"When Love Lifts Us": London Virtual Retreat
Posted by Trishna Shah on Dec 3, 2020
"I once asked a bird, 'How is it that you fly in this gravity of darkness?' The bird responded, 'Love lifts me.'" - Hafiz
In the midst of a global pandemic and lockdown in London, 31 noble friends opened their hearts and their complete beings by immersing themselves in a reflective process together during a 5-day Virtual Retreat. What a joy it was to serve as mirrors for each other's journeys through these 5 days, to bear witness to the reflections, insights and shifts that were unfolding organically, offering words of encouragement and support to our noble friends along the way.
The final "Live Retreat" Day, last Sunday, was a culmination of days of deep inner work we collectively undertook that began at the Opening Circle, as we embarked on "A Journey Together", a pilgrimage without any seeking. Krishnamurti's words offered an open invitation to dive into our hearts:
"If we could take a journey, make a pilgrimage together, without any intent or purpose, without seeking anything, perhaps on returning we might find that our hearts had unknowingly been changed... if we can take the journey together without any purpose and simply observe as we go along the extraordinary width and depth and beauty of life... if we are able to understand ourselves, we shall be at peace, and then we shall know how to live rightly."
As the circle of sharing unfolded, we collectived held the question, "What insight did you learn from an unexpected life event that turned out to be a blessing?" Many beautiful personal stories emerged from people's lives and Nipun followed this circle with seeds of inspiration along with a deep dive into the new Pod Platform, offering tips and insights into how it could support our pilgrimage together.
Days 1-3: Offline Immersion Experience
Three days of offline immersions offered space to tune in, observe and become more aware of our inner worlds. Every night, the group received the next day's prompt which invited them to undertake a new reflective exercise and share about their experience. Each prompt was crafted with a lot of love and included a detailed description and video from one of the anchors explaining the prompt together with a short reading and seed questions for reflection on the retreat pod space. Participants had a chance to reconvene live on a Zoom call halfway through, on the evening of Day 2, to share about their immersion experiences in breakouts with their fellow pilgrims on the journey.
- Day 1 - Tree of Life: Like trees, no two people are exactly the same. In that spirit, we invite you to create your own Tree of Life to identify what forms the roots in your life, what your soil is made up of which grounds you, your natural gifts that enable you to live authentically, the domains in your life which matter most right now, the people who support your journey and even what you're ready to let go of that's no longer serving you to dispose of in the compost heap.
- Day 2 - Self-Nourishment Kit: Imagine you are standing in front of an empty suitcase. You are about to embark on a journey to nourish your mind, body and spirit. Which things are important to take with you, and which ones would you leave behind? We invite you to design your own self-nourishment kit, taking on board any insights that emerged from your Tree of Life where helpful.
- Day 3 - Write a Letter to Your Future Self: We invite you to write a letter to your future self, perhaps as you face a new pandemic. Reflect on your recent experience, in particular what you learned, what you’re glad you did (and didn’t do), what you wish you had done and what you might do differently or similarly if this were to happen again. Convey these insights by offering yourself sound advice on how to embrace uncertainty. Writing a letter and sending it to yourself right now during this unusual time can help crystallize any intentions and remember the lessons being learned.
- Tree of Life: "I found the process cathartic, scary, rewarding and emotional all at the same time. It wasn't easy to be so honest with myself on paper. I carried on in earnest though. What resulted was a realisation that I have 'A tree that is set up for my path. It is now up to me to water, nurture and prune it as needed.' It's all in my hands. I feel reassured and free."
- Tree of Life: "Thinking about significant people - past and present also made me consider and face significant life events in the past which I may be trying to 'forget'. However acknowledging them as leaves on the tree helped me realise that those interactions were a blessing - I certainly grew from them. I don't need to forget them rather just accept and learn from them."
- Self-Nourishment Kit: "If I had to pack a nourishing kit, with the intention of looking after myself, I would pack a mixture of useful things (...) Above everything I would look forward to the chance to unwind and rest. I would try to have empty spaces where I could just be me."
- Write a Letter to Your Future Self: "The phrase "your life cannot go wrong" (Day 3 reading) was a deep blessing to me , especially in the circumstances I find myself in (her husband is terminally ill). I walked under a clear blue sky and then with a bright moon I felt so deeply supported by them and by the privilege to share with this group too. Walking today kept me present , as did writing to my future self to be BRAVE and know help will come. My life IS the path and the path is my LIFE .
- Write a Letter to Your Future Self: "It feels like I will lose myself now and then, but I will find myself again, because the universe has my back. (...) So, I might neglect my self-care, and forget about the gifts of emergence, but emergence/the universe does not forget me."
Day 4 - "Live Day": Timeless Wisdom & Overflowing Inspiration
The final "Live Retreat" Day last Sunday was a culmination of several days of deep inner work, which we collectively undertook beginning with our opening circle. On Day 4, we came together live for three zoom calls in the morning, lunchtime and evening and in between embraced offline immersions to practice heartful "doing" and mindful "being".
Morning Circle: Stillness, Song, and Stories
Trishna opened on Sunday morning by sharing the intentions of our final day together -- for our hearts to be filled with inspiration, wisdom and a deep sense of togetherness to carry forward with us as we continue to walk our path even after the 5-day retreat is finished. She offered a poem by Hafiz, which captured the spirit of our retreat and particularly of the final day together:
Can Any Beauty Match This?
When the sun within speaks, when love reaches out its hand and places it upon another,
any power the stars and planets might have upon us,
any fears you can muster can become so rightfully insignificant.
What one heart can do for another heart, is there any beauty in the world that can match this?
Brotherhood, sisterhood, humanity becomes the joy and the emancipation.
Yoga-teacher and kirtan-singer Sacha Heath's "grounding meditation" that followed guided us into a place within our own hearts, where we felt right at home and deeply connected to both ourselves and the world around us. Her song, Tall Trees Deep Waters, lifted our spirits, reconnecting us with trees and nature, which many in the circle felt nourished by in their journeys. When Reena opened our Circle of Sharing with a heartfelt poem she wrote the previous night, "Flow Not Fix", our hearts cracked open and tears started to flow (and continued flowing through the entire day), as there was a part of us that deeply connected with a part of every person in the circle. (watch Reena share)
Flow Not Fix: A Time of Parallels and Perpendiculars
The normal me chooses spreadsheets, clocks, sewa, multitasking and tools
The normal me achieves efficiency but not always effectiveness or a feeling of presence
The normal me is the one who holds it all together and is well ahead of the curve
The normal me always wants self-esteem and forgets how much to value self-worth.
The normal me plans and fixes everything. The pandemic me loved slowing down
The pandemic me introspected loads and felt so low quite often
The pandemic me kept it all together for my children and family
The pandemic me loved, juggled, worried, cried and plodded along in hope.
One day, that me went for a walk in the field with the horses and changed. Parallel changed to perpendicular. Me was at a crossroads. She was no longer me.
Me is egoistic, emotional, judgy and always pushing herself to perform.
She on the other hand is an observer, a friend, a supporter, patient, listening and kind.
The retreat me imagined I was in the field with the horses wading in my wellies through muddy puddles like a child. Splash! Splash! Splash! The water, trees, horses, peace, creating a perpendicular flow that was more powerful than the fix to rush home and do.
The retreat me is more than a me. It is almost outside of me. Guiding me. Holding me and showing me how not to be the normal me. An energy that is protecting me and sheltering me from my own judgement, that is transcending my busy life to do do do, and is allowing me to draw trees, hug suitcases and write love letters to me.
I have embraced the flow, the energy and the space to flow not fix.
It is an unexpected gift.
What followed was a powerful circle of personal stories, in which many participants eloquently expressed how the retreat experience impacted them deeply, planting seeds for shifts they hope to embrace in the coming weeks and months. A new story was being born for many, from this experience, and one which they hope to continue adding chapters to without forgetting the ones they already wrote. A sense that this is just the beginning of a longer journey each of us is on from our heads to our hearts.
Satish Kumar: "Radiate Love"
Following a warm introduction by Vicky, Satish Kumar's wisdom from 82 years of a life of service struck a deep chord, as many of us internalised his collection of insights. His joyful presence and glowing smile lifted spirits, while his nuggets of inspiration, included below, gently guided us to a place of deeper alignment (watch the full video recording of Satish's talk).
- "An artist isn't a special kind of person. Every person is a special kind of artist."
- "The moment you see everyone as a gift, you stop judging, you stop expecting. When you look with the eyes of the heart, everybody is a gift. You are a gift."
- "Gifts are inherently unexpected, we naturally feel a deep sense of gratitude."
- "We experience a sense of abundance when we accept life as a gift. Scarcity comes with expectation because when there is expectation we can become disappointed. Drop expectation. Accept the gifts of life with an open heart."
- "The gift of spring will not come without the gift of winter."
- "We cannot show truth diversity by words alone. Words have a limited power, the real power is the power of love. (...) We have to show our love to them, there is no other way. (...) Rather than preaching truth, ecology or love, you have to be that. You have to radiate love. A radiator does not preach heating, it just radiates heat, and if you are cold you will be attracted to that radiator. So be the radiator and other people will be influenced by you, like Thich Naht Han, Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Teresa - we are all potential radiators. So we have to be the change, we have to show our love, bring them gifts, open their hearts."
- "You can irrigate even the driest of deserts with your monsoon of love. Go with your monsoon of love (a metaphor for cooling) and radiator (a metaphor for warming), be that change. No preaching, no condemning, no judging that I recommend or advocate."
Midday Breakouts: Coming Home to the Love in Our Hearts
To open our midday circle, Sallyann offered a beautiful reading, "Come Home to Love", which reminded us, "We need to come home to love. To recognize and have confidence in the love in your own heart - which will energize and protect you, even when you must also be assertive with others. To see and have faith in the love in others - even when it is veiled or it comes out in problematic ways. To trust in love that's as present as air, to trust in loving that's as natural as breathing." Ani wove together some of the many highlights from Satish's talk in the morning and planted seeds for the breakouts through these thoughtful questions:
- How do we relate to the invitation to be our own special kind of artist?
- How can we transform expectation into acceptance?
- What will help each of us to muster the courage needed to embrace the low points with grace?
A Journey Within
Mollycoddle a sense of sweet relief by sipping tea
Gifts flow from the universe like festive thrills
Curly kale remains hardy in glut of winter
Sharing its abundance when darkness fills our stomachs
Sowing seeds of inspiration at a virtual retreat
Where love is acceptance and we come without judgement
To share, nourish and heal like trees in spring
Exquisite blooms beckon for bulbs amber in hibernation
Interbeing straddles ties of inseparable visions
How dreams awaken us to a collective consciousness
Pouring lentils over boiled rice in the heat of summer
Infusing coriander with turmeric hands that smell delight
Radiating energy that transcends lost connections
Rewired to format our state of mind
I blink in acknowledgement of every moment
Finding communion with the roots that ground me
Handing peace teas, flowers and candles back to nature
Fathom our inner dimensions like an eagle soaring
Take past injustices to account, hold them up to light
A green paradise in a forest of mended hearts
Offering hope in an age of virtual despair
Shedding fear like a lizard detoxing its skin
Creative spark lends an ear to attention
Swallowing pride at the close of deep introspection
Before we headed off for a Zoom break :), Ewa shared ideas for afternoon offline activities that invited us into a mindful "heart" space of silence and stillness. During the afternoon activities, beautiful stories emerged from making prayer mandalas, mindful walks and more. It was so amazing to learn about one participant, who baked vegan cookies and then went on a mindful walk as part of the afternoon immersion and hand-delivered these freshly baked cookies to two of the participants who lived locally to him! Such a sweet serendipity offline :)
Evening Circle: Peace, Prayer and Overflowing Gratitude
As we embarked on the final leg of a 5-day adventure into our hearts, we could relate to Winnie the Pooh's sentiments in the cartoon on the screen :) "How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard." Trishna opened with stories about a peace organisation in Japan, Byakko, whose mission is to pray for peace in the world through an extensive collection of programmes, sharing context about the friendship they share with the ServiceSpace family. We watched a beautiful video to introduce the next activity, a Gratitude to Nature prayer with a mudra, that we all performed together as Vicky led us through the movements to honour different elements of nature.
Nimo: Unexpected Blessings on the Journey
Our dear friend, musician and seeker, Nimo, took us along on his personal journey (watch video), sharing how he received unexpected gifts along the way, which turned into blessings on his path and eventually led him back to one of his first loves, music. His song offering, based on the prayer "Make Me an Instrument of Thy Peace," touched all of us as St Francis of Assisi's words echoed through Nimo and Daniel Nahmod's voices.
Following Nimo's song, one participant shared some beautiful words that touched us all:
"Dear friends, I have so much gratitude to express to you all. I spent the afternoon looking after John and telling him a little about what we've been up to. (...) I told him about Nimo coming and all of a sudden he said, "Oh, he came to the Museum of Happiness didn't he?" Nimo, my husband is terminally ill and a big big supporter of Vicky and the Museum of Happiness. (...) I'm going to tell him that I hope we can find this recording so I can play it to him because John loves that prayer and I love that prayer. It may be that that is a prayer we speak at his funeral. He has been and is a great channel of peace (with a bow)."
Our final circle of reflections followed, where many shared deep gratitude for the space that was offered during the retreat. It invited them to hit the pause button and check-in with their own hearts for the first time in a while in the company of noble friends who held them without judgment and with infinite love.
Closing Circle of Reflections: Holding Space for Each Other
- "What I'm taking away from the retreat is what it means to hear something and come to it with enough open-heartedness to believe you haven't heard it before. To hear everything as if it's new, as if you're learning it for the first time. To open space for it to mean something newer and deeper and richer. That can happen if one doesn't make assumptions about what they will hear... to trust in the unexpected. (...) Maybe that itself can be the gift, the not knowing, the opening to be able to see something with fresh eyes and with fresh ears."
- "We came in this virtual space with so much trust and we shared events from our own lives and things we struggle with. I can sense a common theme for so many of us is around the difficulty and pain of just letting ourselves be. Not trying to improve, not trying to make anything better inside or out. It is so hard, but at the same time it speaks volumes about the fact that we are caring human beings and some things are hard. I'm slowly getting into this place inside my heart where stuff like pandemics and conflicts and divisions are beginning to look like gifts because they are a mirror for the struggle that each of us faces. I'm truly so grateful and so inspired."
- When one of the participant's tears flowed into the circle as she spoke from her heart and later apologised for her emotions, others jumped in to share how her vulnerability inspired them, to remind her so lovingly that "the wound is the place where the light enters" and to thank her for blessing the circle with her tears.
Ewa concluded the reflections by treating us to her moving tribute to every participant in the form of a collective poem woven together of quotes from everyone's shares. We were completely blown away...
Collective Poem: "We Are a Gift"
WE ARE A GIFT
As I step out of my blue door, my tree reminds me of who I am.
I am the tree and the tree is me.
It's not perfect yet it is perfect.
It had seen many things come and go.
I hugged it and thanked it for its inspiration.
As the clouds parted, the sun began to set
No one knows what's around the corner.
In uncertainty I can find calm.
When I let go of fear, all is good.
Tall Trees, Deep water
Strong Wind, Warm Fire
Nature in all her wonderful forms is my deepest nourishment.
I find myself experiencing fear, worry, and a desire to control.
I repeat affirmations of hope and strength.
Is there a reliable recipe for happiness and success?
Whatever the question,
Love is the answer.
I am always where I need to be.
My future self advised me,
Keep on going as you are,
always remember to have fun and laugh.
No more worries, just chill.
We all need real time-out for ourselves.
My present self deserves love, compassion and consideration too.
Rest when needed; no judgment.
I might forget about the gifts of emergence,
but emergence does not forget me.
I am a gift.
I am an artist.
I am lava.
The universe has my back,
And love lifts me.
A sense of wonder, positive energy, comfort with and love for people,
Things I wish to do over the coming months, not just for now.
A new bed, and dressing more beautifully,
Above everything I look forward to the chance to unwind and rest.
I will try to have empty spaces where I can just be me.
Hope is to see the possibilities in the unknown,
Swapping expectations for acceptance -
I just really don't want to let myself down!
So much to let go of, and so much to look forward to.
Resilience, trust and courage,
In the meantime, I offer this imperfect heart to you all,
Cuz in the end, we are all a gift to this world.
The final circle of sharing our one-word-sermons offered us a glimpse of what will stay with each of us from this incredibly nourishing experience.
One-Word Sermons: What Stays with Me
Heart-blown ~ Interconnectedness~ Honouring the promise to myself. ~ Be an instrument of love. ~ Connectedness to all of you. ~ Open. Gratitude. ~ Being accepted. ~ Love is the answer. ~ Self-care is everything. ~ Ready to release. ~ New perspectives to look at life. ~ Give love, receive love, be love. ~ Creativity ~ The wound is the place where the light enters you, Rumi. ~ Collective liberation.~ Going deep, but also feeling lifted. ~ Nourish and flourish. ~ Surrender ~ Gratitude ~ Love, love and love more. ~ Staying true to your heart and your path. ~ Allow me to be the channel of peace. ~ Give what we cannot keep, to gain what we cannot lose. ~ Deep sense of nourishment and community.
How could we possibly conclude a ServiceSpace retreat without inviting Nimo to offer his classic song, Grateful (watch video) as we all sang along, waving our hands in the air on-screen, in a joyful harmony! We even attempted a virtual circle of holding hands with Vicky's clever idea to emulate a group hug by having each of us line up our palms on both edges of the screen! :) The perfect way to wrap up a heart-filling five days together.
Many participants shared how it was the vulnerability and authenticity that each person offered to the circle, which seeded this magical experience of interconnection, or interbeing as Thich Nhat Han might describe it. It offered an opportunity to go within and reflect on many aspects of our lives, which often get overlooked, as it is difficult to find the time to step back, hit the pause button and see the bigger picture. Alongside this journey within, we were gifted the opportunity to learn from the process our fellow participants were also experiencing in parallel through five days of Zoom calls, immersion experiences, breakout circles and more! These shares below honour this sense of community and the sacredness of the space so beautifully...
A Unique Experience: The Gift of Interbeing
- "The whole experience was made so special by all the participants and guests who engaged so authentically and I genuinely felt we learnt so much from each other. There was a real tangible spirit of interconnectedness which was so heartwarming."
- "Thank you to all of you for contributing so beautifully to this retreat through your words and artistry..."
- "Thank You all for a wonderful 5 days. The pod and Zoom process has worked really well and in some ways it feels as if we are closer to each other than if we were in the same room :-) "
- "It has been so special. Each pod has been so different and this one has been so driven by the heart. Everybody has opened their hearts and spilled the contents with each other, shared our vulnerabilities, our learnings, our wisdom. To each and every one of you, your reflections will remain in my head -- I'm going to frame all of the quotes from this retreat and put them on a wall in my house."
- "Deep bow of gratitude for everything that everybody has shared. I didn't expect to cry so much today, it completely caught me off guard. My heart burst open about half ten with Reena's poem. The thing I've been so heart-blown by is the level of which people have opened their hearts to the most personal things going on in their lives, really shared their deepest vulnerabilities. There's something so special about coming together and taking the mask off and just saying 'This is me,' as Satish said, 'with warts and all. This is the stuff I hide that I don't want other people to know about myself.' When we take the mask off and we share from the heart like this, we realise that our struggle may be in different contexts, but we go through the same struggles. There's been such a sense of common humanity, with a sense of what people have shared. (...) Our struggles are often what connect us."
With love from the Retreat Crew :)
Trishna, Ani, Vicky, Ewa, and Sallyann
** You'll also enjoy reading Ani's reflections on the retreat in this blog post: "Coming Home to Your Heart."