I spent last week in a jaw-droppingly gorgeous part of the Kootenay mountains,halfway between Nelson and Revelstoke, in a little town called Argenta for the Medicine Hoop Retreat hosted by Jen ‘Cookie’ Cookson. We were basically in the middle of nowhere. I don’t think I’ve ever been somewhere quite so remote… I drove for hours without cell service out (which definitely makes it seem like the middle of the wilderness). After taking a Ferry, I turned onto a secondary highway which was a little more rustic (ie- twisty, turny high mountain dirt logging road) that I expected. It was so gorgeous it took my breath away (it wasn’t the heights or the fact that driving off the road would mean instant death, I swear!).
Fortunately it was early in the day and the weather was clear, so I just slowed down and enjoyed the view coming with all the hairpin switchback turns. The lake, the forest, the mountains with the clouds nestled gently into them, the wild flowers, the random waterfalls. It was unreal. I couldn’t even listen to music, all I could do on the drive was drink in the gorgeousness of the landscape.
When I reached my friend Cookie’s house (an adorable log cabin, next to fields with cows and bulls), she was shocked to see me. I made great time she said. Apparently, most people take the main highway, and it takes at least an extra hour (and it’s paved, and goes through some beautiful towns instead of the wilderness). I, however, trusted google maps, and honestly, I’m so happy I did. It was totally worth it.
I spent the day with Jen, who gave me the tour of the property, taking me through the forest, by the river and through the fields. It was so peaceful, yet invigorating. I hadn’t seen Jen since Bali last year, so there was a lot of catching up to do and hugs to be had. We talked about life, love, food and the retreat we were hosting that weekend while we wandered.
The next day, as we were waiting for the retreat participants to arrive, I decided to dislocate my pinky toe by slamming it onto her staircase landing. I popped it back in place and thought it might not be so bad… It didn’t really hurt (yet), but all I had to do was give it a minute. I rarely take over the counter medication, but I always travel with some pain killers, so when I realized that yes, it was going to be incredibly painful I popped some ibuprofen with a muscle relaxer and asked Jen to make some coffee so the caffeine would kick it ASAP.
Bless her, she made me some rocket fuel and set me up outside, under a gorgeous tree in a zero G lounge chair with coffee, ice for my foot and the book ‘The Dalai Lama’s Cat’. I sat there, under the blue sky, looking at the trees and the mountain with the hint of cloud dressing it up like a fluffy fascinator and I felt no pain. Just peace. I was so well taken care of. If I had to injure myself, this was an ok place to recuperate.
Two of our guests (friends Cookie made in Bali, my new friends) arrived after driving up from the States, and we spend the afternoon getting to know each other, exclaiming at how beautiful it was and then heading out to a farm to pick out some veggies for the weekend. Later that evening, when our party was complete (just five of us that evening), we sat down to an incredible, mostly raw vegan dinner we made together, (Ok, Cookie did most of the work, I just cooked the green beans with summer savory and coconut oil), drank some wine and talked until we all crashed.
We had planned on camping, but the retreat turned out to be intimate enough that we could all crash in Cookies home. The bonus of the sleepover was waking up to fresh coffee brewing and and homemade spelt bread toasted with coconut oil and almond butter as well as each other’s company.
It took us some time to get going in the morning, but that was beautiful and relaxing. Once the 6th member of our tribe arrive, our Sacred Dance instructor, Bernice Raabis, we headed to the Argenta Hall. Another log cabin, this one with a wide open hall for hooping and with a kitchen, eating area and a lounge area for couches. It was perfect.
After a short and sweet opening circle that created this beautiful energy of connection and intention, we started our movement practice with my Hooping with Wild Abandon workshop, which was hilarious. I thought it would be the perfect addition to a retreat focusing on sacred play. The intent behind this one is to play with movements that don’t need a lot of technical expertise or flight time. I want to give new (and experienced) hoopers some ways of playing with the hoop to music that are easy and fun, but also kind of badass. Spoiler alert, there’s a lot of pelvic thrusting involved. It was a great way to start the day and everyone was a great sport when it came to all the silliness. I think they had a good time.
After that we sat down to some lunch, more amazing deliciousness courtesy of Cookie and her magical sunflower seed pate. We digested our food by taking a walk outside, looking at some property for sale behind the hall. My toe was black and blue at this point, but it only hurt when I had shoes on, so I got to walk through the field and forest barefoot, feeling the softness of the dirt, grass and pine needles under my feet. So good to connect with the earth like that.
While we were out walking, Bernice was preparing the hall for our sacred dance journey into the shadow side of Sacred Play. We moved and danced together releasing and honoring the blocks that we had about play and opening into the joy of movement and play for it’s own sake. Her music was so perfect and evocative.
After all that dancing, we were so ready to go on the shamanic drum journey with Cookie. We were able to lay down on the mats and couches, journeying together, finding our animal allies and totems and then sharing our experiences with each other.
Spending the rest of the afternoon jamming and drinking tea, we wrapped up early and headed back to Cookies abode to chill and relax. Everyone it seemed was just as interested in spending time relaxing outside and getting to know each other as we were in hooping. It was like reconnecting with old friends, even though we had just met and we were never at a loss for words.
The next day, we changed locations, to the Meadow Creek Hall, due to the Argenta Hall being needed for a celebration of life for one of their community members who was finishing his Earth Walk. I was so happy we were able to juice up the space with all the gorgeous energy the day before, so they could send him off in style. The Meadow Creek Hall was even more perfect that the last one. A larger, brighter space, complete with a two lane bowling alley!
We opened with movement mediation I facilitated, where I offered a guided meditation to bring love, light, appreciation and healing into each part of the body, then created space for free form movement, dance, stretching and an exploration of whatever our bodies’ needed at the time. We drew energy from the Earth and the Cosmos and reveled in our movement, honoring our inner child and the way it wanted to dance.
Breathless afterwards, we shared our experiences and the feedback from everyone, hearing what the experience let them tap into moved me to tears. There is so much power and healing in moving in whatever ways our bodies crave, I love it so much and creating a safe space for people to do that is one of my favorite things in the world.
After some snacks, we made our way back to the hall to experience an 80’s music driven journey through the chakras led by the hoop shaman and healer, our host Cookie. This was quite the sensory experience. I grabbed a huge hoop and spent the first few songs body rocking and giving my lower chakras a hoop massage as Cookie guided us through some dance driven chakra clearing. It was so good. As we moved up the chakras’s I picked up progressively smaller hoops, interestingly, and once we were in the head, I found I was off body hooping exclusively. Very interesting how that happened. I couldn’t always tune in to what Cookie was saying, as I was transported by the music and dance into another realm of existence. I really didn’t want to stop, but by the end of the hour, I was spent, sweaty and so, so happy. I felt clear, and light and ready for a shower, but we just had a late lunch instead.
Eating on the incredibly comfortable couches sucked the energy right out of us, and we realized that we were all quite spent and decided we would wrap up the hooping part of the retreat and do some exploring of the land instead. Best. Idea. Ever! I’m so grateful we had such a small group so we could be flexible with the schedule and respond to everyone’s energy levels and desires. It was so perfect.
We headed out to Duncan Lake, this crystal clear mountain lake that was almost as smooth as glass. It was cool, but not cold. Just borderline for skinny dipping, especially since we didn’t have towels. There is something about being buck naked out in nature, in a forest valley, surrounded by the elements. I felt completely safe and unguarded, like I was being cradled in mother nature’s arms. That’s the feeling I had the whole time in the Kootenays. The Rocky’s are so tall, wild and exhilarating, with this masculine, exciting energy. The Koots felt softer, far more feminine and gentle.
The whole time I was there, I was planning my return trip (next summer, but for longer, there’s so much more to explore). We closed the retreat by having dinner at Drifter’s, the only local restaurant around. The food wasn’t quite like the amazing local, organic food we’d been chowing down on all weekend, but the cook did mention she infused Reiki love into each meal she cooked (after asking us if we were having a goddess weekend!).
Cookie surprised us all with gorgeous handmade accessories, hair pieces and eyelashes, each lovingly crafted to suit us personally. This woman is so full of love, compassion and talent, it blows my mind. I learn so much from being around her, and I felt the same way about each woman I came to know and love at the retreat. Saying goodbye was hard, but it really was just so long, until next time my friends, because I know we’ll all be back to play and dance under the stars (Oh my, did I mention the stars??? You can see the starry bowl, with more stars that I’ve ever seen in my life!). Next year, I know there will be more of us, and it will be different, and amazing in it’s own way, but this intimate little retreat, which was just as much connecting with the land and each other, as well as our hoops, was perfect in every way.