Twenty-five days at Phase. What an experience and one that I would highly recommend. Now the task is to write about the experience. What a task that is! There is so much to say, it is difficult to know where to begin.
While at Haven, the place was described as a laboratory for life. It is a place where, in my Phase, twenty-one very different people came together for 25 days to look at the stories of life each one of us had created in our lives to date. In life’s laboratory, each one of us had the opportunity to examine these stories, share our stories with others, throw out stories that no longer serve our needs, learn from other participant’s stories, examine other possible stories for our lives and in the many experiential activities provided – try out new stories and see how they fit. To fit with Wayne’s current e-zine series – Haven provided me an opportunity to examine the myths I have created in my life and to examine closely which ones work for me and which ones no longer serve a useful purpose.
Participating in groups has not been a skill that I have put much energy into in the past. My pattern has been to sit back, listen carefully and say very little (or nothing if I can get away with it!) Participating in experiential activities was something I avoided at all costs – running away physically or turtling inside myself, only rarely allowing myself to participate. Changing this pattern was my prime focus when choosing to participate in the Phase 1 program at Haven.
Over the past couple of years, I have become more and more comfortable meeting people one on one. I eagerly sought out opportunities to get to know more of people in the program and I allowed more and more of myself to show in those communications. Over the twenty-five days at Phase, I was aware of communicating with people (other than Wayne) from a different place then I had ever done before.
I’ve been reading Radical Honesty by Brad Blanton since I came home. He describes this difference as communicating from the language of being rather than the language of the mind. (In the past, I have communicated from the place of knowing and understanding – a place of sharing what I have learned. Once everything was set in a neat little package, I was willing to share it with others.)
I found myself in many conversations with other participants about relationships and honesty in relationships. This seemed to be a theme for me and a few other participants during the phase. In my first discussions, I spoke mostly from a place of knowing – the language of the mind – and I did have some good information to share. I came away from the conversations and reflected on how little of myself I had shared at a real, personal level. After a time of reflection, I wanted to go back to the conversation again and reveal more of myself. I amazed myself again and again how, when I was ready to go back to a conversation with a certain person, the opportunity showed up immediately. I would turn a corner and there the person was.
The bodily experience was quite different when I spoke from a more personal level of me. It was a place of not having all the answers figured out and being in a place of questioning. The words flowed more easily from this place and did not require as much effort. I was aware of less tension in my neck and shoulders and less anxiety in my stomach. I imagine this to be what Brad Blanton was referring to as the language of being.
Speaking in the large group was quite a different story. It took all the courage I could find to say anything at all. The first night we went through introductions. As people around the circle gave their introductions, I was aware that I was not feeling nervous about talking. I was amazed at how calm I was. Then my turn came and anxiety hit. I was started to speak right away but I am sure that I said everything in one breath and knew I was finished when I did not have any breath left to say anything more. Feedback that I received later was that I looked like a deer caught in headlights and that really fit with how I felt.
The first full day went well. I participated in the activities but said nothing in the large group. I continued to have many meaningful conversations with people in the Phase. On the second day, the anxiety started to build inside me and I felt tears behind my eyes that I struggled to keep in control. During the morning break, I walked to the lodge with a friend and he put his arm around me. I realized in that moment how much I was missing physical contact with people. I melted into his arms and I felt wonderful for a few short moments.
That was the beginning of my realization of how much physical contact is a necessary prerequisite for my feeling connected with people. I also realized how resistant I was to create that contact in my life. At that point in the Phase, I changed that and started to make physical contact a part of my experience from then on. I noticed a real difference in the closeness I felt with people based on the amount of physical contact I had.
Prior to going to Phase, I thought that I was predominately a visual person. I knew that the auditory mode was a definite weak area. Listening to books on my Rio has been a very worthwhile exercise to me. My mind tends to wander when presented with only an auditory signal and I am endlessly bringing myself back. What I was beginning to learn as my friend put his arm around me was that I was strongest in the kinesthetic mode. This was a major surprise for me and something I was continually aware of throughout the 25 days at Haven.
That wonderful feeling I had during break only lasted a few short moments. Upon returning to the large group, the anxiety that I was feeling earlier returned and overwhelmed me. I think I was approaching basket case level by lunch time. The tears were getting more and more difficult to control.
My intent was to leave the large group and escape to my room before lunch. My excuse was that I wanted to change but it felt more like an escape. One of the leaders walked out with me and asked me how I was doing. There went my escape. I walked to lunch with him and told him how I was feeling. He convinced me that it was enough to simply say that I was experiencing a lot of anxiety. It was not necessary to have the whole thing figured out and all my words planned before I started. The tears flowed freely and we had a lovely hug. One of the interns who was a dear friend of Wayne’s showed up immediately after, took one look at my face and held me for awhile. I said a little but mostly appreciated her for being there.
I returned to the group after lunch to find that I was set up. One of the leaders suggested hearing from some of the people who had not said much. I responded immediately that I thought that was my cue to speak and told a little about the turmoil I was experiencing about talking in the group and about how difficult it was for me. I did not say a lot but I realized how important it was to say something. The anxiety settled to a more comfortable level. I truly did not need to have everything figured out before I started. In any group I found myself to be in, I needed to find a way to get my voice into the group. That would be my challenge for the month.
What impressed me most about the experience was that I had stayed with the anxiety. My earlier pattern was to go away. The first twinge of an anxious feeling in my stomach and I shut down. I was skilled at doing that in a group. I actually thought that I was skilled at making myself invisible. That did not work quite as well as I thought and I am thankful for that. Those who truly have eyes that see – like my friend who put his arm around me on the way to break – could see me in that place. When I choose to not shut down and go away, I can be aware of those moments when people do see me. There is so much that I have missed in the past that now want to stay present for and notice. I’ve missed seeing "me" too.
All that learning and I have only been on the property for 48 hours!!!!!