Updated: Mar 3, 2020
I went to a women’s retreat in Fiji because I wanted to spend a week on a tiny island with Elizabeth Gilbert. I knew that even if we didn’t have a soul-to-soul, writer-to-writer connection, the likelihood of having one was greater on a remote island in the Pacific than at one of her mass lectures (two of which I’ve already attended). I was right. I met Liz in line at the coffee bar. She turned to my friends and me and said, “Hi, I’m Liz. I’m going to give you a sticker.” Then she peeled off a hot pink heart sticker and placed it on my finger. This was the beginning of easy. Easy that meant for a week I didn’t have to cook but could have whatever I wanted at the buffet. The easy variety of tropical juices at breakfast. The all too easy to eat tubs of chocolate mousse for dessert twice a day. The easy walk beneath the shady palms from my room to the conference center. Swimming in the water around the island was easy—it was always warm and still, and we only got one sprinkle of rain. Meeting people was easy, too. There were 200 women milling around in embroidered beach cover-ups and colorful caftans. Each of them had a story. And I love a good story.
On one of my first mornings in Fiji I traded tales with two women. After hearing my story, one woman said, “When a door is locked, don’t go looking for the key. That’s not your door. When a door is open, you go through it.” Dear god, I almost spilled my pineapple juice. I have made a career of crawling on my hands and knees looking for the key. But what if love, career, fitness, and everything really didn’t have to be so hard? What if, like so many things in Fiji, they were easy?
Even the snorkeling was easy. Instead of squeezing into a wetsuit and taking a skiff, I could snorkel right from shore. The resort had a hut with a Rasta-vibe man who lent out snorkeling gear all day, free of charge. I went three times, skipping class to get my snorkel on. The water was clear. The fish were varied and colorful. And because I wasn’t on a work trip, I didn’t have to try to remember what I saw to write about it. I could just be. Just float. I felt like I was in my own little underwater womb, nurtured in the fluid. Loose and floaty, like I was slowly healing from whatever was broken in my body. And as I learned from the retreat’s womb-opener/feminine movement teacher/magical living alchemist, “When you want to change your life, the place to start is not in your mind, but in your body.”
I did want to change my life. And in this wanting my body seemed to have turned against me. About three months ago I started to have sharp pains in my hips, butt, and legs. The pain moved around but was always there when I walked, especially uphill. Every morning I woke up feeling as if I’d just run a marathon even though I’d had to stop running completely. Instead I was spending my time seeing a twenty-something physical therapist who told me the pain was because I hadn’t been using my core and butt. She said I’d been running, walking, and standing incorrectly. That essentially I’ve been existing incorrectly for 40 years. That I’ve been doing it wrong all this time. As if the pain itself wasn’t bad enough, whenever I went to PT I felt that everything was so hard. I tried to do her exercises, squeezing the arches in my feet when I sat, but they didn’t resonate with me. I wanted a new way of moving. I desperately needed to run again.
One of the facilitators in Fiji was from Rise and Shine Run. I had been looking forward to her injury-free running workshop. Luckily on the day I chose to attend the workshop only one other woman—who hadn’t run since childhood—joined. I had been running for 25 years. And yet there we were, side by side on a dirt road at the back of the resort learning how to run. “Your hips are a bowl of soup” the facilitator told us. “Don’t tip them too far forward or too far back. Your core, your center, should lead. Lean forward. Your legs should never be in front of you. For your arms, remember, ‘back relax.’” All of this made sense to me. It seemed simple. General enough to latch onto, and positive enough to keep me going. I had pain because I had been making my legs do all the work. None of it came from my core. When I started to think of leading with my core, it made me think of falling into the run. Falling into the run like falling into all that I love about running. I could let gravity do the work. It was a totally different way of running, but had a natural energy to it. Running could be easier than I’d made it. Like babies taking their first steps, the other woman and I took turns running to the end of the track and back. As the other woman came back from her lap, I noticed, fenced off, the raft from Castaway. In front of it was a little plaque with pictures of Tom Hanks and Wilson. That life raft had been sitting there the whole time and I hadn’t noticed it. My life raft, my core, had always been there. I just hadn’t known how to use it.
On the last morning of the retreat I’d arranged for a consult with the yoga and fitness facilitator. In the yoga class I’d taken with her earlier in the week, she’d adjusted me. It was such a small, incredible gift. I couldn’t remember the last time a yoga teacher adjusted me. For our private session I held yoga poses and stretches while she watched and moved me. She talked me through minor adjustments, and, even better, gave me general rules to think about in yoga. “Standing poses are for strength, reclining poses are for stretching. When you do standing poses you should squeeze your butt.” There were echoes of PT in this, but coming from a woman who’s been in the industry since 1980, I could get behind them. It would be easy to remember to squeeze my butt every time I hold a standing pose. It made sense that I shouldn’t be stretching when I’m standing, I should be working. And unlike the PT, she was positive. She talked about the changes she’d seen in the industry from Jane Fonda to Pilates to barre. I could trust her. When I was in a reclining stretch with one leg up the wall she looked down at me and asked, “No one’s ever told you you’re flexible?” I looked up at her face outlined in sunlight and thought, “No my angel of yoga, no one ever has.” This is what I needed to hear. I needed to hear that using my body didn’t have to be so hard, that I hadn’t been doing it wrong. I needed to hear that movement could be easy because I’m bringing something to the movement. I’m bringing flexibility and, somewhere underneath all that chocolate mousse, core and butt strength.
In her keynote speech Liz Gilbert told us that the most powerful person in the room is the most relaxed person. She said you can make your life easier by deciding to be relaxed and then setting boundaries and priorities. You are not on this Earth necessarily to “fulfill your purpose” but to choose a few people and things to give your energy to. And by choosing only a few, you can remain relaxed. You can keep things easy. This reminded me of a quote I’d read somewhere: “I am willing for this to be easier and much more magical than I can imagine.” Could it be true?
What if my body didn’t have to hurt when I walked and ran? What if it felt good and easy? What if finding love and success was simple? What if all that time I’d been crawling on the floor scrounging around for a key, doors had been blowing open? Yes, I met Liz Gilbert. But I didn’t tell her that I’m a writer or had also met Ketut. I didn’t give her my pink business card. I didn’t need to. Instead we had a relaxed meeting. Instead she said “Hi, I’m Liz” and gave me a heart. It was that easy.