Emotional Intimacy Begins Within: My First Retreat Experience

BE_Rhd_Back 2014-05-11 12.26.42 copyThe North Georgia Mountains cradled a group of 20 people who gathered for an Intensive Personal Growth weekend retreat. It was one of my first retreats and I felt uneasy. I was examining a lifetime of not being true to my self for fear that someone would not respect me. I realized that if I kept abandoning my self through my self-judgment that I could only expect more of the same from others. I was successful in business, and I looked good, but my body was stiff and hurt a lot. My breath was shallow. Deep down inside I was scared and insecure, but I hid it well.  My self-image certainly did not include crying in public places.

Committed to being true to myself, I decided to break out of the “I have to please others to be liked” mindset.

I wanted to feel my emotions when they came, and to take responsibility for them. I knew that intimacy within my self and with God was the precursor to real intimacy with others. I vowed not to blame others or hide. I realized that others might feel uncomfortable in my presence, but I promised to stop my care-taking behaviors. I would no longer try to control their reactions to me. I wanted to stop judging my self like many others had done in the past. I knew this would shift an entire pattern.

I walked into the dining hall Saturday morning, not feeling very sociable. I watched my discomfort. If I did not socialize, I would not fit in. What would I choose? Tears moistened my eyes, and I did not know why. Instead of smiling politely, I gave my face permission to be sad and cry a little. I did not make idle conversation. I ate, but not much.  Most of the people in the dining hall were busily chattering and laughing. I remained quiet, not judging myself.

Then my eyes landed on a brightly colored ski jacket hanging on the back of a chair. I was moved by its beauty. It had wide diagonal stripes of turquoise, periwinkle purple and fuscia pink blazing against a bold black background. Would I sit quietly appreciating its beauty, or would I express the joy I felt to its owner? Spirit told me to share my joy. Expressing my joy, as well as my pain, was part of being authentic. Listening to Spirit and acting on its direction was my mission that weekend. So, I walked over to the table near the jacket and asked, “Whose coat is this?” A dark-haired woman responded, “It is mine.”

“It is so beautiful!” I exclaimed. “It is just so beautiful!”

She glowed and answered, “Thank you.”

I walked back to my seat. There was still food on my plate, but I did not want to eat. Neither did I want to socialize. I walked out of the dining hall and rambled through the woods to the building where we gathered for our transformational work.

I entered the rectangular building with one large open room. No one else was there. “Good,” I thought. Curling up on the couch, I was content to be alone with my sadness. I knew people would enter soon, and I would have the choice to be authentic or act superficially congenial. Once again, I committed to be intimate with my self. If I wanted to cry, I would cry. It took courage, but I knew that authenticity was a foundation for all intimacy.

A few people came in, laughing and talking. I cried softly while seated on the couch. They ignored me. “Good,” I thought. They did not try to distract me or make me feel better. A few more came in, and then a few more, all chattering among themselves and ignoring me.
Then a woman walked over and sat in front of me on the floor. She gently put one hand on my knee and quietly sat with me. There were no words. She was simply present with me. I cried more, touched by her tenderness.

Another woman came in and she, too, sat on the floor in front of me, and rested a hand on my other knee. She gazed into my teary eyes as I gazed back.  Again there were no words – only quiet sharing, being with each other where we were. No judgment.

“What a beautiful gift,” I thought. We continued communicating without words. Love radiated between us.

Then the woman with the ski jacket walked over to me and placed the coat over my shoulders. “Here, this is for you.”

I heard her, but I could not believe she was actually giving it to me. I enjoyed the coat while I huddled on the couch. She sat with us, too, sharing in wordless interchanges.

After a while, my tears dried and I breathed easier, feeling like a weight had lifted from my body. I looked at the woman who owned the ski jacket and handed it back to her. She said, “No. This is for you. I am giving it to you. I have enjoyed it for two years. I am done with it. I am making many changes in my life, and I am giving away many things. I want you to have it. It is yours.”

“You mean it?” I asked, this time receiving it. She smiled. My eyes moistened again. I was so touched by her love expressed through this gift. We were both wide open. We both trusted our selves impeccably.  There we were, sharing the fullness of sweet intimate joy.

Author and Retreat Facilitator: Benita A. Esposito, MA, LPC

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