20: A Real Stretch

20: A Real Stretch

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Reboot Your Life

A Real Stretch

Coming out of your comfort zone is tough in the beginning, chaotic in the middle, and awesome in the end . . . because in the end, it shows you a whole new world!

~Manoj Arora

“Do you have a bathing suit I can borrow?”

Mom looked at me incredulously. “A bathing suit? Sure, why?” My mother knew a bathing suit was the last thing I’d willingly wear. I didn’t even own one, hence my request.

“I decided to sign up for a sweat, soak, and writing retreat. We’re to spend time in a hot tub and a sauna. It’s supposed to be conducive to writing.”

Mom looked at me in disbelief. “You’re going to spend the day in a hot tub and sauna with a group of strange women?”

I let out a sigh. How did I explain that I was tired of being afraid of life? I am the least adventurous person I know. I plan ahead. I don’t like surprises. I also don’t like who I’ve become. “I just want to try something different,” I muttered. My life was not going as planned. I had a broken engagement and a stagnant career to show for all my years of hard work. I wanted something more. I was hoping this retreat would be the motivation I needed to pursue my dream of becoming a writer.

“The thing that’s making me nervous,” I continued, “is that the invitation says we can bring a bathing suit if we want. That implies there could be some women not wearing bathing suits!”

When I arrived at the retreat, I parked the car and prayed for some courage. I grabbed my purse and bag of necessities with one hand and the salad I’d made for the potluck with my other. This event was hosted by a well-known local author who holds several writing classes each year. The only rules were anonymity and that we were not to discuss anything another participant shared. It was freeing to be to be able to share our innermost thoughts with a group of strangers with no repercussions.

The nine of us spent the morning on writing exercises. We were baring our souls with every word, even if only on paper. We were invited to share our words, but I wasn’t brave enough. Changing one’s life takes time.

The next step in the day’s journey was spending time in the sauna. A selection of filmy wraps were made available for those not wanting to enter the sauna au naturel, but bathing suits were actually discouraged as they did not allow the body to properly breathe. Umm, what? I couldn’t wear my bathing suit?

The homeowner said we could change clothes either in the one-roomed yurt where we had spent the morning writing, or in the privacy of her bathroom. Without running anyone over, I promptly made my way to the bathroom. Feeling so very exposed, even with the sarong wrapped tightly around me, I followed the others into the sauna.

Nine women in an eight-seat sauna is a very tight fit. Soon a jar of salt scrub was passed around. We were told to all turn to the left and wash the back of the woman in front of us. It’s very hard to breathe deep, calming breaths in a sauna without passing out. So instead I just went to my happy place in my head until it was all over. I’m sure the woman sitting next to me was a wonderful person. At the moment all I knew was that she was a naked stranger who I was currently massaging, while another naked woman was touching my back in return.

I was so out of my comfort zone.

Not able to spend great lengths of time in the sauna, we took breaks, out on the patio either lying in the sun or sitting in the hot tub. I opted to sit in a lone chair and cling desperately to my soaked sarong. I was pleasant to anyone who spoke to me, but inside I was one deep breath away from a full-blown panic attack. I had to keep reminding myself that I was there to make a change.

It took me most of the afternoon to work up the courage to join a few women in the hot tub. This was our final break before we were to go back in the yurt for dinner and more writing. Since I had come this far, I figured it was only right to push myself a little farther. I dropped the wrap onto the chair and casually made my way to the steps of the hot tub. As I climbed to the edge of the tub it occurred to me that there really is no graceful way to get into a hot tub, especially not if you’re uncomfortably naked. Not wanting to draw attention to myself, I slowly stepped forward, slipping only one foot in the water. With my other foot still on the outside of the tub I did the most spectacular splits in my life, sliding halfway across the water, landing dead center in the group of women I had been hoping wouldn’t notice me. With my dignity gone, I laughingly told them all I was fine, while I frantically tried to figure out how I was supposed to get back out of the tub without any more gymnastics.

Thankfully that portion of the day came to an end. Once again I was fully clothed and back in the yurt. There are no tables in the yurt, only rugs, blankets and chairs, meant to create a welcoming environment. As I knelt on the floor, assembling my salad for dinner, the class moderator wandered in and began to dress a few feet away from me.

“So, did you learn anything about yourself today?” she asked. Before I could come up with a socially acceptable platitude, I blurted out, “I learned I’m a bit of a prude.”

She laughed as she pulled up her underwear. “Not comfortable being naked? I guess you weren’t around in the 60’s.”

I agreed, saved from further conversation as the rest of the group joined us.

After dinner and a few more writing exercises, we prepared to end the day. The moderator said she knew the day had been calming and relaxing for everyone. She hoped we were not all so relaxed we’d fall asleep on our way home.

I laughed silently. I was the opposite of calm and relaxed. After the day I’d had, I was wound so tightly it would take a week in the fetal position just to relax enough to breathe normally.

As I pulled out of the driveway, the moderator’s final words were still in my head, “Ask yourself, where do I have room to grow?”

After that day I realized my potential for growth was limitless. But one thing was certain — the next time I decided on a growing experience, I’d be keeping my clothes on.

~Rebecca Olker

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