Last weekend nineteen brave and beautiful souls gathered together for a three day residential Drinking From The Well Grief Ritual Retreat at Loving Earth Sanctuary, a remote, off-grid community in the Santa Lucia Mountains. We came to form a sudden village through the sharing of beauty, meaning and truth and to descend into the difficult places in search of the gold waiting for us there. This gathering in the heart of California was so rich and nourishing that I have spent much of this last week drinking in the bittersweet memories hanging in the sage-drenched late spring air after everyone left to go back to their daily lives.
We spent our mornings held by blue oak and birdsong under a cloudless sky, surrounded by a whispering meadow as the breeze danced and played through her long grasses. Our afternoons were spent diving into the Well of Sorrows created with broken hearts and capable hands, before walking the land to gather medicine. Others came by to join our circle. Among them Alligator Lizard, Western Bluebird, California Kingsnake, and Swallowtail Butterfly - the latter coming to remind me of my promise to light a candle on our communal altar for a previous participant of this work whose son is now traveling the cosmos.
Three days of singing and chanting together, telling truths, shedding tears, drumming and dancing long into the night. There was almost as much joy as there was sorrow. My sweet goats Shanti and Sunshine brought peace and contentment to our circle as they lay beside us in the shade chewing their cud, along with moments of delight as they sprinkled chaos into my carefully orchestrated plans - helping themselves to unattended apples, and herbs and flowers from our earth mandala. We shared the outflow of joy that comes from shifting stale and stagnant energy, and we learned how to fall back into our old wild hearts again, into the arms of community, into a circle of trust.
We rolled in the ashes, cried into stones, sifted dry leaves through our fingers, dug our hands into deep bowls of soil, beautified shrines with feathers, cloths and flowers, wove medicinal plants into bundles, and gave all that we had been carrying to the water. We saw our worth reflected back over and over in many pairs of eyes brimming with recognition and kindness, welcoming each of us home. We drank tea, both sweet and bitter, wild harvested from the land. Hummingbird Sage. Indian Warrior. Oatstraw. Pearly Everlasting. We tied our deepest hearts’ longings to the Tree of Blessings and sent them out onto the wind.
We gathered around the old well that rests at the heart of Loving Earth Sanctuary, drawing up water rich with iron for courage and protection, singing sacred invocations in foreign tongues to offer healing blessings to the spirit of the waters. We sang to the earth and the sky, to the ancestors and the elements, offering up what we had been carrying alone and remembering who we are again when unfettered by grief. We danced under the blooming Full Flower Moon to the sound of our collective heartbeat. We held each other close, wiped each other’s tears, gave what we had lost to the fire, and slept under the stars.
Each morning on waking, after the rolling hills and morning sky tumbled back into view, I shared with my new villagers how the universe is continually calling us back into a sense of deep cosmological belonging through her endless elliptical dance of unravelling, gathering and flowing back into grand harmony. On the second morning, one of our villagers told of how the Big Dipper had been tipped downwards in the moonlit sky the night before like a grand celestial gourd pouring blessings on us all. On the third morning I woke with a lingering dream that I was a hunter and gatherer again. Only this time, along with poems, stories and songs, I was gathering those fallen into grief and despair and delivering them back into a circle of love.
“I cannot even begin to say how beautiful, brilliant, deep, delicious, wise, impactful, meaningful, moving, powerful, fierce, profound, real, and deeply healing this gathering was. I spent a year at Kalani-Honua on the Big Island of Hawaii following two years at Esalen so I have experienced many healing events, retreats and workshops, and I have to say that I was so thoroughly cleansed, impressed, moved, touched, wrung out, inspired and lifted up by this Grief Ritual Retreat at Loving Earth Sanctuary that I still can’t believe it."
I highly recommend this experience to everyone I know! Amazing work!!! Amazing!!!"
Montgomery Norton, San Luis Obispo, CA
"I found myself feeling amazed the morning we parted ways, as tears sprang up. We had created a Village and I was deeply sad to realize the Village was closing itself around this Tree of Blessings. In a short time, I had come to know and care for my fellow Villagers, made friends, heard stories, saw inside their hearts briefly. A true community holds the capacity to experience many things together without busting at the seams. Grief bonds when held with compassion and understanding. Grief shows us our capacity for Joy as well. A community that learns to hold both is strong, resilient, and capable of changing the world. Thank you, Lara Lwin Treadaway, for guiding us."
Michelle Madgett, San Luis Obispo, CA
“The structure of the days was prescient and full of open space for creativity and more work. It never felt too heavy. It was all so beautiful I need to take time to write about it or it will soon be like a dream. Thank you for your depth, your lightness, your clarity, your sense of love and deep profound history of this movement of the heart and spirit needing to come alive at this time!”
Bob Banner, San Luis Obispo, CA
“Thank you, Lara, for an incredible gift of healing. It will be a memory I will travel with and share with others wherever I go. So glad our paths came together during this time in my life. From a very grateful heart.”
Jean Edwards, San Luis Obispo, CA
The Tree of Blessings
from the "Drinking from the Well: The Sacred Work of Grief" 3-day retreat
@ Loving Earth Sanctuary, near Lockwood, CA
With much gratitude to Dori and Gloria at Loving Earth Sanctuary. A partner of Still Water’s Sanctuary in Missouri, their community is committed to non-violently resisting the exploitative, consumption-driven system upon which modern society subsists. They believe that to do this effectively requires us to cultivate personal growth, heal our relationship with the planet, engage in voluntary simplicity, and adopt an electricity-and fossil-fuel-free lifestyle, as well as actively engage in service to our fellow human beings.