The Pura Vida Tribe gathered on a self-sufficient, off-the-grid, hidden gem oasis on the souther shore of Lake Arenal near the majestic Arenal Volcano in Costa Rica. As a tribe, they enjoyed farm-to-table food, rainforest hikes and magical moments of authentic Tribal Council. They re-defined what it means to Tribe Design and proved that it only gets better.
About a year ago I decided to spend more time and money exploring things of interest to me that I hadn’t given myself much permission to. I was getting really curious about holistic health, both physical and emotional aspects of it. I was beginning to recognize my career no longer fulfilling me, really it hadn’t in years at this point. I’d find myself naturally gravitating to these other interests, but then stop myself from making any significant time or money commitments. I would create excuses to not get involved, “no one does this sort of thing,” “I don’t have that kind of money to spend,” or something similar. My prioritization was off. I was not treating the things I found myself drawn to with the attention I wanted to give them. Maybe because I didn’t imagine other people would spend their time and money this way, so I shouldn’t.
I remember one important belief I decided to give up was the idea of making money for the sake of having money. The masculine, vertical development style and accumulation game of making money and holding onto it for dear life. Oddly enough, if I went back and looked, I would likely find myself leaking out money (and energy) through things that were of short-term value to me but were in the realm of so-called “reality.”
I later gave myself permission to spend money, and more importantly spend it on myself through things I felt called to participate in. This included getting a holistic coach (Kris Timpert, who I highly recommend if you’re in the NJ area) who helped me with my posture and taught me a number of things. Her presence alone provided me contrast against the normal life I was living. I ended up taking a couple of courses I was really excited about and they were eye-opening experiences. Then, one day late last year my manager sits me down for a meeting very late in the day. He was, in essence, letting me know this was the beginning of the end. I would be losing my job in the near future.
I don’t actually remember how I heard about International Tribe Design. I’ve been following Elliott Hulse for years and at some point he was a headliner for a previous retreat, so that may be how I heard about it. I had no plans on going but the idea of going stuck around in my head. The weekend after I found out I may be losing my job, I decided to submit an application and see what happens. I mean, I’ll have the time and I gave myself permission to go after these interests…so why not?
There was some anxiety about possibly attending the retreat. The idea was vague, the purpose wasn’t clear to me and the video makes it seem like it is geared towards extraverts and extraverted activities (self-expression is a fear of mine, I look forward to self-depressing activities). There were a couple headliners I was tangentially familiar with, which was enough for me to look into it more.
I was contacted by Daniel Eisenman a day or two later. He’s one of the RawBrahs, a group of three brothers who have a genetic predisposition to not wearing shirts. Daniel runs the retreat and he reached out to me via a video message. We went back and forth through video messages and it turned out to be ingenious. I don’t know why this felt so new to me, the technology has been around but he was the only person I’ve come across who has attempted to asymmetrically communicate with video messages. So much more is relayed in a video which can allow rapport to be established sooner. If I was just getting texts from him, there would be this imaginary wall I’d be trying to look through in order to really see who he was, and likely vice versa. In a way, by creating and sending me a response in the form of a video, sometimes incorporating those around him at the time, he was allowing me a glimpse of who he is. Which likely allowed me to, consciously or subconsciously, settle down and allow me to share more about myself.
I signed up, but I feel like I should point out that I was still lacking an understanding of what these retreats are about. The information I had was vague, Daniel did his best to answer my questions but nothing really clicked for me. Looking back, I believe I signed up because I had an inkling of something more that I felt was there but couldn’t be articulated in an intellectual way. When I go back and look at those things I thought were “vague,” I might see them as heart-centered today. What I wanted was an intellectual answer, a schedule, a plan or something of the sort. But if they ran it that way, it may have dampened or killed what this retreat has the potential to be. which is much more heart-focused. What I think I’m getting at is, I felt (with my heart) something about this retreat that I couldn’t understand (with my head).
With the experience and knowledge I have now, I’d say for me this retreat is centered around authentic communication. Each person who attended could give you a different answer for them. In fact, if you ask me tomorrow I might just say it was a vacation with some strange people.
First Day (for me)
The first day didn’t go as planned for me. My first flight was to Houston where I’d catch my connecting flight to Costa Rica. Got up 3AM, on my plane at 5AM, around 6AM someone on the plane got sick (“Do we have anybody on board that is a medical professional?”). We diverted to Atlanta to get the individual some help soon after. We finally got to Houston but we landed about 10 minutes after my connecting flight had left. United set me up with their next flight about 8 hours later, meaning I’d essentially miss the first half-day of activities. United did upgrade me to economy plus and I got a $10 meal voucher. Thus an 8 hour wandering exposition began of the Houston airport.
That flight ended up being delayed by a little less than an hour, then the driver who was going to take me to the resort arrived late too. I finally got to the resort around 1:30AM. A guy who works there helped me get to my room where I proceeded to wake up one of my roommates, who I hadn’t met yet, as I try to slowly get stuff out of my luggage. Despite all mixups and delays, it wasn’t as bad as it sounded. It sucked but everything ended up working out one way or another.
The first exercise I participated in was notice & imagine. Here’s an example I found online from some guy I’ve never heard of:
Things I picked up from doing this for the first time:
- Felt like an improv game, which I loved. Practicing saying the first thing that comes to mind, which helps with getting out of my head.
- I felt doing this with others helped bring down my own barrier to speaking with others.
- I found it easier than I had anticipated.
- I didn’t see this in the moment but I believe part of the idea is to help create a distinction between the objective (noticing) and subjective (imagining). For example, “I notice you’re wearing blue, I imagine you like the color blue.” This is a practice, I’d imagine, that would help separate what I noticed from the assumption I made, and giving myself an opportunity to ask a question around my assumption.
- Another thing I picked up and found challenging about the practice was letting myself receive the feedback. Sometimes there would be an urge to respond to it but giving myself the opportunity to feel what’s happening as I hear the feedback had value.
- I also like the challenge for working on my creativity.
I had a minor freak out the first night. One of the group members, Josh Chinn, was playing his guitar and wanted people to come in and sing along with him. One person goes in, does his or her thing, then brings someone else in to play along. I had no problem just watching but I had no desire to end up in the circle. Going back to the issue with self-expression, I definitely didn’t want to be inside that circle and attempt to sing. The idea of possibly being pulled into the center was enough for me to dread and eventually disconnect. After a few minutes, I just left and went to bed, which I sorely needed after the previous day’s traveling fiascos.
The Meaty Part
One strange human I met here was one of the overlords, Timothy Eisenman. In addition to having a last name that is a struggle to spell, Timothy is also a good person. Before I speak on my experience with him I thought I should note that despite the picture, he does have a full nose and mouth.
I thought it would be important for me to reflect and write on my experiences with Timothy. I often found myself triggered or deeply resonating with his words. His raw honesty during the retreat felt like rubbing alcohol pouring down head and onto my shoulders and down my entire body. The alcohol finds the wound, arrives with a sharp sting, then leaves with a burn to remember it by. Not a gratuitous type of pain but more a feeling of “there is a wound here, pay attention to this.”
I first met Timothy while we were waiting for one of the workshops to start. He introduced himself, probably because he felt like he had to as we were just standing around doing nothing. We then awkwardly waited until the next thing started. Or maybe it was just me that was waiting awkwardly, I shouldn’t project my awkwardness onto him. Or maybe I should feel free to do so. I don’t know anymore.
Later on, Timothy had his own session where he spoke about his own experience. His session was short, but it was the one that hit me the most through the retreat. He spoke about various experiences he has had and, in my words, this general theme of jealousy that he’s aware of in himself. He would admit to the group, things one may shy away from even admitting or acknowledging to him or herself. He was raw and unfiltered, his words resonated and stuck with me as the retreat went on.
I believe this next part was during the end of a session that Frank Jay ran. We were to do some kind of work with the next person we see (or something like that). Timothy and I end up working with each other. My perception of what happened here I thought to share. When I’m in a situation where I have to find someone to work with, I drop into this “oh shit, what do I do, why would someone want to work with me?” attitude. If I can be my own psychologist for a moment, a part of me believes in the idea that there is something inherently wrong with me and it would detract others from wanting to work with me, so why would anyone? This isn’t an actual thought that runs through my head, but that freakout could be a result of a deep-seated belief like the one I just described (which is what is resonating most with me right now). This incorrect thinking is a result of a core wound I may not have figured out yet. But I’m acknowledging this issue with self-worth that I may be holding and projecting onto others (i.e. I don’t believe other individuals will see me as worthy because a part of me doesn’t see myself as worthy). So I have a mini freak out and hope someone is willing.
I wonder if that is some sort of leftover belief system I acquired while I was in high school that I haven’t let go of. This has been something I’ve been thinking a good deal about recently and would like to write more about in the future. Something like how a part of me still hasn’t left high school and is still playing out behaviors or mental patterns that no longer serve me from that age. I think this belief of not being worthy is one of those things that seeped in around that time and I’m just starting to see. But I’ll save that for another day.
I’m expecting Timothy to look away and find someone else, maybe fearing the awkwardness or something else I’d project onto him in that moment. Instead, without words, I just picked up a sense of curiosity from him, like “oh I wonder what this will be like.” And with that, I had a partner for this exercise.
From what I can recall, the exercise involves two people sitting across from each other, one person holding a poker face while the other expresses something. Timothy was the poker face and I the expresser. The exercise starts and I’m thinking this is supposed to be non-verbal expression (I don’t know why I thought that). After a minute, Timothy breaks and asks if he is supposed to be holding poker face and I’m the one to express something. I tell him I am expressing, pointing to my facial expression. Maybe 30 seconds later, along with the chatter behind me, I began to realize I was allowed to speak. That’s great.
After a little while we switch roles and now I’m holding the poker face while Timothy expresses whatever he would like to express. He goes, referring to what happened a moment ago:
“…I wasn’t so stoked that we started off on a disagreement.”
At that moment I had another minor freak out and the following excuses, explanations, stories or whatever started running through my head:
- “No we weren’t disagreeing, I was just correcting you.” (lol)
- “No that is just how I was expressing myself.”
- “I just misunderstood what the exercise was.”
- “It was confusing, we weren’t talking up until this point and it wasn’t explicit that we should talk.”
- “I’m not stoked that you just used the word stoked.”
Maintaining the poker face wasn’t easy, all those stories running in my head and I wanted to “correct” his view of what happened. I wanted to force my perception of what happened onto him and get him to accept it. While I didn’t interrupt him, I found myself starting to smirk or half-smile at times when I wanted to say something.
Timothy goes on talking about how he was keeping an eye on me during the retreat. He noticed that I was rather quiet and he was curious if I was enjoying it and getting something from it. He tells me he does believe I am getting something out of this in spite of the quietness (I don’t remember if he mentioned why he thought that but I’m curious now that I’m recalling this).
His honesty is kind of addicting. He continues, “I think you’re like me in a way, you like to hear others talk about you.” Damn. I smirked, wanting to let him know he’s perceiving something that resonates with me, but trying my best to maintain my poker face. It’s 100% true, I practically crave for it. Hearing about myself from others feels like I’m filling in gaps about who I am. I have no idea what that says about me but I’m interested in someone filling in that gap for me while I’m at it.
So that was it for that exercise. I do remember the urge to find Timothy the rest of the day and explain to him that there wasn’t a disagreement or express that his comment about me resonated, but for better or worse that didn’t happen.
The part where I randomly list things because a cohesive story requires more work
Some random thoughts I had about the experience that don’t really fit in anywhere:
- I found practically everyone I met at the retreat to have vibrant, energetic eyes. This wasn’t something I’ve ever noticed before, but one after another I kept seeing another person who had an aliveness in their eyes that was just not something I ordinarily see.
- Missing the first day sucked and likely added to the general stress of traveling I have. I become more introverted and closed in when I’m stressed (reflexively, more outgoing/extraverted when I’m relaxed) but often don’t realize it in the moment. I felt fairly in my shell through the event, being around so many new people, in a new environment, on top of everything else.
- Missing the first day did have a silver lining. There’s an introduction for everyone and having to do mine without seeing others allowed me to not calibrate based on what I saw other’s do — allowing, or giving myself permission, to do what I wanted to do.
- Troy Casey had a great fireside chat one night about various topics of importance to him. Troy has a lot to say and you can tell he truly believes and is dedicated in his cause.
- Troy can become really intense suddenly, especially when he’s talking about something dear to him. I found his intensity at times brought out some kind of discomfort in me that I haven’t been able to articulate yet.
- There was this group of three guys that go by the name Mystic Misfits, that did a session at the end that was really awesome. Their words flowed so well and it was a great final session for the retreat.
- When we were all doing goodbyes, a couple people mentioned to me that they thought I had a “block” of some sort that might be preventing me from fully expressing.
“When you hear three knocks, you must listen.” — an old proverb I may have screwed up
- I didn’t get to meet JP Sears who was the headliner I was most familiar with beforehand. I wonder if I thought about it so much I made it not happen in a non-conscious way. Anyway, I wanted to share with him my non-existent script about an old man who starts a spiritual strip club but at the peak of his success realizes that it was supposed to be he who needs to be stripping … … … … away the layers of his own ego.
- After the event, I found myself on Facebook much more. I normally avoid Facebook but I think I found myself more intrigued and uplifted by those I became friends with in the group. I think this is, in a way, pointing me towards the type of people/community that I would be comfortable being a part of.
- The retreat was held at Rancho Margot, an organic, self-sustaining ranch. The whole experience was amazing, I highly recommend the ranch. Their website speaks for their offerings better than I can, it’s a fantastic place. We did get a tour from the owner who talked about organic farming, the history around it and how he implements it at Rancho, all of it impressive.
On the plane ride back, the guy next to me started up a conversation and I mentioned I went here for a retreat. He asked what the retreat is about and I said authentic communication. I fumbled around with an answer when people asked before, but this not only clicked for me, it rolled off the tongue. I had the words now for what it was that intrigued me to come.
It was also a heart-opening experience. One that I needed after the rather heart-wrenching experience of my previous employment. Each person I met had a level of presence I rarely encounter in the “real world.” Experiences like this make what we may call the “real world” seem more like a “factitious world.”
It was also a traumatic experience, in that there were way too many shirtless dudes during periods of time at this retreat. It’s really not that hard to keep a t-shirt on. Maybe they need more comfortable shirts? I think there’s an opportunity for a productive intervention here.
This was just a piece of my experience. There were a number of things I didn’t get a chance to bring up or discuss in more depth, but these were the ones I wanted to reflect on the most. Everyone that I spoke to loved the event and I’d bet each person would give their own unique description of what happens here. It was fun, there were experiences that I learned from and I’m curious if I’ll be propelled forward by them. I definitely see myself going to the next retreat.