When was the last time that you felt truly held? When did you last feel like you could unfurl and unravel amongst the safety of strangers?
I’m not sure that I’ve ever had that feeling. Not truly. At least, not before last week.
I was invited to the Peace Village Learning and Retreat Center as a guest of America Meditating Radio Show. I’d been interviewed on the show by Sister Jenna of the Brahma Kumaris spiritual organization. Afterwards, Sister Jenna had extended a kind invitation to join a group of other guests at their sanctuary in the Catskills.
When I accepted the invite I thought how wonderful it would be to have a few days away from NYC. Much as I love the vibrant chaos, I crave my introvert time and I thought this might be the perfect restorative time to get reenergised. I had no other expectations.
As soon as I arrived I knew this was a safe space. A sacred space. A supported space. At numerous intervals it was also a silent space. And all the while I kept thinking, “But the love is so loud. So very, very loud.”
On the evening of our arrival we gathered together in the Inspiration Hall and Sister Jenna shared with us some information on what we’d be doing over the next few days.
I remember that another guest asked if they could say something, adding “if there is time”. Sister Jenna replied with a smile “Yes, we have time” and then “We’re ok now”.
We’re ok now.
They were to be the words that would wrap themselves around me for the rest of the retreat. Like the most comforting blanket of love.
That evening Sister Jenna reflected back on the previous years retreat. She said it had been a special time with lots of laughter and also some tears. I briefly wondered about the people who had shed tears. I imagined that they’d had some “stuff” going on and that perhaps the retreat had been a time of release for them.
The next morning after yoga, our group had a meditation session with Sister Dorothy. Afterwards she spoke to us about soul, gently guiding us in a conversation which moved away from the idea that we have a soul, and instead offered the suggestion that we are soul.
We were then asked to form an inner and outer circle. The inner circle sat on chairs facing outwards. The outer circle sat on chairs facing inwards. Each person sat across from another person.
I knew what was coming next. I knew we’d have to sit and look into the eyes of the person opposite. As we were arranging our chairs my mind was scrambling to find a way to not do this. I wanted to leave the room. I actually considered doing exactly that.
I told myself I wasn’t bound to be here. I could just get up and go. I briefly contemplated a sudden bathroom break. But I also knew that my reluctance to do this exercise was highly indicative of the fact that it was something I probably needed to do.
The first person I sat opposite was a man who I later found out was named Paul. Inwardly I was feeling all kinds of uncomfortable. I did not want to sit and stare into the eyes of a man I didn’t know. I felt awkward and embarrassed. I wanted this to be over.
As we began I saw my own unease reflected back at me in Paul’s eyes. I could tell this wasn’t easy for him either.
And then I saw something beyond his eyes that stopped my feelings of awkwardness in their tracks. I saw understanding and recognition. I saw empathy. Paul gave a very slight nod of his head a couple of times and even though no words were exchanged, I felt like he was saying “Me too”. My embarrassment faded away and I felt seen. I felt understood.
It seemed that my heart was whispering a message to me: “I’ve been waiting for this”.
After Paul, I sat in front of two more people, making and holding eye contact, each set of eyes affording me a deeper view into who I am, a clearer sight into the parts of me that I tend to turn away from.
And then I sat in front of Lisa.
I didn’t actually know her name then. She was simply a woman sitting on a chair in front of mine. As I sat down I saw that she had tears on her cheeks. My immediate thought was that I wanted to comfort her. I decided to try to convey compassion to her so that she didn’t feel weird for being emotional in front of me.
What happened next took me by surprise.
We held eye contact and without warning I began to cry. My tears came in a torrent and they surprised me. I had no idea they were waiting for their turn to speak.
Suddenly Lisa wasn’t a stranger. She was a sister. She was me.
I can’t quite articulate what passed between us in those long moments. But it looked like love. It felt like acceptance. It spoke softly of a better world, a more beautiful existence. Tears to tears. Sister to sister. Soul to soul.
Somehow time and space were suspended. I was seen, truly seen, and I was not judged.
I was not judged.
I think Lisa’s openness gave me the space I didn’t even know I was seeking. Her tears gave me permission to release my own.
To share those moments of absolute vulnerability, to let the tears flow free and pay no mind to how we looked, to only fall into the depths of how we felt, it was everything.
I’ve been in counseling before. I’ve sat and spoken about painful memories and old, old hurts. But I’ve never been able to let go like that. I didn’t know I could.
In the eyes of these beautiful strangers, I discovered that my armour was not necessary. That my soul did not need adornment. I remembered that there are no edges, there are no ends. Everything pours. Everything pools. It all runs into the rivers of who we are.
There, in the sanctuary of the mountains, in the eyes of strangers who were really soul friends guiding me home, I remembered who I was.
My wish for you is that you will find this too.
You have to find the place where you can be cradled. The place where you can find an easier breath, a softer story.
Perhaps that place is in the eyes of your child or the arms of your cherished. Perhaps it’s on the shores of the land you love. In the rolling fields, in the reckless skies
This is your safe space. Protect it. Defend it. Honor it. This is the place where you will come back to life. Come back to yourself. Beat by beat, breath by breath.
Linger here until love refills you. Until life returns. This is your place. This is your release. Your homecoming. Your way forward. Your deep, deep letting go, so that you may carry on.