, Victorian relationship that requires no “devices”.

Sofie Couch is a novelist from Charlottesville, Virginia. When not raising a pa’r-a-normal young adults and living a romantic comedy, she writes in those same genres… or the occasional review when a truly worthy production requires it.


IN THE NEXT ROOM (the vibrator play) is playing at Live Arts in Charlottesville on selected dates through March 23rd. Click here for more information.

As Blah as Any Given Monday



Here are my thoughts on ANY GIVEN MONDAY, which closed last Saturday night.

My mother saw this show and said it was one of the funniest show she had ever seen – one of the best evenings of theater she had experienced in Richmond in her 30+ years as a regular season subscriber to many local theater companies.

I failed to see what she saw in it but to each her own.

The script was funny enough, a man acts out a lifelong fantasy in an effort to support his friend who is suffering from the pain of his wife leaving him for another man, but the script had its flaws and for me fell completely flat halfway into the second act where I found myself gazing around the room and thinking, “Crap, I could be snuggled up in my comfy bed right now instead of here enduring this drivel.” At that point Lenny, played by David T. Zimmerman and Starlet Knight (would make an excellent burlesque stage name), who played Lenny’s wife, Risa, were engaged in a non-plot moving conversation that had something to do with her affair or conditions on her returning home or something- I can’t even remember it was that tedious.

Part of the problem with this production was a complete lack of connection between any of the characters, a directorial problem rather than a script issue.  The show was horribly miscast.   Zimmerman must be almost the same age as Kerry McGee who played his daughter, Sarah while, Knight,  had on make-up that made her look much older than Zimmerman and so pale under the lights against her shock of red hair that I was reminded of the Joker of the Batman Cartoon series.  Although Nicholas Aliff who played Mickey the friend of Lenny, seemed a contemporary of the latter, the two had zero chemistry and seemed oddly matched as friends.

Ahhhh,chemistry, that mysterious element that binds a cast together and makes their character relationships believable.  Directors are responsible for generating chemistry between actors when it is organically absent and there was none that I could discern amongst this group. This is surprising as Director, Shanea N. Taylor, is usually better at this. It was like watching four different monologues happening simultaneously.

There were props issues as well.  All the action takes place in the family room of Lenny and Risa’s home.  There is considerable emphasis on Risa’s concern for the preservation of the furniture implying high-end stuff.  Her costumes and manner would also indicate sophisticated taste while the room was furnished inconsistently, a light blue velour covered Lay Z Boy chair paired with a contemporary couch covered with a striped wool blanket and a light-colored inexpensive chest for a coffee table.  The decor of the room didn’t make sense for the character’s taste and the demands of the script.  It was more “early attic” than coordinated chic.

I did enjoy the concept behind the play of carrying out a murder and the philosophical implications of that action. In fact despite the “connection” problems, I enjoyed the first act fairly well. But maybe I missed something regarding the collective whole. Who knows.  I honestly have to give this one a “C-” grade.  It just seems like the level of talent involved with this show could do better even considering the flaws of the script.

Looking forward to TIME STANDS STILL in April.

A Take on Cyrano from Peter Coy

Boomie Pedersen just sent the information below.  It is always exciting to witness the birth of a play.  I am hoping to squeeze this into my theatre  going schedule this weekend and see how it is shaping up.

See you at the theatre!


Blustery Spring Greetings from the Hamner Theater!
“Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night, stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds.”  Thus said Herodotus in 503 BC but he might well have been speaking of this production of MOSTLY CYRANO, or in fact of any production of a brand new play.  So much is unknown, so much is unexpected and then there are the curve balls hurled by life and nature…but we have persisted and proudly present MOSTLY CYRANO, a brand new play by Peter Coy, directed by the playwright.  This is a joint production with PlayOn! Theatre and we are delighted to be collaborating with our friends at the IX Building.
Opening this Friday, March 15 and running through Sunday, March 24, MOSTLY CYRANO features an ensemble cast of 8 actors – Kate Adamson, Christian Anderson, Allison Bowers, Pam Burke, Koli Cutler, Corey Johnson, Kevin O’Donnell and Ken Valentine are the company that has been charged with putting on a production of Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac.
Performances are at 8pm Thursday through Saturday and at 2pm on Sundays.  Tickets ($14 – $18) are available in advance through the PlayOn! website ( and at the door.  Seating is general admission – the house will open 30 minutes before curtain. For questions please call the PlayOn! Box Office at 434-872-0184.
MOSTLY CYRANO is a new play in development and your response will help the playwright have a real sense of how his play works and help him as he works toward the next iteration of the script.  There will be a post-performance talkback after the first Sat. show (March 16) and the second Friday show (March 22).  Please come be part of the conversation!
Spring is on its way at last…make a trip to the theater part of your celebration! will tell you where all the performances are.

Boomie Pedersen
Artistic Director
The Hamner Theater

Thoughts on a Silent Retreat at Yogaville




Mindfulness is a big part of our culture here in Charlottesville.  I should know because I wrote about it for VIRGINIA LIVING magazine and posted the article recently.  (click here to read that article).  After researching Yogaville for the article, I decided it would be fun to really experience the place so I signed up for a Silent Retreat over New Years.  Below are some of my thoughts.  Yogaville is a fantastic resource for mindfulness in Central Virginia. I would say it planted the seed for mindfulness in the area but somehow I think the seed was already planted and Swami Satchidananda felt that energy and decided to put his Ashram here because of it. Regardless of which came first, it is worth a visit to get your mindful tun-up.


“Yogaville Silent retreat Day 1: 12/28/2012: Going silent

I have moved into a post- holiday grumpy phase causing me to complain within seconds of picking up Christina, my friend who is joining me on this 5 Day Silent retreat.  It is not advisable to do this sort of thing with friends because it is too tempting to communicate, to come out from the purative silence but we didn’t know that when we decided to go and no one warned us when we signed up.  At any rate we are driving down Rt. 20 on a cloudy early winter’s day towards Buckingham County and Yogaville, the largest Ashram in the United States where we plan to spend the next several days without talking and practicing minimal communication with the outside world.


It is an easy drive.  One right turn basically onto rt. 626 and Yogaville is on  the right after about ten miles.  We are a bit early and registration is not ready but we are assigned a room, ironically numbered 42.  I say ironically because according to the Douglas Adams Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, the answer to the Universal Question of the meaning of life is 42.  I wonder if someone has assigned me this number on purpose.


Post registration, is a guided meditation or yoga class.  Christina and I decide to do the yoga class but mistakenly end up in the deep relaxation/guided meditation.  I realize the mistake about ten minutes into the class and decide that it is a yogic sign that this is where I needed to be all along – a “you are in the right place at the right time” sort of thing or a more Freudian interpretation, “There are no mistakes”.

It is magical and I am more relaxed than I can recall in recent memory.  Perhaps this is because I am mentally ready to be relaxed, to let go.  I have prepared this space, these five days, on purpose to be a right of passage to prepare me for marking my 50th Birthday- I am creating a rebirth, if you will, into the second half of my life (Yes, I really do expect to live to 100).


After the class there is a group meditation. I am totally mellow for this and see images and colors.  I am very still, thanks in a large part, I am sure, to the deep relaxation guided meditation I just experienced.  The 30 minutes pass quickly then it is time for one of Yogaville’s famous vegetarian meals.  We take advantage of our last hour of talking by getting to know some of the folks joining us in Silence for the next few days- after all it is our last chance for a long while.  It feels strange asking questions like, “From where did you come?” and “What made you decide to try a silent retreat?” when, if this process works the way I am told, we will know these people better than we can possibly imagine without verbal communication by the end of the retreat.


I struggle to keep from talking to Christina on the way back to our room.  I am tired and look forward to the events to the next day where I will definitely practice some asana (yoga poses).  Up at 5:30am so it is off to bed early.”


This is just the beginning of a mental, emotional, physical and spiritual journey I took from December 28th to January 1, 2012. The following days proved a roller coaster ride of emotions as I meditated, attended workshops, engaged in service work, hiked in the woods, journaled, sang kirtan, listened to inspirational messages from the Swami himself, ate an organic vegetarian diet and generally immersed myself in a yogic lifestyle.


Over the course of the retreat many profound things happened but the things that stand out are the experience of being silent, a workshop in Laugha yoga and a visit to Swami Satchidananda’s home,  Ananda Kutir. The five days had a surprisingly profound effect on me physically  and mentally which can only be described as a utter relaxation. But it is important to note that the relaxation did not happen all at once but in minuscule graduations and that it was fairly difficult.


Silence, as I learned, is simultaneously liberating and inhibiting. It was suggested that while in silence we even avoid eye contact with people in order to prohibit any kind of communication.  The reason for this is to allow one to be completely with their thoughts. It worked but it was frustrating.  At first, I was so wrapped up in the goal of being silent that I was very serious about avoiding any kind of communication.  The Universe soon set me straight.  The first full day of the retreat a member of the kitchen staff pulled me aside to discuss my participation in a karma yoga experience where I would be helping prepare dinner.  I was upset enough that he asked me a question verbally but devastated that I had answered without hesitation therefore breaking my silence.  I almost cried.  Then I realized that I had been placing too much emphasis on the wrong thing, the act of being silent for a specific amount of time, and having broken that silence had freed myself from the expectation therefore easing up- just what I needed.  Only then was I able to deeply focus on and objectively observe my thoughts which I discovered were mostly stupid and shallow- very disappointing.  I listened to myself judge, complain, whine and self loath to the point where it was a pleasure to quiet the mind.  I learned that most of what I would have said to people was fairly unnecessary and the majority of my thoughts were as well.

It was astounding to me how much energy I expended each day on trivial stuff like remarking on the weather or complimenting someone on an article of clothing.


Working on changing these thought patterns was quite emotional.  The retreat offered a variety of ways to do this.  There were daily yoga and meditation sessions, chats on nutrition, meditation, karma yoga opportunities (the act of service without expectation of reward), creative workshops like coloring mantras and creating vision boards, music, darma talks, chances to hike in the woods, a kirtan (singing of mantras) and more.


It was also difficult to restrain from expressing myself verbally. I wanted to know things about the people around me. Where were they from?  Why a silent new years?  Why did they choose Yogaville as a destination for spiritual study? Things that really would not make any difference in our spiritual quests.


We were not expected to be totally silent, however.  In fact we were encouraged to participate in chanting and singing mantras. Personally, I dislike dogma so this was difficult for me.  And like me, other people in the group became very somber and serious in their practice of silence.


The break came in the form of a Laugha yoga workshop.  Through a variety of expressive exercises the participants laughed in different ways and related to each other while experiencing first hand the healing power of laughter.  It was just what I needed to lighten up.  We laughed for 40 minutes then had a 30 minute guided Shivasana or prone meditation.  It was sublime.  I felt rejuvenated.  All the cells in my body were awakened and infused with joy.  I so enjoyed it, I even signed up for the training to teach Laugha Yoga later in the year.


All my grumpiness was gone after the Laugha Yoga session.  It was the release I had needed until the very end of the retreat when all the participants sat in one circle and each had a turn saying something about the retreat.


Visiting Ananda Kutir, was also and extremely powerful experience.  Yogi’s believe that the soul simply passes through bodily experiences and that the essence or energy of a person exists eternally.  Being a skeptic, I have little faith in the power of shrines but wanted to visit Swami Satchidanada’s home for a meditation session anyway.  I am glad I did.  Two totally unexpected and in my world rather bizarre things happened.  The first was the deepest meditation I have yet experienced.  I saw the Swami’s face and had a conversation with him in my head.  Until this time, I had only experienced seeing colors and some limited images during deep meditations so seeing his face and hearing his voice was astounding to me.  I won’t share the content of our conversation but I will tell you that Gurudev as he is called at the Ashram, is a funny guy with a great sense of humor.  The second thing that happened was downright mystical. I have a set of three silver rings made by a Tibetan monk that I have worn almost every day for the last four years without ever cleaning them which had mede them rather dull over the years. On a whim, I placed them on a tray before the meditation session to be blessed by the spirit of the Swami.  At the end of the session, I absent-mindedly slid them back on my left ring finger without really looking at them.  Hours later I looked down at them and noticed that they were shining like new – and they are still at this writing two-and-a-half months later! Make your own conclusions here regarding what happened to the rings but I will tell you that I did not clean them or do anything differently with them.


Listening to each person share at the end of the retreat was perhaps the most surprising thing of all.  These 59 other people were so different in reality compared to what I had imagined them to be.  Their voices were different, their backgrounds were different. The things that stood out in their minds as important were different than what I had thought.  It was incredible.  I realized how wrong I was about most of them which  made me think about the hundreds of judgements I make about strangers (and non-strangers) every day and how likely those judgements are equally inaccurate. I realized that though it is important to be discerning it is better to be patient and learn what people are really about rather than categorizing them instantly.


This is a difficult lesson to learn for someone who has survived for years by carefully observing people’s actions and reactions as a way of self preservation.  But we can only do what we can do and as was reinforced through this Silent Retreat experience, change happens in small steps every day rather than in occasional giant leaps.


By the end of the retreat I was in a peaceful place.  The perpetual tension in my shoulders had released to painless ease.  I was glowing with peace and love for myself and my fellow humans. An adventure well worth taking. 🙂


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