How does a born and bred New Yorker, who is accustomed to its swarms of bodies filling the subway, its ambitious spirit and its frenetic pulse, come to be one who creates an atmosphere of serenity in the high desert of California — where the yucca plants are abundant, and the rabbits scurry across the terrain in meditative quietude? “I came to Southern California 27 years ago and I didn’t get it at first. I missed walking amongst people in the street. But I learned that there is a different kind of energy — one where people come to reinvent themselves and discover new parts of themselves,” says Caron Post, Owner of Cactus Moon Retreat in Yucca Valley, California.
During that new season of her life, she began to experience a kind of mind and spirit expansion she had never entered into before — where uncharted beauty and possibility met the illumination of the brazen West Coast sun. This spilled over into her career as a psychologist. She set up her therapy practice in the city of Los Angeles, but the peacefulness of the desert was tugging at her, enchanting her.
As inhabitants of earth, nature’s rhythm exists within us all. This means, whether we realize it on a conscious level or not, we connect differently with each geographical facet or landscape. Perhaps they mirror unique aspects of our primal selves back at us. I’ve long held a theory that a person can discover a bevy of wonders about themselves by developing a curiosity about the specific aspects of nature they are innately drawn to. The ocean asks us to expand and splash around in its freedom, but to also surrender to its tides. The mountains remind us how small our problems are. So what does the desert say? What does it wish to mirror back at us or awaken within us?
Post says she was drawn to the desert’s sense of peacefulness. “There is access to an inner stillness in the desert that you cannot find anywhere else. There is a silence, but it’s not alienating or empty. It’s a full and embracing silence,” she says. “It allows me to drop down and then connect to that place inside of me. As soon as I’m there, I settle into something different within myself. It’s an experience of profound beauty — visually but also internally.”
Cynthia Morgan, a board certified hypnotherapist of 18 years who recently moved her busy practice in Los Angeles to focus her energy at Cactus Moon, holding transformative four-day weekend retreats she calls “Desert Reset,” says, “The wide open space that the desert is famous for translates into an expansiveness of thinking in new ways, which leads to greater possibilities in one’s life,” she says. “Desert Reset’s yoga teacher Deacon Conroy who is based in LA, always tells me, ‘It’s like all of my issues dry up in Joshua Tree and I become freer.’”
Post adds, “It’s difficult to access such a place of stillness in the hustle and bustle of a city — whether New York or Los Angeles. That’s why a place like Cactus Moon holds a certain kind of magic.”
Before Cactus Moon came to be in existence, Post was hunting for it. “I was looking for a sanctuary in the middle of the desert, a place of restoration and connection,” she says.
Post explored a variety of options before she came upon the property, minutes from Joshua Tree National Park with views of the San Gorgonio Mountain. With three houses situated on two and a half acres, the property was in an unattractive state. Its color scheme was in disarray, its paint old and little wooden fences surrounded everything along its grounds. Outside, it looked abandoned and confining. Inside, it was tired, unpleasant and sad. But there was something special about it. She saw its bones and its seed of potential. It asked to be reborn.
“There is something about the challenge of taking something sad or ugly and transforming it into something beautiful. That has been true of me over many years. So that’s what I did with Cactus Moon,” says Post.
She purchased the property in December 2015, and immediately delved into its restoration process. She worked with a contractor to rehabilitate the grounds, discarding the wooden fences, along with anything that created a feeling of being enclosed. She asked that it return to being one with the desert it sat upon. She breathed new life into every corner — from the paint to the plants to the decor. Her daughter, an interior designer, was commissioned to give all of the rooms a bright, fresh and more modern feel. Together, they took immense care to fill the rooms with intricate art and beautiful textiles — pulling from cultural influences around the world, such as Moroccan and Spanish.
The therapist and psychologist in her desired to create a space that would be mentally soothing to the mind and rejuvenating to its visitors, but the process also served to soothe and rejuvenate her. And it continues to do exactly that.
“Cactus Moon is meant to be a place of healing and creation,” says Post. “I encourage the spirit of art. There are lots of art books, paintings, photography and art materials there. It’s meant to be a place of being inspired by nature to appreciate or create art. We transcend by experiencing different kinds of beauty.”
Her favorite space on the property is the master bedroom, which is filled with piles of comforting pillows and a beautiful oak tree that is underlit behind the bed. The room has sliding glass doors which allow the visitor to wake up in the morning and, upon opening their eyes, be gobsmacked with a panorama of the mountains.
Post says its important to her that the spirit of the desert exists inside of every room. “I bring in flora from the desert, and fill bowls with juniper and other aromas from the grounds,” she says.
Life-changing conversations are had over bonfires. Physical healing is found in the Yoga studio. New heights are reached among the rocks. Epiphanies are had along the pool by day and on the picnic tables under the stars by night, asking that a reservoir of inspiration rush through that desert terrain and author books, songs, business ideas, the resuscitation of relationships or the manifestation of personal renewal.
All experiences are meant to generate restoration and replenishment — whether through creative expression, fellowship, meditation, movement, relaxation, or by an infusion of them all. “There are writing retreats, healing retreats with Yoga or breathing exercises, sound baths, and women sometimes get together to recharge, or cook together, or find a sense of bonding and sisterhood,” says Post. “Romantic couples also come to seek connectedness.”
Although Post’s essence is strongest in the house, Brad Klopman, her business partner and co-host, who is also husband to Morgan, is most directly involved in working with the guests to customize their unique experiences. “We started out on Airbnb first, but it was always Caron’s intention for it to be a retreat space. We don’t really create packages. It’s pretty much a blank slate for everyone because we want to be able to allow them to create an experience unique to them. We leave it as an open book for them to write their own story,” he says.
Klopman reflects upon a vast personality of transformations had over the years — from women who felt discomfort in their new postpartum bodies and were able to regain their confidence and wean their babies from breastfeeding, to men and women who felt stuck in unfulfilling careers and were able to return to a magical place within themselves that revealed their true longings.
Klopman recalls, during the most recent Desert Reset weekend, when two long-time women friends traveled great distances to join them. One of the women felt claustrophobic and trapped inside of a career she resented. She needed something to help her discover layers of herself she could no longer access. She dragged her childhood friend along with her, but this friend felt it was a pointless venture. She wasn’t ready to be present or to give the experience any sort of credence. But, after being in the vicinity of its beauty and tranquility, something about that space changed her mind. “The one who was dragged there — she was quiet at first and didn’t seem like she wanted to be there. But, over that weekend, she had the most transformation of anyone in the group. She had all of these revelations about her life, and realized all of these ways she was holding herself back. It was an incredible experience for her,” says Klopman.
Morgan recalls the same woman fondly. “She made a deep connection in one hypnotherapy session between a childhood event and a lifelong inability to be in a healthy relationship. It was like a lightbulb went off and, with that, a healing was made,” she says. “The rest of the retreat you could see a heavy weight had lifted — not only was she laughing and joking and smiling more, but her countenance had changed. She looked younger and more refreshed. There was a levity to her.”
Sometimes when we seek transformation, we think we have to do it in a boisterous, radical way. And sometimes that works. We go to conferences with hundreds of bodies in attendance. We lift up our voices, and become emboldened to write down our dreams, declare them to the universe and lasso them into the constructs of our individual realities. We seek flashing billboard type moments, asking to be whisked by the emotionalism. But other modes of transformation beckon with a whisper. We may not know its power within that moment, but when we glance back, we recall it as being the “crossing over” point where our pulse began to calm and our petals began to unfurl. Where transcendence happened in profound ways that seemed to sneak upon us. A place where walls tumble down without effort, in the openness of its oasis. Where we silence the hiss of our chaotic lives, shed the layers of our public personas and return to our true nature. Like a rabbit scurrying across the terrain in mediative quietude.