I’m amazed at the frequency of doing The Work in my life as summer approaches and is about to become “official” the same day as the Breitenbush retreat begins (3 spots still available, by the way–love to have you). We will offer 24 CEs for Institute for The Work candidates as well as 26 CEUs for mental health professionals.
And then, another bright light of the summer….starting on Saturday, July 8th, we gather for Being With Byron Katie. I had fun sharing about it at New Spirit Journal here. (Read on for more).
Speaking of gathering together with others….I’ve been thinking recently about social anxiety.
Someone wrote to me about a month ago saying he wanted to attend a retreat, but had too much social anxiety and felt very worried.
Isn’t it funny how we like the idea of gathering to receive support, learning, insight or some kind of transformational shift….but the very gathering itself is a bit frightening.
I have to travel, greet others, speak about what’s going on for me, share or show my feelings. Ugh. Maybe I’ll stay home.
I’ve felt the very same way.
When I was in my twenties, I knew I needed to address my great anxiety about talking with other people, telling the truth, answering questions more honestly (it seemed like I never did, and always tried to be polite rather than clear). I knew I wanted less fear and more relaxation with HUMANS….yet intentionally moving to spend several days with them was daunting. The opposite of my normal strategy.
Go on a retreat? Um. No way.
Someone suggested I see a therapist who specialized in group therapy. I thought “I’ll go see her, but I’ll NEVER go to the group.”
Nine months later, fortunately for me, I was in the group.
And this was finally the beginning of the end of my extreme social anxiety.
But it wasn’t easy at first.
When I joined the group, I was familiar and trusting of my therapist. She was the group co-leader along with another male therapist, and she’s the one person I knew.
However, one person who felt safe and trustworthy did not make me comfortable in the group.
I was dumb struck. Literally. I said absolutely nothing, unless addressed, and then made it as short and simple and sweet as possible.
This went on week after week. I watched the others ask for time and attention in my group. I sized up the members. I assessed them and drew conclusions.
“She’s one of those needy types” or “Ah, he’s a Microsoft millionaire with intimacy problems” or “she’s so creative I don’t even know what she’s doing here” and on and on.
Then, one day SIX MONTHS LATER (my therapist was very patient and had given me lots of opportunity to warm up, which I never did) at the beginning of the group, my therapist said:
“Everyone, before we get started today, I have something I need to bring up. It’s about Grace.”
My heart started pounding. No! I hate the attention! Please don’t look at me!
I wanted to run out of the room, but felt also frozen solid at the same time, like a trapped animal.
This wonderful woman, who cared very much about me, then proceeded to say that I was withholding myself from the group. No one could know me if I didn’t speak. And, to add to this, it was quite controlling of me to NOT speak. I could remain unchanged, unchallenged, and not get into anything messy or have direct conversation with anyone. I was remaining in my little castle.
Gasp, quick in-breath.
She was right.
I actually did not want to remain in a private world or tower all by myself, but I had no idea how to get out of my anxious perspective of other people.
My social anxiety stemmed from believing I needed to protect myself, to never disturb anyone else, to be polite, relaxed, graceful (my name even said so), kind, and nice. And self-less, by the way. I needed to have no needs whatsoever, since this also might disturb someone.
Whew, it was a terribly difficult castle to hold up. There was no freedom, everything felt restrained, and no wonder I stuffed myself with food when the tension built up strong. I would eat all alone, by myself, not letting anyone else see me.
The therapist asked me to share something about myself, and to talk about what I was most afraid of, if I spoke out loud.
Shaking all over, and at the point of tears, I spoke some about my feelings of anxiety and worry about being accepted, and I answered her questions (which are now a fog, but they felt OK to answer, I do remember that).
It was nothing more than this. The therapy group went on, and other people brought up their own issues and discussions that had nothing to do with me. I survived the confrontation.
But it was never the same again.
It was better.
I felt truly seen, and invited to step forward and be seen, and like the group even wanted me to show up, instead of fading into the background all the time and sitting there in silence, just listening.
If you saw me a year later, and then two years later when I was ready to leave the group…you would have seen a bubbly, passionate, talkative, powerful young woman.
Over the course of those several years in the group therapy, I screamed, cried, re-enacted drama therapy scenes that were important to me from childhood, learned to confront people in the group honestly.
At one point, I was given an assignment based on sharing my concerns about receiving support, to call people in my group in between sessions during the week. When I first did it, I could barely dial the phone, I felt so shy. I had to call THREE people in my group every week and actually speak to them. It took awhile to get comfortable.
During that period of time, I stopped binge-eating and vomiting.
Was my social anxiety and eating related? You bet. And healing the anxiety with others began to heal my eating patterns as well.
During those years, for the very first time I attended a retreat with all the people in groups like mine. We spent entire weekends together, with everyone sleeping on the floor in sleeping bags in the same room! I was SHOCKED the first time our therapist pointed to the room where we’d be sleeping. All together in one room? What? Isn’t that a little too close?
It was actually heavenly. I was safe, surrounded by honest, caring people, and finding out that my story of humanity being mean and judgmental and rejecting…just was not true.
I’m still finding this out all the time, creating groups and retreats intentionally as a part of my joy and passion in the world.
And here’s a little secret. I still get nervous/anxious/excited before every single retreat or gathering, whether I’m the leader or the one attending. I even wear a shirt for the first day that won’t show armpit sweat. I sometimes might even say in jest to my husband “Why did I schedule this retreat? What was I thinking?” And we laugh.
Here’s the thing that’s entirely different: I can’t believe what I’m thinking is really true. My body might be reacting, I’m excited, I have heightened attention, I feel thrilled and curious, you could even call it nervous, but it doesn’t feel like I therefore shouldn’t do it.
I know I don’t have to believe my thoughts. I know they don’t hold up.
“I noticed that things happen with or without me, people approve of me or they don’t. It has nothing to do with me. This is really good news, since it leaves me responsible for my own happiness. It leaves me to do nothing but live my life as kindly and intelligently as I can.” ~ Byron Katie in I Need Your Love–Is That True?
Now, one of my favorite events of the summer is Being With Byron Katie Pacific Northwest. I mention it now, because it’s such a good event for freedom from any need to dialogue with others and yet be hanging out with lovely people.
Because we hold silence, while we’re in our group together. We listen to Katie via live streaming (she’s in Switzerland) and we watch together, but in between the 3-hour sessions with Katie, we remain in silence. We eat, get ready for bed, go out to walk, journal, read, wake up in silence.
For some people, it’s the first time they’ve ever stayed in silence all day, without speaking, but being near and around others.
Yet, what liberation to not speak, or be compelled to share, or need to make any conversation.
And oh the power of listening to Katie work with people, and their beautiful questions and concerns, and her answers and her sharing what she’s experienced. I especially love how Katie is not interested in delivering lessons or teaching to anyone. All she’s really interested in is asking questions, and being with people who want to question their suffering.
We get to participate just by listening. I often feel moved, and in awe, that what is offered on the screen from the retreat in Switzerland is brilliant, inspiring and transformative. People in our group are taking notes wildly, deeply affected, and the learning is palpable in the room. We get to write emails to the people in Switzerland, too, and Katie might respond to someone’s question right from our living room group.
I’m so grateful we can attend a retreat together that would normally cost thousands for travel, lodging, food, tuition. Thanks to technology, we’re there anyway.
And through our community together we’re able to maintain the same silence the people are keeping in Switzerland. If I were watching by myself at home, I simply wouldn’t.
I’ve tried it before. Something about being alone, I start emailing, working on projects, answering the phone, responding to my family. I don’t take the silence part seriously. I don’t let myself be with me and my own mind. But in this group, I do.
If you’d like to join this powerful event and spend four days (or you can come to the weekend only if you really can’t take off time from work) then I’d love to have you. We have a modest house in a fantastic location (Roanoke Park, Seattle) so your silent walks and exploring in between sessions can be done with magnificent views.
There are four bedrooms available for sleeping, email me if you want to reserve one (yes, you can share and split the cost with someone else).
To find out more, and to see the bedroom choices and fees, visit HERE.
And if you can relate to having social anxiety….perhaps spending time in this retreat full of inquiry about the stresses of the human condition will bring you to the turnaround:
The joy of inhabiting space and time connected to other people.
“The only obstacle to loving other people is believing what you think, and you’ll come to see that that’s also the only obstacle to loving yourself.” ~ Byron Katie