What I Learned From Going on a Retreat With My Mom and Grandma

What I Learned From Going on a Retreat With My Mom and Grandma

The day that we arrived at the resort, my grandma tried a green juice for the first time in her life.

“You can really taste the parsley in it,” she told me as she grimaced and set the plastic cup down, smacking her tongue against her lips to wipe away any remnants of that parsley taste. “I think I like my mango smoothie better.”

We were sitting in the spa of an Arizona resort that claims to “inspire mind, body, and spirit.” It’s a resort situated amidst Sedona vortexes: Locations that are said to have spiraling spiritual energy that facilitate healing, meditation, and prayer. I was looking forward to being fully spiritually inspired. My grandma was looking forward to drinking a mango smoothie.

We were in Arizona for a lady-focused family vacation: me, my mom, and my grandma. I had just graduated from college, my grandma was about to turn 75, and my mom was the bridge between us, connecting my penchant for new age philosophy with my grandma’s old school appreciation for poolside relaxation and games of tennis. The resort seemed to offer something for everyone, and so it seemed to be the perfect place for our multi-generational retreat.

My mom and I enthusiastically filled out schedules, signing up for every yoga class and meditation session we could squeeze in. And my grandma attended some with us, although not nearly as enthusiastically. As the vinyasa flow instructor stood in front of the studio and introduced herself, I watched my grandma watch the clock, counting minutes instead of breaths. And I’ll admit, I was frustrated. I couldn’t understand how someone would be closed off to the things that would make them feel good: Meditation, yoga, understanding the mind-body-spirit connection–these are all things that make me feel good, so why wasn’t she trying them?

The thing is, though, I really wasn’t feeling all that good myself. Not only was I preoccupied with my grandma’s experience rather than my own, but my mind was far away from my body and my spirit. In between classes and pool-time I was off searching for some remnants of cell service in the middle of the beautiful, but technologically unsupportive, Arizona Red Rocks. You see, that same week that we were in Arizona, I was emailing potential employers, fielding anxiety-ridden messages from an ex, and still intent on updating my daily Snapchat story. I was pushing myself to be the best I could be for the outside world.

So what kind of hypocrite was I to be mad at my grandma for her lack of commitment to the resort, when I couldn’t be present myself? A new age philosophy is nice, but without any real action it remains only that: a philosophy and nothing more. My grandma may not have been acting on that philosophy, but she wasn’t claiming to live by it either.

I spent much of the trip disconnected from the peace the resort was supposed to give us. That is, until the last day there. We woke up and instead of rushing to squeeze in one more hike, we all lazed about the room. There was a small terrace that we hadn’t sat on the whole time we were there, but that morning my grandma, my mom, and I sat there and drank orange juice in together in the hot Arizona sun. I don’t remember who said it, but one of us acknowledged that the week had been stressful. We all exhaled a seemingly collective sigh of relief, cracking through the tension to reveal the elephant in the resort. Pretty soon the three of us were sitting there on that terrace in the peaceful, hot Arizona sun having a more truthful conversation than we ever had before. We talked about how resort had actually been stressful for all of us, and we all decided that it’s okay; it’s okay to let go of expectations. We talked about growing old and how that feels. We talked about our family, and what we want for each other. We cried and we were honest and we felt a release, a release I think I had been hoping would come with each breath in yoga class but instead didn’t come until we sat on that terrace.

They say the Sedona vortexes are filled with spiraling spiritual energy; they draw out the toxins and facilitate healing. Perhaps those vortexes helped us to heal a bit that morning. But, I think our healing also had to do with accepting a sense of peace and connection in whatever forms it comes; it might come in meditation session led by a world-renowned guru or it might come as you sit in your pajamas and talk about life with your grandma. It definitely doesn’t come from forcing a yoga practice if that’s not right for you, and it doesn’t come from searching for a cell signal during a time when you’re not meant to be on your phone. Rather than looking too far inward or too far outward, it’s about being present in a moment and with the people around you.

Our multi-generational retreat ended up being one of the best weeks of my life, and not because of the gorgeous pools or the meditation studio. It was the best because of those small moments with my grandma, those small moments of connection. Those moments helped me to realize a philosophy can’t be forced, and it’s often not simple. But some truthful moments can help you to get there.


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