My sister-in-law and I recently swapped insider tips on the best personal and spiritual growth workshops we’ve had in our lives. The time I grew the most was at an all inclusive singles-only five star cruise to Jamaica. I grew at least twelve pounds on that trip. Her tip for me was far more inspiring and thoughtful, a soft spoken, lovely older lady in Tacoma, Washington who runs retreats to help people figure out what their own authentic nature is and how to be it more often. I was like, “Oh, that kind of growth.” I was curious, so I decided to check it out.
The woman runs personalized retreats out of her home, but lucky for me she agreed to offer one through Skype so that I didn’t have to rearrange my life for the 3-5 days it would take to do in person. I nearly spit out my coffee when she told me her prices. My guess is that she hasn’t raised them since she began this work in the 1970’s! I signed up on the spot.
The retreat is designed to help people understand their own behavior and reactions and to gain confidence in expressing themselves in more positive and authentic ways. She said that sometimes what keeps us from having access to positive behavior and being “our best” in situations where we are triggered is our self image - what we think about ourselves. Yikes! So the first step at getting to our positive core is to get clear about what gets in the way.
She had me do a writing exercise about my self-image for ten minutes about whatever comes up for me. Her calming, warm tone of voice lulled me into feeling like I could be vulnerable. This is what I recalled:
“When I was in sixth grade we didn’t have enough money to buy new school clothes. We were given a few boxes of hand me downs from some much older cousins and my sister was able to rifle through it for the best stuff first. She always had a knack for putting things together, but I just couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make seventies style orange bell-bottoms three sizes too big work in the eighties era of Nike and Izod. I was the laughing stock from the moment I stepped onto the bus. I covered myself with this enormous country and western style jacket that was also totally hysterical, but at least it covered up the rest of the hideous clothes I had on. As an adult, I put way to much money into my wardrobe. I am always trying to compensate for this constant and nagging impression of myself that I’m not dressing cute enough. And even though I have a closet overflowing with overpriced clothes, I swear I never have anything to wear.”
“That same year, a really popular eighth grade girl asked me in front of a bunch of other kids why I got so lucky to be a skinny person. It was such an ego boost for me to even be acknowledged by her let alone to get a compliment. I wouldn’t consider myself a skinny person today, but it’s always given me the confidence that I can maintain a healthy weight.”
As soon as I finished reading it I thought - OMG, how LA was that?!! I felt this immediate need to criticize myself by saying something about how embarrassing that was. I mean, come on, I am, a mom raising eleven kids, working so hard to teach them to be confident, successful, loving human beings and yet my automatic go-to thoughts about myself are “Does this stupid outfit make me look fat?”
She just sat there and listened and when I finally finished, she said very reverently that she loved that I shared those stories and of course I would feel this need to avoid feeling humiliated and to be accepted. She said it’s also quite natural to be critical, but that when we don’t love our fears and insecurities, just like anything we resist, it persists. I’ve heard that a million times, but somehow she held so much love and patience and kindness that I got a very visceral feeling of the power that love has to help us move through things.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not like I’m planning on not shopping or weighing myself ever again, it’s just that I've really felt connected to myself since that moment and it hasn’t really gone away. I just want to stay quiet and hang out inside of myself. Looking forward to how the retreat unfolds.