On Retreating to Tuscany

I recently went on a yoga/writing/living retreat called On Being Human, run by the fabulous Jen Pastiloff.


Below is a piece I wrote, reflecting on this wonderful experience.  Photo credit for almost the photos goes to the amazingly talented Barbara Potter, retreat photographer.


On Retreating to Tuscany

In Florence, you walk and talk, eat and drink, until everything tight begins to let go. On the Ponte Vecchio it occurs to you for the first time that bridges are really meant to bring people closer. You decide that Aperol is underrated, believe you might start something new in this country that changes everything about you, and hope that it doesn’t hurt too much. You drop three coins into the receptacle in front of the Madonna statue, the change clinking loudly as you light a candle and wonder vaguely what else you could pray for, having arrived here.

In Tuscany, the skies are close. The stars swoop down and brush your cheek when you look up into the night. The red and violet streaks of sunset caress the faces of the women by the pool. The branches of the olive tree catch the early morning fog as it recedes over the thick green hills. Your soul skips over the horizon, gleeful, thrilled to finally see you again.

In retreat, you find your heart opens, bit by bit, until an almost uncomfortable gush of love floods out. Love pumps for everything – for the women you travel with, for your tender feet that traversed the miles of cobblestones, for the dog that pants loudly at your feet during meditation, for the ones you lost who hover nearby – gossamer spirits basking in the scent of lavender and burning wood.

In quiet moments, you lift your pen, but find it dry. You think of home, but can barely recall the declarations you made there. You stretch your neck, trying to sit tall as you meditate, but find the hammock calls to you instead. You wander down the road with the dog and find a creek of bliss, peace pooling at your feet. The hound leaps into the water with abandon. You cry.

Late at night, the wine flows, the chatter grows, you try to invent new ways to say I love you. You laugh so hard your ribs have to stretch wide in a gaping bone-grin, your full belly falling out like a secret you once found embarrassing. Someone rests her hand on your shoulder and you feel the connection down to your toes. I’ll hold on if you do.

In morning yoga your limbs reach up, grasping for understanding. Your toes sink down into the lessons you’ve learned, the Om of many women lifts your heart right from your body, a cardiac transcendence. You stand like a tree, hoping for balance. You giggle as you fall.

In Florence again, we part at the train station like a scene from a Greta Garbo movie. We stand awkwardly in the sun, sticky with sweat, gelato and tears. We press our lips to someone’s cheek, feel arms wrapped tightly around us. We imagine a way we might all meet again. We place one finger to our heart, one to the earth, and bind our souls with love.

We are thinking already of the miles and journeys before us: shaking trains, long walks, airports, taxis, memories, phone calls, missed connections, new connections, the hollowness of being alone again, the power of being known.   Our last wave goodbye is like a ripple in the sea moving across the water, our hearts caught in the current. We set out across the ocean of love, tied to one another, but freer than ever before.