Does It Spark Joy: Tidying Up the Soul

Next year I’ll do the cocktails on the beach thing, I tell myself as I sign up for Path of Love for my 29th birthday. This year, I’m cleaning up. It’s not my first self-development retreat and, judging by my track record – ashram-ing in India, anyone? – it won’t be my last.

Exposition

What drove me to attend a mysterious weeklong course about which there really isn’t all that much information available online? I lead a comfortable life, yet…it’s not enough. Groundhog Day comes to mind. Same faces, same mindless chats, same commute. Frankly, that can’t be it; I’m pretty sure I’m not on this planet just to eat miserable salads and talk about the weather.

But, never mind that. This is, after all, a story about love. And like all tales of love, it begins with a little bit of delusion. In my case, it begins with a Pinterest board featuring the beautiful Welsh scenery I’d be wandering, a mug of steaming hot tea in hand, and the cosy earth tone garments I’d be wearing in Wales (think: Barbra Streisand at a yoga retreat) while comfortably, breezily even, reaching the enlightenment that had eluded me for ten years prior.

Little did I know then that I’d be spending the week wearing one thing above all: My reluctant heart on my sleeve.

Rising action

“Ready?” our fearless leader asks. I clearly wasn’t. Let me just wait for Stockholm Syndrome to fully kick in, I wanted to quip, but using sarcasm to camouflage lack of confidence and downplay insecurity would be, so I assumed, frowned upon at a retreat geared solely towards putting down those masks we’ve all become so comfortable wearing in our everyday lives.

Well, great. There goes my primary defense mechanism. Instead of cracking jokes, I hold onto my oversized scarf like one would to a lifebuoy while drowning, and step in front of the group.

Climax

I share. Then I cry. Despite knowing, intellectually, that we’re all a little nuts, I’m deeply convinced that I am the messiest person to ever exist.

As everyone takes turns sharing, I listen to perfect strangers bare their deepest and darkest secrets and not for one second do I think: Whoa, okay, you really are horrible, huh? On the contrary, I feel more connected to them. Hell, I have, in the meantime, made it my job to witness other people be their real selves and every single time it happens I leave the encounter cherishing and appreciating them even more, wishing they would allow themselves to see how truly and utterly breathtaking their true selves are.

Why is it then, that while I deem others courageous for sharing their shadow selves – the parts we spend the majority of our time hiding from each other – I remain certain that there is no way anyone could get a glimpse of mine and still love me? How can I spend most of my day cheering others on as they slowly step into their authentic selves, while still holding onto the idea that, somehow, that same principle isn’t true for me? Sure, it’s cool for others to be their rawest, most vulnerable selves, but there is no way I could ever trick anyone into accepting me without the bells and whistles. Right?

Falling action

I check my little in-lieu-of-an-iPhone pocket watch (you didn’t think we’d be allowed phones, did ya?) that still stubbornly displays GMT-1 and refuses to adjust to the now, just like its mama. Not even noon yet and I’m already worn out. Of course I am. And it isn’t due to travel and or not sleeping much; it’s the cumulative exhaustion of spending a ridiculous amount of time trying to manage an experience that was never designed to be controlled (that experience being the thing we routinely refer to as life).

Given that I’d spent the last few years analysing the hell out of what I lovingly refer to as «boundary issues in high-functioning women», it will come as a surprise to no one that I love intellectualising deeply non-intellectual issues. Yet, here, for the first time in ages, my inner chronicler whose sole raison d’être is to critically narrate every event transpiring in my orbit, has, all of a sudden, gone completely quiet. And gooddamnit, it’s nice to finally be able to breathe.

It’s nice to be witnessed. It’s nice to defiantly tell someone to leave you alone – not because you truly want to be left alone, but because you’ve never learned how to voice your true needs, lest they not be met – and to have them not just refuse, but hug you even harder. Most of all, and trust me, I didn’t think I’d ever say that, it’s kinda nice to be a messy human, going through a whole spectrum of messy human emotion in front of an audience of similarly human humans.

Dénouement

What I didn’t know when I first stepped into Buckland Hall with that big insecure smile plastered on my face was that ahead of me I had seven days of screaming and bawling my eyes out. “The Chilling in Wales” Pinterest board is but a distant memory.

I’m not going to lie; for most of the week my spirit was in shards, but sometimes that’s just how spirits need to be. It’s like Rumi says: Gamble everything for love, if you are a true human being. If not, leave this gathering.

by Nadia Gabrielle

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