Part of my professional activities is to facilitate retreats. What does ‘retreat’ mean?
A retreat is a time to withdraw from the day-to-day routine, to pause, reflect on our inner world, and create clarity with our priorities. This time enables us to communicate better with ourselves and our needs and desires. It’s a time to quiet the monkey mind and enable time for wisdom and clarity to emerge. In the retreats that I facilitate, we create the space for clarity to emerge, fine-tune our decision, priorities, and dare to be authentic and vulnerable, and show up fully.
Now, after I explained what retreat means, I want to share my personal experience.
In the retreats I facilitate, we start every morning with walking meditation. We get to a scenic viewpoint, at which we meditate, and then we return to our base in walking meditation. In one of the retreats I facilitated, at the end of the meditation at the top of the mountain with beautiful scenery, we started going back to our location in walking meditation, everyone focused on themselves. During the walk, I fell and hurt my knee. At that moment, I felt a sharp pain in my knee. However, I felt uncomfortable to stop and show my weakness and the pain I felt. Beyond that, I was afraid that if I give place to these intense feelings, I could faint. So, I continued walking as if nothing had happened. I was limping slightly. The other participants asked me if I was ok; I said that I am fine and continued to walk “business as usual,” holding the pain inside of me.
When we got back, I saw that I had hurt my knee badly and I was bleeding. We started our gathering by sharing our experiences and reflections. Some of the participants reflected me that it looked like I had hurt myself badly, and they didn’t understand how I continue walking as if nothing happened. I shared with them that I was badly hurt. However, I chose not to give it place because I was afraid to fall into the pain and would not succeed to get up. One of the participants reflected me that the fact that I was the leader of the retreat had an impact on the way I had chosen to act. Because I was the leader and they were the followers, I felt that maybe it’s not ok to pause, and I needed to continue moving on.
I must say that I agreed with him. It is indeed a thought that crossed my mind. I am the leader; it’s not appropriate to give place to the pain and the injury and hold everybody back. The reflection on my behavior provided us with a meaningful learning experience about what it means to lead. Do we feel comfortable being vulnerable when we are in a leadership position? And I understood at that moment that it’s not a natural and easy place for me to be. The ability to be vulnerable shows weakness and to be present with the pain and the uncomfortable feelings while I am leading.
A few months later, I facilitated another retreat. I facilitated the retreat at a complex period in my life. We started as usual with morning meditation and withdrew inward. During the meditation, tears started streaming down my face. All the sadness I felt emerged out of me at this specific moment. However, this time, unlike the first retreat, I didn’t stop the tears from emerging and the pain and sadness to be present at that moment. The sadness and pain that wanted a place to be present and to be released. I was present with what came and let myself cry in front of all the participants. At the end of the meditation, I tried to start talking and continue facilitating the session. However, I was unable to. The tears choked me. One of the participants asked me if I wanted a hug, and I did. We stood there in the presence of all other participants and just hugged.
This time I enabled myself to be present and vulnerable and to walk the talk. I did not feel the need to hold the tears and the sadness back. But I gave in to what wanted to emerge at the moment. At the end of the retreat, the participants’ feedback was that they truly appreciated me being vulnerable and authentic. They claimed that the fact that I dared to be vulnerable gave them the legitimation to be vulnerable and authentic. And to be honest, it felt right. The ability to be myself and present to be the leader and at the same time to be human and authentic. This is my aim in these retreats; we will connect to ourselves, to our inner world and humanity, and bring ourselves fully to show up with our inner strength.
Being present sometimes requires us to dare to show up with whatever exists at the moment, with uncomfortable feelings, with uncertainty, and just to be.