Messages of ‘be yourself’ have constantly been flung at all of us from many different mediums. Well, that’s easy, isn’t it? You just have to ‘be’, surely. However, I’ve been warned that I shall come back from this retreat a totally different person. I remain sceptical – it can’t be that life-changing, can it?
Arriving at La Bruixula, a country house in the mountains near Sant Celoni, the first activity is a walk of silent meditation. Albert and Neus (our instructors) encourage us to be honest with ourselves, transparent.
Feel the breeze, how it caresses the skin. Note the change in temperature as we move from warm sunlight to shaded bosky areas – a chiaroscuro of dappled light. Smell the scents of the forest and listen hard to the chirruping crickets and, underfoot, the soft autumnal crunch of leaves already fallen. Be conscious, be mindful. How do we feel? What is stirring inside us?
This is going to be a weekend of opening our hearts and minds, really working on our emotions, allowing ourselves to feel rage and accept that; to be at peace; to let sadness in. It sounds passive, as if the feeling simply wash over us like a waterfall. But it’s not as simple as it sounds. I find there is a lot of resistance. If I feel something I don’t want to feel, I’ll cry. And I’m not ready to deconstruct my defensive barriers.
One exercise, after a yoga session, is looking into the eyes of a partner. Don’t look away, whatever happens, Neus tells us. Keep gazing into their eyes and take everything they give you. I look into the green-gold eyes of a young woman.
Again, it’s harder than it sounds, maintaining eye contact. It’s a position of extreme vulnerability; opening yourself up in this way is frightening because you’re letting someone peel back layers. Then as more seconds pass, there is openness and encouragement reflected back. Twin mirrors of warmth. I remember what I have seen at the door earlier in the weekend: “You are Me. I am You.” It’s a pleasant reminder to think that we are all feeling vulnerable yet all show willing to expose ourselves.
The treasure-hunt is an exercise which I find extremely difficult. Fourteen envelopes are matched with trees, fourteen concepts attached. Hug the tree as the concept – for example, the Inner Child, My Body, Father. Then look inside the envelope to read a message from this concept, and give the tree another embrace having read this note. I find Life, a Life Teacher, Partner.
The messages are beautiful, giving thanks and encouraging us. None of these truly touch my heart though. However, when I find the concept of Mother, it breaks me: in the middle of the woods, tears silently fall. I notice that I don’t want to touch the tree and I just sit in front of it, crying, wishing my mother were here, instead of a tree. I am angry and haunted by feelings of guilt and impotence. I feel betrayed by the exercise, by the tree and by myself. Then I breathe and try telling myself that this is ok. That this is something to work on.
Nobody had told me how tough a retreat can be. I wasn’t prepared for this kind of depth to the exercises; how it would strip protective layers from myself. I wasn’t prepared for the emotionally draining effort it would take to really feel. A retreat isn’t a holiday; it’s work.
But it’s work that allows you – if you let it – to get to know yourself just that little bit better, and so the rest of humanity. And now, being aware of how hard it can be to just be, I might find being me a little easier.