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Pause for a moment and imagine being unconditionally loved and supported, and to know and feel that you are totally okay and accepted exactly as you are. Free to be your authentic self.
If this is challenging, you are not alone. Many of us have never experienced this kind of acceptance from others or from ourselves. We shut down parts of ourselves to fit in, to keep a job, to be “loved.” Yet the healing power of unconditional love and acceptance is palpable and lasting, as I experienced during a seven-day residential retreat led by experienced facilitators of Path of Love (POL).
POL is not for the faint of heart, but for people who are ready to break through limiting thoughts, belief patterns and move forward in life with more freedom to express their authentic selves. As a seeker, I am always open to new growth opportunities and this retreat helped me shed more layers of self-imposed limitations.
Prior to the retreat, I filled out an application and was interviewed by a member of the staff to determine if POL was appropriate for me. During the actual immersion, held at a peaceful retreat center in rural Northern Colorado, I joined 31 other individuals aged 22 to 60 from across the United States (and as far away as Norway) to learn, grow, and let go of limiting belief patterns under the careful, loving guidance of six facilitators, as well as 32 assistants who had taken the course themselves and were present to guide us through this journey.
From dawn to dusk, with ample breaks for snacks and meals, we took part in sharing, supporting, trusting, inquiring, and moving, all designed to help us become more attuned to our inner selves. Throughout the week, I gradually let go of layers of protection: I cried, I laughed, I felt and expressed anger, grief, sadness, joy, and even a bit of rage. I danced, I experienced joy and freedom to be my true self, and made new friendships.
I took away several important gifts from this retreat.
1) Silence is golden.
When we weren’t in session, we were asked to remain in silence so that we could witness and be witnessed simply as individuals on this week-long exploration of our mind’s limiting thoughts and messages. With the support and encouragement of the group facilitators and assistants, eight of us quickly became a trusted group.
Silence, a rarity for many of us in the modern age, also has proven health benefits, including releasing stress and tension, replenishing the brain, and allowing areas of the brain associated with learning, memory, and emotion to build new cells. Silence also gives the brain space to daydream and tap into our heart’s deepest longings and desires.
2) "To err is human, to forgive divine."
This well-known quote comes from “An Essay on Criticism,” by Alexander Pope, but how many of us actually forgive ourselves for things we’ve done in the past (willingly or not), or are currently doing? In our small group of eight participants, we shared our stories and were gently led into some dark places by loving facilitators.
Without needing to give details, I shared about an abuse that happened in my childhood and listened to others confidentially share secret pieces of their lives. No one judged and no one criticized.
To be witnessed in this way is extremely healing. I came away realizing we all have hurts, regrets, and dark places. I finally came to accept what happened to me and with that came immense relief and freedom.
3) Time alone does not heal all wounds, but revealing the truth goes a long way towards calming your nervous system and improving health.
By writing journals, I have long known that telling our “dark” secrets, whether in our journals, to a therapist, minister, priest, or in a trusted, confidential group is extremely healing. I have held a low level of tension and stress for much of my adult life stemming from a less than perfect childhood and the challenges of life in the modern age making it difficult to fall asleep without medication and to get deep restorative sleep. Since completing POL, I have slept better than I have in years. Getting deep restorative sleep allows my body to truly rest at night, so that I wake up feeling more refreshed.
4) I can be on time.
Throughout most of my adult life I have been chronically late. Only 5 or 10 minutes, which I told myself was no big deal. In fact my friends jokingly called it “Lori time” and most people, including clients and students, have been pretty accommodating, at least outwardly. One of the agreements we made at the beginning of POL was to be on time, and I admitted to the facilitator that this was hard for me. In a loving way, he said that being late is a sign of rebelliousness. I vowed I would try to be on time for the week—and it worked.
I credit this not only to my agreement, but also to the kind middle-aged volunteer dressed in white who walked around the retreat grounds ringing Tibetan chimes five minutes before every session. Not only was I early or on time for every session and have retained that habit back in my day-to-day life, but I also realized the root of my rebelliousness.
5) I really Love to dance.
Dave Barry once said, “ Nobody cares if you can't dance well. Just get up and dance.”
As a young child I was uninhibited and loved to move and dance. I grew up taking ballet lessons and later learned social dance—west coast swing, jitterbug, waltz, fox trot, and salsa to name a few. But the ability to simply move freely to music, to let the music move me, was blocked early on by well-meaning adults and later by my own self- consciousness.
The evening sessions of POL consisted of meditation, recorded inspirational talks by one of a variety of spiritual teachers, and music that was perfect for getting up and dancing. Since I had made a commitment to participate in all the sessions (though we were never forced to do anything we didn’t want to do), I put my inhibitions aside and got up and moved. Not as uninhibitedly as some, but I did move and dance, and I was greeted by smiles, encouraging nods, and joyful laughter.
Throughout the week, as layers of self-limiting beliefs and thought patterns were gently witnessed and released and new ways of thinking about myself were formed, my dancing became more fluid and free.
Like being on time, that spontaneity of dance has stayed with me and since POL I find myself dancing spontaneously around the house as I go through my daily activities — just like I did as a young child.
To quote Marianne Williamson:
As we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.