I learned some very difficult news the days before that I was scheduled to attend a spiritual retreat for a weekend in February. Going to a retreat is #25 on my list of things to do this year.
I was a little pissed off, I’m not gonna lie. That last thing I wanted to do was feel and hug. To feel is such a foreign concept to some of us. So much so that the sensation alarms us. We’re most comfortable when we aren’t feeling anything and thinking about everything. But I knew that if I so much as thought of not going, my dear cousin would come pull me out by my hair. (God bless her.)
As I was saying, the news cracked me open like a egg. Whatever fight I had in me gave in. My white flag was a wavin’. I was pretty raw when I arrived to the upstate New York house. I think I hadn’t been that raw since high school. So, here I was at the very last place I wanted to be— a place that would encourage opening up. Oy vey.
The thing about spiritual retreats is that they invite something very special and extraordinary: acceptance. As I met people and settled in I can’t deny that I immediately felt safe. As though my feelings were at home. The first discussion revolved around being broken. Did he say broken? How did he know!? I thought. That’s when I realized that everyone there was broken. I guess life has a way of doing that to each of us. My guard suddenly felt less important as I saw people getting emotional around me. When it was time to give peace, I noticed that I avoided being touched. I stayed in my place. I became aware that I was not yet ready to be comforted physically or emotionally. I still felt broken in a very lonely way. Realizing that softened me up more. I felt so weak, but in a strange way I wasn’t scared. I just felt tired.
I felt different on the second day. Father Anthony would start all the exercises with a very simple phrase: “I invite you to…”. I slowly found myself feeling… “I accept”. I began to understand the idea of self-acceptance. There were many lectures and moments of reflection as the weekend went on. The minute I expected resistance, I was happy to learn that I had none to offer. It’s as if my mind expected to find boredom but never did.
I don’t know if you are the religious kind but I can tell you that being separated from everything, and in this loving space, reminded me of how beautiful and simple life really is. The retreat reminded me of peace. A state of being that had seemed fable-like to me before coming. I had been entangled in so much confusion, guilt, and despair that I could barely see through the emotional fog I had created. In this religious space, I allowed myself to exist. I felt as though I had left the thinking on the train, next to the folded bag of chips I had gently squeezed between the seats.
On the last day, I allowed myself to be seen for the broken chair that I felt I was. It was liberating to love myself in this setting. To speak out loud in a corny fashion. To show my heart and what really lay inside instead of working on its presentation. I was no longer formatting and campaigning— I just was. I was ready to hug, too. Maaaaan, was I ready to hug that morning! I was all over the place.
As we said our goodbyes, I carried with me a new sensation, but as the train got closer to the city, I felt a sense of panic. Would it leave? Would my misery return? F@#$%&, should I go back?
Then I remembered that I had not been given any tools. I had not been given equipment or books or anything of the sort. All the work I had done was inside. All I had done was tap into something that already existed. It had already been with me when I arrived and was still there with me on the train. It was with all of us and you could tell. We were on a high.
Under all this thinking, analyzing, and feeling exists something that can never be taken. It’s where the true self lies. Kind of like an amazing location away from the big city. It’s there, just waiting for you to visit.
I invite you to take the trip.