One month ago, I spent a weekend with three strangers. They were the most bad ass, true to self, supportive, wonderful women. I can’t put into words how much their presence moved me, their souls uplifted me.
The weekend was a Wildbride retreat, a time to be fully yourself, to feel safe being a woman and celebrating your quirks, flaws, personality. I opened up more to these women in one weekend than I have with some people I’ve known for years. There was a built in level of trust—we were all there with the intent of letting our true, wild nature emerge, knowing and supporting and being inspired by the wild nature in each other.
The words comfort and acceptance keep coming to mind when I think about my Wildbride experience, both from within and without. Bridget, Liz and Kristina created such a safe space for me to let out feelings deep within I don’t often allow myself to feel. I wasn’t judged, wasn’t looked down upon, wasn’t told how to feel or act. I felt celebrated, part of a community of women connected throughout time and space.
I’ve never been to the desert before; Sedona was my last choice of Wildbride locations. But I have family who snowbirds from our cold Minnesota winters in Phoenix, making it the most convenient location. So I booked it.
As the plane descended, I couldn’t stop staring at the mountains. Desert and mountains just don’t belong together, in my mind. It didn’t make sense to me.
But as I drove from Phoenix to Sedona, mountains unfolded all around me. I couldn’t believe how beautiful it all was (the near 80 degrees and sunshine didn’t hurt either). I was transfixed. That drive was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve experienced.
The retreat center was at the end of the road, a narrow dirt road full of potholes. I slowly drove in, not at all knowing what to expect. My heart began pounding as I grabbed my suitcase and walked up the steps. For so long, I had been so excited for this trip but had never been able to imagine what it would be like. I had arrived; the adventure was here.
We took some time for reflection that first night. Sitting in the desert, the air cool and crisp, we sat together, our knees touching to form a complete circle. The stars above watched from the inky black sky as we turned inward, looking to find part of ourselves that we were ready to be rid of. I didn’t know these women yet, but we were there to support each other as we took this personal journey together.
The afternoon hike was one of the most profound experiences I’ve had in nature. It was a journey with three other women, all with their own unspoken struggles but who had risen from them, strong, radiating acceptance. It was okay to be whoever I truly am. Not just okay, but celebrated. All around, cacti grew. Even in the heat, sand and rock of the desert, life flourished. The roots of each plant run deep. These plants aren’t disturbed by surface tensions; they are strong and steady in their foundation. The symbolism wasn’t lost on me. I couldn’t help but draw parallels to my own life. Maybe the desert was exactly where I was meant to be.
Yoga on the mountain felt like a scene from a movie. There was dust between my toes, ground under my feet, the sun warming my skin, breeze rustling my hair. It felt too good to be true; with every inhale my eyes filled with the beauty of the red mountains around us, the warrior women surrounding me, the gritty dirt keeping me grounded while my soul flowed free.
The photo location was one of the most gorgeous landscapes I’d ever seen. Layers of delicate rock forms surrounded us while the mountains opened to reveal the valley below. Liz made me feel so comfortable in every shot. Sure, some of the poses felt odd (I was laying half naked on a desert rock, after all) but it was fun! And I never expected such a powerful moment to feel so light and fun; I’d imagined it would be so serious. But it was absolutely perfect.
And at an opportune moment, I took off all my clothing. There was nothing to hide behind, it was all stripped away and I was left with my own self. It was empowering. This was me, all of me, proud of every inch of myself, inside and out. The sun on my skin warmed me and the breeze on my chest brought a new awareness of my physical self. I could feel a deep spiritual connection with women who have walked this world through all ages. Women of all shapes, sizes, color, culture; I was one of them, proud to be sharing in this bond of womanhood.
There was a primal element being naked on that mountain that seeped into my bones. It left a stain, like the ring of a coffee mug on an old table. Though the mark was made during Wildbride, it is there for others to see and witness forever.
Surrounded by beauty, I am beautiful.
I am part of nature, of all that is beautiful.
I am so small but feel so much.
I am everything I am meant to be.
In the Brave on the way back from the hike, Kristina talked about how, as humans, we brace ourselves for pain and disappointment. Then, if we avoid them, we feel fine and if we don’t, we are prepared for the hurt. But by preparing for the negative, we don’t fully feel the positive, the good things in life. We need to brace ourselves for joy so we can immerse ourselves in it when it happens. Because it will happen. Life is full of beautiful moments. That idea has stayed with me. Brace yourself for joy. Let the sun fill your body with warmth, love every part of yourself, as you are, no exceptions.
I am strong like a desert cactus. My roots run deep, tapping into a different lifesource, a Wild lifesource. I stand strong and confident in the face of daily life, confident in the ability of my soul to thrive and live beyond the ordinary desert life.
I am a Wildbride.