I know of a place like this, and I want you to join me there for a life-changing adventure in Maine. Are you in?
This place I’m referring to is in Northern Maine, a very special part of my world. (In other parts of the world, one might refer to it as a summer cottage on a lake, but for those from Maine, it is simply called a camp.)
The wilderness here nourishes me, in a way that is difficult to describe. It is profound, it is wild, and it is simple. My camp reflects my essence back to me, and it’s like looking into the mirror of my soul. Just like my daily meditation and yoga practice, I have learned to use the wilderness here as another great mirror of awareness.
I admit that for over 10 years I have kept the details of this quiet retreat pretty much to myself and my immediate family. People hear my Maine stories from time to time, but I don’t usually share many details. I enjoy having my place.
Traditionally, the paper mills in the area wanted their workers to get through the long winters, work hard, and keep their focus. So they gifted one-acre lakefront leases to their employees so they could build a camp, enjoy their summah, and rest up to get ready for another long year.
The camps weren’t fancy. They were generally built from logs found abundantly in the forests, and outfitted with discarded items from the mills. Those simple days have now passed, the mills are shuttered or demolished, and life for the locals is not easy. But they are resilient folks and make the best of what they have. And the one thing that is still available here in great abundance is the largely untouched wilderness, with its breathtaking beauty and varied recreational opportunities.
Our camp overlooks a lake, with a view of the largest peak in Maine (Katahdin) in the background. It is very quiet, apart from the calls of the loons in the evening—a welcoming sound. Other sounds I enjoy there are my own breath as I kayak across the lake, and the paddle swishing in the clear water each morning. I generally start each day in the kayak, soaking in the warmth of the morning sun. As I paddle, I breathe to the rhythm of my strokes and gaze at the stunning beauty surrounding me. And then, of course, there is the sound of peaceful silence when I hike an often-deserted trail to the summit of a nearby peak.
Like many of us, I spend much of my day at home with a very engaged and busy mind. We make plans, we strategize, we look back at past mistakes, and we jump quickly from task to task, often with little time for transition or integration. Over time, this takes its toll. We need time to engage with ourselves in what the neuro-scientists refer to as present-centered awareness. Perhaps a simpler way of saying this is: taking time to stop and smell the pine trees.
Even those of us in the yoga and mindfulness world are often so busy with teaching, scheduling, marketing, and planning that we too don’t often take the time to practice the very things we know will help us slow down and recharge our batteries.
For me, my short time-outs away from it all bring me home to myself and enable me to continue doing what I do in the world.
It doesn’t take long here at our camp to leave my busy life behind and switch into being right there in my body and in the present moment. Feeling the sun and the air, smelling the scent of the surrounding forest, and gazing at the majestic mountain that carries its message of timeless strength and durability works its magic on me every time. This is what I am eager to share with you!
A deep contentment accompanies the feeling of just being right there in the present. I find these moments in time to be healing and inspiring. Some of my best creative work has happened here. After only a few days, I begin to notice how different I feel. I know myself a little better and even become a little wiser from the experience. And it always carries over to life when I head back home.
After a big family birthday celebration here last year, and witnessing firsthand the profound effect of the wilderness experience on my extended family, I have decided to run a retreat here this year at The New England Outdoor Center, a beautiful lakeside resort close to my special camp. It is surrounded by the wild, but with very comfortable accommodations and amazing food. Like my cabin, it looks out over a lake with a close-up view of the majestic Katahdin, an important landmark and place of pilgrimage in Native American folklore.
As well as time to meditate and engage mindful yoga experiences, we will also hike, kayak, swim, and go white water rafting. We’ll sit lakeside and soak in the sunset, and if the weather is favorable, we’ll dine outdoors under the abundant array of stars. We may even catch the Northern Lights that appear here in the north sky behind Katahdin. We’ll enjoy the feeling of community, take time to reflect together on our experiences, and integrate our learning from them into our lives.
We’ll leave with a plan, ready to engage our world again. We’ll go home with more awareness, greater clarity, a sense of purpose, and a more open, rested body and mind. In the busy days that follow, we’ll be able to remember the mountain, the loons, the sunsets, and the lake, and allow those memories to transport us to serenity, wherever we are, until we return again. I hope you’ll join us.
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Michael Lee, M.A., Dip.Soc.Sci., C-IAYT, E-RYT 500, is the Founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, a leading edge yoga based modality in body-mind therapy with an IAYT Accredited Yoga Therapy Training Program. His conference keynote presentations include the International Yoga Teachers Conference in Singapore, IAYT Conference 2016, Yoga Journal Conferences, and Family Therapy Networker. Michael is the author of two books, Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy and Turn Stress Into Bliss and a contributing author in the APA published text Movement and Expressive Techniques in Clinical Practice and the recently published Yoga Therapy and Integrative Medicine: Where Ancient Science Meets Modern Medicine. Michael also offers programs for Psychotherapists and professionals wanting to apply a yoga based embodied mindfulness approach to therapy and lifestyle change.