Realisations from a Retreat

Last month I attended a 5 day retreat as part of the Fellowship I’m experiencing with the Centre for Sustainability Leadership.

If you’re wondering whether this is going to be a story of transformational journeys, walks in nature, guitar playing and vegan food, you’d be accurate. But there’s more to what happened in the rolling green pastures of the Flowerdale valley that I’m going to share.

The days bookended by frosty mornings and late night saunas, revealed some more subtle things, as well as the blindingly obvious lessons we know but often don’t have the space to see or time to practice.

The first thing I noticed was that being an extrovert in a larger group with a smaller extrovert to introvert ratio, made it much harder for me to stick to the plan of holding back. Although I’d been doing a reasonable job in our Melbourne group of 25 which has around 1/3 extroverts, the additional 25 fellows from Sydney meant double the space I felt like I needed to fill.

This holding back takes up a bit of effort for me as I absolutely love meeting new people and will throw myself into conversation and interaction. Add to this the fact that I’m usually on a mostly paleo diet, meant my energy levels were depleted before we’d even got to the halfway mark.

The focus of the week was media training including digital and print content creation, radio and TV interviews and social media tips. This framework set the tone for the week of pressure and performance. Anxieties were heightened all round, to the point where the guest professionals had to emphasise not stressing out before our final day of recorded TV interviews.

I think it’s important to explain how diligent, dedicated and disciplined this group of people are. There are 5 facilitators caring for 50 fellows putting immense pressure on themselves, not to outperform each other, but to do justice to our own efforts and to the experience as a whole.

The sustained setting meant that those who weren’t already, were swept up in this emotional journey. Cynics and enthusiasts alike were ill prepared for how intense this retreat would be. It reaffirmed my belief that everyone should take an opportunity for self-exploration, and if they can do it within a supportive group, it will be even more powerful and transformative.

I also realised that being an extrovert doesn’t mean I’m always confident, in fact sometimes the bravado is the cover up of my vulnerability. It was the personal stories that finally broke me on the last day. We heard of powerful moments, inspirational insights and sparkling threads in people’s lives. My internal monologue started to doubt my validity. How was my story moving or relevant?

As each person stood before us and spoke for 5 minutes with their soul bared, our emotions opened up more and more. It took me till afternoon tea (and some rationed peanuts) to gather the energy I wanted to give during my speech. I took strength from knowing that we are our stories and we can connect with people by sharing them. Then I set my intention to allow myself to be vulnerable.

A week after landing I can distil the biggest realisation I had. This is the first time I’ve had aligned values in a group of people as an adult. Instead of feeling misunderstood and lost in the real world, I know that there’s a community of combined learning and experience that can move, inspire and support me. So the landing is more like taking off.

I’m ready to write the next story.