It has been two weeks since I’ve been back from the amazing Mindfulness in Education Conference at The Omega Institute, and I have really been trying to integrate my experience with limited success. There have been so many synchronicities at Omega and in life and The Sacred Circle class and just so so many places and spaces lately. I do not know if I will even be able to scratch the surface of this integration project, and while I am determined to try, I decided to set my intention word for August to be integration. It just seems like this summer has included a lot of experiences and lessons that need to find a permanent home in my mind, body, spirit, and life, and I am dedicating a whole month to make space to allow that integration.
Where I have decided to start is with a statement that was made at one of my meditations "when you embrace the one you are meant to be, you connect with the oneness all around you" which then led to my own question: What does it mean to transform deeper into yourself, and to enjoy the unfolding?
And thus I will begin to recount my experience at Omega and perhaps some answers to my own question will be revealed.
So my dream to go to The Omega Institute was born 6 years ago. I was 27, separated after a year of marriage, and totally and utterly confused. I didn’t know where to turn or what to do so I left my teaching job and googled therapists. Those were 2 things I knew for certain that would help me gain clarity. I remember crying on the phone with the woman who was to become my therapist; “I have no insurance now--I don’t even know how I’m going to pay for this session”. To call her a saint would be an understatement---in that shaky conversation she managed to calm my nerves and agreed to accept only $25 per session from me until I could get my feet on the ground again. At our very first session she asked how I felt about my life crumbling all around me “scared. Confused. LIBERATED”. She picked up on that word right away and started the help me reframe my circumstances, and then she recommended to me the book that changed my life: Broken Open by Elizabeth Lesser.
I left her session in Harvard Square, hopped on the T one stop to Porter Square Bookstop, purchased that book, a journal, and a pen, and thus began my journey. Lesser’s words were transformative. It was literally like she was speaking to my soul. At that moment I knew that someday I would get to The Omega Institute, the place that she had co founded with her ex husband and whose experience being “broken open” had led her to that dream. (Side note: since that day 6 years ago, I think I have re-read the book 5 times and given it to at least 5 people for gifts and recommended it to at least a hundred people--I’m not exaggerating).
Fast forward 2 years and I applied for and got a scholarship to the Mindfulness and Education Conference at Omega, but it was my first summer in Charleston and it was during orientation for my new teaching job, so sadly I had to decline. Following that summer I became a mom and attended 2 summers worth of Montessori training, so it wasn’t feasible for me to try again until THIS summer. Except that we were in between moving. And my mom was in town. And I had a major essential oils event the night before the conference. And the timing was once again, less than ideal. But I decided it was now or never--eventually they were going to stop giving me scholarships. So I jumped.
Arriving at Omega I just felt a sense of peace and calm. Rhinebeck was beautiful and everything was just so tranquil. Because I had taken the bus from New York City, we arrived in just enough time to eat dinner and head to our first round of workshops. I sat with 2 girls who were also on my bus and as we got to talking we realized that despite being from entirely different countries (Carol from Brazil and Nino from Georgia, the country), we had a lot in common--mainly that we were moms away from our young children to learn about mindfulness and enjoy some self care. This was a beautiful and interesting connection that comes full circle in another synchronicity later.
The workshop Friday night was awesome. Empowering. Inspiring. Profound. In fact, I have decided to dedicate a whole nother post to what I actually learned and took away from the conference, but I think reflection #1 will just recount the experience overall. The head of the workshop was Daniel Rechtschaffen, and truth be told, I didn’t know much about the topic of the conference. I mean of course I really love mindfulness in theory and in education, even better, but there are so many names I have seen associated with mindfulness that I didn’t know who was really involved or at the heart of it being in education. And another truth be told, I just knew that I needed to get to Omega and this was my ticket in the door.
So when Daniel off-handedly referred to his mom “Elizabeth”, I almost died. I HAD SIGNED UP FOR A MANIFESTED A SCHOLARSHIP TO ELIZABETH LESSER’S SON’S CONFERENCE!! What was happening universe? How could I have missed this? Because I am not good at keeping secrets and generally 100% transparent, naturally I had already shared with my international mom friends why I was there in the first place, so they glanced at me as this revelation was made. There are thousands of conferences every year at Omega, surely Elizabeth Lesser doesn’t attend them all, but this one was being run BY HER SON.
My transparency struck again a little later. One of the best parts of Omega is the community feel. It is literally a holistic retreat center in the middle of nowhere so everyone there, participants and presenters alike, share a space. We share a dining hall (with all locally sourced, delicious and healthy food) with certain hours; a cafe, and a bookstore; we share a meditation studio and a free movement dance space; a wellness center, a lake, and so many more things. So later that night I went to fill up my water and saw Daniel behind me in line talking to some other people, and being so starstruck I felt the need to go up to him and profess my love for his mother. The conversation was super awkward in the way that I usually make things awkward as I said “Hi; I’m Jen--a Montessori teacher from Charleston. I like your work, but I really love your mom”. Being so kind and “mindful”, Daniel said “Oh--that’s awesome. I would love to introduce you to her” and he proceeded to tell me that he thinks she will be there on Sunday at some point. WHAT? How insane. Somehow after excitedly leaving the cafe, texting my husband and mom and a few other people that would know what a big deal this is to me, I managed to go to sleep.
The next morning I woke up and got to choose between yoga, tai chi, and meditation before breakfast. I decided to try tai chi and it was really amazing. Just such a fluent way to start a day and so many beautiful messages and life lessons there as well (to be recounted fully later). The conference itself was really inspiring--a true call to action and a reminder that as Nelson Mandela says, “education is the most powerful weapon we have to change the world”. Despite so many frustrations I have had with the education system, something keeps me there and I believe it is this belief that education is the place we can start to shift a society and make the most meaningful of impacts. This renewed sense of purpose in the education world is something I also plan to discuss at length at a later time as well.
Midway through the day I went to see an energy healer named Justin. He was amazing. I would highly recommend him for anyone that ever goes to Omega. I just felt the need to try something in the soul retrieval category while I was at Omega because--it’s Omega, and I am so glad that I did. It was my first experience with somatic healing and Justin combined so many different techniques like tuning forks, craniosacral massage, and gong meditation. The experience was deep--I went into a very profound meditative state, and I came back to a question that we were asked in an earlier mindfulness meditation which was “what do I need to release to be present right now?” Such a seemingly simplistic but significant question, and thus that question came up again during my session with Justin and I just started releasing so much stuff that I didn’t even realize was weighing me down. I also felt really connected to my energy system and even saw a vision of a lotus flower opening up and heard the voices of my deceased loved ones. The energy session sort of integrated what I was learning in the classes with my personal life in a synchronistic way--it was one of those reminders that I was certainly in the right place at the right time. The session was only 25 minutes but it felt so intense and therapeutic. After it was over Justin talked about a lot of the ancestral trauma that I seemed to have been holding on to, which was a prominent theme of the conference, and he also talked about how we are moving into an energetic stage where people are rising up from fear and stepping into their power. It was all so resonant. I cannot put into words how activated I felt, but when I left the session and returned to the afternoon workshops I felt so free and present and was able to connect with so many more interesting and passionate people.
As I said earlier, I will dedicate more posts to the specific conversations I had, gems of insight I gleaned, and other pertinent details of my experience, but for now I will just go through the skeleton of my days at Omega.
In between workshops I was able to attend a beautiful meditation in a building called The Sanctuary--in this space was where I first heard the profound quote that I opened up this passage with: "when you embrace the one you are meant to be, you connect with the oneness all around you"--wow! So many resonant messages about being yourself. That sounds cheesy and cliche and is something we have all been hearing forever but something about hearing it in my dream space at a time when I do feel like I am on the verge of another metamorphosis just felt so aligned.
After all of my classes and workshops and dinner, I spent a few hours to myself in the Omega bookstore--looking through books and cards and crystals and messages. Taking it all in. I decided to purchase 3 cards--one for my mom, one for my daughter, and one for my husband, and 3 stones. There were so many things I could have bought but I was trying to be conservative with my spending and my space (minimalist mentality) and I really just wanted to share with them a piece of Omega. Originally I was going to get myself a tee shirt or something but instead this integration, my journal, my investment in energy healing, and all of the beautiful friendships that were born were enough for me. I then went back to my room high off of my own energy and came up with a crazy idea to write Elizabeth Lesser a card. I needed to let her know just how profoundly she had changed my life years ago and how being in a space that she created broke me open...again... in ways I didn’t even know I needed. And so, alone in my dorm room, I crafted the card.
Sunday I woke up and attended tai chi again and then had an awesome breakfast where as fate would have it the 3 ladies that I started my Omega journey with and I all got back together for breakfast. Only 2 days later, the joy in our faces and lightness in our weight was so much more apparent. We reflected fondly on our Omega experience and how needed it was for us young mamas. We talked about ways that we could integrate and bring the positive energy back into our lives at home--with our children, husbands, jobs, obligations...again, I am at a loss for words when I think about how significant and full circle this encounter was. Cultures apart but sharing so much in common, Nino, Carol, and I also didn’t have the words but could understand the sentiments each other felt in our experience. The warmth of our exchange and the way we were open as a result of our experience is something I will carry with me always. I have been called to do the “Mindfull Mama” work and a major part of that is that healing ourselves is the best gift we can give to others---this experience with these beautiful women was a true testament of that.
After Sunday’s workshop, I stopped by to thank Daniel and give him the card that I had boldly and thoughtfully crafted for his mom. He then said, “well she’s here; you can give it her”. I again said, “OMG, I think I might die” and as I waited for him to finish his reflections and goodbyes with other participants, those that met me that week (because hello transparency, I had told EVERYONE how much this woman and her book had changed my life) asked me if I was finally going to get to meet her. Unfortunately, as the goodbyes were over so to was my opportunity, and Ms. Lesser left campus to have lunch with a friend.
I was a little disappointed, but still really excited that I had written her the letter; that I had the opportunity to be at Omega on a full scholarship; and for all of the profound transformation that took place that weekend. I will use this space as a promise to return someday in the near future and hopefully fulfill my dream of meeting her. Until then I will continue to recommend Broken Open to every human being I meet (like literally I even discussed it with a new friend I met last night) and continue to try to integrate all of the beautiful synchronicities this life has to offer.
More to come, but for now….I am just glad I finally got something recorded about this life-altering experience. I think it will be one of those experiences whose gifts continue to unfold and blossom, and as some of my meditations recently have taught me, it is time to surrender and trust the process.