I’m just back from an idyllic week of teaching my summer retreat in sunny Spain. As always, I was reminded that this is something that I really enjoy doing, perhaps above all else. I love watching the journey that everyone goes on, myself included, as we all slowly release the binding ties and prescribed masks of our ‘normal’ life and gradually relax and unwind. It is as though we enter another realm or dimension, where time doesn’t play such a critical role and where expectations, labels and identities are able to be released, with sweet relief. By the end of the week, it really did sometimes seem like time was standing still – people moved more slowly, organised activities were blissfully sparse and just merged effortlessly into each other, with minimum organisational input required. The less we worried, the more the universe flowed, placing us all exactly where we needed to be at the perfect time. With outer protective layers dropping away, the beauty of heartfelt communication, supportive friendship, body wisdom and intuitive healing were able to rise to the fore.
But, it takes a while to get to this point. We fight the sparseness, we fear the empty hours and the lack of structure. In a world that is so organised and obsessed with efficiency and profitability, where our time is so compartmentalised, it can feel like a brutal wrench to suddenly break away and be faced with the spaciousness of clear days to just be with ‘me, myself and I’. You would think that we would embrace this with open arms – how many times do we find ourselves saying things like, ‘God I need a holiday!’ and, ‘I just need some time to myself!’. But, often, when such a thing is gifted to us, it can throw us into even more of a headspin.
I do think that’s why so many people spend their holidays avidly sightseeing; really, it’s often just an extension of the busy, pressured life we’ve left behind. And I very much speak from experience here – I used to feel a deep sense of duty and self-imposed pressure to fill every little pocket of time with ‘productive’ activities, whether I was on holiday or not. But I now see this as a symptom of an imbalanced society, which places way too much emphasis on ‘doing’ at the expense of just ‘being’. In fact, ‘being’ is often criticised as being self-indulgent, a waste of time, useless, selfish etc. But, I would argue that this is most definitely not the case and in fact the world is crying out for us to just stop what we’re doing and sit still with ourselves for a while, to catch up with ourselves and enter the inner, bodily world of feelings and emotions rather than remaining trapped in our minds, where we are mercilessly controlled and censored by our persecuting ego. We need space for true insight, clarity and inspired creativity to emerge, and for peace to descend.
The problem is, modern society is now so entrenched in this efficient world of doing, that most of us have lost the ability to just be with ourselves. It almost panics us, creating feelings such as, ‘If I haven’t got anything to do, then how can I possibly be of value?’ We feel we have to prove our value through our achievements and our possessions. But have you ever thought that you came into the world as a precious gift to the universe, and that this hasn’t changed – you’re very being here is enough? We don’t look at a newborn baby and expect it to start doing something to prove its worth, before we will accept it into the world. And we tend not to chastise children when they ‘space out’ and become lost in their daydreaming reveries and imagination and create with joyful abandon. Yet, as we grow into adults, the external expectations and pressures begin, and we start to feel we aren’t good enough as we are, and that instead we need to start proving ourselves to others, to meet others’ expectations of how we should be.
The other issue is that, in a world focused on productivity, emotions tend to be downplayed, suppressed and even denied as, when they take us over, we’re not in total control of ourselves and therefore not as efficient at what we do. How can we meet our tight deadlines when we’re also dealing with huge emotional rollercoasters? So what do we do? Often we distract ourselves from our emotions through all kinds of techniques, some obvious, but some very stealthy indeed. Drugs and alcohol are an obvious distraction, but so is over-working, and even over-playing – we can kid ourselves that going to the gym, watching TV, going to the pub etc is helping us relax, but what is our motive really? Is it possible that we are distracting ourselves from painful emotions that we fear to truly enter and experience, in case our ‘efficient’ life unravels? Another one to look out for is when you spend all your time looking after everyone else, and solving their problems. You can justify this quite easily as kindness and generosity, but are you being kind and generous to yourself first? Or are you running away from yourself…? (I’ve definitely been very guilty of this one in the past!)
Like any other activity, even our yoga practice can be a distraction if we’re not mindful, perpetuating our sense that we’re not good enough as we are, that we need to do more, try harder, work harder. I certainly have experience of this – I strictly followed a very dynamic yoga practice for many years, telling myself it was for relaxation and personal development, but really I was continuing an old pattern of punishing myself due to a deep but as-yet unacknowledged self-loathing, and distracting myself from truly entering the hugely painful emotions that were buried deep within me. In short I was in denial, and yoga was at first just another layer that I built up to help keep those emotions trapped inside, where I couldn’t feel them so acutely. But, of course, we can’t bury and avoid our emotions forever.
So, although it’s immensely difficult, I think finding space in our days where we have no plans whatsoever, except to be kind to ourselves, to enter our inner world of feelings and emotions with self-compassion, could really help change the world, and help us to find our way out of the negative trajectory towards self-destruction that our human species finds itself on. Each of us is an enmeshed balance of mind, body and spirit as all ancient wisdom and indigenous cultures know intimately, yet somewhere along the line we have lost the path. We’ve lived too much in the mind for far too long now, and now we’re feeling a void within us due to our systemic suppression of heart and spirit, and we’ve forgotten how to reconnect to these essential parts of our being. I confess it frustrates me that concepts like emotions, heart, love and spirit are often spoken of with derision by society as wishy-washy, ‘hippy’ ideas, even though I feel they are what will save us as a species. Yet I do understand the disconnect, because I felt it myself for much of my life. In the end, it was only when I became more mindful and conscious in my yoga practice that I was able to honestly acknowledge some truths about myself that I had been running from, which helped me to shift my perspective and raise my awareness of the huge imbalance that we’re suffering from. I finally began to understand that, above all, I needed to be kind to myself and come to love myself, so I began to give myself space to delve within, truly, and to allow those buried emotions to start being released so that I could begin to heal myself.
And, in effect, healing is what we all need. We are all suffering from the planetary imbalance of mind dominating heart/spirit, and we all need to heal from this. But we fear to enter the space where this might become a possibility, because we know deep down it will utterly rock the bedrock of our perceptions of ourselves and our world, which is a scary thought. But if we can go there together, it’s far less threatening, and we can support each other through the huge shifts that are required. The power of community is immense, and is something else we’ve become disconnected from through living in our minds at the expense of our hearts. Mind is separation and competition, heart is unity and collaboration. Of course I’m not saying we need to drop the mind completely – we very much need it for our survival. But we need to rebalance, and allow heart and spirit an equal voice.
So, to draw this to a close (although, I’m just getting going really, lol!) this brings me back to my original point about the power of allowing yourself to take time out to go on retreat, ideally in some kind of group or community setting. When we stop still, time expands to embrace us, and we can begin to remember that we are perfect, beautiful and lovable just as we are – the universe needs no corroboration of this and, as a vital, integral part of the universe, we will eventually realise that we need no evidence either and self-love can flourish, as it longs to do. This is what the universe is calling us to remember as it seeks to come to a peaceful equilibrium and this is what I feel humanity needs to move towards positive evolution … 🙂