Being someone very deeply immersed in this world, my notions and images of heaven are also about the here and now, not about some other world or some mythical time. Heaven for me is about dissolution of what I see as culturally-imposed barriers between people, and between any of us and the experience of being fully and glowingly alive. I never expect heaven to be pain-free, or even conflict-free. I only hope for the possibility of facing and using all pain and conflict as doors into the vast space of the human spirit, and into our capacity for love that surrounds and encompasses all that is human.
One of the reasons why I so treasure the work that I do is that it allows me, time and again, to experience snapshots of this kind of heaven. I just returned from one such experience, and I have a burning desire to invite all of you, my known and anonymous readers, to dip into this experience with me. My hope, almost invariably, is for this dip to inspire you into attempting to create such islands of love in your surroundings.
All this happened during the Living Undefendedly women’s retreat that I just came back from on Wednesday. There were eighteen of us. All of us wanted more freedom in our lives. One by one we each took a turn to expose, open, share, delve into, and transform the places in us that block us from flowing fully with life. The level of commitment and dedication I discovered as we opened our circle was to begin was beyond my expectation. This willingness, the trust and the hunger that it signified, then served as the foundation for all the learning and surprises that came as the days unfolded.
We got to see and feel the depth of how debilitating shame can be, and how much it interferes with living fully, openly, and authentically. We noticed how shame even interferes with loving and presence when we begin to think that what we have to offer is not enough or not the right kind of support. For some years now I have had the goal of becoming 100% shameless, so I can experience freedom beyond measure, the freedom to show up with the fullness of my love, power, and longings.
And so, one by one, we opened up and exposed the truth of our being. For some this meant revealing painful secrets, sometimes things that had never been shared with anyone else before. As each bit was revealed, a tapestry of love and respect was being woven together. We discovered we are not alone, and not the only ones. Others allowed themselves to express feelings they had previously been ashamed to show. The similarities and connections between different pieces of work became palpable. So much so that at times a piece of work began, or continued, during someone else’s turn rather than one’s own. At other times many in the group mobilized their empathic presence beyond the already long hours we were keeping to support someone’s work. The unifying theme behind it all was finding the core human needs that gave rise to everything. We discovered, for example, the depth of care towards self and others that was motivating some painful behavior for one participant, and the longing for authentically including all parts of herself that another behavior was signifying for another. Those moments, when we could all connect with the beauty at the root of what had been so hidden and despised inside, nourished all of our faith in ourselves, each other, and people more generally.
And so it was that the biggest surprise was ultimately not surprising at all: the love we created, which deepened and deepened as our time proceeded. We did this work over the course of six days. The quality of presence and attention and empathy that were necessary to support each of us on her way were summoned up from within each of us. Even as some of the time some of us became a trigger for each other, we didn’t shy away from facing the difficulties, and in the end those, too, were rewoven into the fabric of our magic. As we grasped all that we brought forth, all the anguish that led us to adopt our defenses and protections, and all the life underneath, we became luminously beautiful to each other. There is no doubt in my heart and mind that this is what it ultimately means to be human.