There’s something magical about going on a retreat and focusing for several days or even a week solely on my growth, spirituality and self-actualization. I’m such a retreat junkie that I’ve spent a fair amount of time working to make my everyday life as powerful, life-affirming and growth-propelling as a retreat. I think I have quite a few of the elements down and I’d like to share what I’ve got so far, through the lens of a recent retreat I went on.
1. Pay attention for signs and synchronicities.
2. When you receive a message from your within urging you to take inspired action, do so as soon as possible, even if all you can do at the time is take one small step in a new direction.
3. Risk being authentic and vulnerable to forge connections with people.
4. Ask for help when you need it and be open to receiving support from others.
5. Offer your support, love and kindness to others.
Retreats are special opportunities for creating positive change in our lives. They create a safe space for us to step into a more expanded sense of our self that we can then take with us into our daily life.
Two weeks ago I went to an event called Celebrate Your Life, where a series of spiritual speakers and leaders spoke and taught for three days. Several thousand people attended, so it wasn’t intimate enough to be what I would truly call a retreat and yet, there was a common purpose among all participants. The leaders held a strong intention for all to experience love, to be uplifted and to learn new ways to uplift one another, which made it possible to make the event into a retreat-like experience for myself.
I went alone, which in itself was a courageous choice. It was a step into the vulnerability of being alone for the sake of giving myself grand opportunities for love, joy and belonging. While there, I met many others who’d made the same choice for themselves.
The famous and sought-after speakers created a buzz of excitement and possibility that permeated the crowd. Each attendee had one or two speakers on their list that they were absolutely gaga about seeing. The speakers included Marianne Williamson, Carolyne Myss, James Twyman, Robert Ohotto, Lisa Williams and many other gifted authors and teachers.
My experience was made epic by Anita Moorjani, don Miguel Ruiz and don Miguel Ruiz, Jr. And myself. I can’t downplay my own choice to step in to the experience fully as key to what I reaped.
For those of you who don’t know Anita Moorjani, she is the author of a book called Dying To Be Me, in which she recounts her near-death experience and complete healing from end-stage lymphoma. Her story is the most compelling tale of spontaneous healing I’ve ever read and I highly recommend it to anyone facing illness or ill health.
In her talk, she spoke plainly, clearly, calmly and compassionately about the value of listening to the wisdom of our bodies and loving all parts of ourselves without conditions. She drew our attention to the importance of loving our fears, doubts, insecurities and judgments, which we so often resist and judge, rather than love ourselves through them. In a beautiful guided meditation, she led us to dialogue with a part of our body that was experiencing symptoms and ask how that part wanted to be supported.
I’ve been suffering from a near constant thirst and a need to consume abnormally large amounts of water to stay hydrated. In tuning in with my burning throat, the message I received was, “It’s time for me to speak and to teach.” It was clear that this was a call to teach and speak on a much larger scale than I have been so far…to truly bring a message I carry deep within myself to all who want to hear it.
I heard this message and decided to take immediate action, before I lost my nerve. When Anita Moorjani asked if anyone wanted to share their message from their body, I raised my hand, took the microphone, and spoke through my shaking voice.
The shaking in my voice was from more than the emotion of my message, it was also from the fear of speaking to a crowd.
When I was twelve, I had a traumatic experience in public speaking. As part of an assignment at a newly regionalized school, I was asked to stand up in front of my class and tell a story from memory. When I faced that see of faces, most of them new to me, I froze, forgot my story and looked to my teacher for support. Instead, he shamed, ridiculed and abandoned me in front of the class. He sent me into the hall, where I was found crying, thank God, by a school counselor. A sensitive kid, this experience wounded me deeply.
I’ve gradually worked away at this fear, managing to present publicly for my graduate studies to small groups, for example, and yet, it is still with me, creating anxiety and needless suffering.
Taking that microphone and speaking, out loud, my intention to listen to my body, to speak and teach was a powerful step towards reclaiming the power I lost when I was a little girl.
And that was only the first step of the day.
After Anita Moorjani’s lecture, I went to see don Miguel Ruiz and his son. Don Miguel Ruiz is the author of The Four Agreements, a simple yet powerful book of wisdom based on ancient teachings passed down through his family for millenia. My greatest mentors have been his apprentices. Between his apprentices and his books, his teachings have been pivotal to my awakening to my true self.
I was determined to ask a question during their lecture, to have an opportunity to speak with don Miguel and his son face-to-face. This was as much about experiencing their presence as it was about actually asking the question. Don Miguel Ruiz has spent his lifetime shedding his human limitations and living as pure, unconditional love. His soul shines through his every word and every glance. I wanted to have an opportunity to meet his eyes with mine and feel his presence.
They had warned us the day before that if we wanted to ask a question, we would have to go on stage, sit in a tall chair, and hold the microphone. After my experience with Anita Moorjani, I was even more determined to get up there and ask my question.
And so I did. I got up on stage and held the microphone and spoke with them.
I introduced myself to the audience. Then I turned to don Miguel Ruiz and thanked him for his Circle of Fire Prayer, the last line of which has been like a talisman for me in dark times. The last line is, “I will respect all creation as the symbol of my love communion with the one who created me.”
His beautiful eyes shone into mine and he accepted my gratitude, thanking me in return. Then he asked me to recite the entire prayer to the audience. From memory. I said I didn’t think I remembered it all. He said it was ok, just share what you remember.
And so I did. I turned to the audience and found the words for the first line. My voice rang out clear and cadenced, “Today, I return to my divinity. When living my free will and with all the power of my spirit…”
Then I forgot the next line, I turned to him again for support. He nodded encouragement.
“Keep going. Just let it flow from here,” he said, touching his heart. I continued as best as I could, taking a few liberties with the wording, until I found my way to the final line that I knew so well. “I respect all creation as the symbol of my love communion with the one who created me.”
I even added in a line in Spanish that is sometimes added at the end, “Que tu sol se ya brillante!” which translates to, “May your light (inner sun) shine brightly.”
The audience applauded and I felt…light…free…and full of love. It’s a beautiful prayer. To be invited to speak that prayer to the audience, from memory, surrounded by love and support, was a perfect healing, a completion of what was left unfinished and incomplete when I was young.
For the next ten minutes, Don Miguel and his son proceeded to answer my question and kept me on stage to incorporate me into their teaching. This included a beautiful demonstration of respectful relationships, in which each person only controls to the tips of their own fingers.
The lesson for me is to no longer allow ghosts of the past to control my own fingers, nor my voice. And to allow my thirst for my own life to be quenched with living, speaking and teaching.
May you all release the ghosts of your own past, let your voices be heard and drink deeply from the still waters of your soul.