**Jen Touchette brilliantly coined our group: A Delicious Pack of Weirdos.
A Delicious Pack of Weirdos** by James Vincent Knowles.
I saw God in Ojai and then I saw my life flash before me.
He was in me and She was in the others.
Evidently He’d been there all along.
I felt powerful.
What an awesome feeling, knowing oneself and God all at once.
This past weekend I did a little yoga retreat in Ojai. I say I “did” it because it took some doing to ignore “reality” and move towards a more real ideal. The reality was, I’d never been on a yoga retreat. Another reality was, I had no money. That was one of those get-real, realities. Also, I’d never before attended a yoga class, much less a retreat filled with yoga weirdos. That’s some scary reality. The reality was I had plenty of real-reality that woulda, coulda, and some might say, shoulda kept me at home rather than boppin’ over to Ojai for one of Jennifer Pastiloff’s yoga retreats.
A few months ago I’d stopped taking private yoga lessons and that experience and photographing 25 yoga girls turned me on to the idea that yoga people had it more together than any other group I’d ever met. I felt I had plenty of reasonable reasons for not having at least been doing a few down dogs at home every day. For the most part it pretty much came down to having given up on living life fully, if not having given up on living at all.
After attending this retreat in Ojai, that story, the one behind my feeling like giving up, is over.
To get the reality particulars out of the way: this yoga retreat was held at an estate Retreat and Vineyard in Ojai, CA about an hour drive north of L.A. The main building on the estate is a large house built in that solidly gorgeous craftsman style. If you’ve ever been over to Brad Pitt’s house, it’s a lot like that, only more acreage, quieter, sexier, more tranquil, better food, better pool, way more trees, gardens, wild animals, birds, and laughter. Let me describe it a bit more below before I get back to the reality that really matters.
And just to give you a little reality on my own real life perspective for comparison, I’ve stayed at many of the 4 and 5 star hotels in America as well as a few in foreign countries. As many of you are no doubt aware, if you’re staying at a Four Seasons or a Ritz Carlton, you’re going to be very comfortable and wake up in a bed you want never leave. And these sorts of many starred hotels have really great, really expensive room service as well as big plush towels to tempt you.
Jen’s Ojai retreat was not the Four Seasons and there was no room service nor any big fluffy towels. Indeed, as soon as I arrived, I could feel this place was so much more than fluffy towels and comfy beds and room service. The estate is a certified, bona fide Estate.
A place where I could do at least one of the two most important things in life. Connect wholeheartedly with other people. Sure enough, it was like a three day vacation but for angels only.
Being there was to experience what the world would be like if everyone understood what love means.
It was like falling in love, phase one, when everything is strange and exciting and even though you’re not sure, you’re sure.
And sure enough, that’s exactly what happened. This retreat was about connection. Connection with self, others and the Universe / God.
Mind you, I’m not just speaking of my own experience, though my own experience was indeed about connection with God in me and others. I’m speaking of connection in such an enormous way, I actually saw God in Ojai in other people. All of them, strangers. A whole pack of ‘em~!
I’ve been a professional observer for 44 years, so when I say I saw others connecting and sharing and being and loving and giving and caring and understanding and being interested and being empathic and compassionate and friendly and smiling and beaming and spreading kindness before them and trailing kindness behind, well, all I can say is, I witnessed it and felt its effects. For real.
I’ll give you just a teeny-tiny glimpse of just a couple little things that actually happened in me, to me, and with me whilst there. You’ll have to take my word for it that much more happened than I’ve room to share.
To start with, every part of me was afraid to go. I’d never met any of the others attending this retreat, including Jennifer Pastiloff. Indeed, I’d not been around any people at all for 18 months prior to this retreat. Oh sure, I’d been out a few times in public to get a cup of coffee, but in a strange town with no friends the extent of my socializing was saying hello to a barista or bank teller.
I’d been studying, editing, thinking, writing, contemplating and meditating for most of this past year and a half. In the process of doing so, I’d finally arrived at the conclusion I am a good guy who’s in need of connection with others. I realize that might sound weird but as some of you may have already experienced, sometimes life can be a bit confounding. I’d seen a few of Jennifer’s blog posts a few months previous to this retreat and I’d recognized something unique. Something that resonated importantly and loudly. She appeared to be authentic. You know … “real.” I suppose that’s why I was so afraid to go to Ojai. What if this was just another phony, fake, pretender?
What if this was just another gaggle of superficial, shallow a-holes whose favorite subject is me, me, me?
And by that I don’t mean me, I mean, themselves. But I felt ready for reality, either way. I couldn’t take cave dwelling, friendless and alone any longer. It was time to find out if I’d grown up at all.
So I went.
The way I came to connect with Jennifer was via Facebook. Isn’t that kinda weird in and of itself? Last December she’d posted something on her blog that got my attention. I can just hear her right this second saying, “there are no accidents.” It truly was uncanny how what I’m about to share with you came to be. I was in a dark place. Still reaching for light. Searching for something that was really real. Something that matters. Something that helps change perspective. I still believed such a thing was possible. And as it turned out, when I saw it, I felt it, right there in one of her blog posts. Mind you, this is a FB friend and I can’t even be sure how exactly we got to be FB friends. If I had to venture a guess it would be that she was FB friends with someone whom I really loved in the real world.
When I read Jennifer’s blog, I left a comment and noticed she replied … authentically.
That got my attention. I read more of her posts. Everything she wrote resonated. I continued to comment.
One day she suggested / requested me to attend her Ojai retreat. I was shocked but I said I would, even though I had no idea how I could pay for it, let alone get the vagina to do it. (Some of you will get the joke, some will google it, others will have to learn the hard way that if you want “tough,” grow a vagina).
So here’s what the retreat was like.
It was like coming home to her, the loveliest lover, love of my life, after a long arduous road trip traveling with Pandora with her damn already opened box containing all the evils in the world, for thousands of miles, locked inside with her in an old VW Bug. It was like the first kiss after you’d learned, or so you thought, how to make love without any obvious insecurity, and how after that first kiss with your last love, the final one you know will be lasting, even your hidden fears disappeared.
It was like being under the veranda in Ojai on the most perfect balmy evening, full moon light glowing, casting dancing shadows amongst the trees, adding sparkling little catch lights each time someone turns to speak, to speak to you! … and discovering you’re surrounded by all your best friends, ever, in this one small huge paradisiacal place.
Everyone who was there was fully there. Each of them was the most valuable being in the Universe.
At first, I couldn’t believe it, even as I felt this connection and felt these delicious people touch my heart. Oddly it wasn’t overwhelming.
There was an immediate flow of acceptance.
Each person there, one by one and all at once, were connecting immediately with one another.
This experience wasn’t orchestrated by Jennifer, though she’s obviously the maestro. All these people were sharing: understanding. Here’s what was really weird, and it was indeed bizarrely weird. There were no stories being told!
These beneficent, magnificent beings had somehow arrived in one place together and each of them were willing to be understood without pleading for attention or anything like it.
And they were understood. Is that not excruciatingly amazing? From reality to real to strangely weird. An automatic bam without an exclamation mark? Just like, wow man, wow. Bam.
Everyone who was supposed to be there, was fully there, right there, in Ojai, under a full moon in the most beautiful garden, and every single one of them, including me, was glowing.
Again, I’ve never participated in any sort of yoga retreat before this one. Perhaps they’re all like the one I attended in Ojai. If so, there is more than enough hope for the world. To spend three days around 40 people, not once hearing a single cynical, sarcastic, mean word. Not once did I see anyone so much as get annoyed, let alone act upset or angry or bummed out by anything.
And that story thing~! I mean, I’m not the most gregarious dude, meaning I don’t go out of my way to bug people with talk. Nevertheless, in 3 days, all of which were spent without any distractions other than the beauty and splendor of the place and the delightful people attending, I experienced several soulful, heart-and-soul-level conversations with others but not one story. Not one. It was effing evolved, man. Stories were just unnecessary. That’s just freaky.
I could go on and on about this amazing Jennifer chick and her Ojai weekend. Fill a book, probably. It would be more than enlightening, filled with love, infinitely fascinating and awe inspiring, an exciting mystery, a thrilling adventure and the most sensual thing you’ve ever read. But that would take far too long. This is the sort of news that needs be disseminated wide and far.
Positively positive news. When’s the last time you got that on t.v., or anywhere else?
Egoless would be another way to describe this past weekend. 40 souls who attended a yoga retreat and found a way to live with one another and love each other without anyone’s ego screwing it up? That’s just astonishing. Really.
And now a little practical reportage about some of the physical realities of the weekend … Caspar Poyck, Culinary Therapist prepared the most delectable meals. Just one dude. One chef for 40 people. I feel good about what I’m about to say about this cat. Before attending this retreat, a salad to me was just lettuce with maybe a sprinkling of cheese and balsamic. I grew up eating hamburgers, hotdogs, pork chops and steaks with canned veggies and potatoes, so I’m the pickiest eater you’ve ever met. Caspar’s meals were so beyond what I’ve eaten in some Michelin 3 star restaurants the only thing that makes sense as to why he does what he does the way he does it is that it is all about love. You can taste it. You can see him putting love into the food. All the food he prepared was straight out of the garden. You could see it and you could taste it and the fact that 40 people all devoured every morsel of every meal proved it. How he found time to patiently teach a class of almost everyone attending the retreat how to cook a healthy meal is beyond me.
The fact “the class” created one of the best meals of the weekend just blew my mind.
The place itself was, let’s just say, better than the best resort I’ve stayed at in Hawaii or Cabo or in the Caribbean or Acapulco or Puerta Vallarta. What’s really amazing is, during all three days, not one staff member was seen. I’m not even sure there are any. And there was not one authority figure. That’s what you get when you’re a responsible person, I’m told. Freedom.
Mind you, I paid for my weekend with money I didn’t have when I committed to attend yet somehow the money to attend “manifested” the day before I was to head to Ojai.
After experiencing Jen’s yoga retreat, I felt compelled to share with you some of what I observed. I’d never met one single person in attendance at this retreat but I will reveal I fell in love with more than one person whilst I was there.
Firstly, I fell in love with myself. Then I actually fell in love with several other people whom I know will always be friends.
I’m gonna start collecting friends this way. What an amazing discovery~!
I can see that butterfly theory thing going on here.
I posit that this could be the pyramid scheme to end all pyramid schemes. This could be the quantum physics, quantum mechanics solution to living life wholeheartedly. If I’m even half right, there are 20 other people who feel the same (or better) and who’ll do the same (or more). And this just from attending one yoga retreat~! Wow.
They say the teacher appears when the student is ready. Yep.
How do I put forth with such certainty something like this can and will help change the world? Because I met 40 people who care about something other than and greater than, themselves. 40 people who are connected with the God / the Universe in themselves and within others. It’s gonna spread like mad-crazy-love should.
I should also mention Frank Gjata, though he’s the sort of fellow one doesn’t really need to mention. I suppose that if you go to one of Jennifer’s yoga retreats, you’ll either meet him or get connected with him. Everyone who was in Ojai met Frank. Everyone who was in Ojai is now connected with Frank, not to mention with each other, in large part due to Frank. Frank is awesome. That’s all need be said about Frank.
I’d say a bunch of stuff about Jennifer but you can find out all you need to know the same way I did. Go to her FB page or google or listen to this one story. This is the only story I’m going to share about this weekend. For now, anyway.
Imagine that you have 40 disparate people at a yoga retreat who’ve paid money to be there. 40 people who are there to grow spiritually, who are there to connect with themselves, God and others on a spiritual level. 40 people who are there to have fun. Now imagine you’ve got 40 people to guide towards goodness and some huge and horrible news lands in your lap during your yoga retreat. Something that would no doubt more than momentarily distract most people from work. Something which would cause most people to get shouty or angry and which would diminish most people’s ability to be joyful for a day or two, at least. This happened to Jen this past weekend. But it didn’t happen to Jen. And it didn’t happen to anyone else, either. There was no story. She dealt with it in a couple hours, and went straight back to being the maestro of joy, the heartfelt, heart-full conductor, the maestro-maestress yogi yoga girl, the dance-putter-onner and dj, the empath-true-ist, the manifesting maniac and the authentic compassionate soul she obviously is.
A few months ago I’d never have imagined anyone could do that. Certainly not myself. But seeing her, witnessing her do it, and not just do it but seeing and feeling her deal with it the way she did gave me strength and lifted my soul to soaring.
This chick is weird in a very delicious and strange way. She’s really real. Not just strong. Not just genuinely caring and kind. Not hippy dippy or woo-woo either. She talks funny because she can’t hear worth a crap and yet she hears everything that matters. She notices stuff most people don’t or won’t. She’s wholehearted.
She’s honestly growing and learning so she can help others grow and learn. And she deals with stuff right now. And she does it so honestly and with such integrity and empathy and gratitude, one has to at least acknowledge just how marvelously amazing that is. I mean, she’s really real~! Which just blows my mind right the eff up and melts my heart all the way to the God in us all.
I hope for everyone who reads this, this message gets passed on. Tell someone you love them today. Create your life and manifest goodness in it for others. Let go of the stuff that’s no longer serving you. Connect with the Universe / the God in yourself first so you can connect with others. Be astonished.
See how astonishing you actually really are for real. There are only two things that matter in life after all the contemplation is thrown out: Spending time with others we love and that which we do for others without expecting something in return. I think you might find all the reality in the world comes down to just those two things. I hope you do. And it’s at such a place as Jennifer’s Ojai retreat this reality was made fully real for me amongst a delicious pack of weirdos. You know who you are, obviously, because you’re all really real, which is what makes you all so weird.
To oder James Vincent Knowles book “Yoga Girls” please click here.
Jennifer Pastiloff is the founder of The Manifest-Station. She has been featured on Good Morning America, NY Magazine, Oprah.com. Her writing has been featured on The Rumpus, The Nervous Breakdown, Jezebel, Salon, and more. Jen leads her signature Manifestation Retreats & Workshops all over the world. The next retreat is to Ojai, Calif over Labor Day/New Years. She is also leading a Writing + The Body Retreat with Lidia Yuknavitch Jan 31-Feb 1 in Ojai. Email retreats at jenniferpastiloff dot come for info. Check out jenniferpastiloff.com for all retreat listings and workshops to attend one in a city near you. Next up: Seattle, Atlanta, South Dakota, NYC, Dallas, Miami, Tucson & The Berkshires (guest speaker Canyon Ranch.) She tweets/instagrams at @jenpastiloff. Next Ojai retreat is Labor Day and there are a few spots left.