Within minutes of getting to the base camp I realized that the physical challenge was just one small part of the journey I was embarking on, and I needed to take a few moments to acknowledge that I was putting my trust for my safety and my basic needs such as food, water, and shelter in the hands of people I had just met. I realized that this was going to be a challenge on so many more levels than just the physical. I was ready.
The coordinator had done a wonderful job of selecting participants who were up for all aspects of the journey and I think we were all pleasantly surprised to discover she was coming with us. We spent the first night at the camp and it gave us all a chance to adjust to our new gear, sleeping outside, and each other. It was nice easing in to the journey we would embark on the following morning.
It was that first morning together riding in the van to the trail head that I came to understand the true gift of being selected for this particular course. This was the Women of Courage course, and as I listened to the women speak to each other and begin sharing parts of their unique stories with one another, I was deeply moved by an overwhelming feeling of being amongst kindred souls. They were speaking my language, and their compassion and wisdom filled the van with such depth of being that I found my heart bursting. I don’t know if anyone knew how special that ride was for me. The other women all seemed to have had other experiences of sharing stories of courage and survival with other women but for me it was unexpected and a first and it had a deep and profound impact on me. I came to understand that this was to be an entirely different kind of journey than I had anticipated… and it was.
Two weeks prior to the trip my marriage had come to an abrupt and surprising end. I had considered cancelling the trip because I was in pretty rough shape emotionally. I am grateful I did not. For on the trail, on the beaches, amongst the women, and under the stars I found peace and authenticity of self. I spent time each day inwardly reflecting on my feelings and I was graced with serenity that I think came from being out away from everything.
As we walked through the forests I let my memories of the past rise up, creating new memories and reclaiming my ability to laugh and enjoy being in the outdoors. As we walked along the beaches I discovered strength in my body. As we walked along the muddy and rugged trails I discovered how capable I truly was. As we broke down and set up camps every day I discovered I could navigate between taking time for myself and spending time with others authentically. As I lay in my tent listening to the ocean I faced being alone and I discovered being connected to something so much bigger than myself. It filled up my cup and gave me back a foundation with myself that carried me far when I returned home to clean up and move on from the wreckage I had left behind. And now I carry it in my heart that when my soul needs some healing, or some rest, I can go out into the woods, or beaches or anywhere in nature and find that for myself.
My course mates will tell you a story of me losing my only spoon, of how crushed I felt knowing it was only day two and I had nothing to eat with. How I bounced back and found a shell at the first beach we came to and happily ate my dinner that evening with a smile on my face and gratitude in my heart just to be able to eat. They would also tell you that after dinner when my shell did not come back from the ocean where the dishes were washed that my body tensed and tears welled up in my eyes as I again tried to find acceptance and trust in the situation. I would tell you that over the following days all of my sisters brought to me shell after shell in acts of kindness and comradery. I would tell you that inside I had to let go of attachment, anger, the need to control. That inside I came to understand that I would be fine without a spoon or my favourite shell that was inlaid with abalone and so clean it might have come from a shop. We could all tell you of the morning where I turned my head to see an old encrusted fork lying beside me on the driftwood and how my face lit up. How I cleaned and polished that fork till it shone. How I ate with it for the rest of the trip with absolute delight and pride. Never in a million years would I have believed that I would joyfully eat from someone else’s fork that had been abandoned dirty on a beach, that just was not even to be imagined. But I grew on that trip. I learned to let go and let go and let go, and in the process, I found everything I needed including an old fork that I cherished. When we arrived back at base camp and my original spoon fell out of the backpack of one of my mates, all heads turned to see what I would do. I looked up smiled and laughed, for I would not have traded what I learned and what I gained for all the spoons in the world."