I’ve never talked much about soul, at least not as a noun. I have always liked soul food, soul music, but the subject of “my” soul, or anyone else’s for that matter, rarely came up in conversation. And I probably changed the subject or rolled my eyes if it did, as did many of my friends.
Things change, and people learn new things, and my understanding of soul, specifically my soul, is a lot different today than even a year ago. And then, I went to a SoulFire retreat while I was on vacation in Montana, and not only is my understanding a whole lot different, I have a heck of a lot more experience with the reality of soul.
The retreat was intended to support each of us – thirty one women – to deepen our relationships with and experience of our souls, and it was highly effective. The difference between what I might have expected from this sort of event and what I got is that it did not feel New Agey and transcendent and consciousness-raising and generally contrived to make everyone happy and shiny. At all. Instead, this was the most raw, honest, alternately painful and joyful but always inescapably authentic event I’ve ever attended. Yoga teacher training came close, in large part because pushing the body to its limits has many similarities to soul work. And the week-long meditation retreats I’ve attended also had their share of raw and honest moments, as well as deep healing work, but it all went on in silence or while listening to one person at the microphone with the teacher. Perhaps the biggest difference in Montana was the intense bonding and support of those thirty one women and our facilitator/guide/lead soul, Sera.
I saw transformations take place in five days that I would expect to take months or years. Tales of abuse and abandonment were shared, with no shying away or comforting or avoidance of any kind. Women found their own ways through these experiences in the container built by Sera and held by all of us. In my own case, there are no experiences of abuse, but I still found old hurts to let go of, or pieces of me that I’ve left behind for one reason or another, to bring back. One old hurt was deceptively simple: during my miserable seventh or eighth grade years, I internalized a strong message that it was not OK to be….OK. It was much more acceptable to put yourself down, minimize any talent or skill you might have, generally make fun of yourself, but definitely don’t tell anyone you are OK the way you are. If you sounded even slightly comfortable with yourself, you were open to ridicule, at least in my awkward, shy and feeling-out-of-place estimation at the time.
Then, shortly after the retreat, while doing on my own one of the meditations we had practiced together, I realized how much of my voice I had lost over the years. It was both shocking and dismaying to remember how many times I have let someone else – a teacher, boss, friend, co-worker, etc. – shut me up (or down, depending on how you look at it.) And of course, the really depressing thing is, it was me doing the shutting up and shutting down, complicit with the bullies and “authorities”. And holding back on sharing the real truth, what I really know and understand which is likely contrary to popular opinion, or polite conversation. Which is one reason why this is going on the blog – time to get loud, or at least a little less quiet. I can write more later about all the fear that comes up when I hit the publish button and let the world see a little more of me.
There were more parts to the retreat, many of which I have no desire to share beyond those of us who went through them together and maybe a few close friends. And some of my other shifts deserve their own posts – such as realizing my own sovereignty, “standing in my own authority”. In truth, what this SoulFire retreat did for me was give me back more of myself than I have had in a very long time, and forged the bonds of a community of women that will be with me for a very long time. And in one way or another, it did the same for anyone reading this post.
For a very brave take on this same retreat, you can read the blog of my beautiful soul sister, Belinda.