Twelve beautiful people, six days, two dogs and an epiphany.
Well, that was quite a week, 2020 late September on a hill in Italy. There was a significant chance it wasn’t going to happen with the year that it’s been. Had it not happened I would have been devastated, so finding out it was going ahead was very welcome indeed; the timing was perfect for me.
What was it you ask
It was a retreat, a F**k It retreat, my fourth. The first was in 2017 following leaving my family and my work. It was a pivotal moment when I was at an all-time low. The second was in 2019 and one I wanted to be at to check in with myself to understand if I was making progress; I had but/and there was still a lot going on. You see, once I had opened the lid and dared to peer into my emotional can of worms, it was impossible to put the top back on. Perhaps it is better to say that I made a choice not to put the lid back on.
I have attended two this year, a long weekend in pre lockdown Brighton and then Italy. These two in a different capacity and no less powerful or willingness to touch areas of my life; or rather to see what emerges.
I always believed I didn’t need help, didn’t need to look inwardly and didn’t need to feel or have emotions; they are not ‘manly’ and something I touch on in my recent Story Portrait.
What I realised after my first, having felt fixed straight after the week, was that it was only an initial step in an otherwise life long journey. Life events don’t happen in just one lump; they come in waves. Some of the waves are small, reactions to externalities; family, loved ones, work. Some are fucking tsunamis; the loss of a loved one, a relationship.
Whether small or large, the emotional reaction to each wave are things I would have previously buried. I would have carried on, ‘manned up’, stiffened the upper lip, pretended I was ‘OK’ and worse happy. That’s what society, culture, upbringing demands.
September on The Hill
The abrupt loss of a beautifully loving relationship had made the weeks leading up to this one particularly challenging. The resulting storm had brought wave after wave of every emotion, grief, sadness, anger. My previous experience had taught me to let those feelings come, sit with them, not resist, and it had helped a great deal, yet it still felt painfully raw. Although the timing of the retreat was perfect, I just knew it was going to amplify the response.
After the initial introductions and briefing on being COVID secure the week started in earnest yet without any pressure to dive into anything specific, there are no sledgehammers merely an invitation to connect with what’s coming up. Not that mine needed that much of an invitation, and so they did! I shared, I cried, I would feel lighter, and importantly I would understand my state now, at this moment.
It happened on the Thursday during a process set in nature. Halfway through, in a location that represented openness, possibility and intimacy, John led a deep relaxation technique. I relaxed, and as I settled, waves started to come, more, bigger until everything hit like a tsunami. I tried to stay connected with the group but needed to take myself away and just let it all hit me and be with every emotion that cascaded down. In the end, only one remained an absolute love for an incredible relationship that shared moments of wonderfulness, a lot of joy, laughter, real respect, connection and love.
Previously sitting with the emotions were often linked to meditation. Typically this has only led me to process one feeling, attempt to be with it and then carry on with life, which is akin to wanting the feeling to pass or moving away from it.
My epiphany was during the relaxation exercise. There was no focus on anything just relaxing, which resulted in a vast amount of space for every feeling to come up at once. In that state, it was impossible to carry on. The only option was to be picked up by the Tsunami and let it batter me about and throw me to the shore when it was ready to end, not in an allotted time or a need to continue with a task or to get on with something distracting.
Rarely does the day to day offer opportunities to relax completely. Said another way, it appears more comfortable to continue. The pressure of family, work, the environment does not allow the space to let a torrent of emotion out. That was my old self, disconnected, angry, blaming all external factors that fit my narrative, even loosely. We wear masks to ensure that people, friends, loved ones, think everything is ‘OK’; we are not unhappy. It fits with what society wants; it works with not feeling shame or guilt or fear of losing those close to us. It is, however, entirely exhausting keeping the pretence up, keeping emotions in check, not being truthful with how one really feels; less head more heart.
For me, resilience isn't about moving away from hard things; it is about moving toward them and exploring my relationship with them; emotionally or physically. Sometimes a group of relative strangers gathered in a beautiful location led by deeply grounded individuals, enables a true and honest reflection on one’s state. Connection with the moment and like-minded human beings who know there is more to life than just existing who are prepared to lift the lid and embrace what they find. The lighter side of life will always provide moments of levity; a persistent dog with a stick and one that only wanted a belly rub, ninja kittens, an inquisitive hen and a less than semifreddo.