The road to Ojai is very familiar to me. I call it freedom road. I usually avoid being the driver because I just hate driving. Being the passenger allows me to relish the relief I feel while traveling. But on this trip, I offered to drive a close friend to the Ruach Nashim women’s retreat up at Camp Ramah in Ojai, California. My friend, Andrea, was in no condition to drive as she was experiencing the trauma of having to move out of her house almost immediately after her home was flooded. How ironic for her that the theme of this retreat was water. As I thought about water, images of the spray from the Banyas waterfall flooded my mind. As a Healer and an Ima, I am always working on cleansing and clearing, both physically and internally.
I couldn’t wait anymore for my freedom! My anticipation built as I exited off of the 101 freeway to the 33. It would not be long from here. The flood of memories began. My husband and I have a history of coming up here for our getaways. Sometimes we’ve made it a family trip, but more often Ojai is our couple’s refuge. I felt my heart beat with more excitement as we passed the Blue Iguana Inn. A big exhale pours out of me with a sigh. I was waiting for that exhale all day. “We’re free! We’re free!” I yell. Andrea’s understanding smile is happy for me, even though she was still recovering from a hectic week. I took another long breath, releasing the “Aaahhhh” of relief. For some reason, I was happy to be driving. Huh, new experiences were already happening.
I did not grow up at this camp, but my kids have. They live for summer at Ramah. When they ride this road, they have a different flood of memories. Their Ojai freedom came from being a child in a place that they’ve always felt safe, independent and joyous. Don’t we all want that!
Andrea and Shawn had been encouraging me to come for quite a while. This women’s retreat has been going for 7 years. Family, finances, and work always presented obstacles to going. But a voice inside of me insisted on coming this year.
As I sat in the introduction circle of 75 women of various ages, I noticed how busy my head had been. My brain was still working, still prioritizing other things that were not at Ojai, and still a little unsure of what was to come. I didn’t want to experience this weekend with all that garbage talk in my head. I wanted to be here, to truly be present with the women in front of me. With determination and some trepidation, I stepped into the circle.
As the workshop progressed, we met each other through song, dance and Moving Torah. This was Andrea’s amazing creation as she brought a unique life to each word, to every song as the Torah moved through our bodies. All together, we mimicked, sculpted, and flowed with the feelings and meanings of our words. Like the waving of hands which welcomes in Shabbat, a spirit of joyous womanhood entered the collective body of the group. I loved the feeling of being fully immersed in the spirit and energy of women. What a gift. As my mental resistance melted, I allowed the current of Shabbat to carry me into an ongoing rush of amazing davening, incredible learning, and the joy of hanging out with great people. I was just soaking up each moment!
Prior to coming on the retreat, I had asked Rabbi Shawn Fields-Meyer, the Retreat Coordinator, if there was any opportunity for me to offer a learning session at the retreat. “Yes!” she responded with great enthusiasm, “Shabbat afternoon, for Spa Ramah, people offer different kinds of relaxing and nurturing sessions”, Shawn shared. I was so excited. It was a chance to share the work I had been developing in my private practice as a Healer called Deep Body Listening and Body Dialogue. At lunch, I told the group about the newly offered session, gushing with enthusiasm.
Then, panic struck! So many women came up to me saying, “I’m coming to your session!” I had assumed that everybody was going to take a Shabbat nap! It turned out that the idea of being gently guided to connect deeply with our bodies was very appealing. I had mentally prepared for maybe eight people showing up.
Twenty eight women poured into the workshop space! It was the first time that I would be presenting my new work to a group, and 28 women show up. To calm my pounding heart, I gave myself a pep talk. “Be open to having a new experience, Dina”.
Something clicked as I stood before this group feeling confidence and joy. I brought them to feeling our hearts, asking them to feel their chest in a more intentional way. Textures, colors¸ temperatures, shapes, and emotions arose in the women. So rarely do we, as women, get to focus our full attention on our own bodies. So often, we are caring for others. But today, it was our turn to feel the warmth of our own hearts. Using specific breathing techniques, I guided the group to bring this warmth to the bottoms of their feet as we touched upon each body part. “Do this slowly and thoughtfully so that each place in your body feels received”, I kept repeating. “Now, ask your body where you need attention the most. Just listen and receive whatever message your body has to give you. As the participants learned to listen more deeply to their bodies, I directed them in bringing their heart energy to each neglected spot. “Feel the gift of bringing that warmth to your OWN body.” Women shared how nurtured their body felt and they expressed gratitude for being able to attend to their body in this new way. The feeling of exhilaration washed over me and I felt so energized leading this incredible session.
Shabbat came to a close, allowing us to participate in an evening of arts. There was something for everyone; writing, drama, Moving Torah, ceramics and silk painting. The rooms were just vibrating with an intense creative energy everywhere.
In return for the enormous gift of participating in this retreat I expressed my gratitude and enthusiasm by asking to be included in the planning and coordinating team for next year. To all those who will be at next year’s retreat, I can’t wait to see you next year on the road to Ojai!
Dina Bernat-Kunin, LCSW has a private practice in the Pico/Robertson section of LA. Her sessions offer Intuitive Exercises, Energy Healing, Talk Therapy, and Deep Body Listening and Body Dialogue. She can be reached through her website www.dinabernatkunin.com