Creating Estuary: transitioning between retreat & daily life

Walking along the estuary at Witty’s Lagoon last week I was struck by a thought. I love metaphor and use it wherever possible, it seems an easier way to get an idea across, right brain communication. My thought was this. An estuary is like the space between a retreat experience and our daily life. Where the fresh water meets the sea. Having hosted retreats for the past eight years and more recently being a co-founder and facilitator of Back to the Body Sensual Retreats for Women, transition and integration are important conversations. Creating tools for people to take the rich experience of retreat life back home. How to make the transition as smooth as possible, how to take the ideas, concepts and practices with you and not make them an “at retreat only experience”.

Wikipedia “An estuary is a partly enclosed coastal body of brackish water with one or more rivers or streams flowing into it, and with a free connection to the open sea.[1]
Estuaries form a transition zone between river environments and maritime environments and are subject to both marine influences, such as tides, waves, and the influx of saline water; and riverine influences, such as flows of fresh water and sediment. The inflows of both sea water and fresh water provide high levels of nutrients in both the water column and sediment, making estuaries among the most productive natural habitats in the world.[2]”

It’s important to create as much estuary as possible, they team with life! The picture above I took the other day on my walk, at first glance the estuary appeared muddy, a bit smelly, there are mud covered fallen trees and algae blooms proliferate the shoreline. Transition post retreat can look muddy and be a bit smelly as well. Integration can be challenging and the retreat can feel like a dream while we practice to make new patterns and understand our new potential reality.

The estuary is a slow moving, gentle, diverse ecosystem with an abundance of life and potential. That space where the salt water meets the fresh, the water is relatively calm, no waves and slow current. Life forms from both ecosystems cohabitate the same area and in that space there are species that only live in that zone, washed daily with the salt and the fresh waters. It’s unique and is only found when the conditions are right. Some rivers flow directly into the sea with little transition between fresh and salt, like leaving a retreat and plunging back into city, work, and family life. Or more dramatic, I remember seeing a waterfall on the Isle of Hoy in the Orkneys, this waterfall plunged hundreds of feet to the ocean, nothing but a spray. By the time it met the wild sea below, it’s contribution would barely be felt.

It seems the further from normal life the retreat offering is, the more vital it is to build your estuary. For example, the last BttB participants have created a private facebook page. This is their estuary. They get to check in with the other women, they are sharing book titles, music selections, latest experiences. They are checking in to see how the others are doing in their own transitions and offering support. Back in the every day, back in the sea of life.

One of the recent posts:
“I gotta tell ya, I’m gettin’ more from this group of people than my last round of talk therapy. I’m sure it’s a combination of the fantastic people, where my head is now, and the work I’ve done to date. Connections, thoughts and ideas seem to be hitting me nearly one after another. So powerful!”

Somehow changed from their experiences. Like salmon which have their life cycle in both fresh and salt water, these women have their estuary to visit and connect with their #badass sisters.

As a facilitator it is a marvel at how a group of strangers over 5 days build a community that is so tight and full of love and compassion. They have inspired me. I dive into their estuary and it is a transition place for me to think and dream and observe, and in doing so I write this blog, my first. Thank you ladies, I look forward to your return to these waters where we retreat and return to the sea, stronger and deeper in our understanding of ourselves.