It’s hard to believe it’s been two weeks since I left my first spot on the road trip – Pleasant Valley Sanctuary. It’s been a whirlwind of a trip so far, keeping me busy with plenty of things to do besides write, but really I think I’ve been putting off writing about this particular experience because I feel there may not be words to appropriately capture everything it was. Time seems to be flying by though, so it seems like I should at least try…
I arrived at the sanctuary the afternoon after they had finished a three-day silent retreat, so the resounding energy was a stark contrast from the world I felt like I was leaving behind. Though it seemed nearly deserted, I was greeted by one of the two owners, who gave me a brief tour and guided me to my tent. After, I was greeted by another gentleman who was there on a work exchange, and who gave me a full tour of the property before taking me down to a spot on the Yuba river. Swimming in the cool, clean, refreshing waters revived me, and when we got back to the sanctuary, I was eventually acquainted with the rest of the people there and the daily schedule. The entire sanctuary functioned on this schedule, and though I wasn’t a part of all of the activities, the schedule shaped my time there. It was a simple but transformative schedule that looked essentially like this:
Satsang (spiritual discussion group)
I was not actually visiting this place on the basis of the work exchange, so I didn’t participate in the hours of work done, which allowed me more free time to read, write, meditate, and do energy work, which I dove into wholeheartedly. Being around such an amazing group of spiritual seekers and practitioners was truly an inspiration that couldn’t have been more perfect for the start of my journey. I can’t even begin to describe the meaningful connections I developed or the sparkling energy I saw in each of them, so I will focus more on describing the lifestyle and setting.
For starters, pretty much everything is outdoors; though some of it may have walls, a roof, and floors, it all had an open air aspect to it that made it seems as though we were pretty much always outside. The kitchen flowed with “doors” that led to the garden (where most of the food we ate was grown) and to the “dining area” which was a couple tables tented by two tarps. The entire garden/kitchen/dining area had to be fenced in because of the deer that freely and commonly roamed the property. The outhouse was further down the hill, and was created in a way that it would self-compost with the dirt and ash (helps neutralize the smell) poured in after using it. The space for yoga was in an open area with a tent top over it for shade (this area gets incredibly hot; reaching about 104* in my time there), but otherwise being completely open. My personal favorite was the outdoor shower, which had bamboo walls, and a wood & stone floor, and solar-heated hot water; in that kind of heat, it felt great to shower outside, and the design felt like something that you might find at an island retreat. Check out the pictures at the bottom to see the set up!
As for the food, well I don’t know if I can think of another time I ate such healthy and delicious meals. As I mentioned, the bulk of the food we ate was grown there, and the remainder was purchased from local farmers and food co-ops. In the Ayurvedic tradition, we were eating essentially vegan meals – vegetarian, no dairy, little to no gluten, hardly any sugar (we did have a few celebrations of birthdays and departures in which some delicious gluten-free desserts may have had a little sugar in them), and I believe no caffeine either (maybe some tea?). If anyone has ever thought healthy food is anything less than delicious, you just need to spend a little time tasting the creative concoctions at Pleasant Valley Sanctuary; I was pleasantly (but not overly) full, with satiated taste-buds after every single meal! And by the end of the week, I could see how different and clean my body felt from this super healthy diet. I also learned more about the three body types in the Ayurvedic tradition, and after taking the assessment, was able to learn more about my type; different than what I’d been told by others in the past, it was very interesting to connect with the one that truly resonated with me.
The effect of the sanctuary on my spiritual and yoga passions was incredible, but will undoubtedly be nearly as hard to describe as my connections with some of the people there. Though I missed the morning meditations (they were at 5am!), I meditated on my own every morning, and sometimes more in the afternoon as well. During our satsangs (spiritual discussion groups) at night, we would discuss different aspects or traditions of spirituality that related to what we were doing, and the ones we had there truly impacted my life. I will admit, I’ve had some resistance to yoga; perhaps it’s been because of the trendiness of it, or the over-emphasized physical goals (many Western perspectives view yoga as a means to an end – a better body; I had my pilates and gym routines for that), or just struggling with certain asanas (positions) and types of yoga (such as bikram or purely power-focused). But there was a huge shift for me during one of our satsangs, which was reinforced by the following morning’s yoga. I credit this shift largely to the wonderful Australian, Jaya who led the discussion and the class, and to Jami, one of the owners/caretaker/general ‘leader’, for creating a space for this to flourish. Not only was I enlightened about the eight principles of Ashtanga yoga, but I was in an atmosphere that viewed the physical yoga practice as a piece of the bigger yogic picture, and things started coming together for me. If you’re interested in learning more about these, this site I found seems to sum it up pretty well.
During another satsang, we read about and discussed the Hindu guru Amma; a female guru who practices the art of loving compassion and spreads her message through hugging. While reading about her path, it was inspiring to learn about the power of living from a place of pure love and embracing the power of feminine/mother energy. As I am now a couple weeks away from this discussion, I am beginning to see how this experience and learning about her has helped to shape and influence me. If you’re interested in learning more about her, you can read information about her at www.embracingtheworld.com/amma, or you can visit the website for her/her tour at www.amma.com.
Outside of our satsangs and the spiritual awareness I found through them, I also exchanged and utilized some of the energy work I've been trained in. While I was there, I was able to give aura healings to three people (whom I loved each in their own way!), and give aura readings to two people. As with all energy work, I was equally affected by the work I did, for in giving these healings/readings, I was able to learn more about myself and receive personal, but matching information. In respect for their privacy, I will not discuss what I looked at, but I can say without a doubt, that I learned and grew as a person because I was able to share these experiences with them. I exchanged an aura reading for a Vedic birth chart reading with Jami, who is a truly talented and powerful leader. The birth chart reading I received with him really struck me at my core, and helped me to verbalize and see things I have been intuitively feeling; in fact, the bulk of my experiences there served to help provide a framework for things I felt burgeoning in my soul but hadn’t been quite able to define.
In addition to all of the spiritual and yogic work we were doing though, we also had plenty of fun together. For our birthday and departure celebrations, we played games together (a sort of drawing/telephone game that was hilariously fun), played music, sang songs, shared poetry, haiku's, and stories, and spent time playing down at the river together. One of the songs I will always remember and associate with this portion of my trip is Down to the River to Pray by Alison Krauss, which you can also find on my music page. Another short-term guest, who "coincidentally" happened to be from Reno, also spent some time sharing and showing capoeira to whoever wanted to participate. Overall, it was an environment where everyone had something to contribute and was given the opportunity to share their skills and passions with those who were interested. In a community where the guests and work exchanges are continuously changing and developing, it can be difficult to maintain positive group dynamics, but due to the work and energy of Jami & Naomi, they have successfully created a space for genuine and wonderful group experiences to culminate.
By the time I was supposed to leave, I found myself wondering if I could/should extend my stay there. By day five, I felt like I was beginning to flourish and discover deeper parts of myself and my spirituality, and being around such exceptional, blossoming souls made me feel encouraged and invigorated on my path. In addition to the wonderful connections I had made, which promised more positive possibilities, it was nearly impossible to go. Before my departure, they did an “om”-ing ceremony to send positive vibrations to me, and I found myself crying at the beauty and intensity of the loving energy I was receiving, and how connected I had become to them in such a short amount of time. I’m not the best at goodbyes, and saying goodbye to this amazing group of people felt like the worst thing I could imagine, but when I did finally continue on my way, I felt like I had been truly blessed for the people I’d met and my time spent there.
Thank you Pleasant Valley Sanctuary, Jami, Naomi, Patrick, Olivia, Zoe, Jaya, Erin, Paulo, and everyone else who was there during my time there. You guys are truly exceptional, inspiring people and I am so grateful for you!!
Stories from the road-trip that inspired moving to the PNW, and other travel adventures.