“Compassion arises naturally as the quivering of the heart in the face of pain, ours and another’s. True compassion is not limited by the separateness of pity nor by the fear of being overwhelmed. When we come to rest in the great heart of compassion, we discover a capacity to bear witness to, suffer with, and hold dear with our own vulnerable heart the sorrows and beauties of the world. — Jack Kornfield
I am now on the road towards Hantsport, and I am wondering to myself, “what am I doing?” It’s 1992, and I am on the way to a retreat called Shalom that my friend Bob told me about, or should I say he told me nothing about except that it was life-changing and I should attend. I trust Bob, he and his wife have been good friends of mine for a few years now, and he seems really excited about these retreats.
I have an address and directions; I have been struggling in my marriage for a while, we were so young when we married, and we have been arguing a lot lately. That, along with other issues I wanted to work on. According to Bob, this retreat would help.
It is a long road to this house, it seems as I am driving further and further into the countryside. “What am I going to, it’s in the middle of nowhere? What if he has me going to some kind of cult?” My mind races and makes up all kinds of stories, so I am nervous as hell. I slide my right hand over my crucifix and take a deep breath; I chuckle out loud as though that would ward off some kind of evil. My imagination runs wild as I make up stories that make me even more anxious. I drive up to a quaint large home that is surrounded by lovely colourful flower gardens. The gardens were rustic and not uniform in design and beautifully laid out all around the grounds. I felt a bit more at ease, so I walked up the door, took a breath and knocked.
A man and woman open the door, “welcome, come in. I’m Roy, and this is my wife Mary.” Mary says hello, and we chat for a min. They own the home and are hosting the retreat. Mary seems nice; she reminds me of a modern-day hippie with long straight blond hair, dressed in loose cotton clothes. She is a beautiful young woman who looks Swedish, she has carefree energy about her that is kind and genuine, yet I could tell she is also a bit shy. Roy has a broad smile and is very welcoming with a much bigger personality that is somewhat mysterious. Roy has pensive dark eyes that look like they have seen a lot of pain. He is kind yet has an intense energy and a much louder voice that is a bit intimidating. Mary asks me to follow her upstairs to my room, where she tells me I will have a roommate.
“Caroline is not here yet, after you settle in, when you are done, come down to the kitchen, I’ll be there finishing some snacks, and I’ll take you into the Shalom room and introduce you.” “Shalom room?” I say to myself
As I settle into the bedroom, I choose the single bed next to the window. I look out the window and see a lovely forested property that looks over the parking lot. There is a knock at the door, and Caroline introduces herself. We chatted for a bit. This was her first time here also, so we exchanged our mutual nervous energy. She is tired and decides to take a quick nap, for it is about another hour before we are supposed to be downstairs to the Shalom room. “I think what is a Shalom room anyway?” I had looked up Shalom in the dictionary before I left. It is a Hebrew word meaning peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare, and tranquillity. As beautiful as that all sounds, I am still wondering what kind of retreat is this? Still in the dark, I go downstairs and meet up with Mary. I follow her into a vast room full of people. They are all sitting on the floor, most look very engaging in conversations, and a few others are sitting alone, looking quiet and reflective. I only know Bob.
There is a wooden platform with a double-sized mattress on a carpeted wooden frame with a giant stuffed carpeted hump on the front against the wall at the front of the room. A sign above it says “Trust the Process” I search around for Bob and find him smiling at me as if to say, just wait, don’t panic. I must have wide eyes because inside, I am thinking, “What the hell is a double-size mattress contraption doing on the floor for!!” I am about to bolt out of the room as the stories I am making up in my mind are far from what I am willing to do; thank you very much! But something keeps me there, an inner calm that I have come to trust in times like this. Mary shouts, “Hey everyone, this is Joyce; welcome her!” Everyone graciously smiles and says hello.
I sit down and look over at Bob a few times for reassurance, trying to stay calm and not run out of the room; my mind keeps racing with thoughts.
When the retreat starts, seventeen of us from all walks of life, ten women and seven men, are in a circle. As the next three days unfold, I listen to my intuition and let go of my fears bit by bit. This weekend with no exaggeration, not only saved my marriage but started a healing journey that still continues today. I had some of the most life-changing moments of my life that weekend! No, it was not a cult; and there was no sex involved 🙂
After a day of ice breaker exercises, we began to bond as a group, and a very safe container started to be built with all of us. And then the real work began.
“When we protect ourselves so we won’t feel pain, that protection becomes armor, like armor that imprisons the softness of the heart.” – Pema Chödrön
Each person is invited to lie down blindfolded on the mattress with Carol, a professional counsellor. Carol would gently, with healthy boundaries, great respect and reassurance, lead each of us one by one on what is called “a mat trip.” She used different therapy modalities such as Gestalt, Bioenergetics, and others to help us look inward and feel the pain that most of us locked away while the rest of us stayed silent and witnessed. The mat trips were powerful! The carpeted hump at the front of the mattress was used if someone wanted to stand or kneel and do rage work. A few of us silently would lift this up and hold the back strong as some would pound it with their fists or sometimes with it down, hitting it with a bat. I witnessed the depth of human pain and misery to the height of triumph and victory as Carol led each of us through the dark recesses of our minds and hearts, processing trauma, shame, guilt, and heartbreak in ways that were beyond anything I could have imagined. In the end, Carol would, with great care, lead us to a healing conclusion that left us feeling safe, complete and empowered by our own ability to heal ourselves.
“A healer does not heal you. A healer is someone who holds space for you while you awaken your inner healer, so that you may heal yourself.” ~Maryam Hasnaa
“As you learn to TRUST YOURSELF something miraculous happens. You begin to TRUST THE PROCESS you are living and the miracles life brings!” ― Iyanla Vanzant
I had never felt that kind of love and support emanating from a group of people before. Each mat trip would sometimes take up to 2 hours. Most were about 1 1/2 hours. Carol found the energy to take each of us through this astonishing journey.
I helped hold the space for 9 women as they shared their own struggles one by one. Some shared painful stories of rape, others of violent childhoods, others of betrayal and heartbreak of many kinds. I heard their voices change from soft scared little girls to loud, powerful warrior women. Many of us silently cried as we watched and listened. At the end of each mat trip, we all celebrated each person’s courage as, one by one, we found validation, support and healing.
I witnessed stories of 7 men expressing emotional and psychological pain from trauma, betrayal, neglect, and heartbreak. How they were taught vulnerability was weak and worse, not part of being a man. I had never seen such strong men be so emotional or open-hearted before. As I heard their stories, I realized I had created a tiny box that I had put all men in, which was primarily inaccurate due to my childhood experiences. I saw my husband in so many of their stories. I understood him as I had not before; I fell in love with my husband again that weekend because I understood who he was as a whole man, not just a part. Our love grew after that because we understood each other more. As I shared what I had learned, I was lucky enough to have a man who would listen and learn with me.
I loved this weekend so much I attended a few more. I began to see people and, for that matter, the world, with a different pair of eyes and heart and wanted more. I had the rare opportunity to see others in a way that felt real, honest and unfiltered, the way people are without judgement or masks. Compassion grew more and more inside me after each person’s story unfolded.
Mat trip after mat trip over 5 years, I went to several Shalom retreats and witnessed hundreds of stories. As I watched each person courageously talk through their pain with Carol and see the transformations at the end, I began to understand how healing this could be if I allowed myself the willingness to step into this process fully committed. I now understood “Trust The Process.” That is just what I did.
Today, I express my emotions and feelings more openly; they are often misunderstood as weak, but they get stuck inside unless we are willing to allow our feelings to flow through us. When things get tough for me, I still reach out for help, but for the most part, I have learned to heal on my own with my spiritual practices, writing, and my connection with God. Oh, I still can be stoic when I need to protect myself from those who do not understand, but I allow my deepest self to be revealed for those very few. They know the power and courage it takes to step in and feel.
“We cannot heal what we cannot feel” John Bradshaw
What an honour and privilege it was to be a part of those weekends. All of the stories I heard have lived on in me as a beacon of light and inspiration. Each one of them was a part of teaching me just how strong the human spirit is and to trust myself and others. I had lost that trust for a while, but I continued with intuitive guidance that I call God, She brings me back each time. Trusting the process of life is the lesson I have learned more than any other. We are all whole souls with stories that make us who we are, and we all have the resilience to get up again and take on life one day at a time.
Trust the Process
What we are waiting for is not as important as what happens to us while we are waiting. Trust the process.” ― Mandy Hale
“Trust the process. You may not end up where you thought you were going, but you will always end up where you are meant to be.” Author unknown