Facing Ourselves

by Simon Goland, August 1, 2016

Tobi and Papa“Don’t give them too much to do on the weekend,” said the head counselor to the woman who is running a very unique healing centre, talking about the clients of the place.

I remember going to a vipassana meditation retreat, many years ago. The instructions were very clear, to not bring any electronics of any kind, nor books, nor journals. While there, no yoga, other meditation practices, or any other activity or practice. On top of it, we spent the first 9 days out of 10 in complete silence. Nothing to distract us from being with ourselves, other than our own thoughts that, even on a full day, can find plenty of ways to not face our inner reality and world.

What will we uncover when we strip away all the distractions?

“We meet ourselves time and again in a thousand disguises on the paths of life.” – Carl Jung

Alison, Tobi, and I just finished facilitating a Right Livelihood Quest retreat on Cortes Island. The process is deep, rich, evoking, and transformative, guiding the participants on an inquiry from moments of their biggest and brightest selves, to moments of exploring their darkest nights of the soul, and then back into light, integrating everything into a coherent whole – of seeing their life purpose and how their life’s journey has been preparing them for it this whole time. In a way, it is very much a process of the Hero’s Journey, that starts with the journey of arriving to a remote retreat center on Cortes Island, slowly leaving the familiar daily life behind and joining a group of both friends and strangers on this Quest (by the end of it, though, everybody is deeply and authentically connected to everybody else).

In some ways, the process of the Quest is also about removing distractions and facing our true Self. The participants get to see and experience themselves in their absolute shining beautiful best. They also get to see some of their deepest shadows and the ways these have been playing in their lives, holding them small, isolated, and afraid. Yet, we get to strip that too, allowing the participants see their true authentic nature – the Essence of their Right Livelihood, and an answer (The Answer?) to the “Why are you here?” question.

“… nothing is as uncomfortable, dangerous and hurtful as believing that I’m standing on the outside of my life looking in and wondering what it would be like if I had the courage to show up and let myself be seen” – Brene Brown

When I started writing this reflection, I was sitting on a patio of a lovely old-ish house on Cortes Island. Everything around was green and quiet, except for an orchestra of several birds. It was a beautiful sunny day, and good friends are getting married later that writing day. Tobi was asleep beside me, and Alison was helping prepare the bride with a few other women. The Right Livelihood Quest has ended, I just completed grading another course at Royal Roads University, and caught up on my emails and immediate pending tasks.

Who am I right now? Who will I see as I keep letting go of all my thoughts, judgments, to-dos, roles, and responsibilities?

“Of course, the trouble, or rather the challenge, comes from believing that the mundane elements of our lives somehow define who we are. The errors, the mistakes, the hardships and challenges that we have faced, can sometimes feel like they become a part of us. They hold us back, leaving their mark, sometimes even a sense of trauma. But these experiences are not part of our true nature. In fact, in some ways they can hold us back from seeing our true selves.” – His Holiness Karmapa Thaye Dorje

Now, it is about a week later than that day on Cortes Island, and life has been presenting more wake up calls. One felt particularly surreal, initially, as if it was happening to someone else. Yet, it was – and still is – me who is going through the lesson, learning to be present with something I never thought I’d experience, learning to embrace a very potent lesson that simply cannot be ignored. Another layer started peeling, and I have no idea what will I uncover underneath. Who and what will I face next?

What other layers, stories, emotions, and experiences do we all need to peel away, in order to to face what’s truly underneath it all?