Monday, October 31, 2016

Great Sand Dunes

When we landed in Crestone several friends said, "You're going to see the sand dunes right?" 

Well. It hadn't been our original intention but sure!

We drove out the one road from Crestone to the Cosmic Highway connecting the high San Luis Valley. Given that I had a cold, was stationed in a 4-road town of 150 people, I was partially hunting cold supplies. I wanted tissues. Cough drops. I always imagine a land of no CVSes and no convenience. I can now say from experience: it's AMAZING and should happen but it has it's costs. One is when you have an unexpected cold and are underprepared.

As we approached the Great Sand Dunes national park we happily encountered the one all needs shop. It seems like every park has this place. They'll make you a hot dog. You can buy propane gas. There are weirdly great salves made by a local Indigenous woman. There's kitschy home decorations next to survival hunting knives. And happily, there was ONE PACK OF HALL'S COUGH DROPS.

I bought hot sauce for my Aunts and cough drops for myself. Finally, a store. Errands. Check.

Now, to epic sand.

In Crestone we'd stopped in a shop that sold sacred healing crystals and VHS tapes of movies. Cause, Crestone. The very sweet woman tending shop suggested a few hikes and of course to head to the sand dunes. Kevin asked about how they formed. He loves the sand dunes at Jockey's Ridge in Kitty Hawk so he's sort of tuned into this stuff. She said, "you know. This is a desert. Sand just went there."

We later sat in the park's visitor center and watched a video on the geology of the park. They didn't use that language but I swear, they basically said the same thing.

The main nuance left by those wordy scientists was that the sand plays a huge role in the local ecosystem. The sand blows and drifts as sand tends to do. It blows up the mountain. When the winter snows melt it travels back down the mountains and to these dunes. There's a sweet dance occurring in this particular place. It's rare and beautiful.

On a Tuesday there were an assortment of campers and kids who have sand boards-- basically snow boards to coast down the sand. The sand dunes were crazy high and steep. Just due to a normal respect for heights I felt some trepidation. Then I tested the water on a sand hill and found that the costs of running, rolling, or generally playing in any imaginable way were nill. It's pretty freeing.

I was sort of at the height of my chest congestion here. Between altitude and the winds that naturally whip you this high up without tree cover, I paused a lot. I cared for my ability to breathe. Kevin, as is his nature, played.

He is still finding sand in every bit of his being.

We became creatures of the sand. As we walked back to our car, I paused to shake out my boots. I can't even tell you how long sand poured from them.

Many camp throughout the park. The landscape changes quickly. For those who do camp, at night you can return to the sand dunes for star watching. I can't imagine a closer nor sweeter view of the infinite sky.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Traveling as possession

It's not a memory, it's a potent feeling. The air is cold but the sun is hot. The ground is solid and dusty. Calexico plays; rumbling, evocative, creepy, romantic. The sky is wide open and a thick blue. The mountains are both near and far but they are always. And life is in a car. Life is lived in a way specific to this time and place-- moving fast on open, practically barren road. When I read the obituaries in the local newspaper it's all listings of young travelers killed in accidents. Life is raw, fast, sudden, and dangerous.

I don't feel like I went to the San Luis Valley-- I feel like it crept inside of me and it's still there. I don't feel like there were a few days where I visited Crestone-- I think Crestone decided to inhabit me. It's still there. I can still access it. I don't feel like I entered and exited-- this was a possession.

The entirety of our time felt that way-- vaguely creepy, completely magical, totally weird, and inherently wonderful. Behind our magic hobbit hole there was a small alley in the shadows of the Sangre de Cristo peaks. In the morning I saw a gathering of folks who looked like they were living fast and rough. They had that feel around them that they were fierce, protective of one another, kind, and quick to fight. One dusty guy had a tear drop tattooed under his left eye. Most were wearing old army surplus wear. An Indigenous couple made out on the hood of a truck. The whole scene was pretty far from what I live in southern New Jersey... in fact it felt about as far as some of the worlds I encountered in the mountains of northern Vietnam or the valleys of Andean Ecuador.

I couldn't put my finger on it. Were folks allowed to crash in this public space? What was going on?

Ultimately, we went inside the door near where folks smoked their morning cigarettes and nodded to the maroon clad monks wandering by on morning errands. It was a coffee shop. Not any coffee shop but a coffee shop that made bullet proof coffee with ghee and coconut oil, or added bee pollen to your smoothie, or created a spicy maca mocha for you. Like, a weirdly good coffee shop. Inside was pretty much the same as outside, but add a few laptops.

We couldn't get a wifi signal and I doubt many others in there could either. I think everyone was probably working on their novel or developing their online meditation course. We picked up the local newspaper, still hungrily taking in this strange place we'd found ourselves. Everyone was wildly friendly. A guy in a goth raincoat with feathers trailing from his hat asked about Kevin's copy of Lord of the Rings. Kevin explained the origins of his leather-bound copy. The guy responded with, "Ah, your fantasy bible" before catching up on kirtan touring with a musician from Taos.

An old guy with white locks to his waist wore a tie-dyed "Same difference" tee-shirt. A traveling family cooed over a sleepy toddler. I honestly think that if I encountered the same crowd in Chicago that they would look completely "normal" there. Like, "same difference" tee-shirt would shift to a business suit. I almost wondered what I looked like to them. As though none of us would be able to see our own reflection in the mirror.

Years ago Kevin and I wandered into Banos, Ecuador, a town in a deep valley in the Andes. That was the first time I put my finger on the experience I was having in Crestone. I wasn't where I thought I was. Where I thought I was was in me.

I don't know how else to characterize it.

The presence of that place, and others in Ecuador, affected me deeply. I remember an overwhelming desire to just stay and be with that. To write it. To feel it. To let it be with me. At that time, I had other ideas in mind and continued my journeys. In Crestone, I stayed. I'm learning.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Mountain's Call

I've read Muir's quote, "The mountains are calling and I must go," and smiled and thought, "I get that." But now I nod soberly. Yeah. I get that.

I feel like I was recently summoned by the Sangre de Cristo range. I don't know how else to describe it. I knew we were offering a retreat in Boulder and I always try to shoulder retreats with a little bit of personal time when I can restore my own inner reserves after being tuned into the participants of the retreat. I'd asked some friends in Colorado if they had recommendations but I got a lot of vague responses. Last year I designed a Costa Rica retreat for Colorado-based yoga teacher, Carrie Keahey. She said, "Go to Crestone." I had breakfast with my friend Karin Otto and mentioned this. She gasped. In awe she said, "go there. I did my 3 week zazen sit there."

I'd never heard of Crestone, but all of my favorite travel experiences began with someone else's wide-eyed suggestion. We went to Guatemala based on the recommendation of some Chilean backpackers when we were all sandwiched in the back of a van in Panama. Staying in a hostel near Tikal, we played rummy for a few hours with a guy who'd motorcycled down from Canada. He told us, "Go to Lake Atitlan. Go to a village called San Marcos. Stay at a hotel called Aaculaax." A few weeks later, while sunning on the boulders along the Lake Atitlan shoreline, we chatted with some Irish backpackers. "I love Vietnam. Go there." While planning my Vietnam trip, a yoga student said, "Go to Hoi An." And on and on.

I don't know if other people get these suggestions or not nor whether they listen. In my experience, it is worth listening to these recommendations.

I found an airbnb in Crestone and figured out how long it would take us to drive down from Boulder. I often take public transit when traveling but it wasn't an option here. There is one road into Crestone and one road out. No buses. No trains.

As we finished long, sweet hugs with the participants from the Boulder retreat, we hopped into our rental car and got on the highway south through the Rockies. We skirted the western border of Denver before dropping into more arid rock formations, following winding highways along serpentine paths of rivers. My ears never stopped popping as we found our ways into many little towns, the formula: one gas station, on camping spot, one motel, one restaurant. Again and again. And then wide open space. Uninterrupted mountains, climbing trees, open skies.

We saw several of Kevin's "weird Colorado" finds; a Coney Island hot dog stand among them. So funny to find a 8 ft tall hot dog among aspen and yet another "Yogi Bear" KOA campsite. We stopped for lunch near Breckenridge and got some good spicy burritos. The landscape shifted gradually as we wove in and out of valleys and then back up into the mountains. The biggest shift came as we exited about 45 minutes from Crestone. Suddenly, we dropped into a high altitude desert, an altiplano. The San Luis Valley plays tricks on your perception. Because it's so broad and flat, with the only discernable difference between the mountain range boundaries, it seems possibly small. But it's not. The valley opens into a vast range but there's little to differentiate distance. More tumbleweed, low grasses, grazing animals. Open, open space.

The altiplano was arid, desolate and completely beautiful. We drove towards a majestic range of southern Rockies known as the Sangre de Cristo because at sunset, the sky makes the mountains appear the color of the blood of Christ. That name gives some indication to the potency of feeling in this place. This particular area has long been a site of pilgrimage. Indigenous peoples lived and live in the region but many sites in this particular area have always been places of spiritual reverence, not places where you live your everyday life.

Highway 17 or the Cosmic Highway, which links into Crestone, is also where the most UFO sightings in the northern Americas have occurred! This feels pretty linked to me-- there's interesting scholarship on previous generations talking about spiritual sightings or communions with angels in the same terms that people in the last century have used to describe UFO sightings. Some say that these experiences are the same. Whether they're UFOs or angels is obviously a bit tricky to discern or prove, but many in and around Crestone split the difference by referring to "sky beings" or "sky spirits." Many in Crestone purposefully meditate or seek to commune with these beings who they see as helpful or conducive to shifting perspective and consciousness.

Already, we'd obviously hit another one of Kevin's "weird Colorado" spots. He had just heard an interview with a woman who maintains a site dedicated to the Cosmic Highway's high density of sightings.

We passed hot springs I'd heard about, bubbling up from the cauldron of heat and energy beneath the valley floor before turning on T road, the one way in and out of Crestone. This road is almost a straight shot towards the mountains, but mysteriously curves a few times. The bends move around houses. My guess is they either built the road around existing properties and/or they added some bends to decelerate the tendency to just speed off towards the horizon.

We passed a dispensary and a few houses and a lot of wild, open space. We dead-ended at grazing alpaca and a sign for Crestone. A left and then a right, we found a four road town and some scattered houses. I asked a woman for directions to our airbnb. She had a leathered face, suspicious eyes, and was missing most of her teeth. She seemed very sharp and discerning. The road names I was given meant nothing but in a town of 150 people she knew our airbnb host and appropriately guided us.

We opened a rusty gate to a yard of projects: apple trees dropping fruit where mule deer grazed, a geodesic dome serving as growhouse for marijuana plants, several assorted yurts, an apparently functional sink in the middle of the yard, a human-made stream running past a house where a toddler stood naked in a tall window. Some found art projects. A couple of tools.

Beneath the towering mountains, our hobbit house, a round home built from sacred geometry out of wood and cob. We entered the code and the sweet space. It was so warm! So much warmer than I would have expected. Cob does a good job of insulating or cooling depending on the season. As the temperature quickly dropped in the high mountain air, the warmth became very reassuring.

Kevin looked around wide-eyed saying things like, "I feel like I've been here before." I didn't feel that but I don't know how else to explain it... I feel like I'd been called.

And not like this was a warm, milk and cookies invitation. It felt a little rough!

I'd arrived in Colorado feeling good. On the second day of the retreat I went into deep caves with bubbling water from hot springs. By that evening, I felt rough. I had a ton of congestion in my chest that made it hard to sleep. I figured out ways to pull through so I could be present on the retreat but I almost felt like that dip had kick-started something in my body. By the time I pulled into Crestone I was still battling the congestion as well as the altitude. It felt like a purification. It felt like I'd be plunged into the depth of the mountain's heat, shook up, warmed up, and was being pushed to run clear.

I didn't feel well for most of my time in Colorado but I still loved it. I didn't feel concerned about my health. It felt like something that maybe is often covered up, or not often dealt with (I can't even name what!), was rising to the surface level. Like the mountains called me, I had to go, and they were working me out.

Given that I didn't want to miss out on this beautiful space, I continued to do things. Each day Kevin and I set out on an outdoor adventure. As the day progressed and I moved in the open air, I would feel better. I had to stop a lot on hikes to catch my breath as the thin oxygen and my compromised lungs needed time, but I could do it and I felt better for having been free range in that way. I felt summoned and I felt like the mountains wanted to work on me.

The other day I re-listened to an interview Krista Tippett did with Robin Kimmerer, a biologian of moss and member of  Indigenous spiritual community. Kimmerer said that she often asked her college students if they love the world. Many would affirm that they do. Then she'd ask if the earth loves them. That tended to produce uncomfortable silences. She phrased the question in that way to highlight the interrelatedness we have with what we perceive to be inanimate, or at least animate in a way distinct from our own consciousness. She wanted to offer the possibility of the earth's agency. I was so glad to hear that because these are the spaces I've been working in recently. Even as I write these words I think potential readers might think I've totally lost it. "Mountains calling you? Purifying you? How many dispensaries did you hit?" Language feels pretty inadequate in regards to some of these deeper senses.

I've been working to strengthen my intuition recently by simply listening to it. I pay more attention to my dreams. I try to feel my body's responses to various decisions. The more I practice in these ways, the quiet inner voice grows louder. And I'm so grateful for it's insight.

Maybe this is why I could hear the mountains call. I don't think I'm meant to stay there. The feeling of pilgrimage was strong. I think those mountains are happiest left free of human development and intervention. But I'm so grateful for the invitation and ability to be in that potent space, when called.

Into the Great Wide Open Retreat reflection

There has been so much movement. There have been many mountains.

I'm taking a minute to collect and recollect it all.

For the past few months, on my days off I holed up in the library hidden in a canyon of books by American Naturalists. In my blue floral notebook (the personal, creative space) I wrote quotes and ideas. Beth and I sat down together and saw where these Naturalists were directly sharing yogic and Buddhist philosophy (think Emerson and Helen Nearing, who was Krishnamurti's student) or where there was simply a natural echoing. In that ven diagram of thinking, we developed a curriculum for the Into the Great Wide Open Retreat to Boulder.

We hand wrote small journals with daily invitations to intention, quotes, writing prompts, and guided meditations for silent meals.

On Oct 6 Kevin and I flew out to Denver. We got our rental car and started into the mountains. Maybe it was the altitude but it was exhilarating. And I was nervous, which is always the case when I enter into facilitating a retreat. I take holding space very seriously.

We met Beth for food on Pearl Street in Denver. People were already trickling into Chautauqua. We all began gathering in the main room at Missions House, noshing on cookies, swapping travel stories, and getting settled in. If we looked out the "back yard" we saw the glorious rising of the Flatirons.

Dinner was our first official get together. As always, we clarified that every offering was optional and affirmed each participant following their own inner direction.

There's a small time difference between Boulder and Philly but enough that I was wide awake before sunrise the following morning. Kevin and I bundled up against the early morning icy air and began walking up the Flatirons. The trails were empty, leaving us ample space to look up and out over the endless spines of mountains or out into the valley of Boulder. It was pretty much the best space to gain perspective in advance of teaching yoga. I returned to Missions House where we practiced Jivamukti yoga, ate a lovely catered breakfast, and then we sort of organically went en masse up the trails. Originally, we all set out to explore. Again, as is the case in these sorts of things, some folks decided to turn back after remembering that we hadn't all acclimated to the altitude, and others of us went up to the Royal Arches.

Each day after unfolded similarly. An invitation into a deepening or evolving intention, yoga, beautiful food, adventures, yoga, and an evening by the fire eating and talking. We had several silent meals together guided by Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings on mindful silence. A group of us took a jaunt to hot springs in Idaho Springs. Others wandered into downtown Boulder. A few trekked to Rocky Mountain National Park in Estes Park. Others got massages and body work. We all found our way into the mountains, into that perspective, and into ourselves.

I love every retreat and rarely want to repeat them. The thing is, they can't be recreated. They're always a unique encounter between each participant, facilitator, and the space. While this experience could never be duplicated, its ease and yields make me think of offering it again! What do you say? Should we do it?

Friday, October 14, 2016

Longing: a Jivamukti Yogawood Retreat to Portugal

Longing: Jivamukti Yogawood Retreat to Portugal
September 2-9, 2017

Portuguese Fado music is known for it’s mournful soul-stirring. There’s an inescapable feeling of being ripped from something larger. It’s easy to understand this music bubbling up over the wind-swept cliffs of the Algarve in Southwest Portugal.

Yogis know this longing and use it, too. The epics of their native lands are inspiration: the mere hearing of Krishna’s flute draws his beloved Radha near. We are told that to reach the harmonious state of yoga we can employ the curiosity of a monkey or soft, openness of a new kitten. In this receptivity, calling out to be heard, we may remember our true nature and state of inter-being.

These are the ideas we’ll explore through Jivamukti yoga practice, pranayama, meditation, chanting, and simply being in this dramatic landscape. Expect vegan Portuguese meals, locally sourced whenever possible, good community, and time to be.


We’ll base our experience at Monte Velho EcoRetreat ( located within the National Park of Costa Vicentina. ( On-site enjoy a swimmable lake, request the sauna or steam room, book massages, and explore the of walking trails. You’ll experience many ways that Monte Velho respects the environment. There are permaculture gardens as well as no wifi. This is intentional. With a rented car, you can go into town to use wifi when needed. Plan accordingly and relax into being off the grid!

A short drive away take in the traditional Portuguese village of Carrapateira, the beaches of Praia do Amado or Praia da Bordeira both great for surfing or sunbathing. You can also visit the lighthouse and dolphin watching of Sagres or the variety of beaches up and down the coastline.

View the retreat here:


Tuition includes accommodations, three daily vegan meals, and twice daily yoga. It does not include any transport. All rates listed are based on full payment by June 1,2017. We cannot extend the discount past that. Later payments increase by $150.

*We are happy to make suggestions for rooming together but ultimately can only give you a rate reflective of how many occupy your room. If you do not secure a roommate, you must pay the single occupancy rate.

Single occupancy rate $1,675
There are 5 rooms that could be used for single or double occupancy. Each has a queen-sized bed and private attached bath.


Double occupancy $1,395
These are the same rooms described under single occupancy. An additional twin bed can be added for friends sharing a room.

Triple or quadruple share rate $1,320
There are 7 suites with two areas in each. One area has two twin beds and the other area has a king bed. In the event of 4 people sharing one of these suites, the king would be separated into two twins, offering one twin bed per person. Each suite has a private attached bath.

One twin in the 6 person dorm room $1,200
The dorm has 6 twin beds, one per person, and a shared outdoor bathroom and shower.

Check in 4 pm Saturday September 2. Check out 10 am Saturday September 9.

A $500 deposit is due to hold your space. We cannot hold space without a deposit. The balance on your tuition is due by June 1,2017 for early bird discount, or by August 1, 2017 with the surcharge.

Not included

Transport to the retreat site.


We understand that things happen. We will refund all payment but a $100 administrative fee before May 1, 2017. There are no refunds after May 1, 2017.


Fly into Lisbon International Airport. We strongly urge all participants to rent a car to drive the 3 hours down to Carrapateira, a small village on the western coast of the Algarve. From Lisbon use highway A2 to Lagos. From Lagos travel up to Monte Velho. There is no included transport to get to the retreat site. Feel free to check in with Maiga for help in coordinating getting to the retreat.

What to Bring

  • A current passport.
  • Two color photo copies of your passport.
  • Euros. Consider converting $200 USD into the Euro equivalent for any spending you might want to do in the nearby town or for extras like saunas and massages.
  • Your own reusable water bottle.
  • Medications with their prescription.
  • Your yoga mat if you’re attached-- there are mats to use at Monte Velho if you’d rather not travel with your own mat.
  • Small towels for sweaty practice.
  • Clothing for twice daily yoga practice.
  • Clothes for day time adventures
  • Some layers for cooler evenings, like a pair of yoga pants, sweat shirt, and long sleeve shirt.
  • Flip flops.
  • If you plan to be adventurous, a good sports sandal like keens or chacos.
  • Swim suits.
  • Beach towels.
  • Beach gear-- sunscreen, bug spray, sunglasses, hat, etc.
  • Books and music.
  • There are no hairdryers but remember they try to conserve energy and that we think you look beautiful as you are.
  • Reading lamp, flashlight or headlamp. For some reason, flashlights and headlamps are amazingly helpful when traveling.
  • An adapter.

Communicating with family back home

If you have a good international cell phone plan, great! Know signals are often dodge-y in remote places like coastal Portugal. Consider turning off your cellular data once you fly out to Portugal. Once you have wifi, you can use the connection to Facetime with friends and family. There is no wifi on-site at the retreat but you can access it in town.

In the event of an emergency, your family can reach you by contacting Monte Velho:
t.: (00351) 282973207
m.: (00351) 966007950 Henrique