There is a little known occupational hazard to being a transformational workshop leader that I call The Monumental Left Brain Meltdown Syndrome.
And it always happens at the end of a week long retreat intensive.
I love leading live, in person retreats that combine art and community and creative opportunities for psychological and spiritual opening. Its some of the most satisfying and joyful work I have ever done. And I am grateful every day that taking people on these profound soul journeys as a group is deeply tied into my life purpose and how I show up in the world.
But make no doubt about it… As amazingly healing and deeply fulfilling and wondrously gratifying as this work is it is STILL work.
It’s incredibly intense holding transformational healing space for groups of l5-20 people over a 6 day period. Especially since retreat time is different from ordinary linear time. One of the jokes at my workshops is that each day literally feels like a week since SO much happens in any given 24 hour period, on both the inner and outer planes. Which means that a 6 day retreat is more like 6 WEEKS in terms of its impact on my soul and psyche.
So by the time I am giving my last good bye hugs to my beloved participants, I am beyond exhausted. I take really good care of myself during these intensives… Eating good food… Taking breaks… Getting help and assistance… Daily naps… And I am STILL completely blown out by the end of the week.
But even though everyone has gone home, that doesn’t mean the work is done. I still have to clean up my personal space, pack and get myself organized before I can get in the car and head home.
And this is where Monumental Left Brain Meltdown syndrome rears it’s spaced out and sleepy head and shows up as me always forgetting to pack some personal item that I’ve brought with me.
When I was teaching at Mountain Home ranch the proprietor of that venue, Suzanne, would laugh about this with me saying that even though EVERYONE who has participated in a week long retreat is some version of brain dead by the end, it hits the retreat facilitators way harder than it does their students. She said that it always manifested as people forgetting something. But while retreat participants might forget a bottle of shamppoo a facilitator could just as easily forget something major… Like their car.
I am very familiar with this syndrome, so I try and be conscious of it and put extra care into my packing up at the end of each workshop. But even with all my diligence my brain is not up to the task of being that organized and it never fails that I leave something important behind.
One time it was my lap top computer. Which is my primary business tool. And meant that I had to turn around and drive the 2 hours back to the retreat center as soon as I got home and discovered it was missing. Another time I left a whole CLOSET FULL of clothes. And wondered why my suitcase was feeling so light. But wasn’t capable of putting two and two together as to WHY that might be the case.
The most recent example of this syndrome happened a couple of weeks ago at one of my teacher training groups, where I was horrified to discover that what I had left behind was some of my precious turquoise jewelry.
Now, anybody who is around me for even 5 minutes KNOWS about my undying love and attachment to my sacred stones. Each necklace, bracelet or pair of earrings has deep personal meaning for me which includes a relationship to whatever artist I purchased the pieces from. Each piece of jewelry is also a work of unique art which means it’s irreplaceable.
Under most circumstances I am INCREDIBLY careful and protective of my precious jewels. But apparently, nothing is safe or sacred when it comes to the scourge of Monumental Left Brain Meltdown syndrome which I learned the hard way when I got home and I discovered I had left behind two of my most FAVORITE stone necklaces. AND I was unable to jump in the car and drive back up to the retreat center to immediately retrieve them because our car had broken down on the way back home and had to be towed to the shop.
My biggest fear was that the cleaners of the retreat space who do a fabulously thorough job would find my jewels and throw them away not understanding their importance to me.
So I got in touch with the property manager and told her of my dilemma. She was sympathetic and said she would look for my necklaces, but wouldn’t be able to get to the venue for a couple of days.
Which is where things get very interesting… At least in terms of my inner process.
Now I was REALLY upset at the prospect of losing these necklaces. I was anxious, obsessing, bordering on grief and just all around WORRYING myself sick for the two days that I had to wait to hear the verdict. I KNEW on some level that my response and reaction was totally out of proportion to what was happening. Yes, I would be sad if I lost my jewels, but in the larger scheme of things, it was really no big deal.
But some part of me didn’t believe that AT ALL. To some part of my being this was a HORRIBLE loss that warranted me spending tons of emotional energy and time worrying and obsessing. Which I did with great fervor.
But a miracle was also occurring at the same time. Which was that my witness self kicked into high gear and became totally fascinated by this whole process. I was able to watch myself with a certain level of compassionate detachment as my psyche twirled and swirled and exhausted itself with worry.
And over the two days of a certain kind of internal torture it became clear to me how MUCH time I spend in this worrying state. I am a Virgo, which means worry is sort of a national pastime. But normally, the worry is happening on some subterranean level that is miserable but tolerable. And if it DOES erupt into a full blown worry attack I am usually able to justify the worrisome situation as some thing that I SHOULD be worrying about. Like death. Or taxes. Or how would I deal with life if chocolate would someday disappear off of the face of the planet.
But I KNEW that this potential jewelry loss scenario was not one of those justifiable circumstances. So I was totally IN the worry state, unable to break the spell. But watching myself BE in that state all at the same time.
For those of you on the edge of your seats thinking I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR INNER PROCESS. WHAT HAPPENED TO THE TURQUOISE??? … thankfully, the jewelry was found and I was able to retrieve it a few days later.
Getting that good news meant that my worried and obsessive mind state immediately vanished like the San Francisco fog when the sun comes blazing through. And of course, I was wonderfully relieved. And happy knowing my jewels were safe.
But my witness self also had a clear and powerful message for me which was A.) there was never ANYTHING to worry about from the start. B.) My worry accomplished absolutely nothing except to make me suffer. And C.) Even if the worst thing had happened and the jewels were forever lost, my worrying wouldn’t have made that loss any easier to endure.
Now, this isn’t the first time that I’ve had this insight about worry, but something about this experience brought it home to me in an incredibly deep way. And I think it was mostly because I allowed myself to BE with the excruciating discomfort of this process while being absolutely present to myself from a place of neutrality and compassion.
Since that day, I have had MAYBE a FEW (ahem) opportunities to get worried about something or another. But the miracle continued working its magic and I was able to remember the message from my witness self and actually STOP myself from worrying. Like dead stop. Flip the switch and NO MORE WORRY. Which is wonderfully relieving and wildly disconcerting all at the same time.
And I had also had a light bulb moment of “Hey… This being present to yourself shit ACTUALLY works.”
So for now, the worry demon is being held at bay by the twin flames of compassion and self awareness. I am cautiously optimistic that this new learning will be more or less permanent.
But even if I find myself sliding back into old patterns of BELIEVING my worry and allowing it to take over way too much real estate in my soul and my psyche, I am pretty confident that I will remember that the way out of that particular mental hell is actually about going more IN.
This experience has given me a deep bone knowing that aware presence heals. Having my feelings will never, ever kill me. Courage is available to me at any moment. And a sneaking suspicion that maybe when I’m teaching I should leave my jewelry at home.
The Wild Heart Expressive Arts Intuitive Painting process is a FABULOUS way to help you find your creative center, get more present to your deepest truths and heal on so many levels. And I have a weekend workshop coming up in September at my Creative Juices Arts Studio in Oakland California.
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