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Retreat

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As our guest writer this month, Inian Islands Institute welcomes Jessica Lindmark, our board secretary, keeper of our Facebook page, and Seattle-based yoga instructor.  This summer she led the first ever yoga retreat at Inian Islands Institute.

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“Do you think they’re ok?” I craned my neck to look behind me toward the rest of our kayak fleet still battling the currents behind us. Mitchell Green, one of the retreat participants, sat in the bow and mused that they must be getting pretty tired out there. It was the end of our “big paddle” day, and the evening tide was moving powerfully through South Pass, a narrow channel between two of the Inian Islands.

From afar, we watched as our intrepid outdoor learning leader, Zach Brown, circled his single kayak back around to each of the three remaining doubles, encouraging them toward the calmer water ahead. All was well – we knew that ‘Skipper’ Greg Howe was just a radio call away for a tow should anyone need it. Or perhaps the National Geographic boat would send a raft. Either way, there was nothing much for the two of us to do aside from waiting.

Our yoga-kayak fleet at the Hobbit Hole, ready to set off for the 8-mile paddle around Inian Island!

Our yoga-kayak fleet at the Hobbit Hole, ready to set off for the 8-mile paddle around Inian Island!

Mitchell began pointing out the colors of the tide-scape. In the distance, a whale spouted to our starboard. We watched his fluke arc gracefully, a cue that he was sounding, not to be seen again for several minutes if at all.

It was our last full day at Inian Islands Institute, and Nature had not disappointed. Each morning we rose, took a hot beverage and fruit in silence, wandered the beach, or sat to watch dozens of hatchling hummingbirds swarm Jane and Greg’s feeder. Then up to the workshop turned yoga-shala for asana, then down for (amazing) breakfast and adventure. The days stretched out long, the way it feels in savasana when the body broadens luxuriously on the earth as if it might remain supported there forever – and content to. With so much light by which to see and learn and do, the challenge was stopping. Being still. And at some moments we were far better at this than others.

Our yoga instructor Jess Lindmark luxuriates in the sunshine on the big lawn at Inian Islands Institute.

Our yoga instructor Jess Lindmark luxuriates in the sunshine on the big lawn at Inian Islands Institute.

Many indigenous cultures have no word for ‘Nature.’ Stopping to ponder this for a moment, we imagine a way of life that was much closer to the earth. A way of life in which it was so easy, so obvious to detect our connection to the natural world that no delineation existed. Nowadays, the sense of this connection is not so easy to come by. In our fast cars, it is easy to forget the metals that have been mined, the rubber that has been harvested, or the sunlight that nourished the rubber tree, all of which and more gave birth to the vehicle that transports us. Glancing to our phones, it is difficult to remain present (or patient!) with the rest of our surroundings. It is easy to see the difference, stepping out of our apartment building, between the tree planted into the sidewalk, and the asphalt underfoot as we cross the street. It is not so easy to remember that even the asphalt and concrete, even the glass of the windows and the plastic bottles discarded in the street are, at their root, a part of the natural world.

Retreat participant Mitchell Green takes a break along a rocky shore of Inian Island.

Retreat participant Mitchell Green takes a break along a rocky shore of Inian Island.

Yoga is the practice of union. It is the practice of awakening from the illusion that any phenomenon, any object or particle is independent from the rest. Poets and sages through the years have alluded to this (“I am large,” wrote Whitman, “I contain multitudes”), physicists have dissected to the smallest number, and ecologists have examined link after delicate link chaining life together on our planet. Yogis, Buddhas, and seekers of all inclinations have left the city for the forest or the sea shore, the lakes or the desert, intuitively understanding that in these places we are closest to our foundation.

Kim Heacox, a gold-hearted Alaskan and author of the wonderful book

Kim Heacox, a gold-hearted Alaskan and author of the wonderful book that all our retreat participants read entitled “John Muir and the Ice that Started a Fire,” joined our yoga retreat and played some groovy tunes around the campfire.

On retreat at Inian Islands Institute, this foundation could not be more clearly illuminated. While being nourished daily by salmon and halibut from the strait, water from the side of the mountain, and vegetables from Jane’s garden, you begin, in the words of participant Jeannie Berwick, to “feel the earth breathing.” Living lightly in this way, even for a short time, we quickly realize our own connection as well: That Humans too are Nature.

Returning to the protected harbor of the Hobbit Hole after our big adventure in the kayaks, we gathered for a last meal in Jane and Greg’s fine, wood-fire heated home. We dined on King salmon provided by Fred the fisherman and his deck hand, Harrison. We sat, determined to stay alert though our bodies were tired, learning about the trade winds and the westerlies, and how with this understanding we can determine why it rains so much in SE Alaska. Tomorrow we would see glaciers produced by these cycles, the same glaciers explored by the father of American conservation, John Muir. We would witness the reclamation of the rocky earth by pioneering plants and animals, watch a wolverine slink out of our sight, and murmur while a pod of orca milled at the watery foot of a mountain.

Taking our practice outside, on the lawn at Inian Islands Institute.

Taking our practice outside, on the lawn at Inian Islands Institute.

The challenge comes next: boarding the plane to fly home. It is easy once we return to the noise and bustle of our everyday lives to feel our close connection to the earth begin to fade. There are so many layers, so many systems between us and our roots, much of which we are thankful for… but which we might also begin to question. Are these systems acting like they are a part of something larger? Are we? What can we do each day in remembrance of our connection?

This is where the practice begins.

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