Does going to an intimacy retreat sound appealing to you or does the sound of fingernails being raked down a chalkboard (do they even have chalkboards any more?) sound more enticing?
The last weekend in January, I ended up in Phoenix for a completely different event than the Superbowl; I attended a retreat called Intentional Conversations about Intimacy and Relationships facilitated by author Reverend Terry Hershey.
Julie-anne, a friend I camp with each summer, had lent me Terry Hershey’s book, Soul Gardening, which I proceeded to read each night at bedtime. It took me awhile to finish it given the type of writing it is and the fact that I read for 5-15 minutes at a time before falling asleep. Juli-anne and I talked about the book in more detail when I went to visit her last July and she told me she was going to go a retreat given by the author in January of 2015.
After a little more research into the author and the retreat, I decided to attend this intimacy retreat with Juli-anne and see what I could learn. I had already done a bit of work on the topic over the last four years, starting with Matthew Kelly’s book, The Seven Levels of Intimacy (which I also highly recommend).
The retreat wasn’t for couples per se, but the attendees consisted of about half couples and half individuals. It began on Friday before dinner and ended by Sunday at noon. It was held at the Franciscan Renewal Center in Paradise Valley, AZ.
It was a bit crazy in town with the Superbowl and a golf tournament (with Tiger Woods in attendance). We made it there after a day and a half of visiting with Juli-anne’s cousin, hanging out at museums, botanical gardens, and shopping malls (We discovered the Last Chance, where Nordstrom Rack stuff goes to die or be purchased…). We arrived at the Franciscan Renewal Center at about 5:05 pm, right in time for cocktail hour and then dinner before our first session.
At cocktail hour and dinner, we hung out with Terry and heard stories about his son, who is the same age as my oldest (16). When it was time for the opening session, we were instructed to sit at a table with people of the same gender (boys at their own tables, girls at theirs). So, we started the “awesome” table. We did a few exercises about what intimacy is and what prevents intimacy from happening. Throughout the retreat we discussed the reasons for this behavior and what to do to change it. Although we didn’t sit separated for any other exercises, it was a fun way to meet new people.
It rained on us almost the entire time we were in Arizona (It was beautiful and sunny for the Superbowl, but I was already in the airport lounge by then). The desert is an amazing place when it rains. When it stops, all of the desert creatures come out. We were able to see the rabbits and quail. The peacefulness was startlingly quiet. The desert was a good place for a retreat. A good place for introspection. The meditation chapel was calming and energizing at the same time. Walking the labyrinth was surprisingly insightful and I had two very different energetic experiences on the days I walked it.
The labyrinth was very interesting to walk more than once; the things you notice after the first time can be profound – like the middle of the labyrinth is the long part of the path, the outside. I was struck by the elegance of that. I thought that is true of many projects and things in life – the middle part can be the long and boring part. The beginning of a project or job is exciting, you feel like you are making a lot of progress. The end is exciting because your progress or project is complete and you can see the end result. It is the middle of the path that is long and boring and sometimes you just need to persevere through that to get to the end. How many things in life are just like that?
I met some amazing people at this retreat. There were more than a few married couples, older, on their second marriages, but who had been married for 30+ years. (A few days later, my dad and his wife celebrated 31 years of marriage). Kind of inspiring! There were even some newlyweds (one guy had just gotten married for the first time at 60).
On one of our exercises we were outside, making observations and I had spied one of the couples walking through the garden holding hands. I tried to capture that with my camera but they were far away and I’m not sure I did the moment justice; in any event, it was cool to see their connection, which reminded me of my maternal grandparents always holding hands on their ritual walk after each meal.
The retreat followed the same kind of format throughout the whole weekend with a little discussion or storytelling by Terry, followed by an exercise at our table and then sharing out of our findings/observations. There was nowhere to hide in this retreat. You couldn’t sit at the back of the classroom. It didn’t exist.
You had to mine the depths of your mind and soul at this retreat from the opening session until the last minute before we left. And let me tell you, excavating the corners of my mind is a dirty job. Not because I have a dirty mind, although my friends and family would tell you that is definitely true, but because I have formed a protective layer around me that is very thick. Few get in. That needs to stop. There is more than enough love to go around our world, why not share it. That’s what I am working on; that is why I went to this retreat.
We kept a kind of summary of our observations and findings on two different white boards and Terry commented that every time he does this talk, the results are different. It would be interesting to see what people come up with for this conversation time and time again. Here are ours:
My favorite exercise was the destination/journey activity. We did an exercise where we were supposed to walk out a certain direction (of our choice) for 4 minutes (maybe it was 2 minutes…) and then stop wherever we were and take several deep breaths. Then we were supposed to turn around and walk back but take at least three times the amount of time it took us to get out to that spot and observe what was around us.
You can see where this destination/journey exercise is going, right? Nowhere good if you’ve spent most of your life on the destination part of this activity… which is squarely where most of my life has been – always looking into the future, lamenting the past and things I had no control over. I’ve always been so concerned about the destination, that I didn’t pay much attention to the journey itself. Sure, I’ve seen a ton in my life and I like to try new things and explore, but it isn’t the same as really enjoying the journey or the process for its own sake.
I spent the “journey” back to our classroom taking pictures, which I love to do. I also enjoyed the smells, the sounds, the rain, and the colors of the desert. I also enjoyed knowing that the last few years, I have made a special point to finally take my grandmother’s advice to stop and smell the flowers more literally ☺ Not only do I actually stop and smell the flowers, I take pictures of them.
Intimacy is a journey, not a destination. It doesn’t just happen, you don’t just arrive one day. The is no proclamation of “I’ve arrived at intimacy!” Nope, it doesn’t work that way. It’s been a struggle for me to focus on the journey and not just on the destination and I’m definitely enjoying the journey these days. Really enjoying it!
What was really fantastic about the entire retreat is that it confirmed for me that I am on the right path. The work dove-tailed very nicely with Matthew Kelly’s writing in the Seven Levels of Intimacy, Gay Hendrick’s writing in Conscious Living, and his other book Conscious Loving, which are all books I have read and reread several times over the last few years. I’ve really been trying to incorporate this work into my life. It’s been better, more authentic. I’ve been more vulnerable, and felt more loved, appreciated and wanted.
I thrive on self-improvement and learning. I love the insight, I love the ability to be able to change, I love making the effort to change, and it’s been great making things better and more real. I realize that intimacy is a life-long journey. It’s not a one and done. It’s a marathon, not a sprint. I loved putting things into perspective and seeing where I am on this journey we call life. I would definitely do this kind of retreat again.
Note: If you are interested, Terry Hershey publishes a newsletter/blog each Monday called Sabbath Moments. This is the one from the day of our retreat: The Real Gift of Intimacy.