As I write this, I just came back from the annual doula retreat.
This year was my 6th year there.
I’ve written about the retreat before here.
Organised by doula Selina Wallis, the retreat is a unique space for doulas and birthworkers to gather and recharge. It’s held in the most magical place. Cae Mabon is an eco retreat located near Llanberis, in Snowdonia. It’s a ten min walk down from a car park located at the end of a dirt road.
Located on the side of a mountain, with a stream running on its side, and a lake at the bottom, the eco village is composed of dwellings that look like they belong in a Tolkien novel. One of them, in fact, is called the hobbit hut. Low ceilinged, and with grass growing on their roofs, the dwellings are dotted around a clearing in the forest.
The dwellings are basic, containing about 4 beds each, and there is no running water or electricity in most of them (there is a shared washroom and a gas powered shower, and compost toilets). This maybe off putting for some but for me it’s part of the charm of the place, because it encourages us to spend much time outside.
The place it’s in is just beautiful, with wild, ancient forests, and nature untouched by humans.
There is a deep feeling of reconnection with nature, and the place is not only beautiful and peaceful, but it has a lovely, benevolent and calming energy too.
As well as the huts we sleep in, there is a Viking style roundhouse with fire pit in the middle where we gather to sing songs, drum or listen to stories, from our resident storyteller, Rachel O Leary.
There is a barn/kitchen with electricity and we take our meals and workshops there too. Someone is cooking for us whilst we’re there, which is bliss in itself for a mother like me.
And the cherry on the cake is the fire heated cedar hot tub on the side of the stream, in which we hang out at night with a glass of white and put the birth world to rights.
All of this would be blissful enough by itself, but we also have workshops there.
I can trace almost every single aspect of the work I do today back to the retreat.
The first year, in 2013 I attended the Closing the Bones workshop with Rocio Alarcon there. If I had been told back then 6 years later, I would have, together with Maddie Mc Mahon, trained nearly 350 people in offering this beautiful ritual, I would have laughed.
But back to this year’s retreat and the title of this blog.
This year I wasn’t as excited as I’d been in years past about the workshops planned at the retreat. We had a singing workshop and a Henna workshop booked. Singing is always lovely but I’ve been singing in a choir for over 16 years so it’s not something that’s new to me. Same with the Henna as we had done this already at the retreat in 2014.
I was still looking forward to hanging out with like minded spirits in Cae Mabon this year, but I was also a bit disappointed about not learning amazing new skills.
As with many other occasions in my life, when my expectations are low, it’s usually when I end up having a complete life changing experience.
It wasn’t part of the official plan but when we got there, Alexandra Wilson, a celebrant, doula and end of life doula, offered to do a talking about the end of life doulaing training that she does, followed by a grief ceremony the next day.
As with many topics and experiences I know little about, I was curious but not overtly excited.
I went with my usual curiosity though.
The talk about death doulaing blew my mind, because Alexandra talked about her experience moving from being a death doula to a birth one and talked about the similarities about the grief in birth and in death, and about the joy too. I didn’t get it so I asked a lot of questions and also for examples. I had never seen it through that angle, and by the end I got the concept of the grief in birth (namely the huge changes for both baby and parents), and for the joy in death too. She presented death in a completely different way to my own mindset. She explained that the more she worked with death the more she saw death as a welcoming big mama rather than the grim reaper most of us have in mind. It made sense to me, after all, if you believe, like I do, that we are all spirits having a human experience, then all we are doing when we die is returning to the lovely place we came from.
The grief ceremony blew even more of my mind away. After taking us through a guided meditation through the different doorways of death, Alexandra placed 4 objects representing tears, fear, numbness and anger on the floor and invited those of us who felt drawn to come forward to hold the objects and express their feelings. Something very interesting happened as we all shared loud, messy powerful emotions and tears, without the need to speak, each one of us sending and receiving what we needed. I was reminded of Brene Brown’s book, “Braving the wilderness” when she says that we need to share collective joy and collective pain
” Funerals, in fact, are one of the most powerful examples of collective pain. They feature in a surprising finding from my research on trust. When I asked participants to identify three to five specific behaviors that their friends, family, and colleagues do that raise their level of trust with them, funerals always emerged in the top three responses. Funerals matter. Showing up to them matters. And funerals matter not just to the people grieving, but to everyone who is there. The collective pain (and sometimes joy) we experience when gathering in any way to celebrate the end of a life is perhaps one of the most powerful experiences of inextricable connection. Death, loss, and grief are the great equalizers.”
Alexandra then held the object herself and expressed her emotions loudly and powerfully. I had the realisation that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t gone to hold the objects myself (I had been drawn to so but had hesitated : something had held me back and I had come to understand that others needed it more that day), because when she cried, she cried for all of us, when she screamed in anger, she screamed for all of us.
I’m 48 years old. I’ve never seen a dead person, because as a child when people died my family sheltered me from it, believing it was the best.
The grief ceremony felt like it was the most powerful experience of shared grief I had ever had in my life.
The following day still we had yet another unplanned workshop. A woman called Samina who works at Cae Mabon did a movement/dance workshop for us. Again I didn’t expect much but it was another incredibly powerful experience as we moved silently and in an undirected manner as a group. I shed a deep layer of lack of self love during that experience. We all have deep rooted fears of not belonging and not being loved, so when during the danced we had to pair, fears around lack of self love I have been working on for well over 2 years (since I took my Reiki Master training) resurfaced, and once again I was the little girl who was worried about not being picked and not having a partner. Only this time it didn’t happen and I had a deep realisation that a layer had been peeled away. Just like that. Difficult to put into simple words, but it was instant and deep, yet the culmination of many months of work.
I came away from this retreat a different person, feeling I’d healed deep wounds and peeled away layers of myself I no longer needed.
Once again I was shown the magic that can happen when you have no expectations