Written in honor and in gratitude for Send Me On Vacation
During my 'runaway retreat' in the redwoods of northern California the end of June, which I wrote about in a recent blog, provided not only an actual retreat, but acceptance that what I had intended took a U-turn. My sincere intention was to land at a quiet place to write... a sanctuary to get on a roll of conquering the revision of my book. But, I realized within the first few hours of the Ayurvedic-Yoga retreat (fondly referred to as Hindu-Hippie retreat) that there wasn't a quiet space to sequester myself and write. It was an active community with three nourishing vegetarian meals a day where intros and conversing flowed. It set me up for a particular awakening. The first part of my awakening was to open-up to what a retreat is actually for: rejuvenation, restoration to body and soul. A light bulb went off in my head for me to wake up to the fact that being in fight-or-flight so long gave little space for respite. I opened to restorative spa treatments, an ayurvedic doctor consultation, human souls around me and sharing meals in conversation, making new friends and realizing just how lonely a path I've been on. Not just because I'm single and without family, or my closest friend posse all living out-of-state, but because a long journey with breast cancer is staggeringly isolating... but even my artistic outlet of writing is isolating.
While going with whatever was presented at the retreat, I received an unusual email in my inbox. My inbox is normally filled with petitions... tripled since the country, our environment, and wildlife are in serious peril. Since I was put on one list for writers, it opened the way to be included on other sites to do with anything and everything about writing. Alas, there was a unique email hitting my inbox spontaneously from Cathy Backus, founder and director of, 'Send Me on Vacation' - www.sendmeonvacation.org (an organization that takes breast cancer survivors on a vacation retreat) to announce that I'd been awarded a complimentary trip to Playa del Carmen for a Mermaid Retreat. I was especially intrigued by the fact that 'mermaid' is part of the title of my book and blog--Serendipity. Many emails were passed back and forth to make the arrangements. Cathy couldn't have been more kind and accommodating; never giving up on what would be a complicated airline arrangement. How blessed was I? How interesting that this gift came while in acceptance of a restorative retreat amongst the northern California redwoods without a word of writing accomplished. I allowed for each moment to come as it wished. Because I was out of my environment, it deeply dawned on me just how many balls I was juggling continuously… an unconscious loop of survival routine. The idea of intentionally giving myself healing time never entered my mind. I didn't have the luxury on disability and whatever money I’ve recently had (beyond disability) was generously given by a benefactor specifically to support finishing my book revision. Turns out, restorative time to my worn-out body and mind is the exact prep needed for creative juices to flow. Just a few weeks later, I landed in Cancun where a shuttle carted me to the Vidanta resort. Cathy met me at the desk with a ready-smile and spirited nature. I liked her immediately. It was hot and humid, reminding me of my Miami and island of Key Biscayne days; the place I was born and raised. After settling into my suite (larger than my apartment) wondering, what would I do in that large living room, I took myself to a restaurant gazing at the sea. I drank a cold, dark beer. While there were mounds of seaweed at the shore prohibiting a swim, the salt water pool in a private area cooled me off in the balmy early evening. Ahhhhh... I was back in the womb of the tropics. I fell asleep in the ease of air conditioning and a king size bed. The next day presented a 'rough' day at the spa for a foot massage. I stayed at the spa for a couple hours more enjoying the saunas and cold cucumber on my eyes with a cold wash cloth atop easing my international flight journey the day before-Heaven. The spa employees were sweet, Mayan beauties in red lipstick so willing to make the spa experience even more comfortable and luxurious. I began to breathe deeper just as I did in the redwoods. The retreat involved healing and evolved workshops. There were fifteen women from different parts of the country attending SMOV. When you hear the expression, "walk a mile in someone's shoes" to indicate the only way to understand what an individual goes through is wise when it comes to breast cancer survivors. You'd have to journey much longer than a mile though, to feel all the raw feelings we have stamped on our souls. Every story is unique, but the pain, trauma... even humbling humiliation is similar. I had no idea what to expect at the retreat. I waltzed in open to what would unfold. The mermaid shoot surprised me. It was a production. Not only was there someone to do hair and makeup, but jewelry selection, mermaid ensemble in a variety of colors, and an escort down to the beach where the cute professional photographer waited for you. It took a village... and what a beautiful group of women as crew to organize our daily activities (see photo of support crew below); as well as to support and transform all of us attendees into a mermaid. It turned out to be a revitalizing and a majestically feminine experience. I've been to many spiritual workshops and teachings over the course of decades The last day of my mermaid retreat, as vision boards were held in our laps, we took turns in the circle to talk about our vision board image. I was the last, and unexpectedly, lost it. Arriving late due to fatigue, I had little time with the leftover magazines to put something together, but it turned out perfect. At the top was the word 'love' with a double platinum ring entwined and blossoming images to display desires of love, beauty and romantic destinations. When it came my turn, I spoke of the expectations of me to be strong (exhaustively strong) and that since a toddler, expectations have been so high that most think I can take absolutely anything thrown at me. But, I'm also fragile and weary from an arduous, and even brutal journey I've been swimming through mostly alone... and for what feels like a lifetime. I put my broken heart in the middle of the circle and let the tears flow. Crying is not something I did much (other than when in immense physical pain) because there wasn't anyone but me to pick up the pieces. It felt good to let go in a room of women (I'd never met but shared common ground with) where I felt safe to fall apart just a little. Outside the workshops, mermaid on the beach adventure, and dinner gatherings, I went on two catamaran sails to the coral reef in the gorgeous Caribbean water that inspires any mermaid. I snorkeled atop warm, dazzling turquoise water to gaze at the intimacy of another life where brilliantly colorful fish and coral going about their own daily routine. It's a glorious experience where I find myself feeling that 'alive’ sensation running through my veins. After snorkeling, I'd float on my back and look up at the abundant clouds so thankful to be in my bliss again. I'm a natural in the ocean---a fish---a mermaid. I ended a couple of days during the week I was there in a beautifully lit curving and large saltwater pool nearly emptied by the time twilight came around. I swam laps and then leisurely floated on my back while I looked up at the moon and stars deciding to grace me with their luminous beauty--Sublime. I feel so enormously grateful for SMOV and my mermaid retreat. I'm blessed to have been in the presence of amazingly fierce women. All that participated will hold fond memories dear. I will never forget the incredible women, circle gatherings, Mexican Caribbean, mermaid transformation, and healing of the heart in the presence of such love and light. You’ll find a few photos (below) highlighting the exceptional experience.
Keep on swimming through life,
Valerie Anne Burns