Sometimes beautiful opportunities land in your lap. That’s how I found myself working as a counselor at Soul Camp, a four-day wellness camp for adults that focuses on mind, body and spirit. The invitation was unexpected. But as with so many unplanned things in life, it was perfectly timed.
It was born out of a not-so-great situation: I discovered that I was going to lose my job at the end of July and emailed a bunch of work contacts with the news, just as a heads up. Among those contacts were the co-founders of Soul Camp, Ali and Michelle.
I had produced a few stories on their wellness camp startup as part of my job and was enamored and inspired by what they were building. The mission of Soul Camp aligns with my “other life” as a yoga/meditation teacher. This is a part of my life that I seek to grow; eventually, I’d love to have both feet in the wellness world. I just haven’t uncovered the appropriate path to make this a reality quite yet.
So it should come as no surprise that my reply to this email from Ali and Michelle did not require much thought:
I am so excited for what’s to come for you … ALSO in even more amazing news, Michelle and I talked and we’d LOVE to invite you to be a counselor at Soul Camp NY this year. You are such a radiant being and we know you are a leader. If this is intriguing to you, I’ll send over all the details.
YES. YES. YES. My heart expanded when I read this email. The opportunity just felt … right. For the first time, as I sat in my cloud of uncertainty following my job loss, something felt right. And that felt GREAT.
I loved the idea of serving as a “sherpa” to a community of adult campers seeking ways to uncover the best version of themselves. I wanted to guide. To help. To inspire. To give back. To serve. I was excited to ignite in others the same curiosity and wonder that continue to be huge life drivers for me.
I also loved the idea of surrounding myself with wellness leaders who’d be teaching classes and workshops at Soul Camp, which this year was held at Camp Echo Lake in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York. Among them: yoga teachers, meditation gurus, dance instructors, angelic healers, past life regression therapists, nutritionists, life coaches, astrologers, breath-work intuitives and Tibetan singing bowl healers. The schedule of classes is ridiculously awesome for the open minded.
What I wasn’t prepared for, however, was how deeply the Soul Camp experience would impact me on a personal level. I didn’t say YES to this opportunity with a desire to transform or “find myself.” My goal was kind of the opposite: to help facilitate and inspire transformation for others.
Yet in the end, I, too, was transformed. I suppose my experience highlights the boomerang effect of giving: The more you give, the more you receive. And receive I did, in abundance.
Here is what I gained from Soul Camp.
Feeling the love
Soul Camp promotes love with the precocious tenacity of a five-year-old girl: it’s irresistible. Hearts are everywhere. People are shouting, “I love you!” all over camp.
What began as a hippie-drippy setting for yours truly over the four days transformed into a setting I wish could be mirrored outside of the Soul Camp bubble. While I walked into the Soul Camp experience forcing hugs with others, I ended it freely giving them, with heart that had grown ten times its original size. I truly loved every single person at that camp and felt that love returned. It felt amazing. I left feeling empowered to be an agent of change to help manifest this love in the “real world.”
Unity in vulnerability
Everyone who attended Soul Camp carried a different life story. There were so many deeply profound stories that carried currents of hurt, doubt, confusion, anger and loneliness. It’s the stuff we don’t talk about, the stuff we bury deep. But we all have these darker currents running through our lives. It’s just not the stuff we choose to post on Facebook.
Soul Camp provided a safe and loving space in which to share our stories, including these bits we often leave in the shadows. The messy stuff. The imperfect stuff. The stuff that brings us shame, resentment and sadness.
I heard some heavy things; and I shared some of my heaviest, for the the first time. Most people don’t realize that I’ve danced with depression, salsa-ed with suicidal thoughts and have been deeply scarred by expectations to be “perfect.” (Oh, how I hate that word!)
By opening up to the ugly, I discovered unity through vulnerability. As one of my fellow counselors so creatively dubbed it, we were a collection of “Yeah, me, toos.” Even if our individual stories weren’t exactly the same, we carried shared experiences and emotions that reminded us of this: We are never ever alone.
Soul Camp’s loving environment where vulnerability is embraced, not disregarded, made it easier for people to speak up — and speak their truth.
This is the only place where everyone gets a standing ovation at Talent Show Night. So many powerful stories played out on that stage. It was more than a string of song-and-dance acts; it was a forum to be seen, heard and acknowledged. In fact, the MC of the talent show made sure each person who performed stayed on the stage to receive his or her applause.
There was the woman who recently discovered her biological mother and learned that all the women on her maternal side sang, so she decided to sing on stage for the first time. There was the man who wrote a song about transforming into a phoenix rising from the ashes after suffering the untimely death of a best friend. There was the sexual assault survivor and activist who danced to a spoken-word poem she penned herself. There was the woman who sang about eternal love, preceding the performance with a story about her husband who is currently battling terminal cancer.
Not that everything at the Talent Show was so heavy — there were lighthearted skits and joyous music aplenty. My bunk performed “I Will Survive.” But we did so with a twist: We asked the crowd not to think of the song as directed toward a significant other, however; instead, we asked them to sing along and sing to a negative quality or emotion they wished to shed. It was a fierce and fun sing-along.
Having fun like a kid
OMG. I haven’t had this much fun in a long time. In between workshops and heart-to-hearts, there was plenty of playtime. From swinging across a high-ropes course in the forest to bouncing on trampolines in the lake to doing cartwheels across the grass — there was a lot to keep the inner child laughing.
It was so beautiful to see adults giggling and frolicking like kids. I had a moment while out on the lake when all the adults transformed into younger versions of themselves. I saw them all as kids, pure and unblemished from the realities of the world. Soul Camp gave us all the opportunity to tap that sweet nectar once more.
All of this authentic sharing and love provided fertile soil to connect — to ourselves and each other. This isn’t always easy to feel in the rush-rush of the real world. But Soul Camp slowed down the pace and provided an environment to hush the body and mind so that we could all plug into this, whether we intended to or not.
By the end of Soul Camp, I truly felt the magnitude of the phrase, “We are ONE.” It was intense. There was no “me” and “them.” There were no “counselors” and “teachers” and “campers.” Those were just concepts, silly titles attached to our names.
Barriers CAME DOWN.
The most beautiful transformation story that highlights this is with a camper named Edgar*. Edgar arrived at Soul Camp a big bear of a man, giving stiff hugs and refusing to have glitter sprinkled on him. He wasn’t ready or willing to connect. There was resistance. I remember meeting him on the first day in a breath-work class. He was quiet and kind, but I immediately sensed a wall. The teacher asked him to stay behind, after the class had ended, for some extra TLC. I saw him again, a few days later, floating in the lake with a big smile on his face, making conversation with one of the life guards. He seemed to be opening up. After four days of attending workshops, playing in the lake and getting to know other campers’ stories — Edgar pulled a dramatic 180. At the Soul Camp closing ceremony, Edgar was freely giving hugs and asked to have glitter applied to his face.
This is what Soul Camp can do — it can change you from the inside out. It certainly shifted things for me. I’m excited to take this new sense of self out into the world.
To be continued …
*Name has been changed to protect privacy.