As promised, I’m back from my month-long spiritual retreat at a Buddhist monastery!
In case you don’t remember why I went, I went because I realized that while I knew what I was being called to do in the world (aka support you in your healing and liberation journey)...
I just didn’t have the energy to do it.
And I wanted to hold space for myself - to let happen whatever needed to happen.
I didn't know what it was but I knew I wasn't going to coerce myself into moving forward.
So I practiced what I preach and went deep instead....
For a month.
Surprisingly (maybe not surprisingly?!?), I spent the first weeks really angry.
But First, a Brief Recap Since It’s Been a While
I had spent all of 2017 working to free myself internally and externally of my responsibilities of running Everyday Feminism…
…An organization that I had founded and nurtured for 7 years and had given me so much joy and meaning
…An organization that I then felt trapped at because I didn’t know how to remove myself and not have it burn down
…An organization that I felt unhealthily and overly responsible for and was self-silencing and self-coercing myself in order to stay
…An organization that I finally restructured so that the magic was embedded into the system and would live on after I left
…An organization that let everyone, including me, be human, especially during difficult situations
It was a hard won fight but I was able to transition out with a lot of love from the team and tenderness for myself by the end of 2017.
I then spent the first half of 2018 trying to re-launch my online courses on healing from oppression - and finding myself struggling to want to do that.
Taking the time to look deeply at that resistance and getting support from my loved ones, I realized what was holding me back.
I was scared of being trapped by my work again.
When I sat with that fear, I saw this image of myself with hundreds of hands clutching on to me to push their way up…
And pushing me down in the process and them not caring - as long as they got what they wanted.
Intense, right? But that’s what came up for me.
For me, relationships led to responsibilities, which led to coercion, which led to feeling trapped - again.
And it was an unhealthy and inaccurate lesson that I had learned time and time again from past situations.
And yet, I am so relationship-oriented and find great joy and meaning in nurturing loving relationships.
But at the same time, I have this deep-seated fear around caring relationships trapping me.
I’m pretty good at nurturing loving relationships, which leaves people usually feeling good in my presence.
So I felt that they would turn on me if I ever pulled back and stopped doing whatever made them feel good, which did happened over and over again to me as I set boundaries with people.
So I learned to self-silence and self-coerce myself into staying in situations that I didn’t want to be in because I thought it would keep me safer (false!)
Situations that just became even more painful for me because I felt I couldn’t leave but couldn’t say or do anything about it.
Over the last ten years, I had been freeing myself of this internal dynamic and had gotten out of more explicitly coercive and controlling situations.
But healing is a cyclical process and I found myself continuously learning this lesson of freeing myself from more and more subtle and normalized coercive situations.
Like in May 2018 when I kept trying to re-launch my online courses (managed to get one out!) but just didn’t have energy to do more.
How I Was Held and Supported In Taking the Break I Needed
Thankfully, I had loved ones who reflected back to me that I didn’t have to stay and kept asking me what I deeply wanted.
This included me taking the time to do a long spiritual retreat.
My romantic partner actually broke up with me because I said our relationship was keeping me from going to the Buddhist monastery.
It felt like I would be abandoning him (another false perception, but that’s a different story!)
So he gave me the permission that I couldn’t give myself and held my hand as he nudged me toward what I deeply wanted.
It was painful of course and there was a lot of grieving on both ends. But I also felt very energized and light (alternating with grieving!) because I was finally aligning my life with what I deeply wanted.
We actually got back together soon after. We shared deeply about where we were both at post-break up and found it was a lot more complementary than we had thought.
We felt that oddly enough, the break up had allowed us to see our relationship more clearly in terms of what wasn’t working and what we wanted from it.
This let me start the retreat more peacefully and more settled.
Of course, that didn’t last very long.
Here’s Why I Spent the First Weeks Just Being Angry
The thing about meditation is that you become aware of what’s deeply happening inside of you.
And when you’ve been unconsciously repressing your pain because you think self-silencing will keep you safer, you end up with a lot of repressed anger.
Thankfully, I was in a very supportive space to be mindful of my repressed anger!
So I just held the space for my anger to arise and watched it come flowing up and out of me.
Not surprisingly, it was centered around how I had been hurt in many ways that I hadn’t really realized at the time. And therefore, I had never said anything about it - because I wasn’t fully conscious that it was even happening!
While most of it was centered around my romantic partner, there were other people from my past who also came up.
This was a dynamic that I have a tendency to co-create - especially with those closest to me like my partner and family, because I want them to be happy.
As the anger rose up, I didn’t know how long it would last for.
But I didn’t try to repress it (again), change it, or hurry it along.
I didn’t make myself wrong for feeling it and I also didn’t make my partner or anyone else wrong for what they did to me.
While I felt anger at what they had done, I didn’t want to focus on them. I wanted to focus on taking care of myself first and foremost.
So I just let myself be where I was.
I focused on being gently patient with my anger and kindly observing it flow out. All while staying grounded in my body and my breathing.
As the days (and anger) went on, I sometimes wondered if I would spend the whole month being angry in the beautiful, peaceful monastery.
But then one day, something got settled and shifted. And it changed everything for me.
I’ll leave you at this obvious cliffhanger but I promise to share with you what happened soon!
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Sandra’s the Founder of Re-Becoming Human and Everyday Feminism. She’s committed to living into spiritual and social liberation in each and every moment. Sandra shares her (often painfully earned) learnings from her ongoing journey of healing and co-creation so that your journey may move faster and have less pain and more joy!