Can You Really “Shift” Your Life in a Weekend?
The beauty of the sunlit forest outside made itself felt by the gathering of fifty “seekers” through the large windows of the meditation hall.
Sharon*, one of the participants, was sharing her experience of what had shifted for her over the weekend. She was an accomplished and highly-productive entrepreneur with a rich life. She lived by the ocean, had a thriving practice, and a supportive partner. Yet she knew she was missing some “thing”. This thing tugged at her constantly and she could feel it holding her back from stepping into her best life.
As Sharon moved from talking in detail to talking in feeling, she softened and shared the key insight she had gained over the previous days through happy tears, “If I could do all of this with ‘it’, just imagine what I can do without ‘it’!”
The words shot out of her mouth like an arrow and pierced me deeply, right in the chest. My reaction went beyond intellectual agreement to a knowing throughout my body.
It was one of many similar moments throughout the retreat where the sharing of one individual created a collective release amongst us all.
Now Sunday afternoon, we were coming to the end of an intense three days of self-exploration as we collectively took advantage of this rare opportunity to disconnect from the familiar. Everyone’s journeys were the same but different, and the room was filled with kind-hearted and empathetic souls all looking to do “the work”.
Five days earlier, I was sitting in the kitchen of Anne Berube. Anne is an author and spiritual thought-leader, and I have the great pleasure of having her as one of my closest friends. This comes in handy when I find myself spinning out in a bit of an existential crisis, as I did that day.
I had just ended a multi-year relationship and was feeling the weight of that decision. Though I knew it was the right thing to do, it reopened old wounds and insecurities. I instinctually understood they would not be bandaged superficially this time around.
It was clear that this was a chance for me to explore some things I had skipped past in my split from my daughter’s mother ten years ago and my divorce from another woman seven years later. Though I coach others on the need to occasionally take a few steps back in order to take a leap forward, the prospect of returning to these caves of discontent was far from appealing. I had peeked my head in before and was convinced the path through the darkness was lengthy. Far too long for someone already overwhelmed with work and parenting.
Anne clasped my hands and said emphatically, “Just give me a weekend with you.”
It just so happened that a few days later, Anne was hosting one of her Happy Sessions retreats at Windhorse Farm in rural Nova Scotia. In an idyllic setting, Anne facilitates three days of inner exploration with a group of like-minded souls all desiring to go deeper into what is holding them back from experiencing and sharing their inner joy.
I took her up on her offer and showed up on the Friday filled with an equal combination of anticipation and fear. Could some of the old patterns I kept repeating truly be disrupted in just three days?
One of the most noticeable things about gatherings like this is the majority of the attendees tend to be female. Of the fifty of us, five were male. This creates an interesting dynamic that the men in the room can either choose to embrace or retreat from. Fortunately, my fellow male adventurers were keen to lean in. There is a wonderful opportunity that is created in such an environment, devoid from the typical male world, that opens up the prospect of exploring yourself in a different way.
The next several days unfolded in a way that was both structured and completely relaxed. There were meditations, movement, ceremonies, moments in nature, and lots of sharing of stories. Those gathered told tales about their lives and their challenges and the collective responded with nods, knowing laughter or tears. There is something universal about the human experience, especially the experiences of pain, loss and regret. Though the content in the stories may vary, when someone is being authentic, we hear beyond the words. The only way I can describe it is a wordless conversation between souls.
I found it overwhelming at times as I worked through my own stories and my unconscious responses to those of others. Anne made sure she created the space for everyone to honor whatever they needed in the moment. In my case, it was a long nap in the afternoon of the second day as my body tried to catch up to the whirring of my mind.
Feeling rested, I rejoined the group for a delicious meal that evening prepared by Windhorse’s resident chef. We had all only met the day before, yet the bonds that had been created were already apparent across the long communal tables in the wood-fire heated dining hall.
That evening, I found myself seated on the hearth in the main lodge in conversation with several women who had made the trip from another province. Having previous experience of Anne’s work, they were enthusiastic about having this weekend with her. It was here that I found myself engaged in conversation with Chloe* for the first time. She shared with me that she had overheard me talking with several other participants at lunch and, though she felt pulled to join the conversation, she held back. She thought I sounded too “smart” and had many experiences where she was made to feel inferior by men. She feared this would be yet another of those times.
I assured her I often feel the same insecurities she does; worried I’ll say the wrong thing, wondering if my opinions are worthy, wondering if I’m worthy. Most times though, in spite of that fear, I persist anyway. And though there were times where I got bitten, more often than not, what was on the other side of that fear, was something fantastic.
As she took what I had said in, I saw it happen for her – the shift. I can’t really describe what takes place, it is more of a feeling than something you can clearly identify, but you know it when it occurs in yourself or others. If you are open to feeling it, that is.
As the weekend started to come to a close, I spoke up for one of the few times during the retreat.
Many years ago, I was taken through a guided meditation where I ended up seeing myself in the future. The vision I saw of myself was of a kind, generous, wise, and most of all, happy man. At the end of the meditation I was directed to ask my future self what people called him. His answer was simply, “Father.”
Though I initially dismissed this as seeming a little too “cult-figurey”, during the many explorations and interactions over the retreat, I kept coming back to this vision from long ago. What was most profound was I realized the future me from the meditation was the age I am right now. In my late twenties, it seemed so far away, yet here I was – both feet planted firmly in the NOW.
What I shared with the group was my desire to fully embrace that “father energy” in all aspects of my life – not just the one where I’m literally a father. The energy is loving, nurturing, present, and fully seeing the flawed and beautiful humans around you. You can do that because you know you are the same and have crossed to the other side of your fear.
There were so many moments throughout The Happy Sessions that reminded me that this is who I am and always have been. In the months since the retreat, this discovery has acted as a guide in all of my interactions with others. I have come to realize the importance of my set backs, including in my romantic relationships, in allowing me to become who I was meant to be.
Anne often refers to the journey of “becoming” as essentially an act of “remembering”.
If you embrace the process and let it unfold, you may just remember who you are in a weekend.
Exclusively for those of you reading, Anne has generously offered a $100 discount on her next Happy Sessions Retreat in Nova Scotia from Oct. 25th to 27th, 2019.
This event ALWAYS sells out and THE CODE WILL EXPIRE ON JULY 31st so go to https://thehappysessions.ca now to learn more and book your spot. Enter the code “CHAZ” when prompted to receive your discount.