From Home Improvement to Self Improvement: Tao Mago Meditation Retreat

The focus of my blog is usually on my home improvement projects but I am taking a slight detour today to talk about self improvement.

The road to self improvement, literally. We had to off-road for 11 miles get to the retreat center location.

I have been interested in mindful meditation for a few years now but have always found it challenging to weave it into my everyday life. All too often I am doing a task and realize my mind is completely elsewhere. Have you ever driven home from work and realized that you basically blacked out the entire ride home until you arrived in your driveway? I wanted to get out of autopilot and work on being more present through each day, especially as my kids are growing up so quickly!

I chose meditation as one of my 2018 resolutions and booked a 3 day retreat in Sedona as a sort of bootcamp for my mind to start the year off on the right foot. I didn’t really know what to expect on this trip but was excited to try something new and get out of my comfort zone.

Our group for the weekend with our teacher, Juniper.

My experience at the Mago Retreat Center felt like a roller coaster. At the high points I would feel very connected with the practice and at the low points I would feel very uncomfortable with exercises and didn’t feel like I was doing it “right”. Each day we began with a morning meditation at 6:30 am and would end the day around 9 pm. Focusing on myself for that long was emotionally draining. I was able to recognize that my low points were the areas where I had the most opportunity to grow and made it a priority to complete the exercises to the best of my ability and lean into my discomfort.

My high point of this experience was the sunrise meditation on our final day. Our group met at 6:45 am and hiked to a site on the property to meditate as the sun rose in the sky. We watched the sun as it first peaked over the horizon and listened to our teacher guide us through our meditation where we gave thanks to this amazing event that happens every day. We felt the sun as its rays hit our face and felt the cool are all around us - two vital resources for all living things. In that moment I felt very grateful.

Location of our guided sunrise meditation.

The low point of this experience was realizing how much my ego controls my actions for fear of what others think. On the first day of the retreat, we went to the pond at the healing garden and completed a few exercises. We took off our shoes and followed our teacher around the pond, walking slowly to feel the gravel under our feet, hear the trickling of water and birds in the air, to feel the sun on our face and the wind in our hair. We then gathered around a willow tree for a meditation. At the end of the meditation we were instructed to find a partner, hold their hands and look into their eyes. We told each other what we were grateful for, took turns saying, “I like you and I love you” and then embraced in a long hug (how many of your are already cringing with discomfort?! LOL). The final step of this exercise was to hold hands around the willow tree and share our loving energy with the tree. Throughout the exercise I felt awkward staring into someone’s eyes for so long and telling a stranger I loved them. I also felt weird giving my “energy” to a tree. I realized that my discomfort was rooted in what other people thought about me doing these exercises and I needed to work extra hard to remove judgments from my mind if I wanted to get the full experience out of this weekend and even out of life. 

Willow tree that the group gathered around to share our loving energy.

Side note: Another challenge of this weekend was trying to keep a straight face as our teacher repeatedly told us to close our anus to prevent energy from leaking out (I am such a child).

Heading to the dining hall for dinner.

At the end of the retreat we wrote down our vision for how our practice would look once we went back to our everyday lives. My vision was to start my day with a 20 minute meditation to show gratitude for everything I have in this life and sharpen my mind. With the realization that my ego can get in the way of trying new experiences, my vision also included leaning into experiences that made me uncomfortable to continue to grow.

Now that I have been back home for a few days, I can see that my awareness has been heightened and I recognize more quickly when my brain begins to wander. I have been more patient with my kids and have been more present during the time I spend with them. As far as implementing the practice, these first few days have been challenging but I was able to take 15 minutes this morning to complete a meditation which I will take as a win! The idea of writing a personal post that is not centered around home improvement is definitely out of my comfort zone. I am being true to my vision by writing about my experience honestly and know that this is helping me to grow.

What self improvement resolutions do you have for 2018?

My friend, Nichole, joined me on this new adventure!

More to share:

If you are interested in learning more about the Mago Retreat Center, check out their website and programs here

60 minute Mindfulness segment with Anderson Cooper that first peaked my interest:

Resource for Mindful Meditation Beginners (I loved this book): Mindful Meditation: An Eight Week Guide to Finding Peace in a Frantic World

During the retreat, we watched a documentary that I found really fascinating that helps explain energies.  The documentary is called, I Am, and it is about a film director (Ace Ventura director, Tom Shadyac) who had a near death experience and went on a journey to find happiness (spoiler alert: money wasn't the answer) and all that is right with the world. If you have Amazon Prime, you can watch it for free.

See the trailer below: