"If you knew who walked beside you at all times, on the path that you have chosen, you could never experience fear or doubt again." ~ Wayne Dyer
|Photo courtesy of Jennifer Pastiloff|
Do you see that photograph above? I didn't take it, which is obvious because I am the one in the purple shirt right in the middle, but it is one of my all-time favorite photos. It was taken during a retreat I went to in February. To me, this photograph screams support and strength.
It screams empowerment.
It screams love.
I waited almost a year and a half to attend this retreat. It was a Jennifer Pastiloff Manifestation Workshop called On Being Human. I first heard about Jen through my dear friend, Tina. A while ago, Tina knew I was looking to submit some of my writing and she thought that Jen's literary site, The Manifest-Station, would be a good fit for my writing. You can check out the site HERE. So I submitted an essay, it was published, and I started following Jen's site.
Tina had gone to the On Being Human workshop last year and she couldn't say enough about it. I guess the best way to describe the workshop is that it is a weekend filled with yoga, writing exercises, music, and self-exploration. It's about empowerment and connection. When I was considering attending this year's workshop, I was a little (OK, maybe more than a little) concerned about how I was going to manage the yoga part. However, Jen and Tina both assured me that the yoga is NOT the focus of the workshop. Rather, it is a vehicle Jen uses to help the attendees dig deeper into the self-exploration and writing parts of the workshop.
Even if you stop reading right now, please hear me when I say this: if you can get to one of her workshops, GO!! PLEASE DO NOT LET THE YOGA PART SCARE YOU OFF! I do have some gentle yoga experience, but I know several people in the workshop who had never done yoga, and they were just fine! You can check out Jen's upcoming workshops HERE.
So, I took a huge leap of faith and decided to go for it.
Honestly, one of the best decisions of my entire life.
And one of the best weekends of my entire life.
Despite the fact that I have discussed in depth what transpired over my retreat weekend with a few people, it has been a struggle for me to get it all down in writing. Sometimes experiences are so big and significant in our lives, it becomes a challenge to do them justice with the written word. But, I will try to. Not for my benefit really, but for the rest of you who may benefit from my experience.
The retreat was help at Kripalu in Massachusetts. It was also my first time at Kripalu, but I think I am going to save writing about that for a different day. I'm also not going to describe in detail the exact writing and yoga exercises we did. I did not know going into it exactly what was involved and I'm so glad I didn't know. I want the same for you. If you attend a Jen Pastiloff workshop, I would like you to go into it with an open heart and an open mind. I think you will be glad you did.
My experience at the On Being Human weekend retreat also included staying in a large dormitory with approximately twenty other women, almost all of whom were attending the same workshop. This was intentionally planned as a lot of the women knew each other from last year's retreat. This was a VERY difficult decision for me to make. My former insecurities about my health and my body made me self-conscious. Sleep is crucial for me to function. Honestly, I was scared. However in the end, I wanted to share the experience with Tina and financially, it was really the only option as the semi-private and private rooms were MUCH more expensive.
Thank you God I made that decision. Being in the dormitory afforded me the opportunity to socialize and get to know my fellow workshop travelers. We slept in the same room, we ate our meals together and of course, we manifested together in our workshop sessions. All but one were total strangers to me when I got to Kripalu. None are strangers now. As adult women, how often do we get an opportunity like that?
I cannot lie: the workshop experience was intense. Good intense. We had a total of four sessions over the weekend, each lasting between an hour and a half to three hours. I think so anyways. It all went by so fast that I never checked the clock for time. When I was discussing the weekend with my therapist, I told her it was like being in session with her for two and a half straight days, only much more fun. That's not an exact description, but the best I can come up with at the moment.
So what did I experience?
I delved into the very core of my spirit, or maybe soul is a better word. Now I have spent some time in therapy (I think everyone should) and I think of myself as a self-aware person. My writing gives that away every time. But this was different. This was about shredding the layers of insecurity, self-doubt, self-loathing, and fear that I carry around with me every day. And then doing so with complete strangers. It was about tapping into those parts of me that are good....and strong. I learned truths about myself, some of which I already knew, but many of which I did not. Truths that made me so sad; like the lies I tell myself about how I am not smart enough...or pretty enough...or thin enough...
Or just not good enough.
I learned that I do not need to ever apologize for whom I am or the illness I live with every single day. Through this workshop I came to realize that the beliefs and fears I carry with me are all lies. I was aware of some of this through the work I have been doing with a therapist, but the workshop helped me to finally put so many of those pieces together. I didn't even fully realize how much I was berating myself with my own toxic thoughts every day, which is interesting because I have spent the past few years ridding my life of OTHER toxic people. But yet, the MOST toxicity resided in my own head.
I learned that it is not up to other people to recognize my achievements or strengths. Why not? Because I can do that for myself. It doesn't matter whether someone else may think negative thoughts about me or doesn't like me. I didn't realize how much time in my head was spent worrying about that. Time and energy that I can use to do good things in the world and for myself.
So why would this workshop be different than say, therapy? I believe therapy is important. At times, it has saved my life...literally. But this kind of workshop is also about human connection; something that I believe as a society we get further and further away from. During the workshop sessions, you have to share...like in front of all the other people...out loud. When you share some of your deepest fears and insecurities with strangers, they are no longer strangers. They are friends. When you let yourself be THAT vulnerable to other human beings, magical things happen. Seriously magical things.
For me, the self exploration was incredibly helpful, but the sharing and listening to other people's stories and thoughts was epic. People just don't do that in the regular world anymore. And if they do, it is oftentimes stilted. I cried more during this weekend than I have in a long time. Not just for myself, but for others. It was bewildering for me to see and hear how much that we, as women, beat ourselves up, or don't see our own self-worth. I thought I was the only one.
There is something about bearing witness to other's people's pain, struggles, and fears that elicits a response in me ( and in other participants) that I don't typically have on a day to day basis. Empathy maybe? I'm not quite sure. What I do know is that it was such a privilege to bear witness to the struggles of other people. So if you are reading this and you were in the workshop, thank you so much for allowing me to be a part of your journey.
Human connection is probably the most powerful tool we have in our journey through this world. Deep human connection that is. Before last weekend I used to think that many of the thoughts and feelings I had were unique to me, and not in a good way. I thought I was "different." So many times, I have been told that I am "overemotional" or "too sensitive." While I can hold a casual conversation with the best of them, I always crave a deeper connection with people I meet or people already in my life. I am oftentimes disappointed and that led me to believe that I was defective or unusual. At my weekend retreat I realized that not only am I not defective, but I have a gift; that my desire to connect with people on a deeper level, while not for everyone, is not a detriment. I realized that maybe sometimes, it is just a matter of finding the right people to connect with. And letting myself "be seen."
While I know this whole weekend retreat thing sounds like it was serious work, it wasn't at all. I went into the weekend from a not-so-good place. I had previously been struggling physically, I had to resign from a new part-time job in January, and I was depressed in a way that I had not been in a very long time. But the retreat brought a lot of laughter and peace to my heart, as well as a dance party or two. And possibly, some wine. It was like my "joy" switch had been turned back on. Quite a relief for me actually. And even though we are all back home, trying to make our way on our day-to-day lives, we remain connected through our private Facebook group. Thank goodness, because I cannot imagine my world without these beautiful, strong, and courageous women.
I was driving home by myself from the retreat and within ten minutes of my drive home, I knew I was coming home a changed person. Well, maybe changed is not the right word. I was the same person, but a much better version...a more peaceful and confident version. A person who will no longer apologize for who I am and a person who is eliminating the work " should" out of her vocabulary. I truly realized how different I felt when I drove into my driveway and realized that for the entire hour and fifteen minute ride home by myself, I never once turned on the radio. I had no need for the distraction. I was that comfortable being in my own head.
I have now been home for eight days and I have to say, I still have that feel good feeling from my retreat. It doesn't mean that everything goes right all the time. Hell, this blog alone has taken me two days to do because I have been having so many problems with my blog server. But it does mean that I am walking gentler in this world and with more confidence. I don't doubt myself and I put my opinion of myself ahead of all others. It does still take daily work on my part: yoga, meditation, staying connected with my Kripalu sisters, and reinforcing what I have learned, whether that be through reading, mantras and/or writing. It's worth it though. It produces a much more peaceful version of myself.
A happier version.
A version that feels the joy existing in this world.
Thank you Jen Pastiloff and to your assistants, Angela and Melissa, as well. Thank you for finding YOUR path in this world and sharing with us your gifts - a path that brings the rest of us the tools and support we need to do the nitty-gritty work. You are changing this world in a way that not many can do - one person at a time.