Last week was intense. I spent my days at a small retreat center in St. Helena, in Napa Valley, California. Does that sound stressful? No?
I took part in a residential program hosted by The Hoffman Institute.
Forty students and six teachers gathered to spend the week learning, sharing, exploring, and confronting.
Some were there to confront past relationships and family dysfunction. Others were there to discern direction for their lives. Still others were there to change self-image, or overcome fears.
All of us were there to confront ourselves, our patterns of behavior, and to grow in our capacity to love and be loved.
We followed a planned curriculum, working through concepts, tools, and experience.
It was a hard week, for some more than others.
The teachers were kind, the food was great, just as you’d expect from a retreat center in northern California.
No wine though, in case you think about going.
Our focus was on dealing with the past, in whatever form it held us back.
It turns out that a lot of my messages to myself aren’t really very helpful.
I know, it was hard for me to believe, too.
I’m such a positive person, so upbeat, really, so cheerful, so easy-going.
Well, I discovered some of that isn’t really true. I mean, I present it as true. I even live it that way. But it’s not how I really feel.
Example: I give myself, and others, a message that I’m a writer, but I follow that acknowledgement with some self-deprecating comment about “don’t look for me on the NY Times bestseller list any time soon!”
Why do I do that? I think it’s to put out there that I might not be successful…sort of like, if I acknowledge that possibility up front, then when I live up to that low expectation, no one is surprised, least of all me, and no one laughs at me for having grandiose dreams.
Whew! I saved myself from that one, didn’t I?!
Here’s another thing I do.
Sometimes I’m nervous about my relationship. When things feel tense or stressed, I sometimes say, “Are you ok?”
What I really mean is: “Am I ok? Am I safe? Are we ok?”
Funny how we use one set of words to mean something else entirely.
Of course, I don’t intentionally substitute words I say for words I mean. I like to think I’m honest and direct.
Sadly, I have to face the reality that sometimes I’m really not….not clear with myself, or clear with the people around me.
It’s a little disheartening to have your defenses dismantled and have to decide what to do with that information.
Another thing I do…I self-censor. I don’t confront, to the point of limiting potential for intimacy. For how can anyone really know me if I have such high walls that not much can get in, or out? Yes, I’m being polite and kind and easy to get along with. I’m also distant, though most people wouldn’t think that. I am kindness and helpfulness personified.
But steel plated none-the-less.
The teachers were very kind, encouraging, inspiring. They challenged us to live with integrity, to love and allow ourselves to be loved. They challenged us to be big.
Argue for your limitations, and sure enough, they’re yours. ~ Richard Bach
So what do I do now?
I’m going to enlarge my dreams, quit worrying about what others think so much. No, I’m not going to go to the other extreme. But how did I come to think it’s smart or wise to argue for my limitations? Life will knock me down enough without me adding my own spirit to the process. I know that. And trying to protect myself with some advance notice that I’m not likely to be a best-selling author is not doing me or anyone else any good.
So now…I am a writer. I plan to be successful. I don’t need to project what that will look like. But I can at least forecast something positive and hopeful. Why wouldn’t I? The worst that will happen is that I’m not, in fact, successful, which won’t really matter to anyone else anyway.
And as for other ways I’ve been fearful….I don’t know what’s happened, but I’m not feeling that now. I’ve recognized that fear doesn’t help me avoid the hard things of life…it just prolongs them. It doesn’t save me anything. It makes difficulties harder.
Another side benefit of the week: there are almost 50 people who know a bit about my frailties, and I know something of theirs. That makes us a unique little community, able to support each other from time zones and continents across the world, thanks to email and phones. It’s a rare thing to make even a couple of new friends in a week’s time. But fifty?! That must be some kind of record. At least it is for me.
Well well…maybe it was easy an easy week after all.