Retreat is an invitation to listen. And to be heard. What do I mean by this? In the quiet space of retreat it makes sense that I can listen to what is happening inside and outside. But what does it mean that I can be heard?
This question is making me touch into my desire to be heard. To be understood. Isn’t that a strong desire in us? Maybe it’s become dulled or atrophied after years of not being heard, after giving up on the possibility. Maybe we’ve come to believe that it’s immature to want to be heard. That we should learn to be independent. Maybe we don’t even hear the need any more. But it seems to me to be fundamental part of who we are. We want to be heard, understood, seen, touched. We want to be visible to the world.
So maybe one aspect of being heard in retreat is that I hear myself freshly and more honestly, more vulnerably. In sitting quietly, moving quietly, not having to rile up the mind with busy activities and distractions, hearing myself happens on its own. It’s unavoidable!
It strikes me that I usually think of “being heard” in the context of being heard by someone else, but it does make sense that if someone else is to hear me, I need to be able to speak clearly about what I need and want. To do that I have to listen to myself.
But on another level perhaps the real reason that we long to be heard by someone is because that opens up a space for us to hear ourselves and for self-healing to being. If someone can really hear how hurt I was by their comments – if they really hear it without making excuses, if they can just hear it vulnerably and feel my hurt for themselves – then maybe I can be done with that incident. At the same time the incident may open up for me so that there is some insight into the nature of that hurt in the first place.
So what I’m longing for in both of us is really the space to hear and feel openly, vulnerably, deeply, without moving away from the difficult feelings. It makes sense, then, as I sit alone with others in retreat, that entering into this vulnerable listening, being, each moment, is the same as what I long for from others.
In retreat we do have time for interacting, for putting this listening to work together with others. We can do this in the group dialogue and in one-on-one meetings. That’s why we have these opportunities and they can be very healing.
There’s no question that opening up, being vulnerable, carries with it the possibility of pain. And the possibility of pain carries the probability of reacting, of shutting down, of wanting to escape. Just the thought of signing up for a retreat raises all of this, maybe subconsciously. Even after years of retreat I still get a dry mouth and anxiety as retreat begins. It’s no different than realizing that one’s partner – or any other person for that matter – can ever really be “safe”. We can learn to be a source of comfort and support for each other but there is always the possibility of something being triggered. That doesn’t mean we avoid relationships. Or does it? Maybe we do. But underneath there is, I believe, a longing for vulnerability and intimacy.
In a relationship for there to be the possibility of vulnerability together there has to be a mutual understanding of how we can hurt each other and a willingness to learn about this through vulnerable listening. Similarly, when you are invited to retreat, it’s important for you to know that the retreat setting, the people facilitating, want to support this process of mutual listening. Of making it as safe as possible for you to listen to yourself and as safe as possible to explore the hurts inside that want to and need to be heard.
When I invite you to retreat (on behalf of all of us) it’s because we need each other. We need to come together for a number of days to make it easier for us to listen, to heal, and to come alive in open vulnerability, together.
Just as in our relationships with our partners, there’s a sort of speed bump that we have to get over to start listening together. When I talk to people about coming to retreat, the first thing most people talk about is how impossible it would be to do that, to take time off, to step out of the routine, to be in a strange place, to spend the money. It’s not too different than our therapist suggesting that I talk about how I feel and suddenly I can feel that speed bump in my throat and think of a hundred reasons why I shouldn’t do that.
But then I start talking. Because I need to. Despite having to get over the bump, over the fear, And some how it works out, no matter what it brings up. And there is a feeling of greater honesty and greater openness.
With coming to retreat, people who really need to come find ways to deal with the practicalities. I can make suggestions for you if you need to work that through.
Retreat is the rare opportunity to pay attention to that in our lives that most deeply needs attention. Without an opportunity like this once in a while, a time or two a year or more, doesn’t something inside sort of wither?
Together we can make it easier to listen, be heard, heal, and come alive again.