Guest Blog: Saying Yes and Staying Soft

Jennis Warren, a participant on the recent “Rugged Renewal in Baja” retreat, writes of her experience sea kayak expeditioning in Baja, the unexpected lessons, the challenges, and the shift in perspective on her life back home:

I am learning to soften around hard edges, to be more like the water. Ebbing and flowing, retreating and returning, and when I come up against something less-than-pleasant, learning to flow around that obstacle and not push up against it. I credit a huge chunk of this newfound wisdom to Sommerville’s Baja Magic.

At the beginning of 2019, I was burned out— though thriving at my job I worked too hard and did not spend enough time taking time off. I hadn’t been on a vacation in years in part because I was growing a huge new (and successful!) project within my organization. I was also burned out in my personal life. I have great friends, a beautiful house, the perfect dog, a regular yoga practice. But at 37 I am still single, and childless— two things I never thought would be true of my life at this time. So I made a resolution to say “yes” to everything in 2019. When the ARC Newsletter hit my email inbox and invited me to say yes to rugged renewal, it was as though the universe was trying to tell me something.

So I said yes.

The truth is, I said yes without really considering what the trip was: an expedition-style kayaking trip around an island in the middle of the Sea of Cortez. The truth is, I didn’t know what expedition-style meant. I mean, I knew we’d be kayaking. And I knew we would be camping. And I guess on some level I knew it was going to be pretty rugged (given the trip’s title). I entered into the adventure without a lot of paddling experience. So we get there, to the Isla Espíritu Santo, and I am loading 40 pounds of gear and food and a wetsuit and a tent and a thermarest and flippers and goggles and enough water to last the entire group a week into kayaks and then before I knew it we were out on the water. Against the wind. I didn’t know the correct way to paddle, much less hold the paddle, so I just started doing it. And I would love to tell you that it was easy, but at first it wasn’t.

At first, it was hard. At first, I had [heretofore undisclosed] tears in my eyes during the most challenging moments. This was the rugged part, I kept telling myself. I pushed harder; I wore blisters into my hands. That evening we all shared tamales and laughter and ceviche (fresh scallops from the Sea of Cortez— this was the renewal for me), easing into each other with a cautious mix of sincerity and nervousness. We would end up bonding, and this first evening was our first step toward that. 

The next day the paddling was even harder, and the day after that, even more so. My secret tears didn’t come by the third day, even though it was still hard. And do you know what? By the fourth day, I was getting it. I was catching on. I paddled eleven miles in one day on my own kayak, and you know how that felt? It felt good. 

The group had begun to mesh together, and each evening we sat in circle led by Sommerville, who read some of her own favorite passages and invited us to consider questions, planting seeds in us for cultivation and growth. One such seed was, “to what do we want to return?” And halfway through our Baja journey, this was important introspection for me. 

I knew my answer almost immediately, for I had been clashing up against it for the better part of that week. I was throwing up hardness when I could have been softer. Most obviously, I was gripping my paddle too hard, hence the blisters. But I was also tensing up my whole body in order to paddle more effectively. When I softened, I could feel my body (and therefore my paddling) becoming more efficient. And when I think of applying this knowledge in my own life, softening around my difficult boss or less-than-ideal dating situation, it’s a comfort. 

Being out on the water for seven days— watching the tide come in and out, moving around all the hard edges that disappear as the tide flows, reappearing hours later as it ebbs— was inspiration in itself.  And being out there with Sommerville as our Shaman, waking up with morning mindfulness, sitting in circle each evening to consider the day, the week, and how we can take the lessons we learn with us back to regular life, was more than I could have imagined. Like flowing water on the rocks, change will take time. I am not going to soften overnight. I am okay with that. And I am working on it. 

And believe it or not, by the last day, I was paddling like a pro.

Jennis on the Island of Espiritu Santo, Baja Mexico.

Jennis on the Island of Espiritu Santo, Baja Mexico.