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Tales from the Tribe

Softer

by Campowerment Crew
 ∙ Feb 6 ∙ 7 Min Read

Velveth: A happily married mom of two beautiful girls. A politician in her hometown.  A daughter and a sibling.

Velveth (pronounced: Velvet) Schmitz is a camp girl. A longtime outdoor chick who never misses her annual week-long stay at University of California at Berkeley’s family camp, Lair of the Golden Bear.

Even with a background like that, Velveth came to Campowerment — with her Lair camp friend Carla — unsure of what expect from her weekend. Admittedly, she had heard that you don’t get what you want at Campowerment…you get what you need, but what Velveth found, overlooking the Pacific Ocean, high atop the 35-foot pole we call the “Leap of Faith,” surprised and moved her in ways she would never have guessed would have shown up.

Some background: 

Five years ago, Velveth lost Annabella (“Bella”), the perfect big sister (eleven years her senior) who seemed to be living the dream as a wife and mother to two incredible children; with a career on fire. But Bella was unhappy and, tragically, took her own life at age 48.

Velveth mourned her big sister and tried her best to help her niece and nephew through their loss, while she struggled to be the best daughter to her grieving mom. She worked hard through her own despair, and felt she had made huge strides in coming to terms with her sister’s death.

Grief aside (if that exists), Velveth came to Campowerment to play. Leading in to the weekend and upon arrival, she was not even thinking about Bella, but on that first day, in a “Ground Yourself” Circle with Peggy Fitzsimmons, Campowerment Expert with a Ph.D. and an exceptional soul, Velveth realized this was only the second time since her sister’s passing that she had taken any time for herself.

Up at the highest ground of the camp we take over, Velveth stared out into the ocean. The first hour she arrived at camp, Velveth thought a lot about Bella and came to recognize that being at peace with Bella’s death gave her the freedom to sit with herself.

Over the few days she spent at Campowerment, Velveth had a lot of “aha” kinda moments, but it all crystallized for her on the morning of day 3, as she was climbing up that pole to try and reach the top. To get there, she had to scale the telephone pole and find a way to lift both of her legs up, to stand on the pole’s platform…the size of a dinner plate. Once up, she looked intently on the swinging trapeze — the grand prize at the end of a jump from that pole.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Velveth’s an athlete, so she got up the ladder easily, then whizzed up the pole, putting one foot in front of the other, one teeny rung after one teeny rung. But when it came time to climb the last one, up to the platform, she froze. Her left leg, she said, felt like it weighed three tons.

Velveth recaps the conversation between her and Chris, the facilitator from Fulcrum Adventures, running the ropes belay system below. She takes it from the point where she was fully harnessed, but kinda hanging off the side of the pole.

. . . . . . . .

Chris from Fulcrum Adventures at Campowerment: ”What’s going on?”

Velveth: “It’s my left leg.  It’s so heavy, I cannot lift it.”

Chris: “What’s in your left leg?”

Velveth: “My sister.”  (blurted that out thinking, WTF where did that come from?) And right there clinging to that pole, every emotion in my life I had dealt with since Bella’s loss just came right up.

Chris: “What’s she saying to you?”

Velveth: (body shaking) “She says I need to let her go.  She’s telling me to wake up and stop trying to be the perfect daughter, aunt and sister.  She’s saying I will never replace her (LOL)” and just as I felt the need to argue with this voice I was sure I was hearing, Chris piped in again.

Chris: “You need to let her go.“

Velveth: “I don’t know how.”  And then my mind started to disconnect from my body and the whole conversation in my head just evaporated.

Chris: “Hey, Velveth, look at me: where did you go? You’re stressed, and you just left your body. Your strength doesn’t come from your hardness. And you need to be in your body.”

Velveth: (Thinking: how does he know that?) “That’s how I deal with stress, I leave my body. I become hard, I intellectualize.  I want to be strong, but not hard, I want to find the strength in my softness, in my accessibility.” And just like that, I went back inside my body and I connected with my sister, to tell her she was right.  I could only be me, I could not be her to my mother, to my brother or to my niece and nephew.  And at that moment, everything clicked.  My body relaxed and I felt at one with my mind, my body and my spirit.  And in that moment of absolute clarity, all that heaviness just left my foot. It literally lightened like a feather, and with more ease than I ever thought possible- I stood up on that dinner size plate of a platform. The entire bottom half of my body was shaking. I was overcome with emotion and honestly just wanted to climb down.

Chris: “OK, you’re back. Get a grip. Now look around, and in your softness, look at the beauty all around you.  It’s always there.  It never leaves.”

Velveth: Who the hell is this guy anyway?  Why does he know so much? And then another moment of pure clarity; he’s right.  It IS always beautiful, I am surrounded by immense beauty and it’s here and it’s just way I choose to look at it.

Chris: “So Velveth, do you want to stay in the life you’re living or jump into a new life that you get to create, beginning right now?”

Velveth: I want to jump, I want to fly into this beauty and I want to stay this clear. But, I don’t want to catch the bar, it’s more important to me to miss it. I don’t want to attain that goal- I do not want to be perfect.  I want to release the notion, that ridiculous self-fulfilling prophecy on which I have built my life, to always climb higher and reach the proverbial bar.  That story is no longer serving me, it is in fact what is weighing me down.  The things IN my life are so much more valuable. The beauty, the clarity and the journey towards that is what I want.  I want to jump into that life!

So I didn’t even try to jump for that bar, instead I floated down from the platform, like a leaf.  And I felt free.

When I hit the ground, it felt like quantum physics. Like I had gone through some kind of time loop that wasn’t real. It was bizarre that I landed in the same spot where I had started just 15 minutes earlier, with a completely different history and understanding of the crazy Tetris game that lives inside my head.

. . . . . . . .

When Velveth came home from camp, her kids told her she looked different, and her husband, almost apologetically, said, “Don’t take this the wrong way, but you are so much softer.”

Softer. Like Velveth. So maybe that’s why she came to Campowerment?

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Way-Fun Fact #20
Our founder Tammi Leader Fuller spent 30+ years as a TV producer before rediscovering her true passion: camp culture as a vehicle for growth.